Readers respond to "Do the Clintons Have an Open Marriage?"

By Salon Staff
Published June 12, 2003 7:13PM (EDT)

[Read the article by Michael Alvear.]

Several years ago while I was in school I had a girlfriend who "was to die for." She was French, younger, more attractive, smarter, more driven and sexually more engaging than any other woman I had dated. I believe now that during our relationship she also cheated, perhaps with a man and almost certainly with a woman. Thereafter, we broke up.

I had questioned and continue to question society's imperative that there are only two possibilities for a straying partner: lack of love or dissatisfaction with the relationship. Nevertheless, when she asked for my assent for her to have sex with a woman, I refused -- despite what I considered a very exciting proposition. I concluded that our relationship could not take the strain.

My belief, then and now, is based on what we all perceive; shared experiences are what bring people together and can also drive them apart. Sex, unlike a trip to the ballpark together, is so intimate that it creates bonds between people so intimate as to be exclusive. The reason that we are so fearful of a so-called "open relationship" is because in growing up we have formed and lost friendships based upon shared experiences and have experienced the pain of losing friends and intimates when they form other, exclusive relationships.

-- Keith Merritt

Your ideas are interesting, but you fail to address another very real danger, that of falling out of love with your spouse and in love with the new toy. This danger is what often keeps couples from having an "open marriage." Straight or gay, ordering some love on the side can spoil your appetite for the main course.

-- Lulu Sanders

Michael Alvear wonders why couples strive for monogamy when it is so "unnatural" -- and unattainable -- to us and all other species. Personally, I see jealousy as being a big motivator. We generally hope that we stay faithful out of love, respect, and many other high-minded rationales, but when it comes down to it, we don't cheat because we don't want to be cheated on ourselves. The only way to extract a promise of fidelity is to return it in kind. I still think love and respect play a big role, but love and respect do not equal sex. As for guilt, the guilt comes from the knowledge of how hurt we'd feel if cheated on. Of course, none of this applies to me, because I don't cheat on my wife -- out of love and respect -- unlike the rest of you rutting pigs.

-- Daniel Royer

You miss the point completely. It does not matter if fidelity is something all people should strive for or if it is a moral imperative. It doesn't matter whether you love someone and long for casual sex. If you are doing something your partner would see as a betrayal, you are committing an immoral act. If you can't stay faithful, don't promise to stay faithful. Adulterers are liars. They hide their activities and their motivations from the person they say they love the most. It's so much moral whitewashing to ask whether it's just antiquated ideas that make you feel guilty. People can stay faithful -- they choose to. Don't rhetoric your way out of guilt if you've been a bastard -- 'fess up and take your lumps.

-- Elizabeth Laurie

While I agree with you that "society's" track record in accepting and understanding sexuality is pretty grim, and your examples of homosexuality and interracial marriage are very powerful, you seem to miss the point as to why open relationships as a phenomenon have not made it to the radar screen yet. I would submit that they have.

Maybe we as a society have not identified it as such, but the phenomenon has been part of the culture of marriage and divorce in this country for a long time. You mention the Kinsey statistic on extramarital affairs, yet you fail to acknowledge the divorce rate that, in fact, equals it. You mention the many gay men who live in open relationships, but you fail to acknowledge that many, most in fact that I know, don't want an open relationship and instead long for a loving, monogamous relationship.

The cultural history of homosexuality from the time of the Greeks identifies male-male relationships as full of potential for strong, loving and long-term connection. Long-term, monogamous, heterosexual relationships have been the norm throughout history. All of the evidence shows that our communities break apart when relationships break apart, which they usually do when infidelity enters the picture. Not to mention to cost to the individual psyche.

The glue that holds relationships together is a solid foundation of trust and genuine love, and sexual fidelity is part and parcel of that. You are trying to convince yourself and others, and many people would be happy if you succeed, that sex is just an impulse, disconnected from the more genuine hard-to-define connections. But human beings are not animals, ruled just by instinct. We can think, we see when our actions have a debilitating emotional impact on the people we supposedly love, we see the results of promiscuity in terms of disease, broken homes and loneliness.

There are no easy answers. Some people may be able to live with that which you claim to be an agnostic about. But if the abandonment of fidelity is the price of enlightenment, I'll chose to live in the imperfect world where the human invention of deep monogamous love, elusive though it may often be, has been the subject of poetry and religion and fable and, more important, the reality of relationships for centuries. This is the ideal, not a world where we just give in to a nature that is, by definition, beneath us.

-- James LaForest

Salon Staff

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