More and more I'm seeing the topic of "Open Marriages" come up from men online. Unlike what many people may think, it's not the men making the case for sleeping with other women, but rather husbands caught off guard by what they thought was a seemingly happy wife pushing them to "allow" her to have sex with other men. "Hey," the wife explains, "You can have sex with other women now, too!"
The man is confused, scared, angry... and yet... intrigued.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's dive into the nitty gritty of this alternative lifestyle choice and why it is now so much out in the open and what it means for YOU.
The concept of an "open" marriage is not a new one. Two people being together in marriage but open to sex with others has been around (but kpt hush-hush) since... well... forever. It wasn't until the 1972 book Open Marriage: A New Life Style for Couples came out that a how-to guide for these adventuresome couples was created and the concept further thrusted into popular culture. This was in the midst of a huge sexual revolution in America... the 60's and 70's. The baby boomers were challenging, well... everything. If it was "normal" it was "a drag". Is there an institution that is more "normal" than good old-fashioned marriage?
Let's not confuse people in open marriages with swingers. Unlike swingers, open marriage couples have fun without the other partner. Swingers go to parties together and possibly have sex with others in front of their partner. People in an open marriage go out and have dates and casual sex without the presence of the marriage partner.
What do the two have in common? Both are very strict about one rule: "We are married. We are partners. We are primarily with each other. Doing things with others is just sex. It's just fun. That's it. Our communication is always open and we do everything to avoid the complications of becoming attached to others outside of our marriage."
As with most things in life, it ain't that easy. This is especially true when sex is involved.
With the 1980's came the Reagan era and AIDS. The party was over. Studio 54 emptied out, the bathhouses closed up shop and the sexually adventurous all got scared and went home. People they loved were dying and relationships were falling apart left and right. Hey... maybe boring monogamous marriage is ok after all? Seems to be a lot less trouble, at least.
The authors of Open Marriage: A New Life Style for Couples, reassessed things and came out with the follow-up book called The Marriage Premise. They conducted follow-up interviews with couples they spotlighted in their first book... and it wasn't pretty. Most of the couples were not honest with each other about their extramarital affairs (so much for open communication and not getting feelings involved), and as a consequence, most of the marriages did not survive. The authors were upset that so many people took the concept of "open marriage" and defined it as "go out and have sex with whoever, there are no consequences". They saw the concept more as "be individuals that have experiences outside of the marriage... oh, and that might mean sex with others, too." Understandably, everyone saw "SEX WITH OTHERS" and went hog wild.
Wow. Who saw that coming?
Fast forward to today, and the social climate has changed dramatically since the 70's. Women are more powerful than ever. They are the majority of our university students, they occupy high levels in the corporate world and they have stay-at-home husbands that take care of their kids.
With all these changes comes dramatic shifts in our relationship dynamics.
Many men point at times like the 1950's as the Shangri la of marriage past. The man works and the wife stays home and cares for the kids. Divorce rates were much lower. Everything just clicked into place. What they fail to mention is that women weren't necessarily happy with the situation, but the social pressure and lack of financial options may have left them trapped in unfulfilling marriages. She could divorce and be a broke social pariah... or stick it out and raise a family and try to enjoy life.
Both the social and the economic barriers to divorce have been broken down. Women now file for 70% of all divorces... even higher if she is college-educated.
Today we have a pervasive theme that has both good and bad repercussions. That theme is a deadly combo of "you go girl" and "you deserve it all". When society tells you that your nagging feelings of doubt and unfulfillment are not only legitimate but can and SHOULD also be acted upon... well, that can be a recipe for disaster for the unsuspecting husband.
To summarize: We're seeing a rise in women telling their husbands: "I would like to go out and test the waters to see what else is out there... but I don't want to blow up this comfortable marriage we have going on here. At least, not until I know I have a for sure thing lined up. Cool?" In the past, this would result in a one-way ticket to DivorceTown, USA and a lifetime of social shame and financial struggle.
Today, it's an empowering statement and realization of her own sexuality.
I did a search for "Open Marriage" and saw article after article that came up with the same basic conclusion:
"You know... maybe an open marriage isn't such a bad idea."
Is the cultural zeitgeist shifting? Is society overall more open and accepting of relationships that fall outside of the monogamous template we've known all these generations?
No. Actually, if the General Social Survey is to be believed, people today are more intolerant of sexual relationships outside of marriage than they were back in the free and sexy 70's.
These pro-open marriage articles aren't based on hundreds of couple interviews with thousands of data points to digest. No, their research stopped at, "The wife She felt trapped, she wanted something more, she heard about open marriage and wanted to try it... and that's perfectly ok." To say that Sally's thoughts and feeling MAY NOT be 100% A-OK and could actually be destructive to the relationship would go against the much larger and more inclusive/progressive theme of "Anything goes. Who are we to judge? If she wants it, it must be ok."
In other words, telling Sally, "Seriously? That's a pretty stupid and selfish thing to ask. Perhaps you're just not cut out for marriage." results in being labeled an oppressive misogynist.
Maybe we're jumping the gun here and assuming the worst. These are genuine feelings that Sally and thousands of other women like her are experiencing on a regular basis. Maybe the strict confines of a traditional marriage are too much to bear. Hey, men always want to sleep around, right? They like porn and strip clubs and other outlets for their sexuality. That's the equivalent of cheating in many women's eyes. Maybe it's time women evened the score and tried out a more sexually free lifestyle. Life is short. Why be miserable?
Maybe your wife has genuine sexual desire that she feels can't be confined to your one-on-one relationship. Maybe THAT's why your sex life is so dull. Maybe she just feels trapped. Maybe she absolutely still loves you and her sleeping around will go on for years and years and you two will continue to grow closer and closer emotionally and live happily ever after.
It's possible, sure.
I've never seen it play out like that.
In fact, based on what I have seen again and again, I feel confident enough to say:
A wife asking for an open marriage signals the beginning of the end of the marriage. She's breaking up with you.
The wife is so confident in her ability to dictate the rules of the relationship (she lost respect for you long ago), that she tells you she wants to have sex with other men but still keep you around for the other non-sexual resources she needs.
She is bluntly telling you, "You are a great Provider, but I need more Lover. Don't go anywhere. Not yet, anyway. I need you for all that non-Lover stuff right now."
I can't think of anything more hurtful to a man, to be honest. Your wife is, in essence, leaving the romantic side of the relationship... and telling you to put your feelings on hold right now while she figures things out and gets her mind straight.
Why is she doing this?
More than likely, this means that another relationship candidate(s) has already been lined up. She would normally just have an affair behind your back... but that can get messy. This absolves her of any guilt or shame. It also keeps the logistics of her life in order until she can figure things out.
The wife is not stupid. She knows that asking her husband,"Can I sleep around?" will probably be met with "Are you out of your god damned mind?" So, she says what all women in this position say:
"You know, you can have sex with other women, too!"
Before she can finish the sentence, the dumb husband is already fantasizing about that one girl at the gym, that one cashier at the grocery store and that chick that smiled at him that one time at his kid's basketball game.
Men can be so delusional.
He envisions a buffet of hot women at his disposal. A veritable conga line of hoohah ready for him to sample whenever he likes. This will be the sex life he has always fantasized about! It'll be just like porn!
But, wait... that means his wife has sex with other men. That's not good. Oh well... he can deal with that jealousy when it comes. The buffet awaits. This will be amazing.
TRUTH: THE FANTASY RARELY, IF EVER, PANS OUT FOR THE MAN.
Sexually, you and your wife are living in two completely different worlds. Even if you look amazing, you're charming, you talk a great game and have lots of cash to use on your dates... your success in dating will pale in comparison to your wife's.
She's going to get laid. A lot. You will not. It's just that simple.
If you were the type of guy that could go out and get laid so easily, your wife probably wouldn't be asking for an open marriage.
Fast forward to six months after you agree to the new arrangement, and you have a grand total of one woman that you had a series of dates with and one awful night of sex. It probably turned you off from the whole idea completely, but you don't dare tell the wife. You innately know that your lack of success in dating will paint you as a lower status than her. That will be extremely unattractive.
Your wife, on the other hand, had many steamy nights of sex with the one guy she had already begun a relationship with. That didn't work out, so she cried in the arms of another guy she kinda knew... a friend of a friend... and that resulted in a two-month affair that also fizzled out. While she was out with her girlfriends drinking her sorrows away, she met two more men she exchanged numbers with and ended up having sex with them both over the next two weeks.
You get the idea. Not the same ballgame. Combine a world of desperately horny men and a wife with zero boundaries and her new "I get to have extramarital affairs guilt-free" card, and you are in for a world of trouble.
Please keep in mind one important thing: What your wife is doing is NOT just enjoying casual sex with zero interest in commitment. She is most likely looking for a replacement partner. Something or somebody pushed her buttons and her "must procure new mate" programming is off and running. She is back on the market and she won't stop until she gets the guy that will check all the boxes. That's when you'll get the crying wife at home apologizing and telling you that she didn't MEAN to fall in love with this guy, but it just happened.
There MAY be women out there who can casually date and have sex outside of the marriage and be completely unfazed and return home to husband with zero attachment to the other man. I have never seen nor have I ever heard about this scenario playing out successfuly. I just don't feel that the majority of women are wired for such an arrangement.