Does Anyone Ever say “Closed Marriage?”

What makes you feel squirmy?

Uncooked egg whites? Putting on wet underwear? Seeing something you know you shouldn’t?

A NYT Sunday magazine story “Is An Open Marriage a Happier Marriage?” –they post earlier online–gave me a major case of squirms. And I’m clearly not the only one. In just a few hours the elegant piece, written by Susan Dominus and photographed by Holly Andres, had racked up nearly 1,000 comments, and now much more. A large of plurality of them use some form of the “have cake and eat too” argument, as in, it does-not-work, or not really possible. A few express wistfulness or vague jealousy…as in, I wish I could do that…

The story definitely has keyhole-appeal, learning things you normally don’t get to. The married couple that actually invites her boyfriend to come and live with them and their toddler son. The seeming fact that women are seeming more likely to request an open marriage. Of the 25 couples the author interviewed only six of them were opened by the husbands, and generally the wives are more active outside the marriage. But there’s no pretense that it’s a scientific or accurate work of sociology and that’s important I think.

Somewhat usual in a piece like this, the author inserts herself in an interestingly ambiguous way. She’s both curious and feels like a bit of puritan for her straightness. And yet, oddly, finds herself lying to her husband about dinner with a colleague while on a business trip. She tells him she has had dinner with a group of colleagues, instead of the one the one man she’s drawn to. Nothing untoward happens…..except in her mind…

While she questions her motive, the lie doesn’t fit with the whole open marriage idea…supposedly in these situations there is never any lying involved.


I’m more or less suspicious. Mostly more. How long do these arrangements last? Are they are way station as couples delude themselves that their marriage is ending?  The couples are suspiciously white and upper middle class, since as the author says, people really can’t constantly renegotiate their marriage relationship if they are juggling three jobs.

And the seeming result, much discussed, is generally openness and freedom in other areas of the relationship as well. Why not go straight for the emotional openness instead of get it as a seeming side effect of  additional sexual relationships?  Because the impetus really does generally seem about sex.

In the way that stories about parenting generally only consider young-ish children, this story about openness in marriage has hugely to do with a certain stage of marriage and sex. Which is great. I’d love to get me some. But what about marriage in the age of Viagra? Or do these additional seemingly crucial, and even permanent relationships fade away when someone gets really sick.

Hard not to put oneself into the idea in a story like this, which is interesting from a distance. Who doesn’t want to know the complications of other people’s marriages….? But close up?

As one who was married for 35 years, it seems hard enough to manage one relationship, without the the complications of multiple others on both side.

Old-fashioned. There. I said it.

Ick. Said that too.


About Karen Ray

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