Open marriage is a topic that comes up from time to time and over the last few years the pendulum of acceptance has swung greatly from “no, that’s completely wrong;” to “I could never do that, but whatever works for you;” to “I’m five years into my marriage and considering it.”
Divorce rates being what they are, many are looking for any alternative to the current marriage structure that could possibly save relationships because “obviously we’re not doing something right,” and open relationships/marriages are being touted as the saving grace because humans will get back to their animalistic nature of fulfilling their innate sexual lusts. I remember going to a panel on open relationships once and the host said something to the effect of when she sees an elephant use an iPod, she’ll take that argument more seriously. I’m with her on that one. We may be mammals but our brains allow us to operate with logic and free will rather than rely strictly on animal instincts so that whole rationale is null and void in my book.
I still stand in the second pool of people who don’t want an open relationship for themselves but figure to each his own when it comes to other couples. But what does make me pause a bit about the seeming prevalence of these arrangements is that acceptance tends to be reactionary to the threat of infidelity and in some ways a form of settling. Naomi Piercey recently wrote an article for Men’s Health asking “Is Monogamy Outdated?” and she quoted Eric Anderson, an American sociologist at England’s University of Winchester who wrote the book, The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love, and the Reality of Cheating. Anderson said:
“Infidelity does not break marriages up; it is the unreasonable expectation that a marriage must restrict sex that breaks a marriage up. One of the reasons I wrote the book is that I’ve seen so many long-term relationships broken up simply because one had sex outside the relationship. But feeling victimized isn’t a natural outcome of casual sex outside a relationship; it is a socialized victimhood. I’m not advocating cheating; I’m advocating open and equitable sexual relationships.”
So basically if you don’t want to get your feelings hurt change your expectations about fidelity in your relationship and all will be OK? I understand his point about being socialized to believe monogamy is the norm but everyone makes up the rules in their own relationship and if the idea of your partner sleeping with someone else makes your stomach turn or you have no desire to sleep with anyone else, then you have a right to set that expectation for your mate and be upset when that promise is violated.
I almost see this logic as the same mindset some women have when they’re involved with a guy and find out he’s seeing someone else too. Because they’re not in a relationship she’ll say she technically doesn’t have the right to be upset but that doesn’t mean it hurts any less. In a few recent discussions I’ve seen on open relationships, the idea for some women is they’re afraid their partner is going to cheat on them at some point so to avoid that disappointment they’re just going to make their relationship open that way their boyfriend/husband really isn’t doing them wrong. If that’s not the relationship you really want who’s benefiting here?
A couple of my friends have recently been tossing the idea of open relationships around and for different reasons. My girl friend said she almost felt like in this day and age it’s the easiest way to avoid disappointment and fulfill all of your needs when your main partner falls short. My guy friend said he wasn’t sure about his ability to remain faithful in a marriage, which I can respect, or his inability to resent his partner for having to forego sexual urges all for the sake of “being faithful.” He told me he was frustrated by the fact that no matter how much he loved a girl he was with, the temptation to sleep with other women never went away and I told him it probably never would. We don’t stop being attracted to other people just because we’re in a relationship but our commitment to the other person is hopefully just as strong as that urge. I also told him we resist plenty of impulses all throughout the day and I don’t understand why people act like sexual ones are impossible to ignore. When someone cuts me off in traffic I want to run them off the side of the road but do I? No.
When he asked me would I ever be OK with an open relationship I told him no. I hate the idea of sharing a cab, let alone my man, and in general I keep a close circle of people around me because I like intimacy in small numbers. What’s appealing about monogamy to me is the idea that my partner and I will have a connection and share things with each other that we won’t with anyone else and I think I have a right to want and expect that in my relationships regardless of what the latest stats on cheating show. Maybe if we stopped buying into the whole “we’re animals with uncontrollable sexual urges” talk less people would see monogamy as restrictive and more would find it rewarding. There are plenty of things we give up (and gain) to make relationships work, is sex with other people really that different?
Monogamy may not be for everyone, and I have no issue with that But I don’t think women should talk themselves into wanting open relationships just for the sake of not being cheated on. There are men out there who haven’t cheated on their partners (I think) and in the end if you settle for a relationship structure that you don’t truly want, you end up cheating yourself in the end.
Would you have an open relationship/marriage to avoid being cheated on? Do you think it’s unreasonable to expect your partner not to stray in a relationship?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.