There are times today when you read about new conventions of behavior and stop to ask yourself: really? When today’s news started with a USA Today In an article about marriage that incorporates consensual outside relationships, this divorce attorney’s reaction was one of disbelief. Yes, four decades of practice have revealed couples who occasionally “swing” to add spice to a marriage. And there are cases in which the spouse tolerates external relationships because: “Sex is not my thing anymore.”
But USA Today article and a similar piece of Fashion in April 2022 suggest that some people think that different relationships can meet different individual needs and that couples are recognizing those different needs. This writer disagrees with that.
So, in 2013 you were 27 years old when you met Clarissa. She was intelligent and well educated; Everything you thought you wanted in a partner. Ten years and two children later, there is nothing noticeably wrong with their decade-long marriage. But Clarissa is a homebody who focuses on the kids and making the house look like what a home should be. Meanwhile, as you approach middle age, you feel the need for adventure. Let’s keep this story non-sexual. Megan is a coworker who, in many ways, is not on your radar. She is single and physically not your type. But Megan is fearless. She travels the world in search of good food and great museums. She read Hemingway’s book. Death in the afternoon and he planned a vacation in Spain with a stay in the former house of a duke, the Santo Mauro. It’s the Prado in the morning and an afternoon in Las Ventas. Megan found a driver to take her between the galleries and the bullring and who knows where the locals eat.
You hear this and you become very jealous. This is the vacation of your dreams. Meanwhile, your coffee table at home is filled with guides to Disney World and Universal. You will stay outside the parks and rent a Ford Escort. Dinner will be at Olive Garden and Outback because they serve food that your kids really like. You’ll be tucking your tired kids in for the night while Megan will ask which cava she pairs best with her tapas.
Clarissa is a wonderful wife and an exceptional mother. You are also good. You coach and teach Sunday school and lead a scout group. But you love Hemingway, Goya and chorizo. You approach Clarissa. She knows Megan and knows that Megan is not a threat. Everyone will have their own room and Clarissa prefers Orlando with children to a foreign country where there are no chicken wings.
This is a shirt for modern monogamy. Needless to say, we could have proposed a sybaritic holiday in Bangkok. The latter is accompanied by dozens of threats ranging from kidnappings to robberies and communicable diseases. Very few spouses will support that modern monogamy package. But Spain is a cultural adventure with a person who is just a “friend”. There’s nothing wrong with that, right?
In a world where it was just you, Clarissa, and your kids, MAYBE this could work. Unfortunately, no matter how kind and generous Clarissa is, the two of you live in a world full of friends, family, business colleagues, scoutmasters, and church people. These people are NOT going to understand how a 37-year-old guy with a wife and two children is in Spain at home with a strange women. And they’re not going to believe the “Clarissa is fine with that” nonsense, even if Clarissa is fine with it. So now your goal of spending time as a bon vivant has turned you into a self-indulgent dog and your colleague Megan is a homewrecker. In case you haven’t noticed, society is not programmed to think the best of people. There are no kindness-infused analogies with Balloon, he Sun and the National Researcher waiting for you in the exit line. You can certainly prove your mantra about learning bullfighting traditions and the messages that Velázquez imparted to Las Meninas but no one will buy any of that. Face it, a lot of people in your world would be jealous of your vacation to the Iberian Peninsula.
Then there is what I will call “internal whiplash.” Clarissa said she was fine with your vacation in Spain. She likes and trusts Megan, and she really didn’t like what happened to Spain after the Muslims were expelled. You went, you had a great time, and you came back to your family, your job, your church, and the scouts. All was quiet on the Western Front until Clarissa approached you to tell you that her son played ice hockey. Yes, he really wants to play and has some talent, but other than horses, hockey ranks high among the sports that stress out families. You mention the cost of ice hockey and the fact that ice time often comes at crazy hours. This is supposed to be a hockey discussion. Until it isn’t anymore. Now, Clarissa takes advantage of your recent indulgence. The room at the Santa Mauro was $800 a night. The driver was split with Megan but your half was over $100 a day. So, Mr. Culture Vulture, her middle-aged fun cost you $1,000 a day while her beloved son is told there’s no money for ice hockey? The kid could play hockey for a year for what you spent in a week of self-indulgence drinking cava and watching animals tortured by grown men in capes and barrels.
“Modern monogamy” is like world peace. Seen in the abstract, it seems achievable and even satisfying, if practiced correctly. Unfortunately, as we learned at the Congress of Vienna of 1815, the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, and the United Nations Charter of 1945, peace seems beautiful in the abstract, but it does not work well in any real-world setting. Modern monogamy has the same problems. The aspiration for human fulfillment inevitably gives way to the perspiration of jealousy and the perception of complacency. It’s fun to read about in magazines, but it doesn’t work well on the printed page.