Happily Ever After: Why an Open Marriage Works for Me
When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time doing my best to fit in. Wearing the "right" jeans, getting the "right" friends, signing up for the "right" classes. I felt like I had a few extra hurdles to jump. My dad was a rabbi (still is). My parents were hippies (not so much anymore). And we were as middle-class as they come (read: no winters in Aspen).
Most of those "fitting in" worries fell to the wayside when I got to college. But one thing hadn't changed: I wanted a storybook marriage just as I had been promised in the movies, just as I had dreamed about with my friends. I imagined the handsome guy, the gorgeous dress, the beautiful children. The whole thing.
And I got it all. I met the guy, I got the dress, and I gave birth to the child. The thing was, though, I didn't feel deliriously happy and satisfied. Wasn't that how I was supposed to feel? Wasn't that why everyone was in such zealous and unanimous support of the whole monogamous marriage thing?
I tried to get to the root of my unhappiness. I married a man who loved and respected me (and vice versa). I didn't give up my career. I was doing everything "right." So why didn't it feel right? Maybe it was because I was having a tough time losing the pregnancy weight. Maybe it was because postpartum depression was no stranger to me, but sleep certainly was. But that was all normal, wasn't it? Happily ever after was just around the corner, right?
Not exactly. It wasn't marital bliss that was just around the river bend, it was a woman I met at a writer's retreat. We became fast friends and, within a few months of meeting, embarked on an affair. I don't know how to explain it. But I felt so happy. Not just with her. But with my husband as well. It was as if I could love him more because I wasn't expecting him to "complete me." I was, and am, a whole person. I didn't need completing. I wanted complementing.
At the time I felt very confused. It was counter to everything I had learned. I was supposed to want -- need -- one man with whom I would become one. He was supposed to be all I would ever need. But it was no wonder I felt so unsettled. How could anyone be everything for another person?
We have all kinds of friends because they complement us in so many different ways. So why not more than one romantic involvement? Not because of biology. Science has proven that. The only thing I could figure is that it was a holdover from a time when monogamous relationships were necessary to confirm paternity or to join fortunes and families.
Monogamy is certainly one way to live. But it shouldn't be the only way. The Puritans drilled monogamy into our heads, and somehow we're still listening despite the ever-growing rates of divorce and affairs. Just because a particular religion still preaches it today is no reason for everyone to follow it. Marriage is a civil institution.
The woman and I broke up after six months, and I told my husband about the affair. Instead of saying, "I can't believe you slept with someone else," he said, "I can't believe you lied to me." That, for me, is the crux of it all. Marriage is about honesty. Not about sex.
I started doing all kinds of research about marriage, including its historical implications and cultural differentiations. It made me wonder what might happen if we made honesty, rather than monogamy, the cornerstone of our relationship.
After many late-night discussions, my husband and I embarked on an open marriage. For six months or so, we had the same girlfriend. For a year or two we "dated" other people. And then, four-and-a-half years ago, everything changed when I met Jemma. Now I am involved only with her and my husband. She and my husband are not sexually involved -- just very good friends. None of us have any other partners, although that is always open to discussion. And all of us are very happy.
It would be great if one day open marriage were not considered so strange or even untoward.
Our open marriage works because it's, well, open. No sneaking around. No secret text messages. No longing for other partners. Sure, there's no monogamy. But there's also no monogamy in a large percentage of marriages that supposedly aren't open. Instead, they are full of cheating and lies, or resentment and sadness. And that's no way to live.
Marriage is about two people deciding to spend the rest of their lives together, to care for one another, to love one another. Nothing more. Nothing less. I think the rest is up for discussion, including whether or not monogamy is part of your agreement to one another. Honesty and communication should be the only true marital must-haves.
Believe it or not, my life probably looks a lot like yours. Work to do. Food to cook. Kids to raise. Most Saturday nights are spent at home playing Scrabble and eating take-out. The only difference is that I'm in love with two people instead of one. No swinging. No sex parties. Just real life in a way that really works for us.
All I know is this: Time is limited. Love is not. And life is about choice. Open marriage is ours.
A former college English instructor, Jenny Block is a freelance writer for numerous print and online publications and the author of "Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage." She is also the bi-monthly sex columnist for FoxNews.com. Read her blog on Red Room.
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