Marriage Without Monogamy

By

marriage without monogamy
One couple's alternative to traditional vows? A legally binding contract.

I was probably on my fourth or fifth Dogfish Head when I felt the side of Carrie’s foot rubbing lightly against the side of mine, underneath the booth. At first, I wasn’t entirely sure it had actually happened. This was quite possibly the most stunningly sophisticated woman I had ever laid eyes on, after all. And she was sitting right next to her boyfriend. The thug.

I carefully rubbed right back, and when I saw Carrie’s eyes meet mine, and then her lips tighten into a conspiratorial smile, I lifted my foot just an inch or two and started rubbing it in small circles on the outside of her left leg. Eventually, I pried my fingers off my pint glass and slowly moved them underneath the table, where they brushed up against Carrie’s knee, and then her fingers, and then the underside of her wrist. At one point I went so far as to reach down for her ankle, and then the curved, smooth brown skin on the back of her leg.

 

The entire time this was going on, by the way, I was carrying on a conversation with Ray and with Carrie’s boyfriend, and when the realization of what I was actually doing finally hit me like a smack in the back of the head, my entire body started shaking involuntarily, as if I had the chills. I excused myself from the booth and went into the bathroom, and I looked at myself in the mirror and tried to take deep, slow breaths at the same time.

After a minute or two had passed, I came back to the booth, and Carrie and I started touching each other under the table again. Eventually she and Michael got up to leave, and I shook Michael’s hand, and told him how good it was to have finally met. I gave Carrie a friendly hug, and she simply smiled back at me, as if nothing unusual at all had just taken place.

“We should do this again sometime,” I blurted out. And Carrie just smiled again, and nodded. And then she and Michael walked through the bar’s door and went home.

So that was how I first met the woman I plan to spend the remainder of my life with. Speaking of which, this would probably be as good a time as any to mention that for as long as I can remember, I’ve planned to spend the remainder of my life with no one at all, other than myself. I was raised by two loving parents who are still happily married, and yet I have always been cynical about the concepts of marriage and monogamy.

As Carrie and I slowly got to know each after that night of fumbling under the bar table, I was thrilled to learn that she was equally as cynical about the concept of happily-ever-after. And yes, as it turned out, she and Michael did have an open relationship. This worked out quite nicely in my favor, because while the two of them obviously had no plans to split up anytime soon, I was more obsessed with Carrie than I’d been with any other woman, ever. There were times at the beginning of our relationship when we would lie in bed for hours, literally, and just look into each other’s eyes. I’m not sure what Carrie was thinking then--for some reason, I’ve never asked her--but I can certainly tell you what was going through my head: How the hell did I ever get so lucky?

I guess that’s what it’s like to be in love.

Carrie and I had been dating for almost two years when she and Michael finally decided to go their separate ways. It was by far the messiest breakup I had ever seen, but that’s another story.

This story--the one I plan to tell in a series of columns for Tango over the next few months--is about the life that Carrie and I now live together. Or rather, the life that we’ll be living together very soon: Much to my surprise, we got engaged recently, and I still regret that I didn’t somehow manage to capture the look on my mother’s face when I first tried explaining to her what it was, exactly, that we had in mind.

Because we aren’t getting married. Not exactly. But we do both want to be partners for life, for reasons that are both romantic and practical. And we want to celebrate that decision, just as couples who’ve chosen a more standard arrangement, and a more standard future, want to celebrate theirs. So we’re having a wedding, although we’ve been referring to it lately as a Life Partner Ceremony, regardless of the fact that “Life Partner” sounds flaky and New Age-y. And since our partnership won’t be legally recognized by the state, and because Carrie is a co-owner of her family’s business, and because I’m in the process of starting a business of my own, we’ve spent a lot of time wondering how to keep things simple and uncomplicated in the case of a break-up. Eventually, we both decided that the smartest thing to do would be to simply start a business together, which would at least transform half of our partnership into a legal entity.

Carrie is the left-brained half of the couple, and so she worked out all the details with a lawyer: We’ll be creating a holdings company, which won’t actually do anything--it will simply exist as a sort of alternative savings account. The rules we’ve set forth are simple: In the instance of a break-up, Carrie would get nothing that belonged to me before the holdings company was formed, and I would get nothing that had previously belonged to her. We’ll make deposits into the company’s account only when we make a profit on a project that we’ve worked on together, like a real estate flip, or a writing job.

Naturally, we’re both hopeful that our business will never have to be split. And yet we’re doing our very best to be proactive and realistic. And yes, just like Carrie’s relationship with Michael, ours is an open relationship, although we’ve managed to tread very lightly around that privilege so far. And yes, we do realize just how self-important and precious this partnership probably looks to those of you who’ve spent many long, hard years working to improve upon your own marriages. But as we’ve stayed up late at night and laughed with each other about the incredible ridiculousness and the incredible seriousness of what it is that we’re about to do, we’ve come to realize just how proud we are of ourselves for at least trying to improve upon that mousetrap known as modern marriage.

And of course, whether or not that wheel becomes something we manage to reinvent remains to be seen. I hope you’ll choose to come along for the ride.

(So to speak.)

Dan Eldridge is a Lonely Planet guidebook writer, the author of Moon Handbooks Pittsburgh (Avalon Travel), and the publisher of Young Pioneers, a magazine about creative entrepreneurs. He lives in Philadelphia, and his website is pioneercontent.com.

Our hero gets engaged to the girl of his dreams, a friend of a friend who just so happens to hate the concept of marriage, and who prefers the convenience of an open relationship. Here, an introduction to their not-so-traditional first encounters.

It's just after midnight, and I'm huddled into a bar booth next to Ray, an old college friend who has lately become my very frequent drinking buddy. Ray and I went to the same state school in Pittsburgh, and although we both fled town almost as soon as we graduated--Ray went to New York City and then L.A., while I lived in San Francisco and Seattle--for various reasons, we've both moved back. Neither one of us is especially pleased with the way our adult lives are turning out. And that's probably why we both end up at dive bars three or four times a week, bullshitting about college, and guessing at the fortunes of our old friends--especially the ones we haven't heard from in 10 years.

But tonight, Ray and I have company: Michael and Carrie, a couple I've been hearing about for ages now, and who supposedly have an open relationship. Michael and Ray were friends back in school as well, and for months now, Ray has been regaling me with stories about their college-day exploits. They were obsessed with hip-hop at the time, and on occasion they would dress up in hoodies and baggy jeans, and descend upon the city at night with stolen spray paint cans and giant Sharpie markers, prepared to carve their tags onto every blank surface in sight.

But that was ages ago, of course. Ten years. These days, Ray is much more into real estate and designer suits, which is probably why we get along so well. But lately, Ray has been dropping warnings to me about Michael, who apparently still fancies himself something of a thug--the type of guy who doesn't hesitate to throw a punch when someone looks at him sideways.

I have a bit of a reputation myself: I'm the type of guy who likes to hit on girls who already have boyfriends. I've never really understood why I do it. But ever since I first laid eyes on Carrie at a house party, I wanted nothing more than to devour her whole. She was beyond gorgeous, and by the way she confidently strutted her way through a room, she obviously knew it. And then when Ray told me about her long-term boyfriend--six years!--and about the fact that they both sometimes slept with other people, I could literally picture myself sinking my teeth into the back of her neck, and drawing blood.

I was probably on my fourth or fifth Dogfish Head when I felt the side of Carrie's foot rubbing lightly against the side of mine, underneath the booth. At first, I wasn't entirely sure it had actually happened. This was quite possibly the most stunningly sophisticated woman I had ever laid eyes on, after all. And she was sitting right next to her boyfriend. The thug.

I carefully rubbed right back, and when I saw Carrie's eyes meet mine, and then her lips tighten into a conspiratorial smile, I lifted my foot just an inch or two and started rubbing it in small circles on the outside of her left leg. Eventually, I pried my fingers off my pint glass and slowly moved them underneath the table, where they brushed up against Carrie's knee, and then her fingers, and then the underside of her wrist. At one point I went so far as to reach down for her ankle, and then the curved, smooth brown skin on the back of her leg.

The entire time this was going on, by the way, I was carrying on a conversation with Ray and with Carrie's boyfriend, and when the realization of what I was actually doing finally hit me like a smack in the back of the head, my entire body started shaking involuntarily, as if I had the chills. I excused myself from the booth and went into the bathroom, and I looked at myself in the mirror and tried to take deep, slow breaths at the same time.

After a minute or two had passed, I came back to the booth, and Carrie and I started touching each other under the table again. Eventually she and Michael got up to leave, and I shook Michael's hand, and told him how good it was to have finally met. I gave Carrie a friendly hug, and she simply smiled back at me, as if nothing unusual at all had just taken place.

“We should do this again sometime," I blurted out. And Carrie just smiled again, and nodded. And then she and Michael walked through the bar's door and went home.

So that was how I first met the woman I plan to spend the remainder of my life with. Speaking of which, this would probably be as good a time as any to mention that for as long as I can remember, I've planned to spend the remainder of my life with no one at all, other than myself. I was raised by two loving parents who are still happily married, and yet I have always been cynical about the concepts of marriage and monogamy.

As Carrie and I slowly got to know each after that night of fumbling under the bar table, I was thrilled to learn that she was equally as cynical about the concept of happily-ever-after. And yes, as it turned out, she and Michael did have an open relationship. This worked out quite nicely in my favor, because while the two of them obviously had no plans to split up anytime soon, I was more obsessed with Carrie than I'd been with any other woman, ever. There were times at the beginning of our relationship when we would lie in bed for hours, literally, and just look into each other's eyes. I'm not sure what Carrie was thinking then--for some reason, I've never asked her--but I can certainly tell you what was going through my head: How the hell did I ever get so lucky?

I guess that's what it's like to be in love.

Carrie and I had been dating for almost two years when she and Michael finally decided to go their separate ways. It was by far the messiest breakup I had ever seen, but that's another story.

This story--the one I plan to tell in a series of columns for YourTango over the next few months--is about the life that Carrie and I now live together. Or rather, the life that we'll be living together very soon: Much to my surprise, we got engaged recently, and I still regret that I didn't somehow manage to capture the look on my mother's face when I first tried explaining to her what it was, exactly, that we had in mind.

Because we aren't getting married. Not exactly. But we do both want to be partners for life, for reasons that are both romantic and practical. And we want to celebrate that decision, just as couples who've chosen a more standard arrangement, and a more standard future, want to celebrate theirs. So we're having a wedding, although we've been referring to it lately as a Life Partner Ceremony, regardless of the fact that “Life Partner" sounds flaky and New Age-y. And since our partnership won't be legally recognized by the state, and because Carrie is a co-owner of her family's business, and because I'm in the process of starting a business of my own, we've spent a lot of time wondering how to keep things simple and uncomplicated in the case of a break-up. Eventually, we both decided that the smartest thing to do would be to simply start a business together, which would at least transform half of our partnership into a legal entity.

Carrie is the left-brained half of the couple, and so she worked out all the details with a lawyer: We'll be creating a holdings company, which won't actually do anything--it will simply exist as a sort of alternative savings account. The rules we've set forth are simple: In the instance of a break-up, Carrie would get nothing that belonged to me before the holdings company was formed, and I would get nothing that had previously belonged to her. We'll make deposits into the company's account only when we make a profit on a project that we've worked on together, like a real estate flip, or a writing job.

Naturally, we're both hopeful that our business will never have to be split. And yet we're doing our very best to be proactive and realistic. And yes, just like Carrie's relationship with Michael, ours is an open relationship, although we've managed to tread very lightly around that privilege so far. And yes, we do realize just how self-important and precious this partnership probably looks to those of you who've spent many long, hard years working to improve upon your own marriages. But as we've stayed up late at night and laughed with each other about the incredible ridiculousness and the incredible seriousness of what it is that we're about to do, we've come to realize just how proud we are of ourselves for at least trying to improve upon that mousetrap known as modern marriage.

And of course, whether or not that wheel becomes something we manage to reinvent remains to be seen. I hope you'll choose to come along for the ride.

(So to speak.)

Dan Eldridge is a Lonely Planet guidebook writer, the author of Moon Handbooks Pittsburgh (Avalon Travel), and the publisher of Young Pioneers, a magazine about creative entrepreneurs. He lives in Philadelphia, and his website is pioneercontent.com.