Let’s talk adultery. You highlight just how unrealistic sexual monogamy can be over the course of a decades-long marriage, but you don’t advocate for open marriage. Why not?
I think the subject has been made unnecessarily simple by people saying either, “Why not just have open marriages,” or “Why not just stop being disgusting and give up on adulterous urges.” Both positions are beautifully and impossibly reductive. There are serious problems with monogamy and there are serious problems with open marriages. The ’60s were all about looking for solutions, but there really aren’t any. There’s lots of things in life to which we have no solution, the biggest one being death. I don’t want to be obtuse about this, but I think there is some benefit in playing around with the lack of solutions in one’s mind and sort of sitting around the campfire and weeping together about the difficulties. I think the tension between the desire for a committed long-term relationship and the desire for exciting sex, that’s a real tension that just can’t go away.
You detail in the book how our notions of marriage have evolved over time — it’s only very recently that we began to expect a marriage to be based on family, love and passion. What do you think of this current formulation — is it wrong? Is there a better one?
No. I think in so far as there is a solution, the solution is to be hyper-aware of the situation that we’re in. In other words, danger signs for me are people who go, “Oh great, we’re gonna get married and live happily ever after,” or, “Ah, no problem, we’ll just have a policy of open marriage and cynical secrets.” Anything that seems naive in one way or another — and I think you can be cynically naive or naive about cynicism — it’s gonna be a problem.