By Gwen & Lark for YourTango
Everyone has a secret. Things we don't want people to know because we are embarrassed, too proud or too private. We keep secrets because some things are too intimate and special for anyone else to know. But sometimes we keep secrets because we may feel like we will be harshly judged and don't want to invite the criticism that may follow. Often, we just simply don't know who we can trust with sensitive information because it might illicit unwanted gossip.
For example, you would never know I have an "open" marriage. I'm not the lady in the 4-inch heels at school pick up that wears skin-tight jeans or has DD implants. I don't have wild parties where people stagger home with someone else's spouse because they picked their car keys from a bowl on the coffee table. I'm just another mom who drives a sensible car, does the grocery shopping, wears clothes from Ann Taylor, goes jogging to stay fit -- and occasionally has sex with men who are not my husband.
If I ever told you about this part of my life -- which I probably wouldn't unless you were an extremely close friend -- your first reaction might be "What? How? But what about your kids?"
Surely, you already have an image in your mind about what an open marriage is.
It's often mistaken for polygamy, where a man lives together with multiple women like the show Sister Wives or Big Love. Or you might think that it's a convenient excuse for a husband to have sex with other women without losing the security of having a wife or the social complexities of having a mistress.
What most people who have never experienced an open marriage might not understand is that every open marriage is different. And it's probably not what you think, unless you know someone personally who has one. (And you probably do, you just don't know it yet!).
Not everyone in an open marriage is some kind of sex-addicted freak show. Between household duties, raising children and having a meaningful relationship with my husband, I do not have a lot of time to dedicate to having sex with other people, even if I wanted to.
I do not have sex with every man I meet. I do not want to steal your husband. I do not even want to have sex with your husband. I do not have sex at the grocery store or soccer practice or bring strange men into our home.
My open marriage did not start out as such. It was very much closed with a big, iron door and the thought of that ever changing never once crossed my mind in the first 13 years of our marriage. My husband, on the other hand, had been making threesome jokes for at least 10 of those 13 years and often wondered out loud about all the sex he missed out on in his youth.
He grew up in a very conservative family where sex before marriage was considered a sin. I had a similar upbringing but had secretly given in to my desires and had been with someone before I met my husband. I felt incredibly guilty about it because that's not what "good" girls do.
But eventually the reasons against experimenting sexually with other people were overshadowed by the curiosity -- and the exhausting requests by my husband.
We didn't know exactly how this kind of thing worked, so we took a risk and asked some friends who we thought might know. It's a delicate subject to broach, but we felt like a few conversations we had in the past left us with some clues that they were, if not in an open marriage, at least open-minded people when it came to sex.
Our hunch was right, and they told us about a place in town where we could go -- what you might call a "Swingers Club". After talking about it for so long, I was ready to at least go and have a look and was excited and nervous to see what it was like. The club itself was dark with a lot of scantily-clad women and sharply dressed men dancing or milling around the bar sipping drinks while lights flashed and stage smoke puffed up from the floor. Some people were sitting on the vinyl couches in a separate area behind the dance floor, chatting and caressing each other.
The beat of the music was pounding as hard as my heart was pumping in my chest. What am I doing here? Am I weird for wanting to know what happens here? Am I depraved? While most people hired a babysitter to go to dinner and a movie, we had left our children at home so we could watch come here and ... what?
Pretty much anything goes in a club of that nature, but it's different for everyone.
For our first foray, we stayed together and only exchanged touches with other couples. We had agreed in advance this was more of a reconnaissance mission than a full-blown invasion into open marriage. But that night things happened -- I won't go into detail out of respect for my husband -- that sparked a change in what the both of us wanted and needed in our marriage. Our curiosity (and the subsequent desire to satisfy it) came from a place of safety and security in the relationship we had fostered over the last decade.
It has been a few years since our first visit to that club and our relationship has changed and grown with time, as all relationships tend to do. The rules of our open marriage have evolved and developed over time, where we now both understand what the other person needs ,and we feel comfortable with that.
The key for us is communication and respect. It also means that our relationship comes first. We spend quality time together, we date each other, we clean the house on Saturdays and take the kids to dance and soccer. And occasionally, if one of us is on a solo business trip or a night on the town with friends, that big iron door is flung open and we let ourselves have fun. We're young(ish), good-looking and in good shape. And we enjoy it when it feels right and safe.
None of our outside experiences are kept private from each other.
We both know what the other spouse is doing, and sometimes we do it together. I'm happy to share with my spouse the details of any sexual adventure I might have, just as he would do for me if I asked (although we don't always want to know). An open marriage for me means having new sexual experiences without guilt or shame.
As "open" as we are with each other about this aspect in our relationship, we are not open about it with our kids. Just like we don't talk to them about the complexities of getting a mortgage, why and how we invest our money or what kind of birth control we use, we don't talk to our kids about this small but delicate aspect to our marriage.
They're too young to understand that if mom sleeps with the mailman (just kidding -- he's not my type) that that doesn't mean Mom and Dad are getting a divorce. They don't understand about commitment, unity or loyalty on the level required when discussing an open marriage. They're kids -- and they need to stay that way.
So they play with Barbies, Legos and fight with each other and don't ever have to worry about whether Mom and Dad love each other. Because we show them every day when we eat breakfast together or dance around the kitchen or cheer them on that we're a family and that's never going to change.
But if the day comes when one of them says to me, "You know, Mom, this one time I heard a rumor... " I'm not going to lie.
I will sit down with my child and answer any questions they might have and explain that for us, this lifestyle works. Maybe then they will be ready to grasp the idea that you can love someone, spend your life devoted to them emotionally, be best friends, lovers... and have sex with someone else on the side. But until that day comes, I'll keep the secret between me, my husband and, well, you.
Unomum is our space to explore the many million issues of single motherhood, but it's also for all the ladies -- women stuck in shitty marriages, unfulfilled broads wishing for divorce, and happily coupled former single moms with a shit-ton of wisdom to share.
This article originally appeared on YourTango.