Posts Tagged ‘monogamy’


“Hello, Henry. It’s Lucy. Can I speak with the kids?”

“Sure, just a sec. Jason? Your mom is calling.”

Our typical exchange. A handful of words, the bare minimum necessary for Lucy to convey what she wants, and for me to meet her request.

Anyone else answering the phone would have received a more loquacious greeting, replete with “how are yous?” and “how’s the weathers?”

I don’t warrant such niceties. I am merely an obstacle, the thing that stands between my ex and a conversation with our children. Her tone made clear her regret I was the person closest to the phone when it rang.

She did not acknowledge the date. My parents had not mentioned it either, if they even noticed. I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up.

That day, one of the last of my visit back home, was our wedding anniversary. It was the fourteenth since the big day, and the second to pass since we separated.

For two years, we have been suspended in this limbo, no longer husband and wife, not yet divorced. And in each of those years, the calendar has thrust this date into our faces like a cruel insult.

Or into my face, at least. Lucy scarcely noted anniversaries when we were together. Perhaps they don’t haunt her now.

For me, it will be a while before this is a day like any other.

My wife was never one for sentiment. Indeed, her aversion to sentiment was a hallmark of our wedding ceremony.

We came to be engaged at her suggestion. We had been living together for about year when she allowed that if I proposed, she would not refuse.

I can take a hint. But, as she knew, I had a young anarchist’s distrust of the institution. Why should we seek state sanction for our love, I asked?

Because I prefer it, she answered.

But its just paper, a contract, I argued. Why not trust in one another? Why accept the rules of matrimony, the ideal of lifelong monogamy, when they seem so contrary to human nature?

Because I prefer it, she answered.

So it was that one evening, in a tavern, I proposed. I gave her a ring my mother had passed on to me. Lucy cried. She lost her breath. She threw the ring at me, saying she was “not worthy” of me. She ran to the street.

I picked up the ring. I followed her to the street. I put the ring on her finger. “I love you,” I said. “I am yours. Please, marry me.”

She nodded. She cried as she held me tight, as if I would evaporate if she let me go.

We set a date.

Marriage ceased to be abstract, something I supposed I would do some day, when I grew up. Now, at twenty-six, I was grown up. I was engaged to the woman I loved. We were entering into a sanctioned union.

We planned the wedding.

Of course, it would be a civil ceremony. My faith as an agnostic Methodist was no match for her firm convictions as an atheist. Her mother offered us the use of her home, a lovely Cape Cod situated on a bay in Long Island, for the wedding ceremony.

We accepted. Lucy and her mother began the time-honored tradition of mothers and daughters arguing over wedding details.

It was decided that the ceremony was to be performed by a local ferryboat captain.

“Do you want to say anything during the ceremony?” he asked us one afternoon as he guided his ferry across the bay.

“No,” Lucy said, looking at me. “We want the ceremony as short as you can make it.”

“We can do it in about, oh, five lines, if that’s what you want.”

“That’s what we want. Right, Henry?”

“Right,” I nodded, taking her newly expressed opinion as my own. “Four lines if you can manage it.”

My family was surprised that Lucy intended to keep her last name. “She’s the end of the line,” I explained. “I’m one of four boys. Our lineage is secure. She’s got one brother, and he’s gay. So she is keeping her name.”

They thought it odd that she rented her wedding gown. “Don’t be superstitious,” I chided. “Why buy a dress she will wear once?”

To me, these things made sense. Lucy’s decisions were consistent with her independence of mind, which I treasured. They also reflected her ambivalence about the ceremony, which I shared.

Still, there were some traditions we kept. I did not see Lucy in her gown until shortly before the ceremony.

“You are a stone cold fox,” I smiled, kissing her.

She looked so beautiful.

Lucy prefers her hair short, but knew that I liked it long. For her new husband, she grew her hair so that it flowed over her shoulders.

She had chosen an antique gown, in ivory white, with petticoats and layers of lace. Her smile radiated from her warm olive complexion. Her almond eyes sparkled.

“I’m so sorry about this,” she whispered, fingering the gash on my forehead.

“It’s okay,” I winced. “Looks much worse than it feels.”

“Has anyone noticed?” she asked, looking about.

“Everyone has noticed. But it’s okay.”

Following the reception on the previous evening, Lucy had stormed away from me, shouting obscenities as she hurled herself into the middle of a quiet street.

It was well after midnight. She was drunk. We both were.

She was scared to death. We both were.

“Shhh, shhh,” I shushed, running after her. “Please, don’t walk away.”

“I hate you! I hate you!” she screamed. “There is no way I am marrying you tomorrow, none!”

“Lucy, Lucy, please. Everyone is here. My family and friends are here. Your family is here. We love each other. We have to get married tomorrow. For us. For them!”

“What, I have to get married because your family got on a fucking plane? I don’t have to do anything!”

“Look,” I said, my anger rising over my dread of being overheard. “We are getting married tomorrow. That’s it. It’s settled.”

“I fucking HATE YOU!” she shouted, lashing at me. Her newly filed nails clawed into my face.

“Fuck!” I grabbed my head. I pulled back my hands and saw blood. “Oh, shit . . .”

“Oh my god,” Lucy gasped, shaking her hands like things she could no longer control. “I have to go. I have to go.” She ran down the street, away from her mother’s home, where we were to sleep that night.

“Don’t follow me!” she called back.

I looked at my bloody fingers, and wiped the mess coagulating on my eyebrow.

I had to take care of her.

I had to disguise this outburst. No one should know.

I was bleeding. How do I fix this?

I abandoned the reception party and headed to my future mother in law’s home. No one was there. I could sneak in and clean up the wound. Maybe it would look better in the morning.

I awoke alone. The pillow was streaked with blood. I washed my face and went downstairs to join in the wedding preparations. I had to be normal.

“Good morning,” Lucy’s brother Richard said as I approached him on the lawn. “Did you enjoy the . . . good Lord, what happened to your face?”

“Uh, nothing, just, you know. Say, have you seen Lucy?”

“You mean she’s not in your room?”

“No, and I’d like to find her quietly, okay?”

“I’ll find her,” he said. He understood. “You just try to, I don’t know, just avoid Mother until we find her.” That was good advice.

I visited my family. My mother expressed alarm at my scratched face. “Lucy did this to you, didn’t she?”

“Mom, please. She’s anxious. It’s a big deal. The wedding, I mean, not the scratch. It doesn’t hurt.”

“Sit on the bed,” she ordered, examining the wound. “Hmm. I don’t think you need stitches . . .”

“Mom, please,” I batted her hands. “I don’t need stitches. It’s a scratch. Anyway, I have to go. I have to help with the set up. I’ll see you at six, okay?”

She hugged me as I stood.

“I have to go, Mom.”

“I know,” she stroked my hair. “Just . . . don’t let her hit you again.”

“She won’t, Mom. Geez.”

When Lucy left me standing on the street, she ran to the house a friend was renting for the wedding. I had invited dozens of friends, and most had accepted.

Lucy invited very few friends, but this one in particular. Of course, she took Lucy in. She sat up with Lucy, calming her down.

The next morning, she woke Lucy and called her sister. Together, they did Lucy’s hair and make up—she was clueless about these things—and helped her into her gown.

They made her into a bride. I think Lucy was as surprised as anyone to see how ravishing she looked.

How much I loved her.

I put on my suit. I pinned a boutonniere into my lapel, then into the lapels of my father, brothers and future brothers-in-law, Richard and his partner.

My former professor, Whitman, was on hand to serve as my best man. I reserved flowers for his lapel and that of his partner.

A bus pulled up in front of the house, discharging my past. My friends from high school, from college, from work.

I hugged Allan. He told me I looked great in my suit. I thanked him for not wearing shorts, and took a swig from his flask.

“Man, I got to tell you, Lucy is really, really pretty.”

“That’s kind,” I said, swallowing his bourbon. “I mean, considering she is the only girlfriend of mine you haven’t fucked.”

“Henry, I am shocked, shocked,” he began, his mouth dropping. “But, you know . . .”

“I know, its true.” I handed the flask to my brother and greeted more arrivals.

Marcus was there, with his new wife.

Debra sat with Donnie, who was, by this time, so thin he was swallowed by his suit.

Guini was there, in a skirt so short my mother felt compelled to tug down the hem. (Later that night, my little brother Lee would feel compelled to lift her hem with his face.)

Everyone mingled, all these parts of my life coming together.

And I realized that with the exception of people sharing my last name or that of my bride, I had pretty much slept with all the wedding guests. It was time for me to settle down.

The ceremony was over fast. Whitman clocked it at under two minutes. We exchanged rings, we signed a paper, and we kissed.

Just like that, we were married.

“I love you,” she said. “Thanks for marrying me.”

“Thank you for accepting my proposal. I’ll love you forever.”

The wind was coming strong from the bay, anticipating the arrival of Hurricane Bob a few days later. It whipped everyone’s hair and clothes; as the drinks settled in, it blew away inhibitions.

We had hired a stomping swing band. In photographs from that night, everyone is contorted, windswept, dancing, laughing.

Everyone agreed: there has never been a better party, before or since.

My friends paired off as they stumbled back to their hotel rooms, or boarded the bus back to the city. The driver covered the sounds of kissing with a Marvin Gaye soundtrack.

That night, everybody got laid.

Well, almost everybody.

With the departure of our guests, Lucy decided we would not sleep at her mom’s house as planned. We loaded the wedding gifts into a car and drove, drunk as can be, to her friend’s house.

Over my objection, Lucy opened all the gifts that night as I tried, hopelessly, to match names to items.

We fell asleep on a couch as the sun rose, my wife in my arms.

Four days into the honeymoon, we made love for the first time as a married couple. I videotaped her afterwards, laying on the bed, still flush from sex, her slip pulled up over her belly. She laughed into my camera, “Now you have evidence that we had sex on our honeymoon.”

I laughed, though the comment made me rather sad.

A month after returning from the honeymoon, we were in couple’s therapy.

We would see our therapist every week for two years, until the birth of our first child.

We’d return to therapy many times afterward.


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Hugs And Kisses

I had not heard from Anna since she dumped me—again—in early July.

She had made it clear in her final note to me. If I were unwilling to try a six-week period of monogamy with her, then we were unlikely to have much of a future together, so she was done.

I was unwilling to try this experiment. I was annoyed that she continued to disregard my current disinterest in monogamy—it’s no secret that it’s just not for me right now—and even more annoyed at the blackmail implicit in the experiment: love me, on my terms, or leave me.

I bid her well.

I wanted her in my life somehow, but I was relieved to take a break from our cyclical on again/off again relationship.

Weeks passed, with nothing passing between us. Then, one day, an instant message.

Anna: Good morning.

Henry: Good morning.

Anna: How are you?

Henry: Well, and yourself?

Anna: Very good. The kids?

Henry: They are fine.

Nice, banal. I didn’t initiate anything, just responded to her questions in a casual tone. But I caught the whiff of an agenda: the beginning of on again.

Anna: So I will be in your neighborhood tomorrow.

Henry: Oh?

Anna: Yes, I am being interviewed to volunteer at the medical center.

Henry: That’s noble of you. What will you be doing?

I followed up with questions about her volunteer work.

I let it go that she would be near my place the next day; I didn’t extend an invitation to stop over.

Anna: I’ve been in rehearsals all month for a new performance. It’s a very physical piece—I’ve dropped a dress size from all the activity.

Henry: Gosh!

Anna: I guess that’s good though, as I appear on stage nearly nude.

Henry: I’m sure you will knock ‘em dead.

Anna: A naked girl on stage. What’s not to love?

Henry: Good point.

Anna: The timing is good, as I will look great in a bikini on vacation in a couple of weeks.

Henry: Yes, that is good timing.

Anna hurled steak after steak—enough red meat to choke a lion—but I wasn’t biting.

In time, she got back to her job, and I returned to what I was doing.

The next morning, I received another instant message.

Anna: Good morning.

Henry: Good morning.

Anna: How are you?

Henry: Well, and yourself?

Anna: Very good. The kids?

Henry: Good. They are with their mother.

Anna: So a little private time for Dad. I will be in your neighborhood this afternoon. Mind if I stop by?

Henry: I’ve got a deadline, but maybe for a little bit. What time?

Anna: Around one?

Henry: Okay. I’ll put on some lunch.

Anna: That would be nice. See you then.

She signed out. I shaved and showered, then got dressed. I returned to my work.

A little after one, Anna arrived. She did look a little thinner, her hair a little longer. We kissed hello at the door—a very continental buss, nothing overheated—and she removed her shoes.

I offered her a glass of water. She accepted. I brought two chill glasses to the sofa.

We talked. I asked her about her decision to be a volunteer. She spoke about her rehearsals, and her upcoming vacation. She noted with disapproval that I had a book of nude photographs on my coffee table. “Don’t you have the kids later? You should put that away.”

“Oh, thanks, I will.” I remained seated.

“So,” she asked. “Meeting any interesting women, Mister Polyamory?”

“I meet all kinds of interesting people.”

“You know, I’ve been reading about polyamory. Did you know that full disclosure is a big part of it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if you were truly polyamorous, you would be very open about who you are seeing.”

“Perhaps I am not truly polyamorous. At any rate, I think that tenet would apply to those with whom one shared a polyamorous relationship, not necessarily to those outside of it. I don’t think anyone is required to detail his sex life.”

She frowned. “You are just as circumspect as ever.”

“And you are just as nosey.”

“Huh.” She sat back. “Aren’t you going to ask me if I am seeing anyone?”

“Is there anything you would like to tell me?” I sipped my cold water.

“Well, I’ve been to a couple of cuddle parties, and those were fun.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“Oh really? And I thought you were Mister Sex. Well, really I take that back, because a cuddle party isn’t about sex. People meet to cuddle—you know, to hug and caress.”

“That sounds like a sweet way to meet people.”

“I’m just there to cuddle. I don’t want to meet people.”

“Ah. And this is all clothed, I assume?”

“Yes, all clothed. The rules are really clear about that.”

“I’m sure they must be. Like, what are the rules?”

“Well, first, the most important rule is that you have to ask permission before you touch. Like this.” She sat up on her knees. “May I hug you?”

“You may.” I opened my arms.

With deliberate care, Anna slowly moved her body to drape over mine, wrapping an arm around my waist. “See how it works?” she asked.

“I see.”

“Feels nice, right?”

“It does.”

“Now, may I put my hand on your face?”

“You may.” She did, moving her face close to mine. I instinctively leaned in to kiss.

“No!” she pulled back. “You forgot to ask permission!”

“Terribly sorry,” I replied. I was losing interest in this game.

She smiled. “Is there anything you want to ask me?”

“Yes. I wanted to know if there was anything you cared to ask me.”

She closed her eyes and pondered. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Very good.”

She stayed in my arms as we talked. She looked away for a moment, then back to me. “You know, I have reevaluated my earlier statement.”


“Yes, and now, I do have a question. May I kiss you?”

“Yes, you may.”

She closed her eyes and gently touched her lips to mine. I received her kiss, parting my lips slightly. She could feel me growing hard against her ribs. Her kiss became more passionate. Then her kiss ended. She looked into my eyes. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” I said. “And you’re welcome. Now, are you hungry for lunch?”

“No, I’m not hungry.” She sat up. “In fact, I think I should be going.”

“If you like. Want something for the road?”

“What do you have in mind?”

“A sandwich or something? Maybe a bottle of water?”

“Um, sure. Water would be nice.”

“Easily done.” I stood and retrieved a bottle. I remained standing as I gave it to her.

“Thanks.” She took the bottle, then stood and passed me without touching. She walked to her shoes, slipping them on. “Okay. Thanks again for having me.”

“It was a pleasure.” I opened the door. She walked quickly out. I closed and locked the door. I ate lunch.

A few weeks later, I received a postcard from Anna. She was enjoying her vacation. “See you soon,” it concluded. “Hugs and kisses, Anna.”

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Anna and I met for drinks.

We haven’t done that more than a handful of times since our first date, a year and a half ago.

I had other plans for dinner, so we would be unable to extend the evening. We were just meeting to bend elbows during happy hour.

This was her plan.

As we tested the waters of our latest reconciliation, she proposed that we go a while without sex in order to share different kinds of experiences.

This after she tested the waters by instant messaging her regret that I was unavailable for a booty call when she was horny.

She was a little all over the place with this plan.

Anna and I are easily distracted by the great sex we have. When we tetter to our “off again” moments, she laments that we spend too little time going to movies, eating at restaurants and looking at art—you know, normal stuff.

Maybe if we turned off the sex switch, she reasoned, we would be encouraged to do other things.

I was game. I wanted to do whatever we could to address her apprehensions about the state of things.

Drinks went well, though Anna’s analytical mind was self-conscious of the situation.

“Weird that we are sitting here in clothes,” she observed, twirling her glass on the table.

“You look very nice in clothes,” I said. “Tell me about your day.”

When we parted, she kissed me goodbye.

“Do you want to meet for lunch this week?” she asked.

“Sure. Let’s aim for Thursday.”

“Sounds good,” she nodded. She paused. “Can I ask you about your dinner plans this evening?”

I expected this. “Yes?”

“Is this with someone you are going to have sex with tonight?”

“No, it isn’t.” This was the truth, and all I cared to say on the subject. “See you Thursday!”

She looked dubious.

On Thursday, she arrived at my place for lunch, about an hour later than we had agreed. I let it pass.

“I made fried chicken for the kids last night,” I offered. “There is plenty left over. I figured we could have that cold, with some watermelon and a salad.”

“Sound very good,” she nodded.

We sat on the couch, catching up. As we talked, she took my leg into her lap. She rubbed my calves and lower thighs.

Her hand traveled up my leg.

I rested my forehead against one hand. My other hand was in my lap.

I kept the conversation light.

“Can I ask you a question?” she inquired, her hand inside my shorts, caressing my hip.


“Why are you so dead set against monogamy?”

A whole new cache of Jackson Pollock paintings has surfaced—but are they authentic?

There is a new theory explaining how King Tut met his early demise—but does it fly?

The White Stripes put a piano on their new album—the end of their spare instrumentation, or a new direction within it?

So many interesting things to talk about.

And yet this is the conversation we keep having.

“I just don’t understand your position,” she said, tracing her fingers on my flesh.

“Yes, you do. We’ve had this talk many times. Are you hungry?”

“I understand that you believe you were burned by monogamy in your marriage. But, you know, I’m not your ex.”

“I know.”

“And I am not an abstract idea, some idea about monogamy. I’m a real person. Me. Anna.”

“I know.”

“So why don’t you want to try monogamy again, with me?”

“I’m just not interested in a monogamous relationship right now. I’m still getting divorced. It just doesn’t appeal to me.” I took her wrist from my shorts, and held her hand. “How about some fried chicken?”

“Okay, I get it,” she sighed. “Fine, let’s eat.”

She ate quietly.

A few days later, she instant messaged me as the kids watched television. She wanted to schedule a date for the coming week. My calendar was pretty full.

Anna: Henry, if you want me to be a part of your life in some way, a little more effort has to take place on your part. I’ve been really understanding of your situation. I’ve tried to be patient. Sometimes I’ve succeeded, sometimes I’ve failed. I suspect that I’ve been more persistent than most in terms of trying to keep some kind of relationship going with you, given all of the challenges that accompany you.

Henry: You are persistent all right. I’ve never been in a relationship so analyzed as this one

Anna: I don’t think its analysis so much as trying to communicate. Listen, if you don’t want to be with someone who thinks and talks about what she thinks, then tell me to get lost.

Henry: I think “our relationship” easily rates as our “most frequent conversation topic.” Just above “go ahead and dump me.”

Anna: Touche. You’re deceptively easy to be with on the one hand. On the other, you’re really inflexible. I’d like to talk about other things, but things don’t change much. You even admitted as much yourself. The reason I keep talking about “our relationship” is that it’s not been a fair one.

Henry: I more than admit it—I anticipate it. Things won’t change much for me right now.

Anna: All I’ve wanted is a little more fairness and time for us to know each other better. Is that more change than you can handle? I want a companion to experience things with. Is that an unreasonable thing to want?

Henry: I think it is reasonable. I just fret being dumped again, because I can’t do much to carve out more time.

Anna: For one, I didn’t dump you.

Henry: Right.

Anna: We’re on a break, not a breakup.

Henry: Right.

Anna: I think I’ve seen you just about the same amount of time since the break as I would have had we continued as before. The primary difference has been the lack of sex. And it’s not for lack of desire or out of a rejection of you. I want you as much as ever. I have faith that you care for me and appreciate me in many different ways. Sometimes, I just need to have it demonstrated, manifested.

Henry: I appreciate that.

Anna: What would you like from me, dearest?

Henry: I want you to be happy with our relationship. That’s about all I want from you.

Anna: Do you want our relationship to continue as it was before? Because I will have a very hard time being happy with that. Henry, you can’t even try it for a short period of time, say six weeks? And at the end of that if you’re really unhappy or unable to stand it you can go back to doing things the way you want. You wouldn’t be able to offer even that much?

Henry: Six weeks? What’s that? You mean, you want to continue the experiment of not having sex for six weeks?

Anna: What I mean is, can you see just me for six weeks? That’s not a long time.

Henry: I don’t follow.

Anna: I’m talking about your not fucking anyone else when you return to fucking me. For a period of six weeks.

Henry: What would be the benefit of that?

Anna: Think of it as a trial subscription. If you don’t like it, you can go back to seeing other people.

Henry: A trial subscription suggests an interest in an extended subscription. And I am in no way interested in a monogamous relationship. That won’t be any less true after six weeks. I mean, what would you think in week seven, when I went back to seeing others?

Anna: I would think it’s not going to work out for us.

Collie stood at my elbow.

“Dad, I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?”

“Ummm, hang on,” I mumbled, distracted as I typed a response.

Collie stood quietly.

“Dad,” he asked. “What’s ‘mono-game-mouse?”

“Hmmm? Oh, Collie . . . well, for dinner we are having pasta. You want to help me make it?”

“Yes!” He jumped excitedly. “But what’s ‘mono’ . . .”

Henry: I have to go make dinner. Will you be on later?

Anna: Go, super Dad. I’ll be here.

“Come on, Collie, let’s cook. And ‘monogamy’ is when two people love each other and decide to be a couple. They don’t date other people.”

“Oh. Like you and mom . . . before.”

“Yes. Here, you can wash and cut the mushrooms while I do the onions.”

I later found this email in my inbox:


I called and left you a message to call me back. You can ignore that.

I don’t want to continue our relationship. I’m not happy with it, haven’t been happy with it for some time. The balance of time between being with you (which has been really wonderful and has made me very happy) and being without you was too heavily tilted towards the latter. You’ve admitted that you don’t change. What’s worse is that I feel like you don’t even want to try. I’m not talking about your sexuality, which is yours and yours alone to decide how you want to express it. You’ve made that very clear and I don’t even want to touch that subject anymore. I understand you have a full life and a number of responsibilities. I had no choice but to be accepting, flexible and adaptable to all of the conditions in your life. I had also been very clear about wanting more time with you, for which I felt like I was always last in line. I’m tired of being left with the dregs of your time and the occasional chance opening when it seems like all of your other social options have been exhausted.

It’s not that having more time with you would solve everything either.
I told you that I wanted the kind of exchange and rapport with each other that we had sexually to extend to other aspects of our relationship. You were so open and generous in the bedroom. When we had been together, I felt that we were both there for each other’s pleasure which only increased our own individual ecstasies. There was a mutuality there that I didn’t think was possible for me. Unfortunately, I don’t think you’re ready or capable of that outside of the sexual part of our relationship.

I did not ask for anything unreasonable or unfair. But after over a year of asking for the same, it’s gotten to the point where I feel like it’s hopeless even to try. If there’s no hope in the relationship, but plenty of frustration and disappointment (and the expectation of more of the same), there’s not enough reason for me to stay. Continuing with you without any hope of anything shifting even slightly feels like living out one of Samuel Beckett’s plays, over and over and over again.

I knew from our first meeting that dating you would be a challenge. I wanted to give you a fair chance. I think I did more than that. I’m sorry for the trials and tribulations, as you put them. They were just a part of my trying to fit myself into a situation that wasn’t comfortable and wasn’t going to get any better. I really enjoyed being with you.

Thank you for the time that we did share and the privilege of meeting your kids. I don’t think it is realistic to try to be friends at least for a very long time. Take care of yourself, Henry. I wish you and your family only the best.


I could salvage this.

I could agree to a six-week trial period as a monogamous boyfriend. But that would be a failure. It’s just not what I want.

I could reorganize my life to spend more time with Anna. But it wouldn’t be enough time.

I could write a very grown-up response. Somehow, I want Anna in my life. But I don’t want her to be miserable, wishing for something I am not offering.

Do what you have to do, Anna.

You know where to find me.


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