The last thing I ever wanted to do was to write a word about Newt Gingrich’s sex life.
But, alas, ABC’s “blockbuster” interview with Newt’s ex-wife Marianne, airing tonight on Nightline, in which she alleges that Newt asked her for an “open marriage" puts Newt in my wheelhouse.
I spend chapters in my book mulling sexual ethics in marriage, mistresses, the new monogamy and open marriage.
What surprises me is that this revelation could in any way make Newt look worse morally than how he looked before. After all, it’s well-established that he was a philanderer in his marriages, and that he left his wife for Callista after having had an extramarital affair with her.
How is the fact that Newt broached the topic of an open marriage somehow worse for his already-demolished sexual image? How in the world does it make it seem more craven in the public eye (as I glean from the hyper-ventilating excitement about this “bombshell”) that he came clean to his wife and proposed some other way to navigate a marriage, or stay married?
To the contrary, Marianne’s revelation seems to make the fact of his extramarital sex less “tawdry,” in Newt’s words (or more inventive). At the least, if he was proposing an open marriage—and it’s very easy for me to imagine that he would, because it’s the sort of Big Idea that would attract him—then this arguably boosts his moral standing, for those who like to care or comment on Newt’s morality: He was trying to go beyond the usual lying and cheating into something more negotiated, that would have elicited some kind of consent, I guess, from his wife.
Marianne’s revelation makes it sound plausible that Newt was attempting to do something different that just “screw around” behind her back and then practice serial monogamy, which is a very common marital practice in the U.S. today. Maybe Newt was lured, as he is elsewhere, and many times a day, to try a Big New Idea about marriage.
There’s an old phrase, “you can’t fall off the floor. “ Let’s face it. Newt’s life as a cheater and philanderer pretty much had him way down on the floor, long before Marianne broke her code of silence.
Given the starting point from whence Newt began the day, the fact that Marianne will reveal at the end of the day elevates him one or two steps off of the admittedly low floor that his personal behavior has set.
I don’t object to honestly-negotiated alternative marriages, where both partners get what they want out of the relationship, and where they conduct their, ahem, affairs honestly. I do object, however, to betrayal, lying, deceit, cruelty, and disregard. Many famous marriages in history—and today—have included wives/husbands and mistresses/lovers, and partners who know of their existence, and if each person is secure enough in those relationships, then it can work out as well as a conventional marriage.
So Marianne’s retort to Newt, “that is not a marriage,” isn’t quite accurate. Whatever you think of the world of negotiated non-monogamy, there is little doubt that mistresses and marriage have been together a long time, historically, and there are a fair number of marriages where the arrangement is even accepted. Not a majority, true, but they are out there, and some of those very “traditional” marriages you see on the outside have secrets within them, too.
No phrase irks me more than that “real marriage” gloss. There are many real types of marriage.
Marianne didn’t want an open marriage. And who can blame her for that—It’s hard to pull off and it wasn’t what she thought of as a true union and, well, snarkily, I have to note, we’re talking about Newt Gingrich here.
But for those who do choose open marriage, it’s a “real marriage,” too.
And, as for Newt, I have literally dozens of reasons why I wouldn’t support him politically, or socially, and why I don’t care for his lifestyle or ideology.
But the fact that he proposed an open marriage is not one of them.