Woman Who Had Open Marriage for 12 Months Opens Up About Sleeping With Strangers

When Robin Rinaldi decided to save her marriage with an unorthodox method -- sleeping with other people -- she got way more than she bargained for. After Rinaldi's husband of 18 years, Scott, tells her that he wants a vasectomy, Rinaldi, who has long wanted a child, feels betrayed and like she doesn't want to remain in the marriage unless they have an open one. Her husband agrees. Rinaldi spends the next 12 months exploring her sexuality with strangers before returning to the marital fold. But could things ever be the same again?

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Rinaldi was 42 when she thought she'd finally become pregnant -- but it turned out to be a false positive. Spooked, her husband, who had never really wanted kids to begin with, vowed to get a vasectomy, which he eventually did. That sparked a feeling in Rinaldi that she wasn't truly living up to her name as a woman -- and a deep-seated desire to sleep around. She didn't really ask her husband's permission so much as tell him it was either an open marriage or no marriage. He chose open.

Now 43, Rinaldi got her own apartment during the week, and placed an ad on nerve.com looking for men 35-50 who could help her explore her sexuality -- but the first man she ended up exploring with after he hit on her at a work event was only 23. "Right afterward, I texted my husband," says Rinaldi.

The couple basically had a "don't ask, don't tell" policy about the details of their respective sexual escapades, but they did lay down some rules:

1) Practice safe sex.

2) Don't get into a serious relationship with anyone.

3) No sleeping with friends or acquaintances.

Surprisingly, both broke rules number one and two. On the fourth month of her sexual experient, which she chronicles in her book The Wild Oats Project, Rinaldi met a man in his late 30s who would light her fire so much that she felt she was falling in love. When it seemed that he felt the same, the two vowed not to see each other anymore -- after all, perhaps somewhat misguidedly, Rinaldi's ultimate purpose was to keep her marriage afloat.

My big question for Rinaldi was how she managed to not fall in love with all her men -- women are cursed with hormones that make them much more susceptible than men are to developing a bond with bed partners.

The surprising answer is she didn't manage to avoid this pitfall: Rinaldi says she fell "infatuated" with almost every man she had sex with.

"I saw how the first or second time I'd have sex with a guy, the hormones started rushing. I wanted to feed them, take care of them, be with them. I saw the oxytocin response ... but if you just observe it and go on to the next guy, you start feeling it again, and that's when you realize, wow, this isn’t about the guy, this is my oxytocin. You start feeling in love with everything."

Committed to sex with no strings attached, Rinaldi would make herself move onto the next guy no matter how much she started to like the guy she was with. Oh, and it wasn't just guys. Rinaldi also experimented with two women.

But the luster began to fade after about 12 months. Rinaldi knew it when she found herself "numb" during an encounter with a beautiful woman. She decided her project was over. Rinaldi even decided she wanted to make her marriage work -- with monogamy. "I was done," she says.

But moving back in with her husband was a harder adjustment period than she imagined. For one, she found out that her husband, far from sleeping around, had basically had one girlfriend the entire time -- which was against their rules. She says: "I realized how exclusive their relationship was, and that definitely felt more threatening to the marriage than casual sex. I became upset and jealous. I actually became violent. It was lowest point of behavior in my life."

Her husband's confession didn't help things when Alden, the man in his late 30s whom Rinaldi had fallen for early in her experiment, emailed her and asked her if she was still married.

With her husband's permission, she decided to meet her former lover for a friendly drink. But soon Rinaldi found herself having a secret affair -- the very thing she'd been trying to avoid when she called "open" on her marriage.

It's something she still wishes never happened: "It's excruciating. It's very bad. It hurts your body and your heart. I wouldn't do it again. It's the one thing I regret."

After eight weeks, she knew she had to make a decision between Alden and her husband.

You don't really need to ask, do you?

Five years on, Rinaldi and Alden still live together -- a rather unexpected ending for a couple that began so freewheelingly. Asked if the two have trust issues, given how they got together, Rinaldi admits they do but have worked on them. But she's also realistic enough not to stamp "forever" on the relationship just yet. (Who can really do that who isn't just guessing and hoping anyway?)

As for Scott, he has since moved on with another partner.

Rinaldi is bit shocked at the reaction her book has gotten so far -- let's just say "slut shaming" doesn't even begin to describe it. It's all a bit much for an adult woman who at least gave her husband a choice in the matter. "Is this 1642 and Hester Prynne is in the room?" she jokes. Rinaldi says the majority of her "slut shamers" have been men: "When I see these comments, I actually feel like I'm in danger. I have a surge of adrenaline, a fight or flight response. But when I sit and think about it, it becomes very apparent it's about them and not me. Slut shaming is the last, deep thrashing death rattle of patriarchy."

More from The Stir: Sex Confession: My Husband Said Yes to Having an Open Marriage

When asked whether women have slut shamed her too, she says they have -- and when asked what might be behind that, Rinaldi tells a story of how, back when she was still married, she found out about a married friend of hers who had run off with her married lover. They stayed together and had children. Rinaldi says her reaction to that was strongly disapproving -- something she now realizes was probably born of a "mixture of judgment and envy."

While Rinaldi doesn't want to speculate on other women's motives, it does make you wonder. I've personally always felt it was women who are unhappy in their marriages who judge women who "sleep around" the harshest. Misery loves company!

Rinaldi still considers herself a huge proponent of marriage and monogamy, which she considers her natural state (she and Alden are monogamous).

But for women who may want more spark and passion in their lives without the dramatic move of an open marriage, Rinaldi has some advice: "Channel passion for more into creativity, and into friendships with other women," she says.

Rinaldi finds her spiritual adventures with like-minded female pals have given her as much fulfillment as her sex adventures did. "I was looking for this wild feminine energy; I thought I would find it in sex with others, but I found it in a room with other women. It was a huge takeaway. Women, you don't need to upend your lives to find what you're looking for."

 

Image via Robin Rinaldi

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