February 1, 2013

Why I’d Love a Four-Person Marriage.

A few years after finding and marrying each other, Seth and I found our couple-friend soulmates.

Over the few years that followed, in an entirely platonic way, we became more than just friends. When there was something going on in one of our lives, there were four people, instead of just two, who put their heads together and figured out what to do.

Instead of Seth and I planning our social schedules together, all four of us would coordinate. When one of us was being bullheaded, there were three other folks there to gently but persistently provide an “intervention.”

Let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to get your partner to hear feedback on his behavior when there are two other people there backing you up!

However, the biggest thing I took away from that experience was that the business of life felt a lot less like work during that time. Life felt less burdensome and more fun. With four adults facing the world together things just felt a bit less daunting—spending time with friends stopped feeling like it required elaborate planning or impossible scheduling feats. There just seemed to be…time.

When our couple-friend soulmates divorced, Seth and I were devastated. We all joked that Seth and I were more upset than they were, but I think in some ways we really were.

We were losing this family unit we’d created—except we didn’t have any of the motivation for wanting to move on that they had. We were perfectly happy in our sexless, four-person marriage; we hadn’t signed on for divorce.

Fast-forward two years and our couple-friends are out there dating, finding new communities, moving on with their lives and Seth and I are slogging through marriage with twin two year-olds. Seth and I have had our ups and downs over the past couple years since our twins were born, and there were times I wondered if we would make it.

But I want us to. I want Seth as my life partner;  I never really question that. What I question is why it feels so hard.

I don’t question why our relationship is hard—I firmly believe relationships are inevitably hard. I question why the business of life seems so hard in ways that sometimes overwhelm our relationship and leaves us with too few resources for each other and our family.

Of course, some of it is Seth and I’s personal baggage and all the ways we make each other insane, but we’ve always had that! It seems like the monster that reared its ugly head from time-to-time in our relationship has grown 12 new heads and breathes fire since having kids.

The sheer impossibility of completing all the tasks necessary to financially, logistically and emotionally manage a household, attempt to meet each other’s and our kids’ needs, maintain our careers, and oh, have some time to nurture ourselves, feels back-breaking. It is simply too much for two people!

I often think back to our foursome and fantasize about having another couple as an intimate part of our lives or even our household.

Ok, sure, sometimes these fantasies involve me exploring my attraction to women with a hot, redhead who just happens to be a member of that new couple. And I think that would be great, I really do! I think if you can have the right mindset and great communication, having two new folks to explore with sexually can be really good for a marriage.

But this post is not about that; it’s about the soul-crushing workload of a two-parent household. Whoever thought up this craziness? What culture in the history of the world isolated two people, threw toddlers at them, demanded they both find satisfying, lucrative employment, and then, as some kind of cruel joke, expected them to meet all of each other’s emotional and sexual needs?

The answer is none!

Perhaps open marriage was the missing piece in Anne-Marie Slaughter’s viral piece on “having it all.” I think I’d feel a lot more like I “had it all” with half the workload and three times the attention. Sure, there is the complication of boundary issues and feelings with so many people involved, but what about the complication of two people trying to do and be everything to each other and to their children?

Some folks get around this with extended family, but not everyone has that—and if sexual needs are part of the equation, that doesn’t work.

And I say, if hot sex can be involved, why not? What better way to transport yourself out of the drudgery of daily life? What better way to re-invigorate your marriage than to see your partner through the eyes of a hot stranger who desperately wants him?

Oh mythical, adorable, pansexual girl of my dreams, with dark, red hair, sexy black-rimmed glasses and the perfect balance of feminine-but-not-girly, nerdy-but-still-hot mojo—won’t you and your equally hot partner please come lighten my load!!

Love-on my children, care about housework with my husband and absorb some of his anger for me and some of my anxiety for him. I’ll do the same for you! Your partner’s shit won’t smell nearly as bad to me, I promise! Step into the middle of a fight or two and grab my back and I’ll provide free couples therapy for you and your honey.

My husband is fantastic at housecleaning and cooking. You’ll never clean another toilet! One of you can take over as financial manager of our queer little enterprise, and the other can take care of shopping, errands and child transport. I’m awesome at scheduling and household logistics, as well as nurturing and handling emotional needs. I can also facilitate our group therapy sessions where we process any feelings that happen to come up as a result of our little arrangement. You want my hubby to tie you up and spank you (or meet various other sexual or kinky needs)? Not a problem! Change a few dirty diapers and we’ll call it even.

There are actually people out there who’d really love to be an important person in a child’s life, but don’t want to commit to being a primary parent. Some of those people have got to be bi-curious and just crazy enough to try this, right?

I’m reading Opening Up by Tristan Taormino. I know—dangerous territory for a desperate (part-time) housewife such as myself. Tristan talks about the many, many ways to open up relationships and how folks manage them. It makes you think how limiting our notions of marriage and monogamy are—like there’s only one legitimate way to get our emotional and sexual needs met, when in fact, there are hundreds!

That’s like all the planes in the world flying the exact same flight plan to get where they’re going! One size fits all, right?

If so, why do 40-50% of marriages end in divorce, and somewhere around a third of married folks cheat? Of course unmarried “monogamous” folks don’t have a great track record with monogamy either! And yet somehow, we are convinced that these arrangements, more than half of which end—and many which fail through consistent unhappiness—are great for kids!

We are drawing hard lines and then most of us are going outside of them; why not draw them differently or be open to redrawing?

I recently had dinner with a friend who is trying a little foursome “opening up” experiment of her own. I am so envious; she just looked so light. She’s getting to do limerance all over again! She’s dripping with NRE (new relationship energy) and I’m suffering from “NSHL”—new small human lethargy.

We all have these ideas drilled into our heads that it gets “too complicated” with more than two—that it can only be dire and end badly. But honestly folks, take it from a couples therapist: we are not doing so great going it two by two!  When you take the burden of expecting one person to meet so many of another person’s needs, and then add the burden of an economy in which it’s barely feasible for two people to support a family, you have to ask, as Dr. Phil would, “Is that working for you?”

Is it really so morally outrageous or that much more complicated to try it with four? It would even be better for the environment!

Four incomes. Four childcare participants, four sets of skills and talents, four folks for kids to relate to and look up to, three folks to hold you when life is at its very worst. Someone to be there for you, and someone to be there for the one who’s there for you so that they don’t have to bear that burden all alone.

You can dismiss me as a horny, closeted lesbian looking for an excuse to cheat on my husband all you want, but I know deep down, you’d love a few more folks in your house making grocery lists, cooking meals, doing dishes, cleaning up after your kids and banging your honey when you’re too exhausted and just want to sit and scroll through your Facebook newsfeed.

Sure, imagining that hot, redhead naked in bed in between me and Seth is nice, but nowhere near as sexy as a half-as-long to-do list and me sitting and relaxing with a book and a cup of tea while I play with her hair, and her partner irons my husband’s shirts.

But that’s so…risky!

Yes, it is: four can be unstable. With four a lot can change.

But let’s be honest, really honest…how stable is two, really? The truth is life is risky. Love is risky in all its forms.

Children are hurt by inconsistency, loss and family disruption in “monogamous” arrangements just as they can be in non-monogamous. But okay, if you just can’t get around the non-monogamy part, I get it.

What’s to say you can’t still do the couple-friend soulmate thing? Come on folks, let’s start a movement!

Instead of two-by-two, let’s move to four-by-four…or just more-by-more. More love? More sex? Sounds good to me! Less housework…who can argue with that?


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Ed: Bryonie Wise




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