"An Open and Shut Marriage"
A writer in the Fashion & Style section of the Sunday New York Times tells how she got scared off from opening her marriage. From her story, it seems like the two of them were unaware of anything more than the rudiments of how to proceed wisely. In particular, it never seems to have occurred to them to get information from the community of people who, over the years, have worked out a lot about how to do this successfully. Instead they tried to reinvent, all by themselves, this (often difficult) wheel:
By COLETTE DeDONATO
Published: February 3, 2008
Despite my general attitude of acceptance when it comes to people questioning their most troubling emotions, I’ve learned to tread carefully on the conjoined subjects of fidelity and monogamy. My experience tells me that it’s a minefield and that no one except Dr. Phil-inspired talk-show exhibitionists and the admittedly polyamorous are ready to talk openly about it.
...Several years into our marriage, when a good friend of mine told me that she had a crush on my husband, I knew that all of our theorizing about what makes a successful life partnership was about to face its first real-life application.
I didn’t feel particularly threatened by this friend. I trusted her, and I never imagined her to be a woman for whom my husband would leave me. In fact, I never thought he would leave, period.... And if I were to give the two of them permission to “explore their feelings,” it would also give me a chance to dawdle in the feelings I’d developed for a colleague at work. We’d all take baby steps — nothing dramatic — and see how it went.
But we immediately faced logistical concerns. If my husband was out with her, what should I be doing? Did I need to plan my time with my colleague to coincide with the time he spent with her? Did my husband and I need to tell each other whenever we planned to spend time with the other person?
A few solid rules would have been helpful, but without knowing how either relationship might progress, we didn’t know how to set them....
We knew lying was not an option. We had agreed that lying is what made it “cheating,” leading to hurt and distrust and causing the real damage to the relationship. But how much truth could we realistically handle? I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to know....
...Meanwhile, my good friend and my husband [a photographer] were continuing to have good times taking pictures and going back to her apartment to develop them and continue their mild flirtation. Then one night, when it had gotten too late for my comfort zone, he called to say our Volvo wagon wouldn’t start. I knew the car to be unreliable, but I couldn’t deny a nagging doubt: Could he be lying about the car just to spend the night with her?
That, for me, was the breaking point. It didn’t matter if he was telling the truth. I doubted him anyway, so the result was the same.
...Several arguments and 10 therapy sessions later, we thanked each other for allowing that kind of creative romantic safari into our lives but vowed never to do it again.
Read the whole article.
(Warning, rant zone.) Apparently these people were too sophisticated to think it might be a good idea to look for information when trying something new. Or to tap the resources of the community who've been there, made it work (often not on the first try), and have accumulated lots of practical wisdom and navigational aids. (For instance.)
Certainly polyamory is not for everyone, not for most. And this couple did have the sense to back off before a trainwreck. But hell, if they'd decided to take up sailing, wouldn't it have occurred to them first to learn a bit about sailing from people who know how rather than get into a sailboat by themselves, get blown around helplessly for a few hundred yards, and then write an article for the New York Times that sailing is nuts?
To push the metaphor: were they even wearing life jackets? If, in their lack of knowledge, they'd tipped the sailboat over, did they know how to swim or how to right the boat? Their only idea of safety was to thrash back to shore and swear off sailboats. And they thought this was sophisticated wisdom to display.
If it sounds like I'm speaking from a high horse here, maybe it's because I'm hastily typing these words before breakfast at the Poly Living conference, sponsored by Loving More. Over 100 people here have been spending the weekend in powerful and informative workshops about many aspects of poly life and how to make it work. If you're not here with us taking sailing lessons, okay. But for pity's sake, this is the internet era, read up on sailing before trying it?
(Update: The article was also reprinted in the Charlotte (NC) Observer for February 15th. You can comment or send a letter.)