If you attend Bedpost Confessions, you'll hear Sadie Smythe, one of the organizers and frequently its hostess, read about her open marriage. Sometimes she reads about her relationship with her husband, Scott, and sometimes she writes about the men--or women--she dates outside their relationship. Sadie has just released a book, Open All the Way, which chronicles her journey into an open marriage.
I had the chance to interview Sadie and Scott together a few weeks ago about their relationship.
On the outside, Sadie and Scott a lot like other families. They've been married for 14 years and friends for 26. They have an 11-year old daughter, two cats, a house in East Austin and normal jobs. Scott works in the tech industry, and Sadie part time at a bakery while she works toward a psychology degree.
And they do the hard work of maintaining an open marriage.
When they got married, they knew they wanted to be open to being nonmonogamous. Before getting married, Scott felt he should allow Sadie to continue exploring her nascent bisexuality by making their marriage open to women only. Initially, they were certain that any outside relationships would be about sex only and not love, but they were soon proven wrong.
"You can't have interest in somebody and sex without there being emotion involved at some level," Scott said.
Originally a very traditional marriage, Scott worked in Silicon Valley and Sadie stayed at home and took care of the baby, did the cooking and the cleaning. Eventually, Sadie said, something "shifted." She continued, "We both come from divorced families and we were watching these other marriages fall apart all around us and so we thought maybe [opening up] was a solution."
After almost ten years, they agreed they had gotten to know each other and felt comfortable in their marriage and could carry the weight of something so significant. Sadie made out with a guy at a bar and told Scott about it when she got home. The next night they sat down with some drinks and made some rules for how their relationship would work.
In the beginning, things were easier for Sadie: "There are a million horny dicks that will have sex with a good looking woman regardless of her marital status. But the inverse is not true, really. There's such a stereotype of the cheating husband who's gonna say that it's okay or they have an arrangement so I almost felt like I had to have a hall pass," Scott said. When they moved to Austin, Scott got a lot more attention and found that when he told them about his marriage, women were more interested than they had been in the Bay Area.
Sadie met people on Craigslist, primarily through Casual Encounters, and Scott met people at parties. Each have had dating relationships that have lasted a year or more. Things have gotten better since with the advent of OK Cupid, which allows people to disclose if they're in a relationship or married and avoid feeling like they're doing something secretive, which is exactly opposite of what Sadie and Scott's arrangement is about: honesty and clear communication.
Sadie said, "When we did first start doing this, we operated on the same sort of assumption that we though it would be primarily about sex. One of our rules--number 17--was, 'If you fall in love, break it off.' We realized fairly early on that we needed to renegotiate."
Scott added: "It's a tricky thing when your primary partner tells you they have love feelings for somebody else. We make it very clear when we initiate new relationships that this relationship--Sadie and I--isn't going anywhere."
In terms of how they negotiate the time they spend with their outside partners, Scott and Sadie balance taking care of their daughter, going to her music recitals, and maintaining their primarily relationship with the needs of their outside partners. But family responsibilities come first.
Sadie describes the key to success as compersion, a concept that many people in open relationships use to describe how a person can experience joy based on the happiness that their partner is having with someone else. It's a way of deliberately redirecting jealousy.
"Love is not a finite thing," Sadie says. "Everyone gets to design their own relationship. Our open relationship and the way we do things isn't necessarily going to work for another couple. [But designing your own relationship is] the way people should be living their lives."