I love the New York Times, but last week they irritated the ever-living fuck out of me by running their Open Marriage series on the online front page — for days. (Really NYT, isn’t there enough insanity in our daily news cycle without having to plumb the shallow depths of “Daniel’s” dissatisfaction with vanilla sex?)
“Does Open Marriage Make a Marriage Happier?” asked the Finest News Fit to Print. Which seems to me a sort of challenge to the conventionally married — hey, are you maximizing your happiness to the ultimate degree? And if not, why not? Oh, here’s a novel idea — bring new partners into your marriage and recapture that zing!
Except it’s not a new idea, this whole Monogamy Is for Squares schtick. Anyone remember the 1970s? I do. My sandbox friends Brendan and Gilbert’s parents got divorced after they tried open marriage. See, Gilbert’s mom and Brendan’s dad decided they enjoyed this new partner arrangement a bit too much, and that didn’t sit well with Brendan’s mom, who came after them with a gun. (She had six children, I can see how she might’ve temporarily lost her mind at the prospect of single parenting.) She didn’t kill them, she got the divorce she didn’t want instead. (Not to worry. She found lasting love later with a very nice architect.) Gilbert’s mom killed herself a few years later.
And I remember this particular bit of childhood suburban psychodrama because I came home and told my mom that I was going to marry Brendan some day. But then divorce him. Because that’s what grown-ups did.
I’m sure the edgy and sophisticated would tell me that the problem back then was divorce, not polyamory. And if Brendan’s mom could just shake off the shackles of her conventional upbringing and learn to share Brendan’s dad with Gilbert’s mom (love is not finite!), she could enjoy the attentions of Suzy’s dad, and everything would be copacetic! And we could avoid the dreaded specter of Brendan’s mom divorcing and finding a nice man who respects her.
The other problem I had with this New York Times article, is that I had the misfortune of reading it immediately after I read “You’re My Only” by Linda Kass, who describes her parents’ Greatest Generation romance. They had fled Nazi occupation as young people, lived through World War II, settled down to middle-class normalcy in Columbus, Ohio — and loved each other ardently until death. Take a moment, read the article, have a nice sob, now tell me your thoughts on open marriage. If you’re pressed for time, just look at this picture.
Should we pity these people for their monogamy?
I am skeptical about open marriage — and let me say for the record that open marriage is NOT infidelity. As long as you’re being above board about your choices, and following agreed upon sets of rules of engagement, that’s not cheating. But let me also point out that polyamory is no defense against infidelity. All it takes to be chumped is for one side to unilaterally change the relationship terms. Cheating is a character problem, not a monogamy problem.
But back to my skepticism. Here’s what I don’t get — WHERE DO YOU PEOPLE FIND THE TIME?
I don’t know about you, but my life is full to the brim with job, spouse, kids, aging parents, friends I don’t have time to see, car registrations, deadlines, my Netflix queue, grown-out roots, expiring gym memberships, plants that need watering… I mean, FUCK, I can’t get my basic adult-ing done in 24 hours, so morality aside, where would I find time for an auxiliary boyfriend?
I can’t get past that basic math — that to devote time to polyamory takes time from something or someone else (see child, aging parents, spouse).
Here’s another part of the calculus. Sometimes (okay MOST of the time) my child, my aging parents, and my spouse are not maximum, super awesome fun. Sometimes they even kind of… (sorry!) suck. Like my son is home from college for one day and informs me at 3 p.m. that oh hey, he needs new contact lenses, a physical, and tire rotation on his car today. That kind of thing.
And how would I guard against the beautiful escapism of polyamory when I have shit to do? I could take my father to his chemo appointments, or I could have a lovely naughty weekend with the boyfriend. Who picks up the slack? My husband? I would always have the option of checking out — and how is that a good thing? If my husband is sick or filing the bills in an irritating manner, I would have the option of running to my healthy boyfriend who never asks me to time-stamp things. How would I not compare? How is it that everyone isn’t pick me dancing constantly?
Also, I’m not a joy to live with either. So do I have to worry when I’m sick and infirm or not properly time-stamping things that my husband is enjoying his girlfriend more than me? Oh sure, it’s his job to reassure me, and we have these Rules of Engagement we’ve just agreed upon, but let’s face it, she’s probably younger than me and files better.
I prefer monogamy. Not because I love captivity or vanilla sex or Columbus, Ohio — but because I believe in being cherished. And isn’t that really what everyone wants? To win the pick me dance definitively and enjoy devotion?
It seems to me the cheating cake eaters and the open cake eaters (all the coupledom! none of the monogamy!) want devotion just fine, but they don’t want to devote exclusively. And to me, devoting yourself to another is where the joy is — to write to your dying husband “You are my one and only” and mean it. And to hear in return, “You are my treasure.”
Maybe you need to flee Nazis or survive World War II to sufficiently appreciate the simple pleasures of stability and a loving spouse. Maybe this age is beset with too many choices. But I believe in One and Only’s. Besides, thanks to monogamy, my life is less complicated and no one is coming after me with a gun.
Photo credit: Linda Kass at Full Grown People.