No One Approach is Ideal

No One Approach Is Ideal

The New York Times: JANUARY 20, 2012

In Spanish, the word for wives, “esposas,” also means handcuffs.

The key to loosening the handcuffs of marriage is open communication between two (or more) open-hearted people. The account given by Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife does not describe an open relationship so much as an attempt to continue his long-running extramarital affair (with a devoutly Catholic woman) without having to face the layer-cake of hypocrisy he now asks the world to swallow. That’s different.

But just as it took Nixon to open relations with China, maybe — just maybe — Gingrich’s Shakespearian mendacity will finally crystallize a “thou dost protest too much, methinks” meme in American political consciousness. How many cases of red-faced homophobes must be exposed as closeted self-hating homosexuals before advocating anti-gay legislation raises too many eyebrows to be worth the risk? How many outspoken defenders of “traditional marriage” (whatever that is) must be exposed as adulterers before voters just roll their eyes at those two words?

In any relationship, including marriage, flexibility and compassion increase resilience and durability. For some couples, an open relationship can solve more problems than it creates. But any relationship outside commonly accepted norms requires constant courageous conversation. For many, it’s just not worth the trouble.

These situations remind us that the configuration of the relationship (same-sex, open, swinging, poly, asexual, etc.) shouldn't concern us, on personal or policy grounds. Conventional relationships are no happier or more durable than the alternatives. After all, the Clintons are still married, despite the very public humiliation that Gingrich orchestrated. For all the oft-repeated claims to the contrary, civilization doesn’t depend upon the sanctity of any particular form of marriage, but upon honoring the dignity intrinsic to any mutually respectful, mutually beneficial relationship. Gingrich’s string of failed marriages show that it’s the “how” that matters, not the “what” or the “with whom.”