Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher are splitting up, one year short of the seven-year itch.
So of course it leads to the inevitable question – what does it say about us? Not us as in US Weekly where Sara Leal gives an awkward account of a hot-tub fling with Ashton Kutcher. But us, as in you and me.
Aah, you think the Hollywood shenanigans of hot cougar mommas and toyboy actors have nothing to do with your life. Think again. In one of the most popular stories on Daily Beast right now, Tracy Quan uses the Moore-Kutcher split to go into the puzzling hush hush territory of the “open relationship.”
Moore and Kutcher were supposedly in one. So why does a hotel fling with the likes of a Sara Leal (along with some postcoital chatter about astrology) threaten the relationship? The problem, writes Quan, is in the definition.
Nobody knows what an open relationship is. We can’t define it, but we all know someone who’s having one.
The open relationship is the white picket fence of the 21st century, something we aspire to because we think it makes us look good.
A white picket fence? When did ‘open relationship’ get so respectable? Perhaps ever since Facebook allowed us to have that option in our relationship status. Back in the day what was so scandalous, was not the relationship itself, but talking about it as Protima and Kabir Bedi did.
At that time Protima had said she got into an open relationship not because she wanted to shock society but because she saw how unhappy her mother was in her marriage. “There were rules for husbands and duties for wives,” she said. “To my analytical mind this relationship of marriage was a very forced one between two people.”
What Protima quickly realised was the open might well be the antonym for closed, but an open relationship isn’t the opposite of a closed relationship. There’s that problematic thorny thing called a relationship that complicates everything. Calling it “open” simplifies nothing. It doesn’t make us less susceptible to hurt, jealousy or insecurity. In short, it doesn’t make us less human.
It only makes the lines of transgression more murky. As Helen Fisher, author of Why Him? Why Her? says “Open relationship might mean one thing to one person and another to her partner.”
One might think it means Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The other might think it’s about total blow by blow honesty about every dalliance. Both are equally open, yet incompatible.
And you get to make up your limits. It could be sex without protection. Or sex with someone you know versus a hook up you won’t see again (as in don’t send a Facebook friend request right after). Or just sex, no discussing wines, favourite movies or books afterwards. Or sex in the marital bed as opposed to sex while out of town. The rules (and the ways to bend them) are endless. And you never know if they work until you break them.
Protima said when she got into an open relationship she was sure she could handle the temptations. “You are tempted to enjoy and express yourself. It doesn’t mean you hate the person you are with. It has nothing to do with the other person.”
That’s when you feel secure in your relationship, before it’s been put to the openness test.
But in practice she discovered breaking rules (and creating new ones) is treacherous territory. It was neither “anything goes” nor was it about putting a patina of respectability on infidelity. Logic dictates if its no longer forbidden, it won’t even be that tempting any more. Except the human mind isn’t logical. There is no litmus test to indicate when you should feel undermined, and when you actually do feel undermined.
Protima found she was insecure about the women hitting on Kabir. “He was so damned good-looking you know. When you are not the wife, it’s great but when you are…”
On the other hand she didn’t know what to do with all the so-called freedom the open relationship conferred on her. It just meant it was a green signal for obnoxious men, no matter how dumpy or ugly, to make passes at her. She remembered going to a party with Kabir. A producer came up to her and said, “Oh you are Protima. I have heard so much about you and have been dying to meet you. Anyway now that Kabir is going out of town I will come over.”
Protima said at that moment she understood that the rules for men and women were still different. “I cannot go out on the street and buy myself a cigarette which is so normal for a man to do….And here was this man, in front of my husband, going heh-heh-heh in a lascivious way. And my husband wasn’t smashing him in the jaw!”
So much for the bindaas liberation of open.
Of course we’ve come a long way from Protima Bedi to Demi Moore. Or have we? As Quan’s article tries to make clear, it’s not that monogamy works but open relationships don’t, for some Darwinian reason. Or vice versa. The biggest problem is “in some cases, though, one party needs the openness, while the other goes along with it reluctantly.” And rarely are we, as couples, able to honestly admit that to each other.
Instead we just muddle along, hoping as the famous song from Kiss Me Kate goes:
I’ve been asked to have a meal
By a big tycoon in steel,
If the meal includes a deal, accept I may.
But I’m always true to you, darlin’, in my fashion,
Yes, I’m always true to you, darlin’, in my way.
Read Tracy Quan on Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, and open relationships here.