March 31, 2006
Why Monogamy Is Soooo Passe.
by Meredith Lindemon
Married people can’t seem to keep it in their pants these days. People are swinging, swapping, plain-old cheating and letting their spouses bone anyone, willy-nilly. Has “forsaking all others” become some trite cliche you mumble right before you head to the reception to get loaded? Is monogamy dead? Since the Bush administration is obsessed with the sanctity of marriage, we figured we’d look into the state of some unions right here in Philly. And what better time than the annual gag-inducing, hearts-and-flowers clusterfuck we know as Valentine’s Day? We decided we wanted to know who was screwing who, how they went about it and why. Funnily enough, there’s plenty of reasons to hand your wife the keys and say, “See you in the morning, honey. Do you have enough Trojans?”
Victor is a 44-year-old white Republican middle manager for the local branch of a national communications corporation. He has a “gorgeous” 29-year-old wife he pimpsunbeknownst to herover the Internet, mostly to well-hung Arab guys.
“My wife likes Arabic men. Don’t ask me why, she just does,” explains Victor. Some of the guys she goes home with are men that he has sent her way, not all of them Arabic. The fact that his wife sleeps around is cool with himthey have an open marriage; Victor just wants to help out. And since he says he wanted to marry her when she was 19, he figured he’d allow her to “go out and sow her wild oats.”
A few months ago, he set up a profile describing her on an adult Web site. When he gets responses he tells inquirers he’s actually her husband and picks guys to send out to meet her at whatever club she goes to.
“If they seem to match up with my wife,” Victor says, “I guide them in her direction.” He acts as her middleman, orchestrating some of her liaisons, although she gets laid plenty on her own. “I tell them exactly what to say or do to get my wife’s undivided attention. It’s like hitting a home run every time.
“The guys think it’s fantastic. But I say listen, here’s the deal: This is not a guaranteed bang. You have to put effort in.”
While not exactly your typical sacrosanct marriage, Victor’s works outsort of. He says he’s happy, and feels that his wife has the “best life ever.” The fact that he’s trying to pull strings behind the scenes may have something to do with his belief that on some level, his wife wants to be controlledthe reason he feels she has a thing for what he calls “extremely jealous” Arab men.
Dr. B. Hibbs, a psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist at Philadelphia’s Center for Contextual Therapy, says, “A lot of people studied open relationships when they first started [getting attention] in the 1960s. The [findings] were not very good for these relationships. When couples come to me, one partner is in high distress and it’s destructive [to that partner].”
Brian is a paramedic instructor. He lives in the Northeast with his wife of nearly two years and their 6-month-old daughter. Two years after they started dating, he and his wife decided to become swingers, and have been doing it for nearly a year and a half. “We wanted to try something new and adventurous, as long as we didn’t hurt each other,” he says. “It’s a neat idea, but it’s also lousy jealousy is a risk. If one person’s weak, it collapses, but if you have mutual strength, it’s all right.” Brian has watched other men have sex with his wife. “I’d be lying if I said [I wasn’t jealous], but when you see someone with what you have, you want it more.”
Once they had their child, Brian says the swinging quieted down. “[Since] we had the baby there’s been no sex swapping. She wants to, but we’ve kind of parked it,” he says. “When you have a child, it’s a sensitive situation.”
As far as swinging goes, Dr. Hibbs says, “It can work for a while, but one partner [can] become attached to the third party, and then they become the affair partner.”
Donna has been married for 29 years and has never entertained the thought of cheating on her husband. “I wouldn’t even look another man in the eye in the grocery store, I was that respectful of my marriage.” Recently, however, due to severe health problems, it became physically impossible for her husband to have sex. “I felt at 50 years old, I was way too young to give up sex. I went to him and told him what my intentions were. I wasn’t going to sneak around, I wasn’t going to be made to feel like a pervert or a slut.”
When she initially approached her husband about it, he wasn’t happy. “I asked him to step into the situation,” Donna says, “to kind of live it before I did. He had to give his blessing before I did anything.” She says she uses her open marriage primarily as a social outlet, with a small emphasis on the sexual.
John is 35, in sales, and an old-fashioned cheater. His wife doesn’t know what he’s up to; she’s at home in Reading watching their two kids. Over a crab cake lunch, where he sticks his ABC gum to his plate, he makes it abundantly clear that he loves to give oral. He loves to give oral over long lunches in hotels to women he meets online. He would love to give oral to his interviewer (who politely declines). John cheats because he’s not getting enough sex since his wife had children. He says he could have sex three times a day. He feels that eventually, he’ll approach his wife about an open marriage, which he feels she’ll go along with mostly because he wants to.
Technically, the only cheater here is John, and that’s because he doesn’t adhere to the it’s-not-cheating-if-you-tell rule. But is there really a difference if you know your spouse is having sex with someone else or not? Or are in-the-open trysts actually helping to save our most precious institution?
“I believe the majority of marriages fail because of jealousy [over the feeling of] ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,’” Victor says. “But if you take down the fence and let them roam, if they love you, they’ll come back home.”
Daphne Gottlieb, a San Francisco-based author, and editor of Homewrecker: An Adultery Reader, an anthology of personal essays and fiction about cheating and infidelity, says, “I believe that infidelity is wrong, but I also feel that lifelong monogamy may be an unrealistic and unfulfillable ideal for most people. Controlling someone else’s sexual desire is wrong, which monogamy tends to do.
“I think there is a certain glamour and drama surrounding infidelity that is seductive,” Gottlieb adds. “I know that certain affairs are fed on the secrecy and discretion that they’re engendered by.”
According to Hibbs, “Infidelity is not an epidemic, but it’s pretty prevalent. In 50 percent of marriages, one partner ends up having an affair, but that is a high estimate. [Infidelity] doesn’t feel ordinary, even though the statistics are high. It feels devastating.”
Hibbs cannot say exactly how many couples experience infidelity; people don’t tend to tell the truth when asked. But maybe this is why we see people opening their marriages. Do people figure that since their partner is going to sleep around anyway, they might as well do it in the open? Or is it just another way to commit to the idea of monogamy, but not the actuality?
“I wish that America as a culture would recognize maybe monogamy is not what we think it is,” says Kathy, another swinger interviewed for this article. “Monogamy is not what you do with someone, but how you feel about them.”
Victor says, “I think marriage is heading in that direction now. You can’t stay with one person that long. If people were smart, they’d get on the bandwagon.