Adults

11.11.13

What’s So Bad About an Open Marriage?

When Will Smith was allegedly caught getting intimate with a woman who is not his wife, Jada, gossipers immediately jumped to allegations of an open marriage.

Will and Jada Smith found themselves at the center of a scandal last week, when the tabloid Star Magazine allegedly caught Will canoodling with Margot Robbie, a 23-year-old actress and a costar of Focus, a movie he’s shooting in New Orleans.

The tabloid ran pictures from a photo booth photo shoot of Will and Robbie hamming it up. In one picture they are baring their chests at the camera; in another they are flashing peace signs; in the third, he’s hugging her from behind and throwing the peace sign. It looks pretty chummy, if not necessarily lascivious.

But Star’s spin on the cover story might be missing a key ingredient to the Smiths’ marriage. While the cover blared: “Will & Jada: The Photos That Will Tear Them Apart!” and alleged, “Will cheats with sexy 23-year-old in New Orleans,” it has long been rumored that the Smiths have an open relationship.

Robbie’s already taken to Twitter to issue a denial:

But in April, Jada Smith told Huff Post Live: “I’ve always told Will, ‘You can do whatever you want as long as you can look at yourself in the mirror and be OK. Because at the end of the day, Will is his own man,” she said. “It comes from respecting that you are in a partnership and that also you are an individual as well.”

Later, she clarified in a Facebook post: “Will and I BOTH can do WHATEVER we want, because we TRUST each other to do so. This does NOT mean we have an open relationship…this means we have a GROWN one.”

Though they aren’t totally fessing up, the Smiths aren’t the first celebrity couple to face open marriage speculation/rumors and open relationship talk. When the picture of Robin Thicke with his hand on Lana Scolaro’s butt at a VMA afterparty was Instagrammed and Tweeted around the world, the typical narrative of the celebrity scandal was upended. This time, Thicke wasn’t in trouble with his wife; she wasn’t about to leave him; and he wasn’t getting dumped for being a dog.

Perhaps that has to do with Thicke’s carefully cultivated—and relatively new— image as a Lothario (see: “Blurred Lines.”) But in this narrative, his wife, actress Paula Patton, was supposedly cool with it all. Scolaro told the tabs that Patton was in the next room, and didn’t mind. “He mentioned that he and his wife are very chill. He was like, “Be nice to her, she’ll like you, she’ll love you,” she told Life&Style.

‘This does NOT mean we have an open relationship…this means we have a GROWN one.’

And Thicke’s interview with Howard Stern last July also seemed to imply that they had an unconventional relationship. “We’ve done just about everything,” he said. But he stopped short of saying they were in an open marriage. “Out of respect for her, we just won’t answer that one.”

Later, Patton’s rep denied it all: “It’s just a girl looking for some attention.”

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If the Smiths and Thicke and his wife do have a very French arrangement, they wouldn’t be alone. Polyamory and open relationships have been gaining prominence with the public. From TV shows like Polyamory: Married and Dating to celebrities like Mo’Nique coming out about being in an open relationship, polyamorous (loosely defined as loving more than one person at a time) relationships are becoming more visible. If you are on a dating site like OkCupid, chances are you’ve encountered someone who is already in a relationship looking to spice things up.

“I think more people are participating in open marriages and polyamory now than ever before,” says Jenny Block, author of Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage. “It’s becoming clear that heterosexual monogamous marriage simply doesn’t work for most people. And I think people are tired of being unhappy and dissatisfied.”

With 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, monogamy may seem like impossible ideal. “We cannot control our own desires and we certainly cannot control the desires of others,” says Block, who has been in an open marriage for the past 10 years. “You cannot tell someone, ‘Don’t be attracted to anyone else. Don’t desire anyone else.’ You can say, ‘If we’re going to be together, I want it to be monogamous.’ But you cannot control the other person’s heart and mind. The heart wants what it wants.”

One of the reasons polyamory and open relationships aren’t widely accepted, according to Block, is because of the cliché that it’s just one big orgy for all involved.

“The biggest misconception about poly/open marriages is that they are a free for all and that no one cares about anyone else and that those of us involved are promiscuous whores. That’s a load of bunk,” Block says. “This is all about caring for your partner enough to see them as a whole human being who has needs that deserve to be filled. It’s not about getting your rocks off.”

People are often threatened by open relationships, says Rachel Kramer Bussel, a sex writer and editor of The Big Book of Orgasms, because it seems so exotic and weird when compared to the status quo.

“We just don’t have any formal model for a public couple having an open relationship. We have the model of one person having serial affairs—I’m thinking of Bill Clinton—and the other person forgiving them, reluctantly or not,” Bussel says. “It’s still generally assumed that an affair or even an infatuation or emotional or online affair is an affront to the person you love, and not everyone feels that way. It’s disturbing that jealousy and anger are the only seemingly acceptable reactions to the idea that your partner is interested in someone else; we haven’t yet accepted that that’s not everyone’s experience. There’s a word called compersion, which is almost the opposite of jealousy, meaning being happy that your partner has found other loves.”

There is at least one celebrity who is open about her relationship: Mo’Nique has told Barbara Walters she’s got an understanding with her husband.

She said: “Could Sid have sex outside of his marriage with me? Yes. That’s not a deal-breaker,” she says. “That’s not something that would make us say, ‘Pack your things and let’s end the marriage.’ What if it’s 20 times? So what? we’ve been best friends for over 25 years, and we truly know who we are. Oftentimes, people get into marriages and they don’t know who they’re laying next to. I’m very comfortable and secure with my husband.”

“That’s a pretty bold statement, because I think that’s even harder for many people to understand,” said Bussel of Mo’Nique, but she said, that sentiment is becoming more common.

“Even if you’re not in a formal open marriage, I think we are seeing more people distance themselves from the ‘if you stray once, you’re out forever’ mentality, such as Gwyneth Paltrow saying infidelity wouldn’t be a dealbreaker.” 

In fact, says Bussel, it’s going to take more people being out about their relationship status to get public acceptance, and—as with gay rights—celebrities certainly help the cause. When someone like Dolly Parton comes out about being in an open relationship, she says, it can be only be a boon for the cause.

“If you are in an open relationship, I think it’s going to become increasingly difficult to hide it, and hopefully we are getting to a point where celebs won’t feel the need to hide it, where they can start to own it and change the culture,” said Bussel. “Someone has to be out about it so people can see that, yes, you can be poly and healthy and happy and in love.”

At the same time, Bussel says, “I worry sometimes that it’s about nothing more than publicity. I do know that if a well-loved celebrity was out and modeling good open relationship behavior, it might help to give open relationships the kind of visibility boost they need.”