What Does Open Marriage Look Like to You?

Contributed by Jenny Block, author of Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage
If there were no Disney, would girls still spend their lives looking for Prince Charming?
I read fashion magazines. I figure I better confess that up front. As I flip through the pages of the September issue of W, I am reminded of just how airbrushed that universe is, and how brainwashed a readership it leaves in its wake. If I’d never looked at those pictures, I wonder how I’d think I “shouldâ€? look. By extension, I wonder if other people would care so much that my relationships—and most especially my marriage—don’t look like they “should.â€? What would my world look like today, I wonder, if I hadn’t grown up with the messaging that it was essential to find my Prince Charming and live Happily Ever After?
But since the medium is the media and I am a product of the culture in which I was raised, I don’t have the luxury of wondering about the what ifs. I have what some would consider an “unconventional marriageâ€? because it’s open. But when I look around, the only thing unconventional about it is that we tell the truth about sleeping with other people. People who read my article in Tango magazine, “Portrait of an Open Marriage,â€? had strong opinions about my choices—and my husband’s—but most people aren’t so willing to look at their own. For the past few months I’ve been working on my new book project, Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage, and I keep wondering why I don’t know more people in open marriages who aren’t part of the out poly community. I have wondered about the woman in the grocery store in front of me in line, about the man holding his son’s hand as they cross the street on the way to school in the morning. Could these people be in open marriages? They look just as normal as me and my husband. Would anyone ever suspect us if they saw me shopping for back-to-school clothes with our daughter at Limited Too or if they ran into my husband at Three Forks? The answer is probably no.
I was curious about why people posted such vehement comments to my article after it ran, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all about fear. Fear and lack of models of open marriages that are working. My husband and I are happy. We’re both getting what we want and need and we’re together. We love each other. We’re good parents. We understand that we’re simply not built for monogamy.
We’ve been socially programmed to demand fidelity and are told at every turn that jealousy and ownership prove love. I don’t buy it. I’m guest blogging today to open up the conversation, because I want to know what readers think—specifically what feminists think—about marriage, cheating, and open relationships. What’s the deal with Happily Ever After anyways?

Jenny Block writes for Women’s Health, The Dallas Morning News, American Way, www.ellegirl.com, BeE, bRILLIANT, People Newspapers, Stone, Where, and D. Her writing has appeared in It’s a Girl: Women Writers on Raising Daughters (Seal Press, 2006) and Letters to my Teacher (Adams, 2005), as well as in the forthcoming book, Have I Got a Guy For You: Fix-ups and Blind Dates Coordinated By Our Mothers (Viking, forthcoming 2007). The inspiration for Open stems from her piece, “Portrait of an Open Marriageâ€? which ran in Tango, and was reprinted by Cosmopolitan Germany and The Huffington Post. Jenny holds both her Bachelor’s and her Master’s in English from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she taught composition for nearly ten years.

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  1. GreatDane
    Posted September 4, 2007 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I know this comment is probably way beyond the lifetime of this post but myopenbook’s commment infuriated me to no end:
    ‘That being said, I absolutely respect anyone’s choice to be monogamous. And I apologize if it seemed as if I didn’t. But monogamy is a choice.’
    Replace monogamous/monogamy with homosexual/homosexuality!
    Lady, you lost all credibility with that remark.

  2. myopenbook
    Posted September 4, 2007 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    I in no way believe that homosexuality is a choice. That is a completely different matter then monogamy. Science proves that homosexuality is nature – not nuture. Not so with monogamy. Just look at the research. From The Myth Of Monogamy by David Barish & Judith Lipton.
    “Anthropologist Margaret Mead once suggested that monogamy is the hardest of all human marital arrangement. It is also one of the rarest. Even long-married, faithful couples are new at monogamy, whether they realize it or not. In attempting to maintain a social and sexual bond consisting exclusively of one man and one woman, aspiring monogamists are going against some of the deep-seated evolutionary inclinations with which biology has endowed most creatures, Homo sapiens included. As we shall see, there is powerful evidence that human beings are not “naturallyâ€? monogamous, as well as proof that many animals, once thought to be monogamous, are not. To be sure, human beings can be monogamous (and that is another question altogether whether we should be), but make no mistake: It is unusual-and difficult.”

  3. GreatDane
    Posted September 4, 2007 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Hmm, you may be right. I didn’t know the book so haven’t read it, only the editorial reviews of it.
    However, I’ve always been very skeptical whenever animal behaviour has been used to justify or condemn human behaviour as natural or not. I don’t doubt that social monogamy is rare in animals and sexual monogamy even rarer. But I think that’s a poor argument for advocating the same behaviour in humans: It’s fairly easy to pick some species that behaves in a way you’d like to show is natural (or not) for humans.
    -In some insect species the female kills the male after sex (natural behaviour)
    -Some penguin species have the same mate throughout a year but another mate the following year (natural behaviour)
    -homosexuality has been observed in somewhere between 400-600 species (natural behaviour)
    -most species have sex only for reproductive purposes (natural behaviour)
    -*male* dolphins masturbate – and hump everything around them (natural behaviour)
    -most mammalian females rear their young without aid from males (natural behaviour)
    So if I go off behaving as a young male dolphin and produce an offspring with a mammalian female I can safely and with a clean conscience let her do the upbringing while I move on to the next mate. All natural behaviour. Hmm, sounds familiar.
    OK, enough sarcasm; because now I think I might have misunderstood your use of the word ‘choice’. You don’t choose to like, say, BDSM, you may try it and discover that you love it or you may feel absolutely disgusted just by the thought of it (or any other feeling in between). In that sense you choose (or not) BDSM. Using the same reasoning you don’t choose to like being poly, you do it because you’ve tried it and prefer it to sexual monogamy (but as far as I understand you’re still socially monogamous)?

  4. myopenbook
    Posted September 5, 2007 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    I am married to one man, yes. And I did “choose” polyamory because I tried it and preferred it. When it comes to love and relationships and sexuality, the only thing I truly believe is that we’re not all the same, despite living in a society that presupposes that we are. We’re not all designed for heterosexual, monogamous, lifetime relationships. Human behavior proves that. Most people believe that there is only one “right” way to live. I’d just like to see that change one day.

  5. shamsi
    Posted February 4, 2009 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Well, attachment to somebody else could always occur. It is about how confident and comfortable you are. My husband had to daily struggle with himself and this caused our marriage some rough times. Until he admitted it to me and now we can move on. It is about personal level of comfort with any kind of relationship.
    Being in monogamous relationship is not an insurance that your partner won’t meet someone else and grow greater attachment to that person than to you.
    Personally, I prefer it this way. I love him and I know he loves me too, and we care about each others happiness. We are married, but this doesn’t mean that we have to feel as we are in a cage, just because society says so. My personal preference is to accept one as he/she is. Cheating feels worse to me- it is a lot of disrespect and ruins trust.
    He is now the same man I married almost three years ago and we are happy this way.
    However, both partners should feel the same way about the relationship, so it could work

  6. shamsi
    Posted February 4, 2009 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    I’m one of these women. And I can tell you for myself that I’m OK not only in my head, but in my heart too. :)
    Love has many faces and people are different. You can either accept it and live with it or just leave. Whichever makes one happier. So it doesn’t come down to what society thinks it should be, but how do you personally see it working for yourself.

  7. susanb
    Posted July 2, 2009 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    there is no way that i could be in a open marriage. This is not right. If people want to do this they should not be married.
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