What surprises most people is when I tell them it’s not the sex-with-other-men that bothers me. The sex is the easy part, the fun part. It’s what the sex connects to, stands for, reveals that can be difficult. I don’t want her to fall in love with anyone else, and every time she goes on a date, I confront the possibility that she might. It happened at the beginning: The first person she dated after we opened up fell hard in love with her, and my wife, overwhelmed by his ardor, tried to love him back. Watching it happen, I was confused, angry, and terrified that she wanted to leave me. She assured me she didn’t, and whatever feelings she had for him didn’t lessen what she felt for me. Believing her then was the ultimate trust exercise. We survived because eventually I did believe her, and also because I learned to trust myself.
This has been the great challenge of my open marriage: to draw strength from vulnerability. Doing so requires supreme self-confidence. You must first really, truly love yourself; it is the foundation upon which all the other love is built. From everywhere comes the message that what I’m doing is for weaklings, losers, failures, pussies; that if I had money and status, I could keep my wife “in line”; that her self-discovery comes at the expense of my self-esteem. My open marriage has made heavy demands on my ability to silence the voice of doubt in my head, that gnawing feeling of worthlessness. But I find I can meet those demands, and that I am able to build my self-confidence out of nothing more than the basic dignity we all possess. I’m grateful to my wife for pushing us to take this leap, and whatever happens to us in the future I would do it all again. And when she comes home tonight and crawls into bed beside me with a hot story about her date with Paulo, she’ll do it all again, too.