knows not what the curse may be

9/18/11

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I’m not sure how this monogamy vs. open-ish relationship stuff got into the water lately, but I’ve found myself in dinner conversations about it with people who have nothing to do with my online life. Maybe Dan Savage’s message has permeated past the cultural tipping point, or maybe I’m sliding into an age group that is embodying the phrase “when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the fear of change, you will act.”

I’m friends with a couple (with kids) who have an open-ish marriage and are doing fine. I’m also friends with a couple whose story went like this: the guy wanted a slightly more relaxed take on monogamy, and the wife was like “well, whatever, it’s not my bag, but I guess we can try it.” Now she has had a couple of innocent dalliances – well within the new rules – and he is besot with anxiety about it, and not having any fun.

Savage’s take on all this is pretty nuanced: he doesn’t believe everyone should give up on monogamy, he just thinks that a portion of marriages shouldn’t rule it out. Folks are pretty miserable, he reasons, and it’d be better to give your relationship a rebirth rather than a painful, life-sapping divorce.

Here’s where I stand on things, and let me preface by saying THIS IS PURELY MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.

• I once said this 8 years ago and got a lot of shit for it, but when I got engaged to Tessa, I felt a palpable relief not having to be on the high-or-low-level motherfucking prowl all the time. I expressed it as the “relief of not having to find other women attractive”, but it was the same emotion. I say this as a guy, with all the implicit buffoon qualities of same. The hunt, the chase, whatever you call it, is fun for about a decade, but after that, it’s a bona[fide] drag better suited for ungulates.

• The above has nothing to do with the fact that my wife is simply amazing, and that I waited a LONG, LONG TIME to find her (again), so long that we turned our attempts at a second child into a craps game with crazy odds. I genuinely love almost every moment we spend together, so the idea of swangin’ for swangin’s sake sounds vaguely nonsensical.

I mean, I’m still titillated by… you know, “tits”… and all men have their fantasies. Part of it is seeing if you can still “pull”, if you still have the ability to seduce, if you have a few ounces of your wild-eyed zest for experience left, to convince a woman to want to be with you, sans culottes, for a few hours at a time. And there are some wonderful, wonderful women in the world, some reading these words right now. But…

• I can’t believe I’m saying this – and my past self would roll his eyes to the needing-an-optometrist point – but there is something noble in sacrifice. Given my past, given how I grew up, and given the examples I had, the chances I would be in a stable relationship were very small. Not acting on presented temptations is something to be proud of, to hold in esteem. It means that you’re not completely made of shit, which is something I’d suspected of myself in the past.

• The rest is logistics. You’d have to be able to find this other person who wants to delicto you in flagrante, especially if you’ve agreed not to go after friends (which sucks, especially if you’d carried some torches). This person would have to be either single (and therefore not really get it) or in a exactly-matching “open” relationship. You’d have to find a way to get to where they are, and… oh man, I just got depressed before finishing that paragraph.

• Like the Camel wisely said in the comments, other people are kinda icky. I don’t even mean disease-wise, just the basic squidginess of other peoples’ bodies, and their peccadillos, and their armadillos.

• Some people fall in love with people they have sex with. Even dudes. That will not “strengthen your marriage”.

Now, I’m sure there’s a perfect scenario for the quintessential bit of non-monogamy, even for the deliriously-happily married. You’re on a trip, you find yourself in a bizarre and wonderful situation, there is someone you admire and find stunningly sexy, and you just want a few hours (excuse me, Emily Dickinson) to “lap the Miles, and lick the Valleys up.”

Imagine yourself with an ancient crush, a person you lusted after in high school or college, a magnetic bond that soldiered on, unrusted by time or circumstance. Kissing them, being with them, consummating years of wondering about “the one that got away” may do wonders for your psyche, heal old wounds and just plain ol’ Make You Happy above and beyond your solid, wonderful marriage.

But I suspect these situations are few and far between, and you’ll rarely have the arrangements necessary to deal with them. It’s kilometers too close to the frozen lands of shame for me. The siren beckons, and the hills are laden with forbidden fruit, but Saturday night watching Overboard with your best girl is pretty fucking awesome too.

4 thoughts on “knows not what the curse may be

  1. Camel

    There are a lot of factors involved. I think that people who get married at 21 are, at some point, going to wonder if they missed out, if there is something better out there. They will likely be wrong because they don’t realize how much dating just sucks. I also think that people who marry when they’re older because they are scared they’re running out of time, and they purposely overlook some scary stuff on the part of their partner…that can cause a problem too. You get to a point when you’re tired of everone saying you’re too picky, so when someone comes along who has 85 percent of the qualities you want, you jump at it…and overlook some red flags.
    But if you find someone you admire, crave, and love, then giving up other people may be easy. I think the more attractive people in the world are going to be the ones who get to make that choice more often, because they get to do some of the picking and not just wait to be picked.

    Reply
  2. Joanna

    What intrigues me about this topic is why people who have accepted reality in other realms of their lives expect that sex should satisfy their every fantasy. Is it because the fantasy may be attainable, just one social interaction away, while our perfect anything else is more complexly elusive?

    Reply
  3. chm

    Pretty sure the attractiveness thing would cut both ways since one would expect more attractive people to have much more temptation. But as far as single factor explanations go, I’ll take a couple’s combined emotional stability as the best predictor for marital success.

    Reply
  4. Neva

    Okay, I guess you all are more highly evolved but this whole discussion just seems way beyond anything I could fathom. I would be much too jealous to ever consider this option. Now matter how mature I might convince myself that I am, even if the person was someone I would never meet or know I know the thought of my husband with someone else would be forever engraved on my brain and would change everything. If I feel that way about him there is no way I could think it is okay for me.

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  5. Caitlin

    Ian, though I agree with you, this brings to mind something I have wondered about. I am curious about how honest you can be (on this topic or others) on your blog when you know your mom, wife, siblings, old friends, new friends, long lost acquaintances and random people searching for Jarts are all in the audience?

    Reply
  6. Ian

    Well, for this topic it’s pretty easy, since my interest is purely psycho-anthropological. I’m always fascinated when the codes that Were Always Thus get turned upside-down.
    But sure, there’s lots of stuff I could say if I were anonymous – especially work stuff, which many of you would enjoy, alas.

    Reply

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