Why We Chose To Have An Open Marriage Without A Legally Binding Contract

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Marriage Without Monogamy

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. 

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, I looked at myself in the mirror and tried to take deep, slow breaths at the same time.

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After a minute or two had passed, I came back to the booth, and Carrie and I started flirting 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 and go on to have an open marriage 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?

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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 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, 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 breakup.

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.

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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 breakup, 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. 

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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.