Last week was a busy one here in the holy land. US President Donald Trump was here on Tuesday and on Wednesday I danced with 100,000 people at the Western Wall for the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification. But by far the most rewarding part of the busy week was the preparations for our son’s wedding here in the holy land.
My son Mendy has already, at a young age, spread Judaism as an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Germany, been ordained as a rabbi in South Africa, fought the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as a student at New York University and served in the IDF. Seeing God reward him with a wonderful bride has made me feel particularly joyous and grateful. I am a child of divorce and because of that have always revered marriage and the blessing of sharing life with a loving soul-mate.
It’s something that we ought to keep in mind as we witness a continued assault on marriage from mainstream media organs, some of which have become downright shocking.
Recently The New York Times
published an unbelievable magazine cover story about open marriage. At times it read like advocacy, as if it were highlighting the benefits of welcoming additional partners into a marriage. The world’s most influential newspaper was freely preaching the benefits of non-monogamous marriage.
Susan Dominus’ piece, titled “Is An Open Marriage a Happier Marriage?,” reads like a testament to the strength and boldness of open-marriage pioneers. Affairs, she’d have us believe, might actually strengthen marriage and intensify a couple’s love and caring for one another.
As a marriage counselor for almost 30 years, I’ve seen infidelity many times, and it was always wholly destructive. British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote long letters to his wife about his consensual infidelities. But his open-mindedness could not surmount his jealousy when his own wife started taking lovers. When Dora had a child by another man, he left her, later commenting, “My capacity for forgiveness, and what might be called Christian love, was not equal to the demands I was making on it... I was blinded by theory.” Their daughter Kathleen Tait pithily remarked about her parents’ strange marriage, “Calling jealousy deplorable had not freed them from it... both found it hard to admit that the ideal had been destroyed by the old-fashioned evils of jealousy and infidelity.”
Iris Murdoch’s husband John Bayley wrote a memoir of their 40-year marriage, called Elegy for Iris
. In it, he describes how his wife would not allow her marriage to curtail her freedom or need for adventure. She insisted on being allowed to have lovers and pursued other men intermittently. Still, she wanted to be married because she desired the comfort, companionship and sense of safety that marriage offered. Bayley was not happy with the arrangement but felt he had no right to object. “In the early days, I always thought it would be vulgar – as well as not my place – to give any indications of jealousy....” So he buried the terrible pain it caused him all in the name of relationship enlightenment.
In an article for The Daily Mail
, though, A.N. Wilson, a longtime friend of both John and Iris, writes that he eventually “realized then how very jealous [John] was, and after [Iris] died, I saw how much he must have resented her repeated unfaithfulness.” In fact, Wilson posits that John’s book about his late wife, which reveals her darkest secrets and describes in humiliating detail her descent into Alzheimer’s, might have been written in a fit of vengeance, with John possibly “boiling with resentment at all the girlfriends and boyfriends with whom she had made a fool of him.” Being so wounded by your wife that you write a three-volume work in which you humiliate her would not be deemed by many to be marital success.
Dan Savage’s attempt at legitimizing open marriage in another Times magazine cover story, in May, 2011, was based on the idea that monogamy was unnatural. That argument is easy enough to refute. After all, what is natural is not always best. Laziness is natural.So is prejudice, as put forth in Newsweek’s front-page article “Is Your Baby Racist?” Still, a good work ethic and tolerance would never be discredited by any serious publication because they’re “unnatural.”
Dominus’ article was different, though. While it does touch upon some theories, it focuses largely on real-life stories of couples that have broadened their horizons by removing the boundaries of fidelity by which we lesser mortals have agreed to constrain ourselves. One young man noticed that his previous relationships “always ended with him growing restless, intrigued by another woman,” and wanted to protect his current relationship by just embracing other women.
These issues are the type that couples face – and work through – every day, and in so doing become closer, stronger and more committed. My book Kosher Lust is all about the three ingredients of erotic attraction – unavailability, mystery and the forbidden – that every marriage can rediscover and utilize.
The complexity of struggle is what makes marriages stronger. But only if the partners actually engage in struggle, and work to make things better. The couples cited in the Times article, in violating their marital vows opted to diminish their spouses and trivialize their marriages. They threw in the towel, looking elsewhere for the salvation they could have gotten from their spouses with just a bit of investment and work.
And it’s a shame, not only because these couples missed out on a chance to progress further along the erotic journey of marriage with all of its adjustments, but also because an open marriage will never end well. Jealousy is an active ingredient in any healthy marriage, and a malignant one in any “monogamish” non-marriage. Jealousy can be an important glue in every relationship and I always try to help couples understand the difference between envy and jealousy. The former is the illegitimate desire to possess that which belongs to someone else while the latter is the legitimate need to connect with, and protect, that which is yours. In the Torah God is described virtuously as a jealous God. Why should we surmount jealousy rather than use it to our advantage to create more passionate and intimate marriages?
Marriage is, when boiled down to its most essential element, the fact of being chosen. Chosen, like God himself, as the one and only. Chosen for love. Chosen for support. Chosen for sharing a life and raising a family.
And it is chosenness that makes us feel special and it is redundancy that makes us feel superfluous. And that’s what makes the Times story so strange. To write about open marriage as a little-practiced, marginal idea that can bring the passion of novelty, accompanied by jealousy and the wholesale destruction of non-exclusivity, is something that would speak accurately to reader experience and sentiment. But to write about open marriage as a soul-expanding blessing being pioneered by the courageous and the enlightened is precisely what we might today call fake news.
The author, “America’s rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America” is the international best-selling author of 31 books including Kosher Sex and The Kosher Sutra. Follow him on Twitter @ RabbiShmuley.
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