An Open Marriage/Polyamory Worked for Me by Gracie X
When I told my friends I wanted to open my marriage –go on some dates, perhaps dabble in polyamory, the reviews were mixed. Just uttering the phrase “open marriage” or “polyamory” felt like tossing a hand grenade into the middle of a cocktail party—people had big reactions. Some friends empathized with my needs for carnal adventures but the general attitude was that prioritizing sex and romance was a “stage in life”. A stage I should have grown out of-- now I should focus on being a mother, and raising my kids. But the idea of “settling down” felt like a suffocating lead blanket. I still felt like a hot young thang—but was that no longer appropriate? In middle-age, it seemed to me, malaise, repression, and depression were more socially acceptable than lube and a lace thong.
In my memoir Wide Open I write about this downward slide: “Erotic energy is a precious elixir that risks evaporation in the onslaught of domestic life. Nobody supports your attempts at raucous, uninhibited passion. … Everyone wants you at work, pounding out a twelve- to fifteen-hour workday chock-full of responsibility and parenthood. It’s one uphill slog until you may be lucky enough to have your life cut short by cancer or heart disease. After which you’ll get a glowing eulogy about what a great sport you were.”
For me, sex with someone else is not a deal breaker. Being intentionally cruel, not taking care of our family, disrespecting me, and lying--- all constitute deal breakers. But occasionally “stepping out” may just be part of our biology. My marriage is sometimes open, sometimes closed. Our lives are tremendously time-challenged with kids and busy careers. But having some openness is one of many surprising ingredients that keep the erotic life active in our marriage.
A year ago, my husband and I decided to go on an adventure. I wanted to have sex with a woman, not having done so in many years. The whole idea both titillated my husband and scared him a bit. We discussed what would make him feel safe and comfortable, and when he gave me the green light, I met a lovely woman online. Bonnie, like me, was married and bisexual. We decided to meet at a local pub. There was an instant attraction. After half an hour of sipping martinis and flirting, we discovered that both of our husbands were parked close-by, nervously awaiting news of what was happening.
Giggling, we texted them to join us. What followed was a new friendship between all of us. This is what I love about open marriage—the unpredictability. I was not expecting to be completely enchanted by her husband. Bill was so sex-positive and supportive about Bonnie exploring her newly confessed attraction to women. Bonnie had unintentionally “come out” at a BBQ last year when she made out with her best friend—ironically in a walk-in closet upstairs. While Bonnie’s best friend’s husband was angry and mortified, Bill was loving and supportive, encouraging Bonnie to explore this new part of her sexuality. The second wave of polyamory has a distinctly feminist bend to it. In most poly-marriages I know of, the woman is not a “victim,” but many times the initiator.
The four of us had some great dates together. Eventually, time and family commitments slowed down our contact. But it was an adventure I’ll always cherish for many reasons—one of the main ones is that it heightened the love and trust between me and my husband. People assume that you get the excitement from the outside sexual encounters—and you sometimes do. But, as we explore who we are and what we desire, openness keeps the mystery alive between my husband and me. The morning after our first date with Bonnie and Bill, my husband and I were snuggling and talking about how surprisingly fun and drama-free the evening had been. Our hearts were so open with the realization of how much we loved each other. Sometimes sleeping with new people is a measuring stick of how connected you are to your spouse.
I am the last person alive who’d try extreme sports—I can barely grasp the need to risk your life in an effort to feel more alive. But there is an allure in the emotional skydiving of allowing your mate to be sexual with someone else. There’s exhilaration in moving through the fear of the potential loss of the relationship that, for us, is often followed by an all-consuming gratitude for each other. A gratitude that can get lost in the shuffle of mundane life.
Open marriage improves my connection with my spouse. It is an intentional way to evolve together, a way to create spaciousness in our connection while also maintaining a deep bond. In my mind, the challenge of sustaining the vitality in long-term relationships lies in fostering the opposite qualities of passion versus stability, and wildness versus predictability. My interest lies in maintaining both ends of the spectrum, and openness in my marriage is one of the many tools I use to achieve this goal.
Every open marriage is different, just as monogamous marriages are varied. People have different philosophies and motivations. For me, I want the freedom to create a marriage based on my value system—not someone else’s. It’s a delicate balance to create stability and excitement in a marriage. There is a tipping point for me; to make it work I need trust, clear agreements and lots of communication. Poly people have been accused of over communicating. This could be true. I’ve often imagined if my house or phone were tapped by surveillance cops, they’d sit in a bored stupor listening to hours of my husband and I conversing about the nuance of our feelings, needs, fantasies, thoughts –they’d surely beg for the ‘good old days’ of surveilling mafia gangland killings.
But it is this nuanced conversation that keeps my marriage fresh. People have said to me “Open marriage seems like so much work! I couldn’t be bothered to put so much time into an open marriage.” But the “art of relationship” is something I feel devoted to. When you love something you spend time caring for it.
Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I want to be in the habit of investing energy into the art of love, passion and a continued sustaining bond with my husband.
My Adventures in Polyamory, Open Marriage, and Loving on My Own Terms
At a time when society no longer imposes many sexual taboos, why is open marriage still considered beyond the pale? Written by Gracie X, Wide Open is an enthusiastic, honest, and sometimes raw account of one woman’s experience living polyamorously within the context of her average American family.
Gracie X—a suburban mother of two—has been married to her loving husband, Hank, for 25 years. The problem is that their once-vibrant sex life has shriveled to nothing. Meanwhile, she has fallen in love with another man, for whom she has an overwhelming physical yearning. Frustrated and conflicted but determined not to give up her hard-won home life and wonderful husband, she is desperate for a creative solution. Can she somehow keep both men in her life without resorting to divorce or dishonesty?
A friend introduces Gracie to polyamory: loving and being faithful to more than one person at a time. “Poly,” it turns out, is a whole new world, with dedicated counselors, parties, and dating sites. Convincing Hank ended up being the easy part: he quickly found a girlfriend and accepted Gracie’s terms. Their children, although upset at first, adjusted to having their parents’ “special friends” around, and having Hank and his girlfriend in one duplex, with Gracie and her new boyfriend, Oz, next-door, seemed like an inspired solution. But would trying to go poly create as many problems as it was trying to solve?
In her candid and provocative memoir, Wide Open, Gracie details the years she has spent exploring the poly lifestyle and creating her “chosen family.” A fiercely intelligent feminist, she challenges traditional ideas about monogamy, fidelity, and sexuality. From swinger parties and strip clubs to sex toys and pornography, this is an edgy and thought-provoking read. Yet erotica and tenderness share space here, with Gracie’s true love for both Hank and Oz—as well as her two children—coming through very clearly.
Wide Open reveals—with humor, integrity and heart—how one woman blended love, sex and marriage in unconventional ways and found the fulfillment she was looking for.
The idea actually wasn't my idea. My pal Sarah came up with it, and this was the nexus of my shock. Why the hell didn't I think of it? Was I losing my edge in suburban motherhood? Was I becoming a compliant, in-the-box thinker? When I heard the idea, I was suddenly struck that I had swallowed whole all the "rules" regarding marriage.
Several friends and I were attending a women's spirituality retreat in Mendocino, California, a couple of hours north of Berkeley. I took my ten-year-old daughter, Tallulah, with me as well; it was our yearly mother-daughter vacation of four days in the woods. Every year, we were so excited to go on our vacation that we packed a week early. I started coming to the camp when Tallulah was four years old. I was drawn there because the women were committed to themselves, to their evolution and unfolding, no matter what circumstance they found themselves in.
Mimi, a fashionista who favors orange outfits, piped up and asked my friend Sarah about her "sexual pursuits." I was all ears because I knew that Sarah, like myself, had been married for more than twenty years and had two kids. Was her marriage as sexless as mine? Was she stepping out on her man? Hank and I felt mismatched sexually almost from the beginning, which frequently left me wanting more. We hadn't done the deed in a few months. I wasn't sure what Mimi was getting at, but there was way too much giddy excitement for her to be talking about Sarah's husband.
"Nothing has happened yet," Sarah giggled. Then she said that her husband, Matt, had agreed.
"What are you two talking about?" I asked, sewing a large hollow pod onto my crown.
Sarah went on to explain matter of factly that she had asked Matt to open up their marriage. She wanted to have sex with a woman, which she had never done but had always dreamed of. After a year of careful discussion and couple counseling he had agreed.
What? Say what?
At that moment the earth shifted and my world was altered. I literally sat speechless for many minutes, which was a highly rare state for me. Then my thoughts raced to the forbidden. I immediately started thinking, yet again, about my former Pilates client, Oz.
Oz, whose friendship I had ended at Hank's request. Both our spouses asked us not to have contact after they realized how close we had gotten. He lived a thirty-five-minute walk from my home, and our kids went to the same charter school near downtown Berkeley—still we attempted complete avoidance. But after three years of no contact punctuated by chance meetings, I was still thinking about him.
Our friendship changed my life. At first I couldn't imagine having much to say to him; Oz was so corporate and stiff. He was nine years my junior and seemed somewhat full of himself. But then I got to know him. I was usually the one asking the insightful questions. But he asked me questions too. His questions were from an engineering brain, pragmatic yet mystical—if that combination can be imagined. He had a facile, active mind, and his observations about me were unexpected and searing in their truth.
I felt so memorized, and by such a brilliant thinker. His conclusions were layered with kindness. He would shine a light on hidden parts of me that felt ugly, making them seem like gifts. Our conversations expanded my world—they felt like we were like taking a first-class voyage through the solar system, visiting planets, touching stars, taking breathtaking walks on the Moon. He adored me. To never see him again was equivalent to living in a tomb after meeting God on a mountaintop.
Later that day, while lying on my bed, I stared at the wood beams of my cabin roof. My heart was pounding wildly in my chest, my vulva starting to juice just thinking of Oz and the mere possibility that I might have sex with him. What a brilliant idea! Why hadn't I thought of this myself? I'd just ask my husband, Hank, very nicely, "Honey, would it be okay if I have sex with Oz?" And if he hesitated, I'd drop to my knees and whine, "Please, oh please. I'll do all the dishes for a month!"
Gracie X is a Writer, Director, and Actress. She is the author of “Wide Open: An Unconventional Love Story” now available wherever books are sold. She started a relationship odyssey nearly a decade ago that inspired her to create an unconventional polyamorous chosen family. For the past several years the idea that people can authentically construct their relationships, marriages, and families while meeting the needs of everyone involved– has cracked her wide open. She can’t stop writing, talking, or thinking about it. Her main message is do it your own way. “There is so much more spaciousness in our relationships to get our needs met—and there’s not one correct way to do it. There are a spectrum of options from monogamy to polyamory and all the nuances in between.” She encourages people to create a unique ‘relationship mission statement’ and set up their marriages, poly relationships and families in the way that works best for them. She has been a principal on “Nash Bridges”, and numerous local TV and commercials. Her short film which she directed and co-stars premiered in the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. It has played at “The Outfest” in Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Germany, Seattle, Orlando, and on San Jose’s Public TV channel KTEH. Her plays have been produced by ‘Brava! For Women in the Arts”, The Climate Theater, Solo Mio, The Chi Chi Club, The Fringe Festival, The Marsh and Josie’s Juice Joint. Gracie X has toured throughout San Francisco, Vancouver and Los Angeles. A graduate of Bard College, she has worked with Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver at the WOW Cafe in New York City. She currently lives in Northern California.