Scenes from an Open Marriage
July 1, 2022 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Jean Garnett writes about opening up a relationship.

Both more deftly written and less insufferable than I first assumed it might be. With that said, I'm still a little stunned that the husband making the initial request just six months after childbirth didn't result in him getting his balls kicked through his forehead.
posted by ominous_paws (40 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Adding to the dialog is this recent article from a human I know:
posted by PistachioRoux at 10:09 AM on July 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

I don't trust this. There's too much poetry in it.

(Source: I am a published poet and have spent a whole life with writers and their inability to remember that writing well about something won't make it what you write it)
posted by Countess Elena at 10:16 AM on July 1, 2022 [36 favorites]

Finally I asked my husband, “Which scenario endangers us more: you sleeping with other women, or you not sleeping with other women?” I told him to think about it, assess, and render a verdict; I would do whatever gave us the best chance.

Hoooooooo boy to that one. It reminds me a wee bit of a friend of mine in an open relationship (NOT POLY, she'd say), who is basically in that because her husband harangued her into it. Not that she hasn't had her fun, mind you, but lord knows her husband is mildly a jerk about the whole thing, like he somehow only picks the ones she doesn't like to bang and isn't interested in banging anyone she approves of.
(Not saying that happened with #1 here, mind you, but that and the "six months after baby" bit certainly raised some eyebrow with me.). It feels like the best love story in this is with M, the nanny, oddly enough.

I definitely prefer the seattlemet article, which I thought was very sweet. I love it when everyone gets along and hangs out and is friends. I was in a poly relationship in college. I enjoyed it, I was friends with the metamour as well and we all had a good time together. Sadly it all broke up when he quietly freaked out and broke up with everybody (turns out he did that sort of thing) and that kind of buzzkilled the friendship between her and me there. But I've always said I'd do it again, with the right people, and have vaguely been considering the idea again these days if things ever went in that direction. Because I'm totally fine with someone loving others AND me (not "instead of") and seriously, there's nothing quite like being in a friendship/relationship with someone who loves the same dude and GETS what you are dealing with. And three together is awesome.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:49 AM on July 1, 2022 [9 favorites]

OPEN by Rachel Krantz is AN UNCENSORED MEMOIR OF LOVE, LIBERATION, AND NON-MONOGAMY–A POLYAMORY MEMOIR but it gets pretty dark and does a lot of work on the idea of liberation vs. manipulation.
posted by chavenet at 10:53 AM on July 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm very curious about recent poly experiences wrt pandemic. It seems so interesting how we're all dealing with isolation, etc... The stress on relationships and how that is being dealt with.
posted by PistachioRoux at 10:54 AM on July 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

This was agonizing

A seriously depressed woman with a new infant at home has so little libido, but so many crushing burdens, she gives in to her husband's demand to find and fuck weirdos. This has somehow become an alternative to confronting problems in their shared life, inexplicably. Then she tries it herself, only possible after drugs and alcohol, but still, nothing is improved.

At closing, the narrative remains fractured, broken into pieces, a woman and a family who live only in vignette and never in the round

I don't know much about open marriage but I know for sure that finding strangers to fuck will not heal the damage done by depression
posted by your postings may, in fact, be signed at 10:55 AM on July 1, 2022 [80 favorites]

I couldn't enjoy the rest of the article, not knowing if he ever took care of the baby long enough for her to get that nap she so desperately needed in the opening paragraphs.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:04 AM on July 1, 2022 [40 favorites]

> I couldn't enjoy the rest of the article, not knowing if he ever took care of the baby long enough for her to get that nap she so desperately needed in the opening paragraphs.

You know.

You just don't like what you read between the lines.
posted by your postings may, in fact, be signed at 11:05 AM on July 1, 2022 [29 favorites]

I wonder how polyamory relates to personality type - I'm an introvert, my partner is an introvert and I feel like it's difficult to be fully emotionally there at the end of the work day with just one person. When I try to envision being fully emotionally present with two people I feel like I'd do a really bad job, and that worries me. It seems like it would be very easy feel that two relationships were overwhelming, slip into a "well maybe I should just be with one person since two is such a lot" headspace and then just pick the shiny new person because of their shiny novelty only to discover that different isn't better.
posted by Frowner at 11:24 AM on July 1, 2022 [33 favorites]

You know. You just don't like what you read between the lines.

There are reasons why the husband reminds me of my friend's rather shitty husband. I get the "it's all about my dick" vibe there. I would bet all my money hubby ain't taking care of the baby.

Polyamory can have a wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide variety of ways to handle it, changes with the people involved, etc. The first author's situation makes me suspect that may be on the bad end of the scenario (worst case being, husband wants to bang/bang others, wife doesn't really wanna but gives in, things don't get better), and the second author's seems to me to be on the good end. I'm glad the second link was provided to get another take on things.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:45 AM on July 1, 2022 [6 favorites]

this line, from the article, hit me:
Maybe, I thought, the libido of a certain kind of woman is an animal that lives a little and then crawls into a cave and lies there panting for a few decades until, with a final ragged pant, it expires.

i first met that animal about four years ago after i started on estrogen and progesterone, embraced her, then found her tiring, and now i have to admit in the past two years i've mostly tried to shut her away in the far recesses of the house, hoping she dies.

it's my partner who wants to open the relationship up. she's realized she's ace, and i am... not. a decade ago i thought i was. i didn't understand how people could want fucking so fucking bad because the times i had it the most i could say was that it was not unpleasant. it was fine in the way whatever random sitcom that hulu bubbles up is fine. i think one of the last times before i met my partner when i was engaged in any peccadillos i was more interested how the light highlighted the freckles on his face as he climbed on top of me.

now i do get it, but can't get it. maybe i could, but dating is a nightmare, scrolling through and realizing that as a late-thirties asian transfemme who wants conversation and mild roughhousing that most of the guys messaging can't stitch together two coherent sentences without reaching for their cock. the ones that can end up having hangups with mine, and the rare few that i do end up meeting with... now i have to exert myself and be charming? have you seen everything going on right now?

maybe if i starve the beast long enough, she will die.
posted by i used to be someone else at 11:52 AM on July 1, 2022 [14 favorites]

I wonder how polyamory relates to personality type - I'm an introvert, my partner is an introvert and I feel like it's difficult to be fully emotionally there at the end of the work day with just one person. When I try to envision being fully emotionally present with two people I feel like I'd do a really bad job, and that worries me.

Anecdotally, about 60-70% of the polyam couples I know are an introvert with an extrovert partner.
posted by joedan at 11:56 AM on July 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Frowner, I am a massive introvert and that's actually one reason I'm MORE drawn to having multiple partners. I have no interest in less-close friends with whom I need to make small talk. Having more than one intimate partner means I get to have an acceptable support network without having to go to cocktail parties to maintain looser connections. (I'm very open to that level of intimacy among platonic friends too, but our society emphasizes romantic relationships so much that it's easier for me to find from partners.)
posted by metasarah at 1:17 PM on July 1, 2022 [17 favorites]

Beautifully written, and a lot of truth in it. I guarantee some fraction of those women feel used, at least later. How do I know?

Because I was one of them, and I was a True Believer. Guess what? They are using you, and when you need help, no one is there.

And I didn't try just once or twice, I tried for years and I really, really believed that love was infinite and people could be good and decent and ethical in their treatment of others.

But her writing is lovely and it was fun to read, even though it tore me up inside and made me angry at all the women i dated who turned around and tried to feed me to their men because they were tired of them, and all the men who said "We're equal" and then broke up with me because their wives said so.

Fuck it. A skilled wordsmith can put you in the thick of it and there goes my brain.

So how do I feel about reading pretty writing about ugly, unethical behaviour that the writer writes about recognizing as unethical and yet celebrates?

Bad. I feel bad.
posted by liminal_shadows at 1:21 PM on July 1, 2022 [21 favorites]

I have zero problem with any of this in principle (though I agree that the woman in the first article is making pretty poetry out of what is probably not a good deal). But damn, it just seems exhausting.

A friend of mine recently opened her relationship (but it honestly was just her leaving her husband, he couldn't really do open) and started dating a friend of my ex's but they are not exclusive. And I wish them well but it all makes me want to run off and become a hermit.

Maybe if the world wasn't trying to implode...
posted by emjaybee at 1:54 PM on July 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

Thank you, ominous_paws, for the initial article (which I found, on first read, kind-of exhilirating, and as it settled somewhat disturbing, for all the reasons mentioned up-thread), and PistachioRoux for the follow-on.

When I met my now wife, two+ decades ago in a hot tub in Tiburon, in true '90s Marin County form I said that I didn't want a monogamous relationship, but for the most part that's what we've had. Her sex drive disappeared a few years ago (she's a few years older, and menopause and all that), and I've been missing it, and we've talked a lot about it, including with therapists, but it's only been recently that I'm feeling like I'm actually able to be present enough in our relationship to participate in non-monogamy.

So now, in the era when Covid has driven home just how over-committed I can make myself, I'm pondering what it is I'd be looking for in those relationships, and what I'd be giving in exchange. I mean, I love the energy of the joyous playing the field that many of our gay friends my age, in committed relationships, engage in. I like the whole concept of "kitchen table polyamory", and that fluid sense of extended friendships which blend in and out of the sexual and sensual...

... on the other hand, I'm struggling to keep my commitments to the non-sexual friends I've got. And I think about the gendered roles we have for emotional support and wonder if I'm really up to rising above all of that social conditioning. And then I'm like "well, okay, maybe I just solve the libido issue by making sure I have enough 'me' time, and that helps the introvert issue too."
posted by straw at 1:56 PM on July 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

he would come into the bedroom while I was napping and wake me up

posted by The corpse in the library at 2:01 PM on July 1, 2022 [50 favorites]

This is really thoughtful. Thanks.
posted by eotvos at 2:07 PM on July 1, 2022

I just want to highlight that the second one mentions the book Polysecure by Jessica Fern, and — as endorsed by Ask Metafilter answers — it's a great book, including for people in one or more happy relationships.
posted by dreamyshade at 3:46 PM on July 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

If this were fiction, I'd be shipping the narrator and M, but as it is... I suppose one day there'll be a memoir.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:49 PM on July 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Eww that was painful to read! It made me so glad I’m single. But it also reminds me of these shitty men I’ve met on the apps who are so selfish and yuck. Frankly, I see a divorce coming based on her tone alone. Her husband seems so gross and she seems to be forcing herself to go along with it to avoid breaking up. Maybe she thinks literary inspiration will be her consolation prize but it lacks insight or wit beyond her own pain and pondering.

Note: I say this as someone who only wants open or at least monogamish relationships from now on. Someone who enjoys and seeks out adventures and wants a partner who does too. What do I not want? Some asshole who drops this bomb right after I give birth to our child. There are lots of happy, successful mutual open relationships out there but this is not on of them. She writes nicely but seems to lack agency or at least enthusiasm. I wish them luck and look forward to reading her post-divorce epilogue.
posted by smorgasbord at 5:40 PM on July 1, 2022 [11 favorites]

I feel like I am supportive of non monogamy but not for cis het men.

I’m somewhat glib about this, but: this story is far from unique. It’s actually tragically common. A cis het man doesn’t want to be involved in the work of his relationship or his life anymore. Or rather, I should say, he wants to be 10% involved, he wants everything to kind of gently revolve around him and to do only the work he is willing to do, which winds up being around 5-10% of the work children, or a house, or a wife, needs.

He wants more sex but never wants to solve the problem of why his wife is exhausted, why she doesn’t feel like a sexual being. Surely it must be a wife problem, a wife issue; everyone knows his only job is to show up and then be sexually rewarded. How dare she give her time to this tiny demanding creature, when it should be spent fawning on him? Heterosexual men look in the mirror of heterosexual women’s eyes, and what they want to see there is only adoration - no resentment, no threat.

And so he finds younger women. He finds younger women because heterosexual women in their thirties and forties are a tour de force of seeing through men’s bullshit, because he is small in their eyes as he should be small in his own; but that would require him to grow and change and he is absolutely unwilling to do so.

I have spoken to the wives left behind by this. Their husbands always want them to find other men, but only men that don’t threaten them. Odd men, unusual men, younger men, men that could never threaten the security of having someone at home to cook and clean and care for the children and perform the executive function of their lives. Men they could not possibly fall in love with.

This story ends a number of ways. I hope for this author it ends with leaving him, with finding someone bright and beautiful and bold who is willing to do housework and childcare. But given her age, my age, the age of all the women who are going through this in their own marriages, given that poisoned generation of men who came of age in the 90s of entitlement, I somehow doubt it.
posted by corb at 6:53 PM on July 1, 2022 [104 favorites]

I legitimately can't tell if this was intentionally written as a horror story, or if I'm just that out of touch with cis/het/married millennial culture.
posted by wesleyac at 10:00 PM on July 1, 2022 [15 favorites]

The vampires were pretty thick on the ground as far as I was concerned - so horror story seems on the money.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 11:16 PM on July 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

I'm very curious about recent poly experiences wrt pandemic. It seems so interesting how we're all dealing with isolation, etc... The stress on relationships and how that is being dealt with.

One thing I will say about poly folks is, we're good at discussing the stressful intersection of infectious disease risk and competing emotional needs.

But it was still incredibly hard watching everyone split off into (very carefully and skillfully negotiated) pods, and watching some people get left out entirely.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:35 AM on July 2, 2022 [11 favorites]

The seattlemet article spoke more to my own experiences of ENM. I was the one with the bright idea 13 or so years ago. Now me and my husband and my boyfriend and my boyfriend's other partner and my husband's other partner and my husband's other partner's girlfriend and her boyfriend are all going on a float trip together in a couple of weeks, so really, it all turned out OK. But then again, it was my bright idea in the first place.
posted by merriment at 8:03 AM on July 2, 2022 [9 favorites]

I'm super impressed at all of that, merriment!
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:06 AM on July 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

I have only knowingly met one person in a polyamorous relationship. She was quite open to talking about it. They all worked in a small local counseling center. I’m not sure that’s particularly relevant, but I found it somehow logical. Cool, laid-back young woman. Seemed like she’d be a pretty cool counselor, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:23 AM on July 2, 2022

I admire anyone who can do this and make it work.

This sort of thing would just scramble my little brain far too much.
posted by freakazoid at 8:25 AM on July 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Corb you have nailed it, absolutely nailed it. Nothing further to add.
posted by Ardnamurchan at 9:00 AM on July 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

I kind of got the feeling that since she cheated 'first' (and I use the term first very loosely, as in he was probably already considering but she got caught or admitted it first) that he used that as a wedge to harangue her into agreeing to an open marriage in the first place.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:11 AM on July 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking a bit about why these articles both seem just sort of... strange to me, and I think it's because, the first one at least purports to be about a open marriage, but it's not, really — it's mostly about the process of a closed marriage becoming a open one. The second article is upfront about being about that, but in both cases it feels strange to me since I've been poly so long without ever having transitioned a relationship from being monogamous to polyamorous (for that matter, I've never actually been in a monogamous relationship at all). I feel like, in principle, I should relate to these experiences, but mostly it just feels very alien to me — the concrete experiences they describe about meeting metamors and date logistics and those sorts of things are familiar, but the way that they relate to those experiences are just so different from my experience.

I dunno, I guess I just feel like I've read sort of a bajillion "here's how we opened our relationship" things, but very few "here's how I realized that the monogamous status quo does violence by tearing apart the fundamental bonds that are supposed to hold communities together, and built a life entirely separate from that".

And more generally, I'm extremely sceptical of hierarchical poly, but it seems so difficult to end up with anything other than hierarchical poly when you're starting from a marriage.

These articles describe people tentatively making little excursions outside established institutions. I'm hopeful that as people my age and younger grow up, we'll see more and more people abandoning altogether the institutions that have been failing us for so long, and building fulfilling lives entirely outside of that.

(this is obviously not a new hope or desire, but it's one that I think zoomers have a better chance of living up to than the preceding few generations — a lot of things about the world have fundamentally changed, and the ripples of those changes in the culture have barely begun)
posted by wesleyac at 12:47 PM on July 2, 2022 [13 favorites]

I feel the same way wesleyac; it has been so long since I was in a hierarchical relationship (and even longer since my last monogamous one) that it's odd when I'm reminded, "Oh yeah, most people think it's totally normal to control what their partners may do with their minds and bodies." Also hoping that younger generations value both their personal autonomy and their communities enough to reject that in larger numbers.
posted by metasarah at 3:28 PM on July 2, 2022 [7 favorites]

I hope we can build a world where any form of healthy relationship can flourish

That world is not the world we currently live in, but I admire those who commit themselves to trying, who really put themselves into loving whoever, however.. it's pretty rare, but you see glimpses.

the odds work against healthy polyamory: learned behaviour needs to be unlearned, N. American culture certainly doesn't know how to "deal" with it, and most of what I've seen or know of is not what I'd want in my life. But I know we can do it. I'm reaching an age where I am just desperate about the time left with my monogamous partner, you can see age stealing bits away and there is not enough time, there's just not enough time with even this one beautiful person
posted by elkevelvet at 9:47 AM on July 3, 2022 [9 favorites]

I think there is a foundational difference between relationships that started as poly, or are queer, and those that are trying to jump the rails from cishet monogamy. And by queer I mean folk who are both queer, and openly practicing queerness. My boyfriend is married. He and his wife have been poly as long as they've been together, and prior. I was two years out of a mono marriage and frustrated beyond belief and horribly intimated by dating apps. I have a child, I have trauma, I have deep and loving friendships, and finding a new person seemed too much. My boyfriend and I were acquaintances - he had dated one of the people I have a deep emotional relationship with, who I'd lived with after the separation, and we met at her birthday party years prior.

Initially we were planning on casual sex, but very quickly realised we practiced a kind of intimacy and domesticity that overshadowed that (brilliant) sex. He had girlfriends at the time, along with his wife, and has had serious partners before. It was no surprise to him, or nothing unusual. I adapted well - me and his wife get along very well, they've since met my kid who likes them as well, and we have our routines. It's made easier by both of us being introverted while he is extroverted - going on dates with me or visiting me is rarely a significant loss for her, and I enjoy my alone time too. That's part of why it works.

Part is the way we all communicate at a basic level. Varying degrees and kinds of neurodiversity, PTSD, therapy, curiousness, militant kindness, all mean we can wrangle the practicalities well.

We are also all queer. And in many ways gender non-conforming. So we are used to a certain level of being othered and outside the norms of sexual and romantic behaviour. Our friends know and accept us as that.

The biggest difficulty I faced was the realisation that I can date someone else. The practice of it, outside existing long distance proto-relationships, has eluded me. I feel unreasonably lucky that my first poly relationship is with someone who loves and cares for me, cooks breakfast while I make coffee, rubs my shoulders when I'm on deadline, whose wife supplies me with books, who respects my boundaries, who fucks me gloriously. I am reluctant to open myself up to be vulnerable with others.

I couldn't have done this when my child was young. It isn't the libido aspect - I'm 40 with PTSD, I don't consider it a top priority and certainly didn't then. I had no emotional space or energy. As much as my partner having another partner lessens that, it only does so if they don't provide emotional support to me in something remotely equitable. And in that relationship, with a small child, it was not equitable.

I've had years of therapy to work through things. It didn't make me the kind of wife my ex wanted, or needed. It gave me the tools to have the wonderful life I have now. Which includes a beautiful bisexual man, ten years younger, who is married to a wonderful woman he loves, and who loves me. I can't imagine rolling those dice again. It's nice not feeling guilt or shame for any nascent crushes though, and being able to talk to him about the woman I love who is out on her family farm on the other side of the world. It's great to have a partner to share the CSA box with, a big one, and to plan life with.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:23 PM on July 3, 2022 [12 favorites]

I've always thought one benefit of healthy intimate groupings that go beyond one pair, is the pool of people who "have your back" would assumedly widen/deepen. There are so many vulnerable couples out there, quite apart from whatever toxic elements any individual might bring to a relationship. So much of how we live and consume is predicated on the "single family home" and not only is this unattainable for many, and always has been, it's just not a great way to live for so, so, many. Ironically one of the biggest jolts to my thinking is my monogamous partner, she never bought into the "that man's sperm means he is this baby's father" idea, raised her two sons on her own, and that is where I came along.. not a poly relationship, but most of her life she'd developed strong friendships--primarily but not exclusively women--and I've learned more about healthy relationships in the past 15 years than in the previous 35.
posted by elkevelvet at 7:02 AM on July 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

How do these people have the energy? that’s the thrumming note echoing through my head every time I read something like this. I have a hard time believing that anyone who wants to open their marriage while thy have very small children is being a present parent or partner. And this poor woman just seems to have no boundaries whatsoever. M is a member of our family! No she’s fucking not. She’s your employee. She seems like a wonderful person who you can be (a certain kind of) friends with and mentor, but she is not a member of your family.
posted by bq at 8:54 AM on July 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

Yeah, this particular thing seems... exhausting. Also maybe overambitious?

Like, IDK, I know poly families who are doing a rock-solid job of raising kids. (Having extra emotional support, and in some cases extra help with the day-to-day of running a home, can be fucking great when it works out). But the good coparents in my poly circle are people who started slowly with a lot of forethought. Sometimes that's "we built a stable poly relationship together before we considered kids." Sometimes it's "Okay, there were already kids from previous relationships, and we thought very, very hard about what blending our families would mean." Usually these are people who've been in happy poly relationships before.

I do not personally know anyone who were previously monogamous, "opened" a relationship where they were raising small kids, and are still happily together. I'm sure they exist, but I've never met them. It's definitely harder.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:01 PM on July 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

"jean garnett husband drummer" shows up now in my Google search dropdown choices. People are looking for this guy.
posted by mecran01 at 1:44 PM on July 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

"One thing I will say about poly folks is, we're good at discussing the stressful intersection of infectious disease risk and competing emotional needs."

In my experience that has not usually been the case. Recent case in point: During the first month everything shut down I was living in a very large house with 4 roommates. One of those roommates was polyamorous, and she tried to fly in her boyfriend from California where everything was the worst at that time, and it still looked like we had a chance of getting a handle on it. After two weeks of lockdown she was bluntly saying she just emotionally couldn't handle not being touched. In a house with five people, and I guarantee any one of us would have given her a hug. She wasn't just risking her lovers, she was risking her housemates and the kid she was nannying (her employers didn't know, and I strongly considered telling them). A few weeks later she flew out somewhere to spend a week or two with a bunch of friends in an "isolated cabin" and they were all traveling from all over as well, after which she planned to return.

I also had a close friend (who was also an ex) who lived with a polyamorous group for several years, before discovering that one of the members had actively lied about her STD status the entire time. She'd been lying to the entire group she lived with and fucked. My ex is allergic to latex and his risk strategy with people he dates regularly is to not wear protection if they get tested regularly and the tests continue to come up negative. She had herpes and confessed that she'd known about it all along when she got caught.

I personally know at least three couples off the top of my head who admitted to me they became polyamorous when one or the other of them was cheating and either finally confessed or got caught and said basically "we do the poly thing or I walk." Because I'm a nosy bastard and am interested in such things I asked all of them if they used protection when cheating. Because I was personal friends with the cheaters they answered me honestly. In every case the answer was no.

Poly people aren't better at it. They're better at pretending to be. In my experience the lesbian BDSM community is the only community I've ever been involved with who get the safer sex discussions right. Many years ago, when it took work to get accepted in the kink community, the heterosexual community were fairly decent at it, but not quite at the lesbian level. My few recent kink experiences have led me to believe that the overall bdsm community is no longer great about this.
posted by liminal_shadows at 10:34 PM on July 10, 2022 [4 favorites]

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