I’m almost positive we don’t stink anymore. Except Simon. He totally does.
It’s not often that the ideas alone in a book stick in my craw and get me all bothered, but Jenny Block’s Open had that effect on me. To sum up from the last post: Open is about Block’s experience of, and her case for, open marriage.
I should say first off, that Block is a terrific speaker and she’s very good at capturing things like that heady feeling of first attraction. At her talk, she emphasized how an open marriage allows her and her partners to live honestly, instead of cheating—the deception and betrayal is the hurtful part of infidelity, in her experience, not the act of sleeping with someone else.
It’s interesting, I think, that only sexual stuff that leads people to an open marriage. Plenty of us who can’t get what we need from our spouses get it from other people—an appreciation of jazz, say, or a discussion of the kind of books we like. All in all, I have to believe that open marriage is definitely a workable situation for some people.
That said, it ain’t going to be me, babe. The most surprising thing about this book to me was how strong my own reaction was to it.
I should point out here that I believe that each marriage is a black box, knowable only to the people inside of it. I haven’t even had adult relationships. Brandon and I met when we were nineteen. I know our marriage well, but that’s it.
So I think part of my big issue with this book is when Block branches out from her own experience and makes assumptions about how widespread the problems that led her to open marriage are. One of her main arguments is that monogamy is unnatural and that men and women are biologically driven to multiple partners. “And if that’s how we’re wired, so be it,” she writes. It’s a frustrating argument. As Barbara pointed out in the comments, the whole “natural” v. “unnatural” is a losing game. I mean, one could make the case that we’re “wired” to hasten the deaths of our weakest newborns, say, but we don’t.
Worse, the us v. them thread put me on the defensive. Block writes: “Open marriage is not for the insecure. It is not for people concerned about what the Joneses think, or whose self-worth is inextricably tied to their partners’ faithfulness and attention … It is not for the dishonest, the close-minded, the naïve, the ignorant, or the incommunicative. It is not for people ruled by ego. It is not for the unimaginative or the unadventurous.”
I know. I know Block is tired of being thought of as some sort of promiscuous sexual deviant, but jeez. Do we really have to break it down into the polyamorists—brave, honest, and true to themselves—and the monogamists? The Snoozy McDimwits?
There aren’t any good statistics on how many of us marrieds cheat, so Block and anyone else who writes about monogamy or infidelity becomes instantly susceptable to what journalist E.J. Graff calls the my-friends-and-me method of journalism. Block suggests that it’s possible that upwards of 80% of marriages involve some infidelity. If that were true, I do believe I’d need my smelling salts.
For most of my friends and me, monogamy works fine. For me and Brandon, I know it does. And it does for a lot of the reasons that Block scoffs at. Yes, part of my self-identity is wrapped up in Brandon because a lot of my history is wrapped up in Brandon; we’re inter-dependent and introducing anyone else to this dynamic, for us, would be dangerous and stupid. I don’t get a charge out of seeing anyone flirt with Brandon, much less have sex with him. And if I want something else while making the whoopee, I ask. (Granted, this is not difficult since I’m hetero; if I wanted a pair of lady breasts to nuzzle, it’d be another ball game.)
What do you think?