Us: Americans Talk about Love. "How we chose an open marriage"
John Bowe has published oral-history books collecting the stories of working people (Gig, 2001) and modern-day slaves (Nobodies, 2008). Last month he came out with his third book, Us: Americans Talk About Love.
For Valentine's Week, the online magazine Salon has put up one of the book's chapters: a late-middle-aged couple, Nick and Cate, talking about their happy, adventurous, and sometimes scary open marriage. It's certainly an engaging read.
Nick: The first thing you have to know is that early on in our relationship, Cate actually said, "If you ever see anybody else, I'll kill you."
Cate: Oh, yes, I was completely conventional. I'd never heard of polyamory. I certainly would not have believed that it was possible to love more than one person.
Nick: Cate had a justification, which I have always found incredibly romantic. Which is that she wanted somebody to reminisce with at my funeral about what a great fuck I was.
Cate: I imagined all your lovers gathered around the casket going, "Daaaamn!" [Laughs]
Cate: I thought it was exciting because it was transgressive. I had never been in bed with a girl before. And it's a turn-on for a lot of couples to watch their partner have sex. It was sexy to see Nick in bed with someone.
Nick: And what Cate said, which I find interesting, is that on one hand, it was one of the most terrifying things she'd ever seen, but on the other hand, it was one of the most exciting things she'd ever seen.
Nick: I remember we had a very interesting conversation that I've never forgotten. We were walking around in Montreal and discussing how in your average relationship, at some point, somebody strays. And then you spend an unbelievable amount of energy either breaking up or salvaging things.
Cate and I realized that we would rather figure out a way to have a rich, sexual, romantic life with expanded boundaries than to constantly be trying to repair a relationship that was falling apart because somebody's got the hots for somebody.
Cate: It just seemed like a more interesting way to live, to have an infinitely greater sense of sexual possibility, to have the possibility of romantic love with more than one person. I mean, it's rare in life to really fall in love, but --
Nick: I mean, there's love and there's love and there's love and there's love.
Cate: But just that there's that possibility, if you're having drinks with someone, or, say, see someone standing on the subway, for example, and you know even just in the abstract that you could have sex with them and that it wouldn't send the entire apple cart crashing, there is a sense of possibility that is lovely to live with -- even if you never, ever exercise it.
Nick: We started out with quite a few rules, and we ended up with three: no sneaking around; safe sex; and we each have veto power. If one of us says no, that's it.
Cate: Anyone who comes into our life has to understand that our primary commitment to each other is the foundation for whatever takes place with anyone else. And that's not up for grabs: I'm not leaving Nick.
Nick: Still, I like to say this is not a game for amateurs, you know? This is a high-risk game. Because we're definitely talking about more than just being simply in lust. Really, if you're going to live a polyamorous life, you have to accept the fact that your partner might fall in love with somebody else.
Cate: When one of us has a crush on someone new, the other one can't replicate that. They cannot compete with the newness, and the new relationship energy takes over.
Nick: Somebody said to me, "Jealousy obviously isn't a problem for you and Cate." I said, "Don't be ridiculous. If we weren't jealous, we wouldn't care about each other." It's that we handle it differently than the average couple.
To make this work, we have to appreciate each other all of the time.
Read the whole conversation.
And here is Salon's interview with the author.