In my last post, I told a story. I told the true story of how I came to no longer see open marriage as evil. Included in that story was the fact that ultimately, my wife and I don’t have what most people call open marriage. I told this in story form, because I thought it would help people identify with what was going on. It would show them a journey that made a little more sense of how a person who used to be a Christian came to think open marriage could be an option, before he de-converted. Instead of making it easier for people to understand I seem to have made it harder so let me try again, laying out the principles I wanted to make clear last time.
First off, all marriages are open. There is no magical force imbued in the marriage license that “closes” your marriage. Every person in every faithful marriage is so for one reason only: their feelings. Even if a person says “No, no, no! I am faithful out of a sense of duty!,” it is their feelings about duty that make them think duty is a worthy reason to be faithful. If they felt duty was a pointless concept, they wouldn’t believe it was a worthy reason to be faithful. Being faithful is choice every married person makes every day, based on how they feel about it at the time. As such, ALL marriages are open because everyday, either partner can sleep with whoever they want, whenever they want, The fact that most people chose not to says that most people feel that the consequences are greater then the benefits, not that marriage is magically a “closed” relationship.
Second, if any readers are familiar with personal property rights, they will know that what makes private property “private” is not only the right do do what you wish with it, but also the right to exclude others from doing anything with it. Marriage is as much about who is excluded and from what as who is included. This is why marriage is a legal status, and not just a relationship one. The government is aiding the contract holders (the married people) in enforcing their legal right of exclusion of all others. Because of the difficulty in pinning down anything else, legal marriage is what defines this right of exclusion primarily on the act of coitus.
The problem is when people carry the legal definition as a relational definition, because sexual monogamy is a road, not a point. The confusion is because sexual intercourse and sexuality are not the same thing. Most married people have a huge problem with their spouse having sexual intercourse with someone else. Very few married people have a problem with their spouse speaking to someone else. However, whats the line between chatting and flirting? Not a whole lot. When does flirting (which implies a lack of serious interest) become dirty talk? And at what point does dirty talk become virtual sex? Where is the line between a friendly squeeze and a grope? When does a pat (noun, usage 2) become petting? (usage 2) When does chit-chat become opening your heart?
My point is not that by creating infinitely fine gradients the difference between behaviors is erased. For instance, there is huge difference between chatting and phone sex, and everybody knows it. My point is that each couple has to determine how far down the road of non-monogamy is “too far” for their individual relationship. You will find few people to whom fidelity means merely refraining from coitus. (Bill Clinton famously among them.) This is because despite popular usage the word “fidelity” has no intrinsic connection to sex. Webster’s says fidelity means faithful. So what does Webster says faithful means? Steadfast in affection or allegiance, firm in adherence to promises or in observance of duty. Even the dictionary confirms, couples work out what faithfulness means in their own relationship. As long as you adhere to the promises you made to your spouse, and observe the duties that you agreed to, you are being faithful.
There are intimacies of different kinds, including but not limited to emotional and physical. Since marriage is about excluding others as well as about including one, each couple has to work out where that line is crossed and others aren’t being excluded anymore. I know couples where each person doesn’t have any opposite sex friends because, for them, even a friendly conversation crosses the line of exclusion. I know couples where each person doesn’t look at pornography or read romances because, for them, that crosses the line of exclusion. I know couples that don’t sleep with people of the opposite sex until their spouse has met them because, for them, that crosses the line of exclusion.
Stereotypical open marriage means at least one spouse sleeping around with the consent of the other spouse. My point was not that that is something positive, but that I no longer see it as something implicitly negative . My claim that it is not bad does not mean that I am saying it is good. I am saying, above all, that fidelity is something every couple gets to work out on their own terms, and no person has a corner on what a “good” marriage is.
So, having realized (1.) Every relationship is open anyway. The legal status of marriage does not change this fundamental reality of relationships. (2.) Every couple has to work out their own working concept of fidelity together, respecting both voices. (3.) As such, a loving, healthy, and respectful marriage can include another person.
Understanding that lead to make the MAIN POINT OF THE WHOLE BLOG: “Love fearlessly.” Don’t let the fear of intimacy, be it of the emotional or physical prevent you from making the choice to fall in love with someone–just keep your spouse aware the whole time of what is going on. You are being faithful as long as you don’t cross the line of exclusion. When your spouse says “stop” because you hit that line, then stop, and you remain a loving, faithful spouse. Cross it and you are unfaithful, because when your spouse asked you not to, you did anyway, not because of the nature of the act you were asked not to do. No person has a right to say where that line is but you and your spouse, so don’t fear crossing anyone’s lines but the one you and your spouse marked out and said “This is ours.”
LOVE FEARLESSLY! That was the point.
Now, a note here on my marriage: The legal status of our marriage is merely a tax shelter; it has no say whatsoever on what makes marriage sacred to us. Sacredness comes from feelings. Whether you believe your marriage is sacred because of your feelings about a deity or because of your feelings about yourself and your spouse, either way the sacredness comes from your feelings. My wife and I consider marriage a partnership, a meeting of equals for mutual gain. We hold our marriage as sacred.
We decide the “line of exclusion” on a case by case bases after much discussion. If either partner says “I don’t feel comfortable with X” then X stops. Because to us, the day we desire an act with another person more than the whole hearted approval of our spouse, our marriage dies. The tax shelter would live on, but the sacred union dies. To me that is the only moral foundation for our marriage. When I talk about “open marriage” that is the context I am referring to.
And a note here on open marriage. Other people can define “sacred marriage” how they wish, but I find the way most people live out open marriage would absolutely not be sacred for me. In most of the open couples I have meet, the man can have sex with whoever he wants, and the woman (if she is allowed to have sex outside the marriage at all) is only permitted other women. If I were to live that way, I would be lying to myself and my wife to make such a life appear sacred to me. I can’t say that is the case for other men. But again, when I talk about “open marriage” the normal version is not what I describe. I call our relationship open because we don’t rule out or accept behaviors with others based on a preconceived notions, but on a careful study of facts, our emotions, and mutual consideration and meditation.
Will our marriage go toward the ultimate conclusion of openness with either of us actually having coitus with another person (assuming I am not bound by the UCMJ at the time)? I doubt it in the extreme. But, the point is, it would be ruled as crossing the line of exclusion by both of us, after long discussion and consideration, and not by one person for the other, and most certainly not by arbitrary social limits drawn by strangers about certain acts regardless of context.
I say again, LOVE FEARLESSLY! Please, if you didn’t read anything else, or don’t remember anything from this, remember this:
Love everybody. Fall in love whenever you can. Sometimes you will run into fences, like being straight and/or married. Those fences are there for a reason, don’t cross them. Sometimes you might need to move a fence out a bit, like saying its OK to have emotional intimacy. Sometimes you will get hurt, or run into consequences and realize you need to move a fence back a bit. The important thing is not the fences. The important thing is this: Don’t let the fear of hitting the fence keep you from loving people.