"What's something that can thwart you in your weight loss when grocery shopping?" our Weight Watchers coach asked the group.
"Letting your husband do the shopping," someone offered from the back of the room, which quickly erupted into laughter.
"Not at our house," my girlfriend whispered to me with a smile. "Christopher always comes back all excited about some three-point meal he's discovered."
I laughed. She was right. He was so great about that. Always cooking brown rice and making us fruit parfaits in the morning. But I wasn't just laughing at how different my husband is from, it seemed, the majority of husbands belonging to the women in that room. Instead, I was laughing at how telling her statement was in regard to the current state of my union.
I am in an open marriage. I have a husband and a girlfriend, both of whom I love and am devoted to. But it's not just the three of us -- my husband and I also have a daughter all three of us love. And it's an arrangement we've had for many years now.
I have been married for 13 years, and eight of them have been open. Things weren't always as tidy as they are now. Girlfriends and boyfriends have come and gone. My book "Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage" came out two years ago, leaving us to deal with the press and pressure of "coming out." And until four years ago, we were still really trying to figure out what all of this open-marriage stuff meant, both in general and in respect to our lives personally.
But now we're a family. Not that different from the majority of always-busy, almost-always-happy families I know: one smart-aleck tween who is far more interested in the latest episode of "iCarly" than her homework; a husband who roots for his team all season long no matter how often they lose; a girlfriend who craves shoes like other people crave food. And me always writing our lives, writing the world. My world, anyway.
Then again, we're different from other families. I have been married to my husband for 13 years and with my girlfriend for four. We don't all live together, although my girlfriend stays at our house more often than not. But she still maintains her condo in the city. She and I like to tease that it's our pied-à-terre. My husband travels all week, every week. So, honestly, I don't know what I would do if we weren't a three-parent household. I wouldn't be able to continue my work as a travel writer, that's for one thing.
Right now, in fact, I'm sitting poolside at the Parker in Palm Springs. The place has an old-Hollywood vibe with palm trees dotting the property and women in oversized sunglass swishing down the paths. It's swank and laid back, and I can imagine the three of us here with no one batting an eye. I wonder about the couples around me, about their situations and their relationships. Are they wondering about me too, a woman alone at the pool tapping away on her computer, no rings in sight? Single? Divorced? Married? Whatever their guesses, it's doubtful that they'll guess the truth.
And for a moment, it makes me a little sad. Open marriage simply isn't on the list of options for most people. I think it should be. Heterosexual, monogamous marriage is a perfectly valid, viable choice. But it's a choice. And lately, it doesn't have such a hot success rate. I wish for everyone the love and authenticity of the life that I have. And, to my mind, that means living in a world where people feel free to choose relationships because they fit. Not because they're what everyone else is doing.
You know what the real "secret" is? The real "truth" we are all desperately searching for? Here it is: Love is not a limited commodity. I wonder why we continue to live as if it is. I didn't always feel this way, of course. Nora Ephron was once my guru too. After eight years of what went from experiment to reality, my feelings about open marriage have changed over time. But not how you might think.
One of the occupational hazards of being a writer is that you are constantly watching your own life. I have studied myself and my partners and my relationships over the past eight years, and the only thing that has changed is that I am even more sure now that this is what is right for me and my family.
We are lucky. I know that. What we have is not common. For one, jealousy has never really been an issue for us, much to everyone's surprise. And it's a complete non-starter now. Christopher and Jemma have an enviable friendship by any account. It's a deliriously relaxing feeling knowing that they are as content as I am. All I can say is, it works for us.
Now, I have to admit, since we started this experiment of sorts, I have wondered what my daughter, now 11, thought of all of it. I knew she was safe and smart and happy and that she never saw anything inappropriate. Having more than one partner does not mean being promiscuous or having wild sex parties. Saturday night at my house is take-out Chinese and Scrabble. So, I wasn't worried that she was being hurt by our choices -- otherwise we never would have made them -- but I did wonder if she, well, got it.
Then the day came, just last spring, that I had been half fearing, half longing for.
"Mommy, I have to ask you something," Emily said from the backseat. It was her tone that made me pull into a parking spot despite having no need to park.
"Are you dating?"
I heard that Twix commercial flash through my head, "Need a minute?"
"No, baby," I said. "Why do you ask?"
"Someone at school said they saw you on TV and that you said you were dating." This moment was inevitable, I knew. Still it caught me by surprise.
"Well, I don't know what they saw, but I'm not dating." I paused. "You do know though that I am married to daddy and that Jemma is my girlfriend, right?" I held my breath a little, wondering if this would somehow be big news despite my never having explained it directly.
"I know that, Mommy," she said dismissively, like I had lost my mind. "But are there other people?"
"Absolutely not," I said. She was quiet for a moment, and I resisted the urge to bombard her with questions. Finally I couldn't take the silence any longer.
"Are you OK?" I asked her.
"I was just thinking ... could we have spaghetti for dinner?" she replied.
I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to press her if that was all she needed. But even if she didn't need closure, I sure did.
"Sure. Yeah. Totally. Absolutely." I'm sure I sounded like an idiot, but I was trying desperately to buy time with affirmative responses until I figured out what the heck to say. "So, that's it? I mean you're OK? Do you ... have any other questions?"
"OK, OK. I'm sorry. It's just ..."
"I'll just tell the kids at school that they were wrong."
I was a wreck for the next few days, pacing until Emily got home, tearing up for fear that she might be getting harassed at school. But it never came up again. And when I inquired, she'd shrug and say it was fine. And this is a kid who wears her heart on her sleeve. I know all moms say this, but I would know if she actually were miserable.
This might sound silly, but I feel really lucky. And blessed. And really, really loved. It may not be conventional, but it certainly works for us. As for what lies around the bend, well, I don't have any idea. And that's the fun part. I appreciate and enjoy being present. No relationship is guaranteed. Period. Mine are no different. The one thing I can guarantee to myself and my partners is that I will continue to live my truth and support them living theirs.
About six months ago I started dancing again -- Nia classes. Being back in the dance studio, engaged in this amazing mind-body practice, has made things very clear to me.
We only get one go-around. Why not go at it with joy?
Jenny Block, author of "Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage" (2008 Lambda Literary Award) is a frequent contributor to a number of high-profile publications including the Huffington Post, YourTango, American Way, Veranda, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Voice, EDGE Dallas, Literary Mama, Spirit, Chow, and Elle Girl. Her essay "And Then We Were Poly" is included in Rebecca Walker's book "One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love"