Review of <a href=”https://www.amazon.com/Wide-Open-Adventures-Polyamory-Marriage/dp/1626250588/”> Wide Open</a> by Gracie X
I enjoyed the book, and thought it was well-written, insightful, and interesting, but not for any of the reasons I thought I might. On the back cover it describes the author as someone who “challenges traditional ideas about monogamy, fidelity, and sexuality while exploring the world of swinger parties, strip clubs, sex toys, and pornography.” She does incorporate sex toys and pornography into her sex life, and describes this with a refreshing frankness.
She talks briefly about swinger parties, but never participates in one. She talks about her lover’s interest in strip clubs, but never goes with him. Her sex life comes across as neither radical nor all that shocking.
She does explore the world of polyamory, and gives you quite a bit to think about, but at heart she is not strictly polyamorous in the way most people understand the meaning of the word. It comes from “poly,” meaning many, and “amorous,” referring to sexual desire. While she defines herself as polyamorous in terms of loving more than one person, she seems far more comfortable being strictly monogamous and in fact, remains pretty monogamous throughout the book- a rather traditional serial monogamist with the exception that she was still married when she had sex with someone else. In this case, though, by this time her sex life with her husband was over.
The book is a frank and no-holds barred accounting of the death of sex in her marriage and her desire to take a lover to fulfill her still strong sexual desires while still keeping her family together. She decides to look into poly alternatives in her 40s because she does not want to divorce or cheat on her husband, who for reasons we are never fully clued in to, completely loses interest in her sexually and has little interest in doing anything about it.
Her story is interesting, but is quite atypical of polyamorous arrangements, which usually involve more than one sex partner. They can involve triads with two men and one woman, or two women and one man, or two couples that are sexually involved with each other, sometimes in situations where they all live together. There can be primary sex relationships that include a secondary sex relationship. There are all sorts of combinations, each with their own set of rules the people involved agree to.
Gracie creates a blended family incorporating her husband, his girlfriend, her lover, his children, and her children. She is only sexual with her lover. The types of challenges they encounter are the types you might expect in families that go through divorce and try to blend families.
There is one major and dramatically different challenge though. Her lover’s ex-wife, whom he divorced to be with her, was having none of it. She had shared custody, and got a court order to prevent her children from spending the night in the split duplex that Gracie and her lover shared with her husband and his lover on the other side of a door that separated the two domiciles. Her lover had to maintain a separate apartment for his children to sleep in when they stayed with him. The key issue was the concern that they were maintaining an immoral lifestyle. While most of us have more expansive definitions of immoral, the courts tend to see it as any sexual lifestyle not involving strict monogamy between a married man and a woman. That has expanded a little bit with the national legalization of gay marriage.
I was a guest expert on a daytime talk show dealing with a more traditional poly arrangement which involved multiple sex partners raising children. Obviously, the sex did not happen around the kids, but the audience was extremely hostile to the entire idea. I don’t know how they would have felt about Gracie’s much less controversial monogamous arrangements. The courts took it quite seriously, however. A major drama in the book is about the battle with the courts and the ex-wife, who wanted sole custody and to be able to take the children to another State.
You won’t actually learn anything about swinging, or even about the nuts and bolts of polyamory. This is one woman’s story, and it is individual to her. Not having children myself, I found the issues of how to deal with children in a non-traditional living situation interesting.
Yes, Gracie is sometimes frustratingly self-absorbed, and it is humorous that she makes it clear that she has no idea that she is. The truth is, almost everyone who explores non-traditional sexuality is going to be a little self-absorbed because it always comes with a certain level of risk but also a lot of personal benefit. It is better when you have just a bit more introspection and empathy for others, though.
Figuring out how to make living arrangements work between multiple people is complex, whether it be a large family, a commune, or a polyamorous situation. The solution she comes up with makes a lot of sense, and seems like a win for the kids, and much better than the trauma of traditional divorce.
Society has not caught up yet, and still gets upset at any whiff of non-conforming sexuality, insisting that only the traditional monogamous nuclear family is the proper environment to raise children. That type of family has not really existed sine the 1950s. With gay marriage, things are getting better, but we still have a long ways to go.