Why aren’t you in an open relationship yet? Carla Bruni Sarkozy, wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, famously "prefers polygamy and polyandry." In July, Reveal magazine quoted Will Smith as saying that he and wife Jada Pinkett-Smith allow each other extra-marital dalliances. Oprah did a segment on open marriages. And both YourTango contributor Jenny Block and Village Voice sex columnist Tristan Taormino have brand new books out on open relationships. All of this talk of free love is enough to make chicks who prefer old-fashioned monogamy feel a bit, well, old-fashioned. But if history can teach us anything, the open relationship bandwagon will come and go, which is a good thing because most women still benefit from and prefer monogamy.
Why? Women still generally do more work in relationships than men do and openness requires even more diligence than a regular relationship; women are taught to care more about relationships and risk more for them than men, so non-monogamy raises the stakes more for us. And, despite today’s female open relationship proponents, it’s men who typically initiate and prefer non-monogamy.
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The recent rash of high-profile cheaters (Elliot Spitzer, John Edwards, David Patterson, Larry Craig) has shown monogamy in an ugly light. People yearn for sexual variety, and now that we live longer than ever, it’s unrealistic to imagine a couple staying together fifty years without a single affair. And in fact, statistics show twenty percent of men and thirteen percent of women cheat on their spouse. But open relationships are not the solution, says Ayala Pines, psychologist and author of Romantic Jealousy, because jealousy and envy are just as hardwired as infidelity. Only a third of monogamous marriages survive cheating because of the jealousy and lingering sense of betrayal, says Pines. And the success rate for open relationships is not any better for similar reasons. "In my experience with open relationships," she says, "the couple goes back to monogamy or else to illicit affairs. Or, it ends in divorce."
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Another reason why open relationships don't work in practice for a lot of women is because they're simply too time-consuming. Block is up front about the work involved in juggling a husband and a girlfriend. An excerpt of her book on Huffingtonpost.com, "Life In An Open Marriage: The Four (Not-So-Easy) Steps" (also excerpted on YourTango), prompted one HuffPo commenter to say, "I'm exhausted just reading about all the 'work' and never-ending 'communication' about feelings, situations, jealousy, worry, etc. It all sounds like much more effort than its worth (IMO)." Likewise, Taormino's Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships is an intimidating 300 pages, in which the kind of person who is successful at non-monogamy is described as someone committed to knowing themselves "on a deep level," a process she says might include "psychotherapy and counseling, reading, writing, journaling, blogging, attending workshops and peer support groups, meditation, and various spiritual practices." While the idea of openness may be appealing to some women, it's hard to imagine many of us finding the time to juggle a second relationship. Especially those of us with careers and children.
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