I remember the moment we met. It was a crowded room, yet somehow in the midst of all those people, our eyes managed to look away from the band on stage and lock onto one another. I nervously looked down and then immediately back up at those baby blues of his and almost instantaneously, we both smiled and began walking toward each other. It seems like the rest is history.
Only problem? I’m not talking about my husband. I’m talking about the first of many lovers I had over the course of my open marriage, and now the only thing that is history is that very marriage. Here’s the story of what having an open marriage was like, and why I will never, ever do it again.
Eric* and I were high school sweethearts. Freshman year to senior prom to high school graduation to college formals to college graduation, all these moments were a part of our happy journey to marriage. We got married after college, and life with him had always been picture perfect, until, like most relationships, we somehow fell into a routine, and that pattern led to feeling disconnected in the bedroom.
Eric was the one to bring up the idea of an open marriage. And while initially I was hurt and upset by the thought that he could even imagine such a thing, I admit the idea of finally feeling what it was like to be with someone else was intriguing to me. After much thought, discussion, and rule setting, the idea shifted from being something I could never imagine to something I might be OK with, and finally to something I actually wanted to do.
First, we had conversations about our marriage. But when those conversations led us to the topics of, “Did we get married too young?” or “Should we have explored being with other people before getting married?,” rather than answering those questions, we decided to have an open marriage after two post-marriage years and a decade together. At the time, the problem Eric and I thought we were facing was boredom. Bored of each other, bored of the only intimacy we both had ever known, and bored of the repetition. Was an open marriage the answer? We thought so, and if we both agreed on the boundaries, then who could possibly get hurt, right?
Six months and 24 “hall pass” days later, it all became too much in one heated and overblown argument.
The rules were simple, or so we thought. We were going to spend one day a week having a “hall pass.” On “hall pass” days, we would commit to exploring relations with other people as we wanted to, without judgment from one another. A few other notable details were that once we had sex with someone, we couldn’t have sex with that person ever again on another “hall pass” day. We thought this would help keep emotions removed and the engagements casual. We were wrong.
Six months and 24 “hall pass” days later, it all became too much in one heated and overblown argument. On both sides, we were upset. After waiving my “hall pass” for four straight weeks – while Eric went about cashing his “hall pass” in with (what I thought at the time was) no concern for me foregoing mine – I used my “hall pass” on an acquaintance from college. Eric viewed this as a form of cheating because I had previously met the person and up until that point, all “hall passes” were used on people we hadn’t previously known. I didn’t see anything wrong in my actions since it wasn’t a rule we had discussed, and he had slept with so many more people than me. Not only did we spend three hours screaming at each other about every single thing that the other had done during our open marriage that we thought was wrong, but we also brought up aspects of our entire relationship – and basically blamed each other for every disagreement we had ever had over the course of the decade. The argument ended with Eric asking the rhetorical question of, “Why did we even get married then?” and me answering, “What else were we going to do. It was time. We had to!”
“We had to.” Those are the words I regret saying the most that night. Getting married was a choice that we both made, not a requirement, regardless of the time we had spent dating. After not speaking for a week, Eric suggested we return to monogamy. When we tried, we both found that we couldn’t let go of all our actions over the past six months and the negative feelings they caused. Our open marriage ended in divorce, with shared custody of our dog, Lucky.*
Our marriage needed nurturing, not exploration.
An open marriage filled my relationship with Eric with painful elements that we didn’t want to spend the rest of our life together rehashing. We could agree on that. But what we couldn’t seem to do was let go of all those elements, so instead we decided to let go of each other.
Now two years later, I’m in a new relationship, but having an open marriage will always be my life’s biggest regret. Not because it ended my marriage – if we’re being honest, our marriage had faults prior to making it open – but because it wasn’t the right choice for us. Our marriage needed nurturing, not exploration. I can recognize that now, but far, far too late.
*Names have been changed for privacy.