Welcome to The Baffler’s agony corner, YOUR SORRY ASS, where Amber A’Lee Frost dispenses bossy, judgmental advice on how to live your life fairly, kindly, and with good humor. Send us your rants and pleas, please: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Your Sorry Ass,
I’ve been married for about seven months, and my wife and I are starting to experiment with an open marriage. I’ve been cautiously open to the idea for a while, but I’ve never been in an open relationship before. She, on the other hand, has had numerous open relationships, and she made it clear early on in our relationship that it was something she wanted to pursue eventually. I think we’ve communicated well so far, and she’s been mostly receptive to my need for some time to get used to the idea, and to my suggestions for ways that we could ease into it (such as starting with a MWW threesome).
But now she’s decided that it’s time to start, and that the way she wants to start is by us both going on dates. I’ve made it clear that this is, for me, the least comfortable way for us to begin our experiment. Nonetheless, we both set up dating website accounts recently, and the difference has been pretty noticeable. She’s had much more free time to talk to people than me, she’s naturally more flirty, and she’s An Attractive Woman On A Dating Website. She’s gotten a ton of attention, had some dates, and wants to start getting physical with people. On the other hand, I’m batting zero so far, even though we’re in a large city and I had a lot of success with online dating before I met her.
I’ve started to worry a lot about how things could start to spiral if she’s seeing other people for an extended period of time, and I’m not. It’s just so easy to foresee toxic jealousy from me and resentment from her if she has a side thing and I don’t. I brought this concern up to her and asked her to slow down for me. Though she agreed not to start getting physical until I give the OK, she made it very clear that she wants that to be as soon as possible, and more or less brushed away the root of my concern. She insists that she’d never treat me differently because of something like that, but I’ve read a lot of horror stories from people whose partners said similar things. The situation is exacerbating anxiety I’ve been feeling about the state of the world, my studies, and my career path. (I’m seriously considering dropping out of grad school to find a real job.) What can I do if I continue to see no dates and she keeps pressuring me to let her get physical with hers?
You’ve touched on a curious new phenomenon I’ve been observing: I have recently noticed that more often than not, modern, culturally progressive young people no longer shamefully confess to me their perversions. It’s sad, really—I live for prurient gossip, and there’s no better tea than a bit of horny shame.
I have always been a champion of the pervert, who gets a bad rap despite being as harmless as any prude. As long as good manners are observed, the sexually eccentric are a charming bunch. Even if you’re of fairly conventional tastes, everyone should keep around a few deviants as friends. But as I said, it seems like no one is really embarrassed to be working through their kinks anymore. No longer am I privy to the deep-seated fear of anyone’s secret desires. No, now it’s the guilt and the fear of being “vanilla.” And I find that this knee-jerk aversion to convention is often rooted in the anxiety of trying to keep up with a more libertine partner or culture.
There’s really no way of putting this more plainly: there is nothing wrong with not wanting your wife to date other people, and you should not be in an open relationship if you don’t want to be in one. Monogamy might be absurd, outdated, “unnatural,” and irrational, but so are human beings. What we want out of sex and love cannot be prescribed; it can barely be negotiated. We are primitive and sentimental.
Your instincts here are good. If you worry about jealousy, it’s likely that you’re already feeling a little jealous, and that probably won’t go away as your wife starts dating with intent. Maybe you’ll be ready for it soon enough, maybe later, or maybe it won’t ever appeal to you. But you cannot allow yourself to be pressured into something you’re not comfortable with. Pressure breeds resentment, and resentment is poison to romance.
It’s a cliché, but the key here is communication—your wife needs to know how uncomfortable you are with the speed of this transition. And perhaps your marriage could use some professional help. By “help” I do not mean advice from “the poly community,” some of whom obviously have a vested interest in seeing you embrace “the lifestyle.” That goes double for any prescriptive handbook, tract, or manifesto. There is a lot of bad advice in the relationship self-help genre across the entire spectrum. And to be honest, I couldn’t even get through The Ethical Slut, the so-called Bible of Free Love—I think a lot of it had to do with aesthetics and politics. I simply cannot take seriously the sexual philosophy of people who use “Goddess” as an interjection of distress. (I’m sorry, hippies are not hot.) You are feeling rushed and distressed, and this could become a serious conflict between you and your wife; if you’re having difficulty talking about it, working with couple’s therapist who has some experience with both open marriages and monogamous ones might make it easier.
Mutual sexual enthusiasm in a relationship isn’t exactly a realistic goal; the odds of you being on the exact same page all the time are pretty low. But if you have the chemistry and shared inclinations, and you keep the lines of communication open, you can negotiate a sex life that relieves stress instead of causing it. And that is something everyone—pervert or prude—deserves.