The New Monogamy: Cheating by the Rules?

A New York magazine article entitled "The New Monogamy" states that marriages are becoming more and more open. The thinking is that agreed-upon "cheating" will ward off the urge to stray further. In this view, as long as each spouse "sluts around" (their words, not ours) within the boundaries deemed acceptable by both parties (rules range from just kissing to engaging in full-blown orgies), they aren't actually cheating. Sure, it sounds pretty crazy. But let's just go with it for now, keeping in mind how unnatural forsaking all others can feel to some in committed relationships '- and how striving for true monogamy can outright ruin some relationships. So, provided the rules of engagement are mutually agreed upon, is the open approach reasonable? We asked our Love Council to weigh in.

"Why Are These People Together to Begin With?"
Dan Cronin

I think there's something really interesting and healthy about people who want to redefine the boundaries of a relationship so that they are more likely to stay within those boundaries. These people are taking into consideration the evolutionary view that we're a bunch of horn dogs, the practical view that most marriages end in divorce and the emotional view that deceiving someone you love really sucks.

But there's a description in that article of a woman returning home to find her boyfriend in the bathtub with another woman '- and thinking nothing of it '- that gave me pause. It made me wonder why these people are together to begin with. This woman's impassive response to what for most people would warrant a dish-throwing blowout makes me wonder what emotions could have surfaced under even slightly different circumstances. What if this woman was feeling depressed? Had a bad day? "Honey, I'll be right out '- just after I'm done scrubbing the back of this chick I met at the Arcade Fire concert." I don't think so.

Sure, old monogamy has its problems. But I still think it's better than the new one, if you can make it work.

"Is This Arrangement Reasonable? Absolutely"
Cathi Hanauer & Daniel Jones

Cathi: We already know that monogamous marriage is far from a raging success in this country. In my opinion, if some couples want to try veering slightly from the contract by creating their own rules, more power to them. I commend their courage in thinking deeply about marriage and its shortcomings, and for having the creativity and guts to adjust it to fit their mutual needs.

The catch, of course, is that this undermines one of the major reasons people marry '- for security. And though security doesn't do much for passion, it's also a huge reason people stay together "till death do us part." Part of committing to someone else is knowing that person will be there for you through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, and if your "thin" or "sick" happens to come when your partner is out "slutting around" with someone else '- or vice-versa '- I would think it would be very hard not to feel hurt or betrayed. I've actually suggested open marriage to Dan more than once, though I have to admit I'm always a teensy bit relieved when he says no freakin' way.

Dan: You have to remember that just because it's all above board doesn't mean it's trouble free. I know a couple with an open marriage, and they're happily together. But I do know they struggled with jealousy and worked very hard to compartmentalize their feelings.

I believe that all human beings are hard-wired to feel jealous, and it's an emotion you'll likely have to learn to manage '- not ignore or sidestep '- if you decide to open up your relationship to others.

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