Staying Married: Accommodators - Interviewing: Experimental Marriage

Playing Around: Women and Infidelity - Linda Wolfe 1975

Staying Married: Accommodators
Interviewing: Experimental Marriage

More and more often as I continued interviewing, I was to meet women whose adulteries were known to their husbands. They told me they lived in open marriages or that they were trying out new marital alternatives or alternate marital lifestyles. Many new formulas for marital behavior were embraced under these headings, but invariably one ingredient was that the women had pacts with their husbands specifying that sex with partners outside the marriages was to be sanctioned. Some of the women I interviewed who had opted for experimenting in this way with marriage were quite young and had agreed upon open adultery before or very soon after they were wed; others were older and their pacts concerning extramarital sex had evolved only after long years of marriage.

The kinds of adulteries which these women had agreed upon ranged from those to be experienced during group sex or mate swapping in which the partner participated, to those to be experienced in private sexual encounters, known about but not participated in by their spouses. Often, while extramarital sex was itself considered permissible, there were limitations placed upon the prominence such sex could have in the couples’ marriages. Most common was a time limitation. A wife or husband had a spouse’s permission to have extramarital sex only while the marital partner was away on business; only during vacations; or, with a precision resembling college course scheduling, only Tuesdays and Thursdays, only Mondays and Wednesdays. If a regular schedule was not observed, one spouse was usually required to give the other certain days’ notice before making or keeping an appointment for extramarital sex. There were also content limitations, but these were more vague. A spouse might reserve the right to ask his or her partner to discontinue an extramarital relationship if it became emotionally threatening or if it encroached upon sexual, economic or companionship patterns.

The women I met who were engaged in open extramarital sex were idealistic and evangelistic. They considered their method superior to the practice of monogamy, which they felt was limiting and anti-hedonistic. And they also considered it superior to the method followed by couples in traditional marriages who kept their adulteries secret from their partners. They stressed that while open extramarital sex was technically adultery, it was not infidelity—not a betrayal of a trust. Consequently it offered two great advantages over secret adultery. One was that it removed the burden of guilt toward a spouse. The other was that it was more convenient, and therefore permitted the practitioners greater choice, enjoyment, and relaxation. On the question of whether being open about adultery could potentially wound a spouse’s spirit, these women were emphatic: the old notion that what one doesn’t know can’t hurt was wrong; they preferred the new adage that it is only what one does know that can’t hurt.

In my preliminary discussions with women in experimental marriages, I thought they sounded remarkably alike. But when I came to interview them in depth, I found that despite superficial similarities, they fell into two distinct categories. One group were instigators of experimental marriage. It was they and not their husbands who had originally desired additional sexual partners. The second group were accommodators. They had acquiesced to their husbands’ wishes for such partners in an effort either to please the men or to forestall the mens’ desires to break up the marriages. Open extramarital sex was a pacifier they mouthed or one they extended. It was not really food for them.

Amelia Furman / My Husband Would Be the Perfect Lover

I became sensitive to this distinction when I interviewed Amelia Furman, mother of two, wife of a very successful real estate manager, and a recent convert to open extramarital sex. At times it seemed almost a religion for her. She was ecstatic about the changes in her sex life with her husband that had resulted from their making a compact for open adultery. But Amelia was clearly an accommodator to open adultery, not a true believer.

We met at her house, a mammoth columned building with wide lawns and a dock that reached down to the waters of the Long Island Sound. It was here we sat to talk. It was a Tuesday night in late spring and the water was calm, unruffled by the motorboats that would churn and contaminate it later in the season.

Amelia, a chubby, pleasant blond of thirty-seven, began by telling me how far she had come, not just materially—which I could see—but sexually. She had grown up, she told me, in a far less prestigious Long Island suburb and been raised with the strict morals of the fifties. She had married the handsomest man in her college class, but they had fought their way through most of their sixteen-year marriage.

“First of all,” said Amelia, “I think I married Sylvan for all the wrong reasons. I wanted to shock my parents. Sylvan came from a very poor family in Brooklyn. He was a scholarship student, obviously very ambitious, but also very unpredictable. He was very sensual and a bit wild. These qualities made him attractive to me, but I really didn’t cherish them in those days. It’s only been lately that I have come to see the light about Sylvan, come to see how very special he is. In those early days, once we were married and the fun of trying to dismay my parents was accomplished, I just kept trying to change Sylvan.

“I thought he was oversexed. He thought I was undersexed. I was always trying to limit him. If he wanted to read dirty books to me, I’d react with shock. If he even wanted to take a bath with me, I’d get angry. Can you imagine? Just a homey little nude bath together, and I’d react like what he had suggested was something to call the police about.”

He was, she said, “an orgyist, a sexual astronaut, an explorer,” and she had been repelled by his morality. But very recently, because of events she promised to describe, she had had an enormous reversal in her thinking. She had come around to his way of thinking. She had become sexually emancipated. They had recently formulated their marriage on a new open plan. Each of them had Tuesdays and Thursdays to pursue other relationships, and the effect of this had been to cause a sexual recrudescence between them.

They had, for example, just two months ago bought a tiny vibrator from a discreet sex shop in the city, and they used it now to enhance their trips across the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge. “This thing,” explained Amelia, “is smaller than a Tampax. We used to hate driving home at night; it depressed us. But not any more. Now we sit in the car with my coat over me, so the drivers of big trucks can’t look in. I turn on the vibrator and Sylvan gets all excited from just watching me. Sometimes he pulls it away and then starts it up again, to tease me. We have lots of fun.

“This is something I never could have done before, you understand. And it’s the kind of thing Sylvan always wanted of me. I was as sexually cowardly as you can imagine. Instead of honestly saying, ’Well, how do I really feel about this idea?’ I’d always say, ’Well, it’s different and it’s strange and it makes me uncomfortable. So let’s have none of it.’ I’d complain and yell a lot, and I’d read into all Sylvan’s sexual wishes that he was bizarre. And then he began making fewer demands on me. I took this to mean that he had come around to my way of thinking, but now I know it only meant that he was turning to other things, other people. I suppose on some level I even suspected this. I did have the feeling we were growing very distant. But on the surface everything was calm, so I pretended to myself it was all okay. And around that time I got pregnant, and I had my two kids right in a row and I was oblivious. Not happy, but not unhappy either.”

Amelia had a rapid way of speaking, but I noticed that in between sentences she always looked closely at me to ascertain my reactions. It gave me the sense that she was rehearsing something, reciting a speech just barely committed to memory. Her style made me nervous. She told me, for example, “I believed in the idea that you got married forever and ever and that if you separated you’d be completely brokenhearted and destroyed.” Then, pausing, she looked at me for confirmation but said, “You know, that myth.” The first sentence sounded authentic. The second sounded forced. I believed that Amelia still believed in the idea, not the myth.

When their second baby was about a year old, she now went on, “I finally learned that what Sylvan was into was orgies. There was this guy, who used to run orgies and was forever calling Sylvan up and neither of them let on to me what it was about, and then finally one time Sylvan told me and said, ’Do you want to go?’ Of course I was appalled. Not only did I refuse to go, I begged him not to. I carried on. I screamed, ’If you loved me, you wouldn’t do this.’ So then he made a clean breast of a whole lot of things he’d been doing over the past years; not just orgies but different women, women in his office, old friends of ours from school. I ranted and raved and thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I told him I’d kill him and got a kitchen knife.

“It took a long time but Sylvan calmed me down. He said none of it had been important to him; no one person. And he swore he’d change, give it all up. But then—it’s funny talking about it now, because when I say this, it all sounds absolutely terrible, in terms of working toward anything meaningful between two people—even then he wasn’t honest.

“It sounded as if he was honest, but he wasn’t. He was very apologetic. He kept bringing home gifts for me, always in pairs, one for my soul, one for my body. If I got Yeats’ poems I also got Revlon body lotion. If I got a record, I got a cashmere sweater. I was flattered and I relaxed. I just assumed my ranting and raving had, you know, changed him. But really, it hadn’t. Because maybe it was five years after that, there was a night we were meeting in his office just before going to the theatre. He’d been out of town on a business trip and he suggested, very romantically, I thought, that the night he came back, we meet in his office, screw on the rug, and go on to see a play. I was flattered, got all dressed up and arrived in his office all cheerful and excited. But I was early and he was late. I was sitting behind the desk waiting for him, and after a while I opened a drawer, and the drawer was full of letters with Italian stamps. I didn’t guess what was in them. I just opened one up, and it started out, “Lover,” and just then I heard Sylvan coming in and I didn’t have any pockets in my dress so I thrust the letters down my bra and as he came to embrace me I yelled, ’I have to go to the bathroom’ and I ran out and I read the four or five letters I had grabbed. And I was shocked.”

The letters were all from a woman the Furmans used to know, a neighbor who had moved with her husband to Italy. They were love letters. Amelia didn’t say anything to Sylvan when she came back from the bathroom. “Of course,” she related, “I didn’t let him screw me on the office rug. I said I’d just gotten my period unexpectedly. We went to the theatre, and out to dinner afterwards, and although I was shivering all night, like in shock, I didn’t let on I knew anything.”

The next day she decided to talk to Sylvan about it. His reaction was that it was somehow her fault; if she hadn’t looked in his drawer, everything would have been fine. Amelia was upset by his response, but even more by her conviction that from the tone of the letters, “It sounded as if this affair wasn’t just for sex; it sounded as if he had told this woman he loved her. The problem is that the kind of woman that always gets to him is the slim, intellectual, Gloria Steinem-type. They’re bright and sensitive, so he ends up talking to them, which is more of a problem for me than if he just slept with them.

“Well, we went through a whole thing. At one point, he wanted to leave me. But when it came to making a move, he couldn’t or wouldn’t. He said I had to be the one to do it. I said I couldn’t, not if he still loved me. I said I wouldn’t, if he swore he loved me.

“And he did swear. He told me he just had to write to this woman in Italy the way he did in order to keep her attached. And I decided to accept that.

“It was after that, which was about a year ago, that Sylvan said that since we were staying together, he felt it would be a good idea if we put our marriage on more honest grounds. He said that ever since I’d known him there had always been these sudden surprises, these shocks for me, and that if we were to have a really decent marriage, we’d have to be open with each other. He suggested that each of us have a couple of nights a week, no questions asked.”

Amelia had agreed to this. She had talked it out with Sylvan and accepted his theory that an open marriage would bring them closer, and cause their marriage to grow rather than decay further. Sylvan insisted it had to be something they both did. He didn’t just want her permission for his affairs. This presented a problem since in her youth Amelia had never had any boyfriends except for Sylvan and she certainly had no one lined up right then. But she had made up her mind that she wanted to try for a new climate in their marriage, and she no longer believed it would come by her efforts to tame Sylvan. So she told Sylvan that in principle the nights out were okay with her, but that she didn’t know anyone. “He said he could fix me up,” she explained. “But he didn’t have to because just a few months later I met this terrific guy, an auto racer, a ski champion, one of those people who can do everything. He was Hungarian and really gorgeous.

“I met this man at a party at my cousin’s. I’m sure that if I’d met him six months earlier he never would have so much as smiled at me. But there’s something about being available, about knowing you’re available, that communicates itself to men, and before I knew what was happening, he was playing with my fingers in my cousin’s pantry, turning my wedding ring and rubbing his thumb along it.

“We made a date and I felt marvelously daring. It was around that time that my sex life with Sylvan began to improve so enormously. I felt so flamboyant, so seductive, so turned on. And I knew that Sylvan liked me more, wanted me more. As to my Hungarian, that was something else. The first date we had, he came and picked me up here and we got into his beautiful sports car to drive to his apartment and I lit a cigarette and he said, ’Please use the ashtray.’ So I began wondering what am I doing here with this guy that I thought was such a swinger? Then when we got to his place, before we went in he wiped his feet on the mat outside. And after that he actually changed to a smoking jacket. At this point I was trying not to laugh, which was really hard when he said, ’Would you like a drink?’ and came out with a silver tray with fifteen different kinds of aperitifs.

“Then we went to bed. And I thought, ’What a bore this guy is.’ There were silly things happening, not kinky things, but just things like sticking his cock in and out, no big deal, but I guess the Hungarians do it that way. He believed in straight intercourse with the man on top. And clean! I mean he was always running up and washing—with soap and water—and I shocked him because he’d say, after every time he came, ’Don’t you want to go and wash?’ and I’d say, ’No.’ He made me feel like I was his grandmother, kind of, which was strange.

“It taught me how good Sylvan was, and how lucky I was to have Sylvan, and I didn’t want to spend any more nights with this guy. So I broke it off. I told him and Sylvan that someone else had come along who was more interesting to me, and that was that.”

It had gotten dark over the water and I found myself shivering, at once both cold and uneasy over Amelia’s story. I realized it was a Tuesday night and wondered what she had told Sylvan she was doing tonight. When I asked, she said, “He thinks I’m out. I do keep up a little pretense over the thing. I don’t want him to think there’s no one. When he’s going out, I go to the theatre a lot. I see old girlfriends in the city. Sometimes I buy myself a piece of jewelry and leave it on the dresser a while, hoping he’ll notice it and wonder if it was a gift.”

I think Amelia could feel, even in the darkness, my dismay, for next she said, “Well, what am I to do? Most men don’t appeal to me; or I don’t appeal to them. Which is why Sylvan is so unusual. He’s honest and really sensual, which is why I like him. He’d be the perfect kind of person for me to play around with. I told him once that if we ever get divorced, the one thing he has to promise to do is come and sleep with me because he really is just fun to sleep with.”

I went home feeling embarrassed and troubled for Amelia. I couldn’t help feeling that she was doing patchwork on an old-fashioned marriage, stitching experimental designs onto fraying conventional patterns. What she made would not wash; the threads would come loose. It seemed to me that marriage itself had gone topsy-turvy. Where once wives lied to conceal their lovers, now there were wives lying to conceal their lovers’ absence. If Amelia’s was an “open” marriage, what would a prison be like?

Cleo and Paul Amber / We Had a Discussion and Chose Open Marriage

Acquiescent extramarital sex wasn’t limited to already established and already tenuous marriages. I encountered it in a brand-new marriage too, and had the opportunity to interview both partners, the husband and the wife. Cleo Amber was studying sociology with a professor I knew and had volunteered to be interviewed when he mentioned to his seminar that I was interested in talking with women who were having extramarital affairs.

Just before the day of the actual interview, she telephoned to say that her husband would like to be included too since theirs was an experimental relationship in which each had extramarital affairs with the knowledge and approval of the other. I said that I hadn’t been talking to men, that it might disrupt the pattern of my book, but then I figured, why not? Surely it would be more informative to talk to both.

I interviewed them at their tiny three-room apartment, a fifth-floor roost in a walk-up building largely occupied by students. I spoke with each of the Ambers separately, Cleo first, then Paul.

Cleo, who was twenty-four, was full-breasted, small-waisted, round in the hips, a beautiful young woman with cascading chestnut curls. She hoped to have children one day soon, but in the meantime, lavished a great deal of petting and love on three scrawny gray and white kittens and their large black mother who purred continuously on Cleo’s lap. She began by explaining to me why she and Paul had decided two years ago on an experimental marriage.

“The thing is,” she said, “that it’s sort of like Paul and I never ever have to part if someone else should come into the picture. I mean that’s one of the main reasons that people separate. After five or six or ten years of marriage, along comes somebody new. There’s something exciting about somebody new. It’s a new body, it’s a new person, and they see you as a new body and a new person. And I think that’s what causes people to break up. Someone new comes along and you cannot get involved with this new person without somehow ending your marriage. But this way that Paul and I have, it’s sort of comforting. We can always keep our thing, which is really warm and intimate. We’re so close. We’re best friends. But we can still get involved with other people when the occasion arises.”

I asked her what kind of relationship with other men she was having right now. “Well,” said Cleo, “I don’t spend much time at this. It’s not like when I was a twenty-one-year-old child and every guy in the street looked interesting. I’m very busy these days. I’m working toward my M.A. in sociology, and I have a pretty demanding job as a group worker with children. So actually I rarely see other men. I only do it occasionally. I’m involved in an intermittent relationship with a guy who lives in Tampa, who I used to date several years ago. But it’s not who I’m seeing that’s important. It’s the fact that this openness is there between Paul and me.”

I asked, “How does your friend in Tampa feel about the relationship you have with Paul? Does he mind? Does he feel at all like a second fiddle?”

Cleo said, “It’s a very, very special situation. He was overseas in the South Pacific for two years and he contracted malaria. He’s very ill right now, and all his energies are invested in his recovery. So it’s not really a question of, well, you know, not a question really of sex. It’s just a question of I go and I see him.”

I said, “You’re just being supportive and nice to him?”

“Right,” Cleo said. “Right. I go down to Tampa and I stay for a few days every few months.”

I said, “I guess you don’t care for him in the same way that you care for Paul?”

“No,” said Cleo, becoming somehow defensive. “I happen to love this other man. But it has nothing to do with the way I love Paul. One of the things that I have learned is that you can love people in different ways. Some of the qualities that I love in Paul, Ernie does not have and there are important qualities that Ernie has that Paul does not have. One has nothing to do with the other.”

“Does the fact that either of you is seeing someone else cause jealousies between you and Paul?” I asked.

“There are twinges of jealousy,” Cleo said thoughtfully. “But I think that when you weigh the advantages against the disadvantages, the advantages far outweigh the others. But, if you’re talking about jealousy, I’ll admit I’m a little bit jealous because Paul is involved in this relationship with a woman named Janine and he loves this woman. He sleeps with her and talks to her on the phone quite a bit. And because he is involved so intimately with Janine, he sometimes tells her certain things that he doesn’t tell me. For example, he had a relationship with another woman, Lisa, and I was dying to find out about it, but Paul didn’t want to discuss it with me. Well, last night Janine called and he talked to her for a long time and I got the feeling from the conversation that he was discussing the situation about Lisa with Janine. And that’s the kind of jealousy that I feel.” She stopped and looked warily at the tape recorder. “It’s nothing,” she said. “It’s not a sexual kind of jealousy.”

I said, “You mean you’re not jealous that he makes love with her?”

Cleo said, “Right. It’s just that I would like to know everything about his life. I find him interesting. And I do know everything about his life but the one thing that he’s ever really withheld from me was that thing with Lisa. And you know, I’d sort of like to find out.”

“Does he feel any jealousy about you and Ernie?” I asked.

“Not really,” she said. “Well, there might be a certain amount but not of a disruptive kind. Jealousy really doesn’t cause trouble between us. We sort of know that the jealousy is there. We even talk about the jealousy. It can’t cause trouble when it’s open. You know?”

I said I wasn’t sure and that this was the big question about experimental marriages. “If an affair happens and a spouse doesn’t know about it, maybe that doesn’t cause trouble,” I said. “I’m not sure about this way.”

“Oh, the old-fashioned way does cause trouble,” Cleo said. “That’s where you’re wrong. There’s no such thing as not knowing about it. All these older men who are running around, their wives know. Their wives know, at least deep down. And that would absolutely kill me. Like if Paul was sneaking around, then I’d imagine that the other woman was the most gorgeous thing that was ever created on the face of the earth.”

I said, “You know what Janine and Lisa look like then? You’ve met them?”

“No, I’ve never met Janine or Lisa but Paul has assured me that neither of them is more attractive than I am. Paul’s met Ernie, though. Ernie was here. Well, the reason that Ernie was here was that Paul went away to London for about three weeks, and I was getting lonely. Separate vacations are part of our arrangement. The idea is, you feel more excited about your husband or wife when they’re not always underfoot, when you have private experiences to come home and share with them. But I was getting a bit lonely, and I called Ernie, and he decided to come to New York and stay with me till Paul came home. I knew approximately when Paul was due home, but what happened was he came back two days early, and Ernie was still here. And then, I don’t know, maybe I was really a little angry about the separate vacation bit, but I got this fantasy thing in my mind that since we had this open kind of marriage we could take it a little step further, and Ernie could stay here a few days even while Paul was here. But of course, that was childish. It didn’t work out.”

I asked, “What went wrong?”

She said, “It was crazy. Ernie was sleeping in here, on the couch, and Paul had been away for three weeks and he had this terrific sexual need for me, and he said the whole point of going away was that he could come back to me all turned on and we could fuck like crazy, like in the first days we met, so he was mad that Ernie was here. I was going back and forth between the living room and the bedroom, and it got crazy. Paul said I was punishing him for something I’d given my word I wanted to do as much he did, and I decided he was right, so I finally asked Ernie to leave.”

“So now you see Ernie only occasionally?”

“Yeah, once every two or three months.”

“You see Ernie less frequently than Paul sees Janine?”

“I don’t know. Yeah. Yeah. At one point Paul was seeing Janine about two nights a week. He was out an awful lot. And that was too much.”

“And you told him?”

“I did tell him. Yeah. We discussed it. It was just too much. He’s cut down some. But he can’t cut it all the way down, or else we’d be back in one of those closed relationships and I’d be worried about what I don’t know. I like the fact that I don’t have to fear that we will ever have to part because somebody new comes into the picture, that we can incorporate new people and still have our thing. I find a certain amount of security in that. I see everybody around us getting divorced and you know, I find a certain amount of security in the fact that it won’t happen to us.”

Paul had been in the kitchen with the door shut the whole time I was talking to Cleo. Now I went and spoke with him. He was twenty-eight, short, and darkly handsome. An ingratiating man, he had made coffee for me while I was with Cleo, and he served it to me now, pouring a cup for himself. He did not offer to take any outside to Cleo and I could see how even in minor matters this man guarded the principle of separate experiences.

“How did you and Cleo meet?” I asked. I’d forgotten to ask her that. Paul said, “Right here. We met exactly downstairs in this building. She was sharing an apartment for the summer with a girlfriend, and I was already living here, and at the end of the summer we got married and she moved right in here.”

“How did your pact concerning extramarital sex come about?” I asked. “Was it something you decided on before you got married, or did it evolve?”

“Before,” Paul said. “We had a discussion and we decided upon an open marriage. One that could involve a lot of outside sex.”

“Did you put any barriers or restrictions on just what was open?”

Paul said, “Yes. The restrictions are that we have to tell each other who we’re going out with, and when we’re going to be out. You know it isn’t just like I say, ’I’m going to go out tonight with Janine.’ We agree upon an evening in advance, and Cleo knows about it and that’s the way it works. Cleo knows that such and so evening I’m not coming back, and she knows who I’ll be with, as opposed to, you know, her just wondering if I’m coming back or who I’m with.”

“She knows you’ll be back the next day?”

“Right. The same with her. It works both ways.”

“At the point that you got together, was there any other woman in your life? Or were you just anticipating there might be?”

“Yes, there was someone. There was a woman named Lisa I’d been seeing for a while before I met Cleo. I’d had a fantastic sexual relationship with her, better than it ever was or got to be with Cleo, and I really didn’t want to give her up altogether although I knew she wasn’t someone I could live with. And I wanted a woman to live with. I saw Lisa for a while after Cleo and I got together, but eventually that relationship broke up. But Cleo and I kept the arrangement. It’s based on theory, not on personalities.”

“Is it working well in your opinion?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “although there is a certain price involved. A certain, you know, higher level of insecurity. I think the benefits outweigh this, though. The benefits, the way I see them, are that by being in other relationships we have a chance to explore ourselves, and also a chance to have good friends outside of just our relationship, as opposed to stagnating in a monogamous relationship which gets worse and worse every year.”

“What’s your sense of commitment to Cleo?” I asked. “I mean, do you anticipate remaining married to Cleo?”

Paul said, “For as long as it’s good, we stay with each other, but presumably having other relationships will make it stay good longer.”

I asked him about Janine, the woman he was seeing. “How frequently do you see her? Is she more available than you?”

“Oh, it varies. Sometimes I’ll see her every week, other times a month may go by or something like that.”

“You call her?”

“Yes. We’re always in touch on the phone. She has a steady guy too. She’s been seeing him since childhood, really. He lives in New Paltz. So she’s pretty tied down. She’s about a year away from getting a Ph.D. in art history and studying takes up most of her time, and the time she’s got she likes to go to New Paltz. So if anything, I’m freer than she is.”

“When you see her do you spend most of your time making love or do you do social things together?”

“Oh, we do a lot of things. We may just sit and talk. It’s not predominantly sex. The main thing of the relationship is more the friendship. Before Janine and after Lisa there was another woman I was seeing in a relationship that was more primarily sexual. It didn’t work out. She called me a lot and Cleo would be here, and that put a certain limitation on the conversation. And she got a little anxious. See, she didn’t have a steady boyfriend and so she felt the limitations more. Janine’s better for me because she has to study, and she has her hands full already just in terms of getting her work done.”

Paul seemed a little annoyed that I had referred to his marriage with a name, as an experimental marriage. Now he told me that he didn’t think that his and Cleo’s relationship was at all typical of what other people they knew were doing, and had, therefore, not to be named, not yet.

“This is something very new,” he said. “We’re explorers. Most of our friends who are married are all monogamous. Even most of Janine’s friends in her New York Radical Feminist’s Group are monogamous too. So I don’t think anything has really changed much from the past generation to this one. And it’s time for a change. But nothing changes. For example, there are a lot of restaurants in this neighborhood, Chinese restaurants especially, and it’s very, very infrequent in any of them to see a woman pay the bill. Usually the guy gets up and pays the bill. It’s the same when it comes to parties. Recently Janine and I went to a party one of her feminist friends was giving and this feminist friend did all the cooking and all the party shit. Her boyfriend didn’t do anything. The average liberated woman is having relationships that are only liberated verbally rather than in actual content or action.

“In that sense what I’m doing for Cleo is really liberating her. I don’t go in for a lot of talk. I’m action-oriented. Sometimes Cleo is disappointed in how we live. She only sees this guy of hers, Ernie, once in a while, and he’s been sick, so the sex isn’t that great with him. But I tell her forget about Ernie and get yourself something good. You’re free to get whatever you want.

“I wish Cleo didn’t feel disappointed. I know what we’re doing isn’t easy, but I also know it’s necessary for me. My parents were married for thirty years and then just a few years ago, they got divorced. I don’t think it was my parents’ divorce that made me develop my philosophy. It had an impact of course, but that was just part of it. I just think that monogamy leads to breaking up over other people, and that this way, well, it may hurt a little, but it won’t hurt as much as breaking up, and that’s what I told Cleo from the beginning, and I think she agrees with me.”

I remember feeling convinced, after speaking with the Ambers and Amelia Furman, that experimental marriages with compacts for open adultery were more advantageous to men than to women. The wives had settled for lovers who were second-best or even second-rate, while the husbands had sounded more gratified in their choices. This seemed logical to me. Men would of course, I thought, have an easier time finding desirable partners willing to share their sexual attentions, since our tradition lends itself toward such sharing of the male but not of the female. This would explain the wives’ disappointments.

But I was wrong in seeing the advantages of open adultery as so sex-related. The advantages, the spoils so to speak, went not to the men but to the instigators, whether male or female. The person proposing open extramarital sex was invariably the partner who had a sex or love object already in mind at the time the arrangement was first agreed upon. The accommodator settled for whoever he or she could find, or waited for opportunity to provide.