The Bintel Brief

Help! My Daughter Is Seeking an 'Open' Marriage

By Lenore Skenazy

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Dear Bintel Brief:

In 1995 one of my six daughters, married for the first time. We thought at the time that she was truly getting married, and I liked her young man. For maybe a dozen years before her marriage she had been leading an unconventional, “new-age” lifestyle in the San Francisco Bay Area, perhaps in rebellion against her conventional, Midwestern upbringing by her mother, my ex-wife.

Some time later, the two of them confided in me and my wife of 50 years that she and M___ were in an “open” marriage — meaning that each of them was free, with the other’s knowledge and consent, to take lovers. My wife and I didn’t say anything at the time, which my daughter and her husband interpreted as acceptance. On more than one occasion, they thanked us for our being so understanding.

In private discussions between us, my wife and I weren’t so understanding, and we agreed that this so-called “open” marriage was nothing more than a holding pattern until one or the other of them found in a lover someone more pleasing than their spouse. And so it has turned out; the husband jumped ship.

Subsequently, my daughter’s life has settled down. Curiously, she continues to socialize and spend holidays with, apparently without rancor, M___ and his new wife.

All of this sets background for the reason for this letter. To wit: In discussing her future with my daughter, I have on more than one occasion gently (I hope) suggested that she seek out a more conventional relationship. The last time I did so, she reacted with some heat, asking me not to raise the subject again. She defended her “open” marriage, declaring that statistics show that an “open” marriage are no more prone to end in divorce than conventional marriages, in which the which the taking of lovers is often carried out in secret and is truly a betrayal.

So here, finally, are my questions for Bintel Brief: 1). Is my daughter’s claim about statistics about “open” indeed true? And 2) If I should ever raise this matter again with my daughter, is there anything else of a non-moralistic nature that I could adduce to the benefit of a conventional marriage?


P.S. My mother, of blessed memory, used to quote in Yiddish an example from Bintel Brief. The translation went something like this: “Dear Worthy Editor, I write to you not with ink, but with blood from a mother’s heart.”

Dear Tatele:

Wow, six daughters and one of them is choosing a non-traditional marriage, and you wish she could see the wisdom of the old ways? Mind if I call you Tevye?

Sure, you’ve got one girl more than the milkman, but still: Your beloved daughter is intent on making a match that seems meshuge to you, especially since the first time she tried it, it didn’t even work! The one advantage to open marriage, you’d think, is that at least a couple can stay together forever: Why divorce the cow when you can get the milk from all the other cows, too?

But that’s just the problem, says Hara Marano, author of a book all about young people falling apart, “A Nation of Wimps” (Broadway, 2008). When you keep consorting with everyone else, one of you is liable to fall in love. And even if this doesn’t lead to divorce, it usually leads to jealousy, which is about one millimeter away on the misery continuum. (Right next to incurable itching and a spouse who listens to the TV too loud.) Nearly inevitable jealousy is a straightforward argument against open marriage that you could make.

Except that your daughter seems to have emerged unmiserable and unjealous enough to still like her ex and the replacement wife and want to try it all again. So maybe an open marriage can make sense, at least for her.

Having written that line with zero conviction (if you’re Tevye, I’m Golde), I called Richard Woods, an author who lectures about open marriage — including his own. First off, he said, there are no statistics to give your daughter, because there are no hard numbers to base them on. Open marriage isn’t something you check off on your census.

Moreover, he said, the reason it’s not on the census is that open marriage “is the new gay.” Like homosexuality just a generation or two ago, most of the people practicing it don’t talk about it for fear of public censure. In fact, if it weren’t so taboo, Barack Obama might not be president today! Remember that Illinois Sen. Jack Ryan was uncovered as a “swinger” (a particularly unappealing one), leading to his resignation, leading to a young state senator winning his U.S. Senate seat, leading to a run for the White House and … you know how the story ends. A story that in itself began with a coupling many once found taboo: A black man and a white woman.

When you think about open marriage as an option that has been around for a while, quietly working for some people, it stops seeming quite so strange and starts becoming just another point along that long line of previously unthinkable liaisons that gradually became more and more accepted: Choosing Motl the tailor over an arranged marriage. Choosing a Bolshevik. Choosing intermarriage. Choosing someone of a different race. Or the same sex.

And even if it that kind of arrangement doesn’t make sense to you, Tevye, in the end it’s not up to you anyway. It’s up to your daughter. And maybe the sweep of history.

Lenore Skenazy, a former columnist for the New York Daily News and the New York Sun, now writes a syndicated newspaper column and hosts a topical humor contest that runs in The Week magazine. She is the author of “Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry” (Jossey-Bass), published in April, and “Who’s The Blonde That Married What’s-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know – But Can’t Remember Right Now” (Penguin), published in June.

If you have a question for the Bintel Brief, e-mail Questions selected for publication are printed anonymously.

Free To Serve Hashem Fri. Jul 17, 2009

Typical liberal foolishness. There is no such thing as an "open marriage" -- marriage is by definition an exclusive relationship between two people who have chosen one person with whom to have a closer relationship than with anyone else in the world.

All this person's daughter is doing is shacking up with some guy who gets the benefit of a convenient female who is willing to be used as a fill-in whenever he doesn't have any other sex partners.

How much do you want to bet that this idiot's former lover finds his real bashert and gives up the idea of an "open relationship" for good? No man who loves a woman will let her have sex with anyone else. I can understand that the father wants to try to inject a little sense into his daughter's head but if he'd raised her with any morality - read Torah Judaism - in the first place he wouldn't be in the position that he's in now.

And if you can't stand up for what is right you shouldn't be writing anything for the public to read...

Briz in Brooklyn Fri. Jul 17, 2009

Free To Serve Hashem you make too many assumptions - how do you know that this family hasn't been/isn't Torah observant? Lots of kids go astray from what their parents teach, including Torah observant Jews (perhaps not as many, but there are still some).

In any event, the daugther is grown and will have to suffer at her own actions to realize what she is doing is silly. Until then, the blame only lies with her.

d Wed. Jul 22, 2009

How much do you want to bet that this "idiot's former lover" will find his bashert and not give up the idea of open marriage anyway. And no man who loves a woman will let her have sex with anyone else but will often let himself have sex with anyone else. Further "No man who loves a woman will let her..." can apply to a wide variety of behaviors that are excused by the "love" a man shows a woman.

Walter Igo Thu. Jul 30, 2009

My wife and I have been in a healthy open marriage for 18 years. We love each other deeply, have a rewarding and healthy sex life with each other and have every intention of growing old and happy together. We also have loving relationships with other people that we're aware of and supportive of.

Why is love synonymous with sexual and emotional exclusivity in the popular imagination? Especially considering the divorce rate in the mainstream is around 50%. Tatele has enough love in his heart for all six of his daughters, I presuem. Why is romantic love then a zero-sum game?

"If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it's yours forever. If it doesn't, then it was never meant to be."

We've been blogging about or experience lately at Come check it out.

val Tue. Aug 4, 2009

What pifill. I dumped my husband of 17.5 years for having a wandering eye. Anyone that says they don't mind their husband or wife to sleep with another person does not love them. I should have kicked him out long before I did, then I might have been able to get married again, to someone who has the same values as me.

Gentle Gentile Thu. Aug 13, 2009

How can anyone claim that a marriage that lasted 12 years and ended with the partners still communicating is a failure? And while I'm not Jewish myself and can't quote the Torah or any other scripture for that matter, I can say there are some Jewish people who embrace this lifestyle. Looing forward into this world we live in, I think we have to realize its not going to be the small family model we've seen for only the last hundred or so years and assume was normal. I suggest the mother and the daughter look into buying a copy of Heeb, issue #12, which has an article on the matter.

t'Fer Fri. Aug 14, 2009

@Free To Serve Hashem: "No man who loves a woman will let her have sex with anyone else." Short of abuse, no man can control what any grown woman does. @val: they did marry someone with the same values, just saying

Lucius Scribbens Sat. Aug 15, 2009

Thank you for sharing some sage advice to this mother who is trying to deal with her daughter's relationship choices. The fact is that it is her daughter's life, not hers, and she can't expect her daughter to live her life. I will just make her daughter miserable.

In polyamory we have a term called "compersion". Compersion is the experience of taking pleasure in your partner's pleasure, but that can be extended to friends and family, too. If your partner, friend, or family member is happy doing something, shouldn't you be happy for them?

The only qualm I have is with the comment "Nearly inevitable jealousy is a straightforward argument against open marriage that you could make." It could also be a straightforward argument against any marriage, period. Jealousy is at it's root personal insecurity and a person's need to control others in an effort to control their own anxiety over imagined shortcomings, which if discovered by their partner might lead them to find someone the jealous perceives as "better" than themselves. Jealousy is viewing someone as a possession and fearing that someone else may want what you possess.

Jealousy runs rampant in monogamist relationships where some feel that their partner belongs to them and them alone. Jealousy is the #1 cause of domestic violence, where men feel the need to control their wife for fear she could come in contact with someone that might be "better" than they see themselves.

The difference in non-monogamist relationships is that the people that enter into them for the most part do not view their partner in this light, and don't suffer from the typical insecurities some others do, or not at least to the extent that they do. And when those insecurities (i.e. jealousy) creeps in, they are able to understand it, vocalize it with their partner and work through it better than most. So although jealousy can arise in a polyamorous relationship or open-marriage (and is does from time to time), it's not at the center of the relationship and is given it's proper place in the scheme of things.

Miss Polyamory Sun. Aug 16, 2009

Sounds to me, and I could be wrong, that dad had a divorce, but is now married a long time, and would like to see his daughter happy too. Perhaps also feeling that a traditional marriage would work better and give her that happy life that does not seem to be happening in his loving father eyes. Perhaps he sees what seems like a life without a partner for her, and he does not see how an open marriage or polyamory could give her a lifetime of love with commitment that he and his wife feel monogamy would provide.

Perhaps instead of offering the advice she does not want to hear, as she does not feel her mind would change, he and his wife instead could tell the daughter what is it that they feel, from the heart:

"Daughter, I love you so much and would love for you to feel a lifetime of love and intimacy with a partner. Do you really feel that being in an open marriage would do that, if that is even what you want? Perhaps I am telling you what I would want, I am not sure! I just know that my heart hurts thinking that my wonderful daughter who I love so much may be the least bit unhappy or unsettled."

This type of talk comes from the heart and pure, unconditional love, and gets to the heart of what the issue really is about, the love the father has for the daughter.

Conflict is always way deeper than we think, and usually comes from feeling disconnected from someone or some kind of heart pain, that we mask or do not want to talk about.

Another thing I would like to say is that you can imagine a line from polyamory to monoamory (many loves to one love). We all love somewhere on the line. Many people enjoy spending time with one love, and merging energy and touching divine with that one person, and that is great. Other people enjoy being with more than one love, the relationships work or do not work just as well as monoamorous relationships...we are all different, and it seems strange that some people would be ok with more than one person. xo

Isaac Sun. Aug 16, 2009

@Free to serve: For a man who claims wisdom of the Torah you seem to be ignorant of the great kings of Israel who loved their wives. Yes, plural. The father of our own people had a mistress of his own servant and she bore his first child. He only cast out Hagar and Ishmael due to the Jealousy of Sarah.

Indeed, the rabbinical arguments against polygamy and polyamory revolve around the idea that humans are incapable of resolving jealousy. The arguments made are paper thin and rather pessimistic of human nature. However, the Tanakh itself makes no such presumption as Solomon loved his wives and while he had a favorite, it does not say his other wives were cast out due to his love for her.

Chabad even has a discussion on the topic and agrees that there are circumstances under which polygamy is permitted.

Also, we in modern society love to make arguments about the "definition" of marriage. In reality, the word "marriage" didn't exist in a form anything like what we define marriage in the modern post-industrial age.

How dare you presume the character of her lovers or her. How dare you. "willing to be used as a fill-in whenever he doesn't have any other sex partners." For a man who claims to be enlightened in the Torah you speak words that draw the evil eye's gaze. To make such remarks of the character of those you don't know is presumptuous and rude.

"No man who loves a woman will let her have sex with anyone else." Women are not property, nor are they commodities. The Torah holds women as strong individuals and equals in the household, this sentence presumes that it is man's word and man's alone that matters in marriage. I would offer an alternate statement. No man who loves a woman, no woman who truly loves a man, will seek to possess them or expect dominion over them. Marriage is a contract of equals.

Isaac Sun. Aug 16, 2009

To the original post, Tevye as we're calling him. Your daughter is happy, celebrate this. Is it more important that your expectations be served or that you celebrate her joy, however unusual it feels to you? Hashem has given her free will.

@val: You left your husband because you could not trust him and because his "wandering eye" as you put it lead him to break his personal covenant with you. Open relationships and Polyamorous relationships operate on a different rule set. Trust and communication are the greatest cornerstones of both practices, neither operate in secrecy. Unfaithful has just as much meaning to polyamory as it does to monogamy. What is different are commitments made between partners.

Rophuine Sun. Aug 16, 2009

I loved reading the real, relevant advice.

The problem a few of the comments above have is that they assume that a woman can't achieve any sort of happiness apart from a traditional monogamous marriage (a few women I know in traditional, monogamous marriages are miserable!) People find their happiness in all sorts of places, and it sounds like the daughter in the question is happier than many others end up at her stage in life.

Perhaps the father would prefer that they hadn't opened their marriage, the husband had cheated, they'd gotten divorced, and her daughter was left miserable and lost lots of her friends during the process? I'm sure he wouldn't.

If she's hanging out with people she loves, finding happiness in the relationships she pursues, and running her love life in a way that suits her, awesome.

suresh Wed. Aug 19, 2009

I am Suresh working in India at Chennai. I am simple, Jovial and practical, hard working, straight forward person. My age is 13-11-1977 , 8.55 pm, nagpur, moolam-star,55 kg, very clean habits, non-smoker, non-drinker, god fearing, very fair single living alone Brahmin boy. I had born at Nagpur and brought up by my grand father and grand mother. My parents passed away. I need a lovable girl with god fearing, well understanding and family caring person. I definitely am a good friend to her and well wisher, care taker, and lovely better half to my partner. I love her happiness, I love her likes and dislikes, I love her freedom, and I do not like my angry and her hungry. I love her thought, I love her aim, and I love her future. I want to obey my life partner activities. I want to live with her for my long time life. I wish to put my love affection and my marriage with her only. Finally I don’t like money, dowry, and gold systems. I like real affection and lovely heart. If you are interest please send reply to me

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