Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book Notes: The Ethical Slut

One of the minor irritants about being married is that, at one time, people assumed your relationship was unique and individual, but now that you've tied the knot, they assume you're married just like they are. Whenever I'm at married people parties, I find myself nodding and smiling along with gags about fighting over the remote control or the taking out the garbage for the wife, or whatever, and having no idea what the hell we're all talking about. I remember a memorable party with some of my wife's lady friends joking about how they'd 'keep an eye on her' and 'make sure she's good' while I was overseas for seven months. I bit my tongue not to say, "Aw, heck, just let her get laid for crying out loud".

I'd imagine people who actually are in "open marriages" must bite their tongues a lot (well, or someone's tongue anyway). The point of my anecdote is that everyone's married differently and if that sort of thing works for some people, who can say they're wrong? I get tired of hearing people say that those sorts of relationships are "impossible" because "everyone's jealous". I'm not. I was when I was about 23 years old and, admittedly, dating a girl who didn't much like me (and was a bit of a twat anyway), which tends to make one insecure. But, after we broke up, I decided that being jealous is sort of a worthless emotion- your partner eventually gets sick of it and dumps you and then you feel like a shitheel; if it wasn't going to work out, that would happen anyway, but you'd not feel like a shitheel. So I stopped. And it's much more relaxing just to focus on your own life and not worry about what your partner is doing. Jealousy is tiring.

Anyway, this is a book about how people manage to have open marriages without problems. It was pretty fascinating reading. One of the funniest bits of advice is that you need to have a daily planner if your marriage is open. I'd imagine you would! Also, make sure to prioritize the needs of your 'primary partner', so they don't feel threatened. Probably true in monogamous marriages too. And don't leave pubic hairs lying about. That, I'd imagine, becomes a whole other issue in open marriages. And how not to lose your temper when your wife's lover drinks the last of the milk?

Anyway, it sounds like every open marriage is different as well- some people have regular lovers or girl/boyfriends; others have the occasional threesome (according to Dan Savage, this is a normal part of gay male relationships); some just cruise; and some are in multiperson marriages. What I liked about the book was that it was not overly focused on polyamorous love relationships, like a lot of websites seem to be. That seems way too tiring keeping up two relationships. Don't some people just pop off for the occasional fling with a flight attendant? Actually, a lot do that, in what the book calls "non-consensual non-monogamous relationships", or dogging around. They're against cheating because it's unethical, which I suppose makes sense- it's really the lying that sucks with cheating, isn't it?

So I like that the emphasis is on how married people 'play' without causing strife. I like that they place an emphasis on reclaiming sluttery and the tone is fairly therapeutic. I can't really remember the last time I heard anyone use the term 'slut' as an epithet, but I'm sure some people do and it's worth turning the word into a term of endearment. As for open marriages, if it works for Bob and Carol and their 'play partners', more power to them all. I'd certainly much rather live near a nice married couple and their live-in lover than some fundamentalist dickweed cheating on his wife with a rent boy. I've certainly known open couples who made it work. For me, though, I have enough trouble keeping all of my appointments straight as it is.

51 comments:

Holly said...

Arguments for or against these things seem to be on the social pendulum just like everything else. I'd like to see a really well constructed argument for figuring out what works for YOU (and partner[s]) and everyone else can take a leap. But that's not really the way societies work, is it?

I also find those conversations weird, where others project their lives onto my life. Blanket commandeering, toilet seat position, 'you know how in-laws are', when s/he goes out with friends, etc... none of those things have anything to do with our lives. But, since we're married, they do? And if we were not married, they are not things we could know about?

Rufus said...

I guess people have to figure it out on their own eventually, but if they decide that 'I want X' and X isn't the majority opinion, they feel they have to make a case against the majority opinion or start their own club or something. What tends to bug me about online permutations of 'free love' communities is when they feel the need to argue against something instead of for something. You know? It's better to hear people argue 'This is why non-monogamy works for me', instead of, 'You monogamous people are brainwashed by society, man!'

So that's another thing I liked about the book. They reiterated often that monogamous couples can be just as enlightened and liberated as anyone else- it just depends on the person- and, of course, non-monogamous people can be just as screwed up as anyone else. An interesting point they made though was that, when monogamous marriages fall apart, nobody ever says that monogamy just doesn't work.

As for those weird married people conversations, I just don't remember ever having them when we were dating and living together, but once you've crossed over that threshold, it's like you've joined the church of married people and just want someone to commiserate with about how wives like to buy pillows and jewelry and husbands have to get drunk while watching the game.

Min said...

I've been married for thirteen years--I've never had this problem! strange.

Rufus said...

You're so lucky! I actually have no idea why married people assume I'm just like them- I figure they'd assume I'm weird.

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