Just when I began to believe that the catastrophic marital infidelity expose’ was somehow the exclusive province of high-profile male politicians, clergy, actors and athletes, along came the curious case of Britain’s Mrs. Iris Robinson.
Mrs. Robinson (“And here’s to you…”), a then 60-year old hard-right evangelical Member of Parliament and spouse of a leading Irish politician allegedly found personal fulfillment enabled by illicit cash transactions with her 19-year old male protégé, but now can find only tragic regret. As my friend Mario then put it, “They want it as much as we do.”
Everyone certainly wishes this traumatized and probably maritally and politically ruined couple Godspeed in their recovery from their misery, but it didn’t have to happen that way.
Taken as a whole, this and the recent crop of monumental male revelations together comprise what is arguably merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Is (almost) everybody really doing it?
How you look at this fact is in essence a Rorschach, or a glass half-empty or half-full test. Simply asked, is the urge to engage with simultaneous multiple sex partners really aberrational or actually a profoundly suppressed innate function of normal human desire?
This question is certainly not new and has been asked and answered many times before, most profoundly and notoriously by John and Barbara Williamson and some 6,000 of their good friends in their 1966-to-1976 Sandstone Retreat experiment with open sexuality in the mountains overlooking Malibu, California.
Why is it that open sexuality has not been enshrined in our culture along with The Pill, women’s equality and the right to choose in the legacy of the Sexual Revolution and we now find ourselves back in the Dark Ages when it comes to accepting and dealing with normal human sexuality?
Blame the effects of the late not-so-great Reagan Revolution and the surviving detritus of the “Moral Majority” and “Christian Coalition” of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and their ilk. (Not to mention, of course, the catastrophe of HIV/AIDS.)
The naughty “C Street Family” boys and their fellow Senatorial aspirants in purity, heirs to these shriveled inquisitors of the 1980s, found themselves collectively dangling from the ironic petard of their own self-crippling, deeply-held faith.
But the Tiger Woods episode was almost too painful to bear.
In his 1980 bestseller Thy Neighbor’s Wife, author Gay Talese recounts among others the stories of a few of the people and their ideas and experiences — among them this writer — who made Sandstone into the Camelot it became. The following is my story:
Meg and I first met during the 1967 Summer of Love, in Haight Ashbury, San Francisco. A highly agitated friend had come up to me on the street asking if I had seen JonJon as it was very important that we find him. I hadn’t seen him that day, but I was heading over to visit a crash pad on Waller Street and would inquire after him.
When I got there the door was locked, which was odd. I knocked and it opened a crack to reveal the face of a lovely red-headed, green-eyed young woman who also appeared quite nervous. She told me to find JonJon and bring him there right away as it was a matter of life and death and slammed the door. I searched but didn’t see him until weeks after.
Later that year, tiring of the hippie lifestyle and the deteriorating scene, I moved to West Los Angeles, cut my hair, shaved my beard and went to work for NCR in Century City selling the new high-tech electronic desktop calculators to banks and savings & loans.
Meg and I next met in late 1968 at the home of mutual friends who had invited us, separately, unwittingly, to a séance given by a man who was said to channel a 1,000 year-old soul. I suppose he did, but I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell us.
My attention, however, was being diverted by a lovely red-headed, green-eyed young woman at the other end of the table who seemed familiar. After the reading, she came up to me and said she knew me. It took a while but we finally figured it out.
Meg told me that JonJon had been hours late in delivering a prepaid order of 10,000 tablets of Owsley Stanley “White Lightening” LSD to the Waller pad when I had arrived, and two large, bent-nose gentlemen in shiny suits visiting from Brooklyn, New York, were behind the door with guns to her head pending his arrival. They were threatening to shoot her if he didn’t show, starting with her feet and working their way up. She then took off her right shoe and showed me the scar where a bullet had passed clean through her instep.
Ah, the Sixties. It was love at second sight.
Neither Meg nor I had been married before but in exploring our feelings during our courtship we had discovered that we agreed exactly on what we wanted out of our relationship and what we didn’t want. We clearly did not want children anytime soon or a conventional monogamous marriage.
Raised on opposite coasts, she in Santa Monica, California, and I on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and in typical American middle-class traditions, she Irish Catholic and I Jewish, we’d both shown early signs of free thinking and rebellion. With sexually active ‘teen years, we had many intimate experiences through our early 20s. Being several years older than Meg, I had finished a U.S. Air Force enlistment as an Air Traffic Controller while she was still an undergrad at UCLA, planning to one day teach high school science.
As we came to know one another and got close, we found that we were both convinced, at least in principle, that no one person could fulfill forever all the needs and wants of another and that a happy relationship had to be open. Whether intellectual, spiritual, emotional or physical, we were attracted to others and agreed we shared this multiplicity of needs.
Despite our strong and growing love, we felt we needed time and space to be by ourselves and also to be intimate with others. Part of our dilemma was how to accomplish such an open relationship while still being clear about intentions with our friends, both old and new. We saw only a few alternatives open to us: concede that our affair was temporary and tough it out until we separated; forget all this foolishness and get down to the real business of marriage (our parents talking through us) or take independent action, that is, date others, or perhaps curtail the sharing of our experiences altogether. None of these options seemed acceptable but we wanted to be together and decided to get married anyway and figure it out as we went along.
To my huge surprise, Meg said that she wanted to convert to Judaism and be married by a rabbi in a synagogue. I had contemplated something on the beach at sunset with everyone stoned on acid dancing naked around a bonfire.
Not being much of a Jew myself, I had to look in the Yellow Pages to find a local temple. I called and made an appointment to see the rabbi and we met him a few days later. Leonard, he insisted we call him, was and still is a highly respected leader in the community but was going off to Israel in a few days so he introduced us to his young assistant, the handsome and dashing Rabbi Ted. Leonard thought so highly of Meg and me that he had us house-sit his Chagall-lined home in Brentwood for two weeks while the family visited the Holy Land.
Ted told us he would perform Meg’s conversion and marry us only after he had gotten to know us and only if the rebbitzen approved. She was Sherry, a comely and zaftig blonde and one night after a dinner of brisket and latkes and two bottles of California Cabernet we fell in love with them. Sherry approved our match and four months later Ted married us.
Several evenings thereafter, lying in bed after making love, Meg asked me if I ever fantasized about being with another woman while I was with her. The first name that popped into my mind was Gina Lolobrigida, a sexy Italian actress of the time. That earned me a kick under the blanket and her admission that she had envisioned Ted as we were together and asked me what I thought about Sherry. I feigned some jealousy but had to confess that it had crossed my mind (oh, sure) and that wouldn’t it be great if we could all pile into bed together? She laughed and agreed that that would be terrific as we fell asleep.
Tune in next week for part 2 on The Legend of Cum-a-Lot!