Scenes from My Open-ish Marriage

There’s a scene in Molly Roden Winter’s debut, “More: A Memoir of Open Marriage,” that should come with a warning. Winter is at her home in Brooklyn. She has just had sex with her boyfriend while her two children sleep upstairs. Her husband, Stewart, consented to her tryst, but feeling guilty, she dashes naked into the kitchen to text him: Don’t worry, she writes, “he has nothing on you as a lover.” But instead of texting her husband, she accidentally sends the message to her boyfriend, who leaves in a huff, and later breaks up with her.

The Times.

My wife walks in from work. She says, “I just had sex with a stranger.” At least, I think she said that, as I wasn’t really listening. Am I bothered? No, I am not. We have an arrangement. I mean, I think we do. Maybe we don’t. I’m not sure. We also have an arrangement about the grocery shopping and the recycling (I do both), and not just about sex. Actually, maybe sex isn’t part of the arrangement. The point is, we’re not uptight Puritans about this stuff. I want her to be fulfilled and I try to do things that support her needs. Also, it turns out she didn’t say the thing about the stranger and the sex. She said, “I just went to Trader Joe’s, because you didn’t.” I guess my mind wandered when I heard “Joe.” I also didn’t mean to say out loud, while looking through the grocery bags, “Looks like someone forgot the Sea Salt Brownie Bites.” We probably won’t have sex tonight. Or for, like, a while.

In hindsight, I should not have walked into the kitchen nude. And I shouldn’t have done it on Thanksgiving, when many of the relatives arrived far earlier than planned. “Why is Phil naked?” I heard my father-in-law say. But people don’t understand that, when you are in the kind of relationship that my wife and I have, sex is as natural a part of your day as laundry. And, many days, laundry is as natural a part of your day as, well, laundry. Had I just had sex? Absolutely not. But I had just showered and for some reason there were no goddam towels in the upstairs bathroom.

At my nephew’s birthday party, I turn to my wife and casually say, “Your sister has great boobs.” Now, the funny thing is that I’d meant to say, “Your sister throws a great party.” But then I looked at her boobs. For a lot of couples, that kind of statement might cause a problem. But my wife and I have an understanding about our sexuality. We’re not constrained by societal norms. I’m free to make a comment like that and my wife is absolutely fine with it. To the point where she’ll probably agree with me and say something like “You’re right. She does have great boobs.” Except what she said was “You’re such an asshole.” And then she walked away. Sometimes openness can also close.

The town we live in is much like any other. Not too far from the city. Lots of trees and parks and youth sports programs. It’s a wonderful place for raising children, but also for conducting illicit sexual affairs. Think Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” It’s “Our Town,” but it’s your wife. Your wife, your neighbor, the ConEd guy. Everyone is having sex and no one is judging it, because we’re not Puritans. Even though there are some Puritans in the congregation. Take coffee hour at our local church recently. My wife and I were chatting with Gary and Karen, who are new to the area and lovely people, and yet it was so obvious that they have an open marriage. Karen was talking about how their twins are playing ice hockey for the first time and loving the new rink in town. And Gary was smiling and nodding along and saying that their youngest loved the cartoon show “PAW Patrol.” And I said what I was pretty sure was on everyone’s mind: “Wouldn’t this conversation be a lot better if we were all naked.” Apparently, it wouldn’t have been, according to Karen and Gary and my wife. Also, we’re looking for a new church.

“If I weren’t impotent, I would gladly join your foursome,” I said, laughing.

“Golf,” they said. “Like . . . golf.”

Sometimes this happens when you’re living an open life. ♦

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