I had it all. I was everything my parents, society, and even I expected of me, and more. Life was filled with three beautiful children, an entrepreneurial venture that had blossomed beyond all expectations into a fruitful and exciting business, a life of adventure and hobbies, and James—a six-foot-two, sandy-haired, blue-eyed handsome man who had graduated from Stanford University and had sworn to provide for our family’s every need forever. James was (and remains) Dad-of-the-Year.
We used to go on date nights, take nice vacations to Phuket, Maui, Maldives, and beyond, and had nice conversations about business, kids, and how we felt like we had a better marriage than 95 percent of the couples we knew. We also had nice sex around what I believed to be average frequency, once a week, maybe twice if the mood was right. It was all very nice.
Then, three years ago, I was 37 and suddenly realized that I’d spent the last 10 years having kids, building my business, and living in suburbia—and I was done. The wanderlust and thirst for adventure from my 20s came roaring back in my dreams. I had always been an adrenaline junkie, competing in athletics and extreme sports in my younger years. That summer, I picked up surfing, got addicted, and quickly started using it as my ticket to take solo trips to travel. James willingly obliged, even paying for my first surf retreat to Bali for my birthday. I traveled, we moved to Hawaii, and even did a stint in Rio.
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The kids grew up and got a little more independent. The business flourished, and a few years went by. For the first time in a decade, I had a little brain space to contemplate life and where I truly was sitting with where things were. If I stripped away the mental checklist of all the things that I needed to be and have accomplished at that time, there was still a sort of longing for more connection, more exploration and I just felt like there was more to the age-old adage of “living your best life.”
Life just felt so adequate, and I had an urge to stir things up—to put everything into a shaker bottle and see where the pieces would land. I suppose this is where the concept of “mid-life crisis” stems from? I finally understood.
One morning while we were on vacation in Maldives, I rolled over in bed and looked at James and said, “I think we should have an open marriage.” He stared back at me, stunned. He didn’t understand—and I couldn’t adequately explain it to him. I fumbled around with my words, something about wanting to explore connections with other people, men and women alike, wanting to be free to be my authentic self, whatever that meant.
We fumbled around for the next year or so, trying to decode what this meant for each of us individually and together. We went to individual and couples counseling and tried all different methods to see if we could reconcile our differences.
The thing is, I just fundamentally didn’t believe in the institution of marriage anymore. It didn’t make any sense to me why humans would want to swear “’til death do you part” to each other. We are animals by nature and spirit, and our instinct is to have sex. The sheer number of men and women cheating on their partners is a testament to the fact that requiring absolute loyalty in every sense doesn’t work for a percentage of the human population. It seemed to me like marriage was a religious institution created to control people, and it was a traditional practice to pass on female children as property.
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In my mind, from an evolutionary perspective, it definitely made sense for both parents to be around for the good of the children. While most animals are born fairly self-sufficient—horse and cow newborns come out of the womb walking, for example—human babies are the most helpless creatures on earth. However, even that doesn’t necessarily require that both parents have to take an oath of absolute fealty forever. In many cultures around the world, children are raised by the parents as well as an extended network of relatives. In many countries, it’s common for parents to never get married and still co-parent successfully. We are raised to believe that marriage is an absolute requirement to be a parent and thus a contributing adult in society, but in my early 40s, I was starting to question all these ideas that I was taught to be true.
It turns out my desire to open my marriage wasn’t even about sex. I wasn’t simply going to give up this life that I had built simply because I wanted to have sex with other people. It was deeper than that. Sex is just the symptom. The root of it is the desire to live an authentic life, to feel a connection with many different types of people, and to have many different types of experiences. I wanted to explore and learn, and most importantly, feel like I had the freedom to do so.
It turns out opening our marriage was not something James was interested in, and continuing to pretend that I wanted to be in a monogamous marriage wasn’t really something that I was willing to do either. That really was the dealbreaker in our marriage.
James and I proceeded with divorce and remain very good friends. I’ve found my newfound freedom as a single woman to be exhilarating and also overwhelming at the same time. There is so much to explore, from sexuality to various formations of relationships, to even learning about my own body.
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There are certainly days when I question whether this was best for our kids, but I believe that the best thing I can do for them is to live my highest and most authentic self. I hope that they will do that in their own lives and not be stifled or constrained by societal or cultural norms.
In the end, I still feel like I have it all—but this “all” isn’t defined by the world around me.
It’s defined by what’s in my heart.