March 26, 2006

"To strip marriage of its antiquated ideals and romantic tinsel and find ways to make it truly contemporary."

Remember "Open Marriage," that 1972 self-help-ish book? Well, let's reminisce about it, on the occasion of the death of one of its authors, Nena O'Neill:
"Open Marriage," as the book's champions said emphatically and often, was never intended to be a guide for swingers. Indeed, the book embraced marriage.

Its purpose, the authors wrote, was simply "to strip marriage of its antiquated ideals and romantic tinsel and find ways to make it truly contemporary."

Read today, "Open Marriage" is a period piece, a window onto a distant age of experimentation and abandon. Its ideas can appear shockingly ordinary, even quaint....

Three of the book's 287 pages explore, ever so tentatively, the elastic properties of marital fidelity. Forever after, those pages were all anyone seemed to remember about "Open Marriage."...

When "Open Marriage" appeared, some readers interpreted its choicest lines ("Sexual fidelity is the false god of closed marriage") as a license to cheat.

But on the very next page, the O'Neills seemed to back away from that provocative stance: "We are not recommending outside sex, but we are not saying that it should be avoided, either. The choice is entirely up to you."...

"The whole area of extramarital sex is touchy," Ms. O'Neill told The New York Times in 1977. "I don't think we ever saw it as a concept for the majority, and certainly it has not proved to be."
Only the elite few can pull it off with the requisite taste and élan. Surely, you don't think you're one of them! And yet the book was a huge best-seller, and even if you didn't read the book, you knew the phrase "Open Marriage." You read about it everywhere. "Open Marriage" would be the way of the future, life after the Sexual Revolution. Better get up to speed!

A dialogue from the era:
"I'm married."

"Don't you believe in Open Marriage?"

7 comments:

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob said...

Isn't abortion really open pregnancy?

reader_iam said...

Heh. Memories.

"Open Marriage": one of the three books I found hidden in one of my dad's bureau drawers circa 1974 (the other two were "Tales of A Happy Hooker" and "The Kama Sutra"). I wasn't much of a "snoopy" kid before that, and this experience completely nipped that tendency in the bud--though not, of course, until I had scanned them.

I was 13-1/2.

Second lesson? Some things don't bear thinking too deeply about. That's a dreadful sentence, grammatically, but so true, so true. I've never forgotten it.

Damn, Ann, the connections that your posts sometimes inspire make me laugh so hard, sometimes ruefully, sometimes goofily, sometimes--well, whatever.

Sure keeps me coming back for more.

Gundovald said...

Thanks for the reminder of a sample dialogue from that era, reference, " Don't you believe in Open Marriage?" What came afterwards some people are still talking about; some even fondly remember their "Ex's".

Aspasia M. said...

"Open Marriage": one of the three books I found hidden in one of my dad's bureau drawers circa 1974 (the other two were "Tales of A Happy Hooker" and "The Kama Sutra").

I read Judy Blume's Wifey in elementry school. It was a change from Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I thought that the sex and adultery was rather ridiculous in Wifey.

Although as a 3rd grader I was, not surprisingly, more interested in the scatological references in the book. The husband was a doctor and tracked his children's bowl movements on a refrigerator chart! Ah - the interests of elementry school students: Who cares about the sex; let's talk about pooh!

Meade said...

from that NYTimes obit: In 1977, Nena O'Neill published "The Marriage Premise" (M. Evans), which argued that fidelity was perhaps not such a bad thing after all.

A radical concept in 2006?

dmc_in_washington said...

My parents' union was a casualty of "Open Marriage."

My father and mother read the book in the early 70s and decided to try it. The experiment didn't bring them closer together. In fact they divorced when I was 2.

My dad later cited it as the reason for the split. Both he and mom remarried into lasting relationships. They learned the hard way that not all forms of freedom enrich the spirit. The book probably seemed enlightened in 1972, but it smacks of hubris and naivete today.