I have noticed a new trend in my on-line dating life: being approached by a guy in an open marriage.
It’s supposed to be different from cheating because his wife knows that he’s dating, approves of it, supports it, and is dating other partners herself.
How nice for them!
Here is the series of questions I ask Open Marriage Guy when I am approached to become part of his wonderfully free, polyamorous* lifestyle:
1. Do you think there is any difference in social status between you, Married Man, and me, Single Girl? In other words, have you considered all the social benefits that are conferred upon you by virtue of the fact that you have a ring on your finger?
If you haven’t considered this, let me prompt you. Marriage is regarded by our society to be a marker of maturity, stability, faithfulness and good citizenship. Single adults are regarded by our society to be sad, incomplete, yearning, relationship failures, or rejects.
Do you therefore intend to make up for this status differential by informing your family, friends, professional colleagues and neighbors that you’re polyamorous? If not, why not?
Because it benefits you to look like a stable, monogamous married and family guy, right?
2. You tell me that you have real love and commitment to offer in the event that we get intimately involved. You tell me that I seem like an amazing woman and that both you and your wife would cherish having me as part of your circle of intimacy.
Thank you for the compliment, but I have more questions:
First of all, you don’t know me. You do understand that you’ve basically gone shopping for someone to introduce into your romantic life, right? And propositioned me to enter into an arrangement that benefits you but has no long term prospects for me, right? I haven’t identified as poly and you’re trying to sell me on this?
That’s not love. That’s commerce.
How does this love and commitment work, exactly? You two share a familial home with children and a separate circle of friends and family. Will I be welcome to come hang out, share meals, watch movies, and sleep over? If not, are you them presuming that I will be hosting all of our sexy get-togethers at my home?
Of course you are.
If not, then how will you explain my presence to the children? “Auntie Victoria is going to spend the night tonight! She and Daddy are special friends so they’ll be sharing a bedroom.” Really? Oh, you would just lie to your children to preserve the status quo, to raise them in a deceitful environment? What a great parenting strategy.
No, you weren’t going to ever introduce me to the kids at all, of course. Because what you’re looking for is an opportunity to treat me like a consumer item — a marital aid to generate more love, care, sex, fun and intensity for you while not at all being there for me in any substantive way.
3. About that “love and commitment” stuff, I was wondering:
When your mother-in-law needs to be picked up from the airport on a day for which we have made plans (tr: you and your wife have worked your playmates into your schedule), who’s going to get canceled on?
And canceled on, and canceled on, and canceled on.
When my birthday party falls on the night of your kid’s play, will I be assuaged by a late night visit when you come over bearing a cupcake with a candle in it? That’s cute. You must have mistaken me for someone with no self-regard.
I hear your invitation as “Hey, you seem awesome! My wife and I would like to sign you on for a relationship in which your needs will never, ever come first!”
I was wondering about STDs: if you and your wife are sexually active with other partners, do I get to meet all of her partners so that we can all discuss what we are all doing to mutually protect ourselves from the spread of infectious disease? Or was I just supposed to trust you when you tell me what’s up in that regard? That’s really fascinating, how you think my self-esteem is that damaged.
As an accomplished woman in a leadership position, when do I get to introduce you — my loving and committed lover — to my community? Will you be by my side when I receive an honor? Probably not, huh? And where will you be while I’m doing the hard work required to receive that recognition? Bringing me tea, taking out the garbage, rubbing my shoulders, holding me night after night through the difficult months of sustained effort, and leaving me supportive messages through the day?
Naw. You’ll be at work, and going home to your wife and kids night after night — which you should be doing. I’ll get the leftovers, the incessant apologies, and the residual energy of the narcissistic drama addiction that you have confused for love.
You’re beginning to get the idea that this arrangement isn’t particularly appealing to me — or any self-respecting woman — aren’t you?
Oh, hey, listen. When I was younger, this kind of arrangement would have really tempted me. Back then, I didn’t know my worth. I didn’t know who I was and what I deserved. I thought it might even be convenient to be an acknowledged mistress — romantic dates, passionate kisses, adoration and none of the messy, daily challenge of co-habitation and marriage. I considered the merits of the deal as not interfering with my real marriage to the Church.
But I’m a much older now and I have stood up with dozens of couples and officiated at the covenanting ceremony by which they declare that they shall be faithful to each other unto death. I have been the one to sign the marriage certificate bestowing upon them the full rights and privileges of state-sanctioned holy matrimony. When I stand at that ceremony, I am fully aware that by this rite of passage, these two people will henceforth have conferred upon them the status of Grown-Up by society. They will be given legal privileges, tax benefits, and big time social approval.
I have not fought with other social justice activists for marriage equality so that those so joined could publicly benefit from the institution of marriage while privately turning to individuals like me for added comfort, sex, fun and diversion with no attendant responsibility or accountability.
If all the couples who benefit from a polyamorous lifestyle want to come out of the closet and explain to all those who witnessed their marriage (starting with parents and grandparents) that their intention was to build a domestic arrangement where they would be faithful to one another in love but openly move in and out of other romantic relationships, I would support that. I think it is high time that we had this broader conversation about the sham that is monogamy in our culture and stop pretending that coupled isolation and monogamy is working for most people over three to six decades together. It is not.
I respect that it is not, I see that it is not, and I commend people for trying to figure out how to handle the failure of traditional marriage expectations in a different world.
I respect that married couples may negotiate, in trust, porous boundaries in their relationship that allows for authentically loving relationships to blossom into romance. Then let’s stop keeping those relationships secret and shameful and re-define marriage so that it doesn’t split the world into marrieds and singles, with one group presumed the more mature and stable.
Look at this sucker. His wife has convinced him that sleeping around is about feminist liberation and not about selfish hedonism. She’s using him for domestic comfort and stability while screwing around. That’s not polyamory, that’s exploitation.
And look at all those men who have contacted me in recent years to try to persuade me that I would be getting anything but a raw deal by secretly (they say “discreetly”) entering into a relationship with a married man.
Some of them are just cheaters. Some of them think that I’m going to sympathize with them about their frustrating wives — women who tolerate them day after day and often financially support them! Women who raise their children, who cook their meals, who do their laundry, who wrap their parent’s Christmas presents. Oh honey, you have the wrong woman. Watch me give you precisely zero time of day while you insult other women in my presence.
But nowadays, more married Lotharios and their wives have embraced the new romantic consumerism: scoop up wonderful, emotionally healthy, intelligent, fun, understanding, loving single people and use them for all they have to offer while offering crumbs in exchange, all while comfortably benefiting from the social status of looking Properly Married.
Happy Valentine’s Day, lovers. I’m here to reform or dismantle oppressive institutions, not to offer up my body, mind and soul to enable you so you can benefit from them.
* A poly friend of mine pointed out that this is not really polyamory, which is a good point for further consideration. I am using the term “polyamorous” because it is how many of the men in “open marriages” who proposition me identify themselves. – V.W.