When it comes to marriage, most people probably consider monogamy a prerequisite. But Jenny Block, author of Open: Sex and Life in an Open Marriage, says that opening her marriage to other partners has made her happier and her husband too. Here, she makes the case for more than one partner.
Q: What precipitated your move to an open marriage?
A: Restlessness is a good way to describe it. I actually had an affair about three years into my marriage, and when I told my husband about it, he said that he was really upset that I lied to him — not that I slept with someone else.
Once we got past the initial horror of infidelity, I started to realize what I wanted. Most marriages are based on a lot more than sex; it’s not the glue that holds most people together. Monogamy seems like a rule someone else made that didn’t work for us. I knew I didn’t want to leave my husband, but I was freaked out that I had agreed to only have sex with this one person. For a while, I felt like I just had to suck it up and be unhappy. But then I introduced the idea to my husband and we both did some research, and it stopped seeming so weird.
Q: So where did you start? Did you hit the bars or go online?
A: That’s where luck comes into it. My best friend at the time had always had a crush on my husband, and my husband had always had a crush on her. It was sort of a joke. Finally, I approached both of them to see what they thought. A few weeks later, we decided to try it. We all knew each other really well, and we figured that if it turned into a disaster we would be able to move past it. So the three of us started a relationship, and we were together for about six months.
It only ended because she met someone she decided to marry. In the universe of polyamory, they call that girl “the unicorn” because it’s so hard to find a person both spouses are interested in and who is interested in both spouses.
Q: So that arrangement worked for you?
A: It made sense for us. It was three people who really liked each other, who were all interested in each other sexually, who all respected each other. We all talked about what we wanted and what the rules were, and it was great. At the time, we thought we’d figured out the key to relationships — that you could be with someone and not be with someone. I know it might sound bonkers, but from the inside, it makes way more sense than two people — for us, anyway. As many different options as there are for food, clothes, religion, parenting and everything else, there’s little flexibility when it comes to marriage to actually adapt to the wants and needs of people who are in that relationship.
Q: So what kinds of rules did you and your husband have to establish?
A: We sort of set them up and then they evolved as we went. After the three of us were together for a while with my best friend, she decided that she only wanted to see my husband. Once I got over my feelings being hurt, I realized that this was part of the deal. Then, after she left, my husband suggested that we just keep it with people out of town, and who we only know peripherally and aren’t connected to our regular lives.
I ended up with a few friends with benefits. That worked just fine until I met my current girlfriend; neither of us wanted to date anyone else. My husband was happy for me to have a steady relationship; she and he don’t have a sexual relationship but they’re very good friends. I think he prefers that it’s a woman instead of a man. So the rules changed; for us, it’s about flexibility. You’re not the same person at 45 as you were at 25, and if you’re incapable of change then you’ll end up apart.
Q: How has sex with other people improved your primary relationship with your husband?
A: It takes away a lot of the “what am I missing?” because we can do what we want. If my husband wants to go to a bar and buy a pretty girl a drink, he can. When cheating isn’t an issue, it seems to settle a lot of things. A lot of stress has been eliminated because everything’s on the table. It demystifies the thrill of cheating.