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Scenes from an open marriage

Newt’s open marriage, and mine

3 minute read
If you haven't tried it, don't knock it? (Drawing: Tom Bonette.)
If you haven't tried it, don't knock it? (Drawing: Tom Bonette.)
Did Newt Gingrich's second ex-wife's shocking allegation that he demanded an open marriage actually help him win the South Carolina primary? Maybe so. Many Americans may indeed harbor the same not-so-secret desires themselves.

Even I, perpetual spinster though I may seem today, once had an open marriage. But now, thanks to Newt's second ex-wife, my story can be told:

Toward the end of my marriage to a local musician who shall remain nameless (notably, the first man I had ever slept with), we did indeed "open up" our crumbling relationship at his suggestion after I discovered he was, um, schtupping an irresistibly alluring opera singer I had dubbed "the Hungarian Spitfire."

"OK," he said in response to my screams of betrayal, "let's have an open marriage." That way he'd get guilt-free sleepovers several times a week without my freaking out. Other nights, we still slept in the same bed— and I must admit, we had more-bettah sex. Go figure.

An avant-garde idea

Open Marriage seemed like a good idea in the early '70s— definitely preferable to the ignominy of divorce. Why be labeled a marital failure when you could be considered outrageously avant-garde?

Naturally, I rushed out to read George and Nena O'Neill's book, Open Marriage— potent propaganda for a pretty mindless lifestyle. That 1972 best-seller virtually eradicated whatever moral basis or spiritual sanctity remained of this admittedly tottering institution.

That summer we both turned 28. We were childless but shared an adorable Germantown carriage house with two pets with hopelessly cute musical names: Arpeggio the dog and Allegro the cat. I was a working wife. Although I was part of a team creating exhibits for a science museum, my department was closed for the month of August. And so, for the first time in our seven-year marriage, paradoxically I was at home playing housewife—restlessly waiting for hubby to arrive each evening with news of his day.

Burden of guilt

Each night, he walked through the door, asking the same annoying question: "Well, did you? Did you do it today?"

"It," of course, was have sex, which would thereby relieve him of his huge burden of adulterous guilt.

"What do you want me to do?" I replied. "Stand out in the middle of Church Lane with my skirt hiked up?"

Since I hadn't yet entered my experimental but thankfully brief "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" phase, I wasn't about to pick up a stranger for hot sex at the local cocktail lounge to appease my soon-to-be-ex-husband. So initially I contented myself with the negotiated provisions of my part of this open marriage: While he was out doing Miss Thing, I'd attend art films at a neighborhood theater on work nights and, if I felt like it, smoke some heretofore forbidden pot.

"We don't get high on drugs, we get high on life," my husband had famously declared at a dinner party. Big whoop.

Amazing sex

Come September, I returned to work and attended a party at the Awbury Arboretum, where I met, yes, the second man I ever slept with: a charming young journalist with a felicitous medical condition called "stricture," which enabled him to maintain an erection for hours— years before the invention of Viagra, Cialis or Levitra.

The sex was amazing. So amazing, in fact, that I told my soon-to-be-ex-husband to forget the open marriage— our marriage was truly over.

"Look," I said, "if that's how great you feel with Jennifer, and that's how great I feel with Whitney, it's time we both moved on."

Which we did. I moved into town with the dog. He kept the cat and stayed with his tempestuous diva for 13 years before marrying an even lovelier lady. And we all lived happily ever after, Newt Gingrich notwithstanding.

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