Last summer I got together with an old friend. We had dated in college and connected on Facebook a few years ago. Out of the blue he suggested we catch up in person.
I told my former flame -- let's call him Ward -- I was happy to catch up but I wanted to make sure his wife was comfortable with us getting together. It had been seven years since I last saw him and I knew he'd gotten married in the interim. I inquired about his wife--let's call her June--because in recent years I've lost a handful of guy friends due to their significant other's being uneasy about our friendship. While I can't prevent such things from happening (because the problem has nothing to do with me), I've learned that I can cover my bases and start things off on a respectful note. Ward assured me, "June definitely knows and is cool with it."
Ward and I met for happy hour and in the first twenty minutes of conversation my inquiry about his wife was rendered pointless -- silly actually. He told me he's in a "completely open" marriage. Casually adding, "Yeah, I could never have sex with just one person." It's true. He had the damndest time being faithful in college.
Once his marital status was on the table, I suddenly became self-conscious. I wondered, "Wait a second ... am I on a date?" I didn't ask that question but, as you can imagine, I asked a lot of others. A few of the answers are as follows: June and Ward have sex with outside partners, on average, every other month. Sometimes they swing with other couples but only once or twice a year. They find most of their partners online. Often times Ward will look over June's shoulder while she scours the Internet, and he advises her on which guys he thinks would be good. Friends and family are supportive of their lifestyle. They've been married for five years and do not have children. My final question, "Why get married?" He replied, "Love and health insurance."
A month later Ward suggested drinks again. This time he texted me in advance and asked if this could be a date. I was glad he asked so we could clear up beforehand that I was not interested in being a third-party candidate. While I'm glad that they found a situation that works for them, for me it would feel like picking up scraps from the table. That and my carnal relationship with Ward had its day. I wasn't entirely sure he'd still want to meet after I declined, but he accepted my offer for platonic libations.
I know that an open marriage isn't for everyone, and this probably reads like a horror story to many. I will say this, the transparency in their relationship is admirable. As a friend to many married people, I am the keeper of many secrets -- financial secrets, fidelity secrets, and secrets I'm not exactly sure why I'm keeping but my instructions are, "Just don't tell my husband!" A friend of mine tells me that he can't be honest in couples counseling because his wife holds what he says against him. There is something to be said for being able to be honest in your own home.
Despite sufficient evidence that monogamy is not the natural human order, open marriages are viewed as bizarre. I pitched an article about June and Ward to a women's magazine and their response was, "Too freaky." This is a publication that's featured stories on infidelity many times. It's interesting that the idea of an affair doesn't upset people as much as the idea of openly discussing extra-marital relations with your other half. If given the choice between an open marriage and an affair, many would still go for the affair. The forbidden factor makes it more exciting.
In order to pitch the article, I interviewed June. I say this to emphasize that the marriage is actually open -- it's not just something Ward says when he's out of the house. I asked June if Ward hangs around while she gets ready to go on a date. She replied, "If possible we try to schedule separate dates on the same night so nobody is left home alone, but that doesn't always work out. If he's home while I'm getting ready we will talk and joke about it. He makes comments about what I might be doing a couple hours from now."
I also asked if she gets jealous. She said, "No, occasionally I will be annoyed when Ward stays out later than planned or spends too much money on the other party, but at the same time I realize that I may commit the same offense in the future. We have full disclosure on everything--access to each other's cell phones, email, and Facebook accounts. There is total transparency which is one of the reasons this work so well."
It does appear to work well for them. To each couple their own.
Follow Samara O'Shea on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SamaraOShea