The very concept of an open marriage is a myth because marriage is a closed institution. Marriage is about establishing a genetic line, about property, about land, about control. It is a business transaction with women as the objects of exchange (paraya dhan). So the idea of an open marriage is just nonsense.
But in urban settings, some do pretend to exist. Stories emerge now and then about upper caste, upper caste couples wife-swapping. I have met the odd couple who are in an open relationship and both sleep with other people while maintaining a primary relationship with each other, Sartre-Simone de Beauvoir style.
But like that relationship, it is more often than not skewed in favour of the man. On gay websites, half the men are married or about to get married. They may be gay, bi or straight in self-identification. But to all three categories, marriage is an inevitability that they accept unquestioningly. They will continue/are continuing to have sex with men outside marriage. Is this an open marriage? I do not think so. Their wives do not know they are having sex outside, let alone with men. This is unequal and sick and pathetic. They bring home diseases. Many working class women whose husbands ply the highways wonder how they are suddenly HIV positive. Many upper class women also wonder why their husbands come home having bathed and smelling of a different perfume.
Straight, married men are all having sex outside their marriage or looking for it or want it. When asked why, they offer that shitty Ranbir Kapoor dialogue ‘Ab roz to koi daal roti nahi khaa sakta hai, na?’ Fair enough. But ask them if their wives might want some chicken now and then too and they lose their cool. So only men have the right to have their cake and eat it too. A married woman has to make do only with her husband’s boring penis and be happy. Is further evidence needed that women are not subjects to men? Indian men are the most selfish bastards. Period.
But what does an open marriage look like? Do you have to sleep with people together? Do you do it separately but not discuss it with each other? Do you share every detail of your sexcapades as that is what keeps your sex life with each other going? Do you have rules about what you can and cannot do (My first man ever was a bisexual who had a rule with his boyfriend that he would not penetrate another man but that did not apply to women and his girlfriend did not mind but then none of them were married). The fact is that the couple comes up with the rules themselves. It is definitely a more honest form of marriage than a conventional marriage which is based on lies. But the honesty is almost never equally shared, as childcare is not, as domestic chores are not, as cooking is not, as cleaning is not.
The big reason people give as to why they are monogamous and stay in what they think of as monogamous marriages is jealousy. Jealousy is seen as an innate emotion common to all human beings and demands a Procrustean fitting of another person all to oneself and not allowing that person any breathing space. All this under the signature of love. The violence of this to oneself and to the other, the lies it necessarily generates, the double lives its produces are all ignored, even when they are staring you in the face. It gives people that other mythical word ‘security.’
The fact is that is jealousy is not innate to everyone at all and security, as Germaine Greer put it all those years ago, does not exist, it is a myth. I am polyamorous and do not experience any jealousy at all. I am part of everyone so everyone is not jealous. What is security when you could walk out and get hit by a truck and die in a moment? Or, less dramatically, when your husband is eating your daal roti but dreaming of chicken? Yet we prefer to hold on to these illusions and lead miserable lives rather than lead happier, healthier lives.
The answer is not open marriages but no marriages at all.
But will humans ever grow up and deal with that