Low signal-to-noise ratio warning: rambling pseudointellectual navel gazing w.r.t. random sexual predilections ahead.
I did something tonight that I rarely do: I fired up my browser and went surfing through blogrolls (starting from a post, if I recall, at Three-Toed Sloth). After a few degree-of-separation leaps, during which the reading matter predictably veered off into a random walk across the human condition, I came across Bitch, Ph.D.'s examination of her open marriage.
In general, I'm quite sympathetic to people who choose nontraditional relationships. Honestly, the reason I've never been in one is probably lack of opportunity more than lack of willingness on my part.1
On the other hand, it seems to me that this particular woman has some significant emotional problems to work through --- for example, her fear of trying new sexual things with her husband --- and that her need for an open relationship stems in part from those problems. However, it also seems possible that there's simply no way that she could work through these problems without going through character-molding experiences that bring them to light.
The human capacity for self-deception is virtually limitless; worse, by the Heisenbergesque logic of human psychology, self-deception seems to manifest in direct proportion to introspection. Sometimes only life can dispel the illusions. I can certainly recall times when I've believed something about myself that was later disproved by a mere momentary flash of concrete experience. Or, as H. Melville wrote in Pierre2:
As Pierre conjured up this phantom of Glen transformed into the seeming semblance of himself; as he figured it advancing toward Lucy and raising her hand in devotion; an infinite quenchless rage and malice possessed him. . . . All his Faith-born, enthusiastic, high-wrought, stoic, and philosophic defenses, were now beaten down by this sudden storm of nature in his soul. For there is no faith, and no stoicism, and no philosophy, that a mortal man can possibly evoke, which will stand the final test of a real impassioned onset of Life and Passion upon him. Then all fair philosophic or Faith-phantoms that he raised from the mist, slide away and disappear as ghosts at cock-crow. For Faith and philosophy are air, but events are brass. Amidst his gay philosophizings, Life breaks upon a man like a morning.
In this woman's case, the necessary experiences to bring on the dawn might be the extramarital hookups she advocates.
Furthermore, who's to say that she's doing worse than any dozen randomly sampled people in strictly monogamous relationships? To cite another literary source, here is D. Coupland's Microserfs:
Dusty gave Susan lessons in dating architecture: "Tech women hold all the cards, and they know it. Tech men outnumber tech women by about three to one, so the women can choose and discard mates at will. And let's face it, it's cool for a guy to be dating a tech chick."
. . .
Susan, nonetheless, wanted to know why she was having such a dating problem. Dusty said, "I think your problem is that you think everyone else is a freak except you, but everybody's a freak --- you included --- and once you learn that, the World of Dating is yours."
I thought Susan would go ballistic, but instead she agreed.
Everybody's a freak --- you included --- so it's silly to run down the particular hangups of particular people who choose open relationships. You've got your own problems and it's entirely possible that you're not working through them. Or working through them only in a halting and piecemeal manner, driven by an insufficient supply of learning experiences.
1 However, n.b. the following analysis of the odds in straight open relationships:
- In our present society, men are more willing than women to engage in sex with no possibility of future commitment.
- Sex between a third party and one of the partners in an open relationship is presumptively sex of this sort.
- Ergo, barring deception about one's relationship status, the woman in an open relationship will have more opportunities for more sex with more partners than the man.
- In our present society, it's easier for women to obtain sex in general, which exacerbates the imbalance in the previous point.
This simple deduction, and the imbalance of power it implies, should should give pause to any honest man considering an open relationship. Second, and conversely, it reveals that there's some truth to the claim of some feminists that monogamy has a patriarchal bias --- ceteris paribus, women lose out on more sex partners in a monogamous relationship than men do. (Of course, other factors can compensate, so monogamy isn't an entirely losing proposition for women. For example, monogamy, or at least the appearance thereof, reduces doubt as to the biological fatherhood of children, which leads to better paternal care. Etc.) Third, this deduction also explains the fact, which Bitch, Ph.D. notes in comments, that liberated women tend to be more willing to be in open relationships than their male counterparts.
2 Full title Pierre: or, The Ambiguities. The remarkable and weird novel Melville wrote after Moby Dick. Adapted in 1999 into Leos Carax's film POLA X, whose title is a fittingly pretentious acronym for the novel's title in (bien sûr) French: Pierre: ou, Les Ambiguïtés. Both novel and film teeter on the brink of (and sometimes plummet into the chasm of) hilariously overwrought badness. And yet there's something compelling about certain moments, of which the passage quoted above is one example.