The Veiled Secret of My Open Marriage

Love and Sex

The Veiled Secret of My Open Marriage

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Iwent out on a Tinder date tonight because I wanted some sex and my husband was stuck at work. My date was one of those cool dudes – long hair, sharp jawline – who know they’re good-looking. He kept flicking the hair off his face; I wanted to tie it all up in a fountain on top of his head.

Despite holding forth for two hours on Charles Bukowski’s poetry, Mr Fountainhead turned out to be extremely good in bed. We stumbled into his house at 9 pm (him a little more drunk than I was) and had sex. Twice.

My husband was awake and staring morosely at some spreadsheets on his laptop when I got home. I told him about Fountainhead; he didn’t think Fountainhead had ever read Bukowski. But I’d never had sex twice on a night out until today, so he was happy that something had gone right. As we got into bed, he said that my mother had called and he’d told her that I was out with my girlfriends for the night.

I cuddled him close and went to sleep.

Our Mangalorean families don’t know about our open marriage. I fear they’d have a coronary if they ever found out. I suspect some of my friends would too. Which is why we never speak of it. It’s our little secret.

It all started a year into our arranged marriage. We were both 26 and equally apprehensive about the veritable stranger who was now a life partner. Our first year together was okay. I wasn’t miserable; he wasn’t an asshole. But when it came to sex, it was pretty boring. The crushing monogamy of retracing your partner’s skin for the thousandth time was getting to me. I fantasised about a lot of men just to make it better.

One evening, we were sitting on our terrace having dinner when I first broached the subject. It must have been a Saturday because we were three vodkas down, and we’re never three vodkas down, unless the following day is a holiday. My husband was telling me about a colleague and his many secret office hookups. “I’m sure he’s had sex with at least three different women in the office,” he exclaimed.

I thought he sounded a little wistful, so I took my chance. “You know, I was just thinking… have you thought of being in an open marriage?”

There was a long pause, not long in the way where time slows down when you’re buzzed. The silence must have lasted a full 10 minutes. Then, much to my surprise, my husband said that he had given open marriage a thought too, but had never dared to ask.

The rest of the night made way for one of the few real conversations we’d had in our one-year marriage. My husband had no idea that I had been in only one other exclusive relationship and that was when I was 15; all my other relationships had been open. That night I told him everything.

I told him that I loved him, asked him to trust me, and that I only liked this other man because he was funny.

In our drunken stupor, we set some rules that night. No snooping around, no dating people we know mutually, and no going on a date to the same place. Imagine introducing your date to your husband or wife. I didn’t really care about this rule, so I didn’t fight over it. The only one I did fight for, was the “no kissing” rule he tried to impose. He said it might make things romantic and that would be “dangerous”. It was like he was repeating lines from Pretty Woman, so I convinced him, over a lot of vodka, that a bit of romance was also the point. Thus the “no kissing” rule was vetoed.

That night our marriage changed forever.

* * *

Open marriage is like a complex dance form. It’s a pain to learn, but when done right, it’s beautiful. I had some practice, but my husband had never been in an open relationship before. I remember once I’d gone out to meet a man for the third time. I didn’t know that my repeatedly dating this guy bothered my husband until I got home that night. So much so that he’d cancelled his own date. “Why are you seeing him so many times,” he asked me.

If it had been any of my older boyfriends, I would have simply told them that it wasn’t their business. But this was my husband. I told him that I loved him, asked him to trust me, and that I only liked this other man because he was funny. “I can be funny too,” my husband retorted. I must admit that it was an odd, but sweet thing to hear.

After this incident, I insisted that my husband should tell me if something upset him; it really wouldn’t work if he kept such emotions to himself. If talking is important in a marriage, then it’s doubly so in an open one. There can be no room for insecurity.

It is this insecurity which is the fundamental problem with the idea of open marriage: What if he or I were to fall in love with someone else? When I began getting into open relationships, long before I met my husband, I somehow assumed this didn’t happen. That was until one of the guys I was in an open relationship with, dumped me because he fell in love with someone else. It did bother me for a while. Have I come close to falling in love with another man? Maybe. Funny Guy was possibly the only one.

But one also has to keep in mind, how an open marriage is different from any other relationship? We’ve all heard of regular marriages where partners have fallen in and out of love. Having sex with another person is not going to make you fall in love any faster. Not unless you’re a hormonal pre-teen bred on Mills & Boon. We’ve all come to a place where we know the difference between love and sex. Tinder is testament to that.

But yes there is plenty of room for things to go wrong in an open marriage and that’s where our rules help us. My husband goes out on fewer dates than me. My needs are different and he gets that. We usually see other people once a fortnight on the same evening. Fountainhead was an exception.

It’s been six months now and things are looking good. Our open marriage has been a healthier marriage for us – it has made us talk more, perhaps because we realised that trust and vulnerability are at stake. The quality of our conversations has improved.

My husband and I have had eight months of sufficiently random conversations before our wedding. I knew he loved Paulo Coelho and listened to instrumental music while working. He knew how I liked my coffee and just how runny I wanted my eggs. But I didn’t know what he wanted from life, what made him tick, and he didn’t know stuff about me either. This isn’t to say that there can be no real conversations outside of open relationships. But we only began talking intimately about our lives once we could freely talk about our sexual needs. The matter-of-factness with which we now have conversations about other men and women, and ask each other questions about dating and sexual gratification (or not), has ended up translating into every other aspect of our marriage. I can now say that I love him without a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Tomorrow, my husband is going on a karaoke date with a woman he met through a client at work. I’ve always hated karaoke nights, but he loves them because he plays the guitar. His new date apparently sings beautifully.

I know they’ll have a great time. I can’t wait to hear about it.