What a tangled web we weave. The Sabrina Limon/Jonathan Hearn case is yet one more cautionary tale about how when you step over well-set guard rails and other boundaries and venture into purely pleasure-seeking everything-goes territory, life can get hopelessly wrecked. Robert Limon is dead, Hearn is in prison, Sabrina’s soon to be; and for the duration, her children live in limbo. Nothing good can come of this.
During the swinging Age of Aquarius, George and Nena O’Neil (1972) wrote “Open Marriage” that was thought to be, and was in part, a study of polyamory (open sexual relationships at the same time while married). They followed up in 1975 with a self-revelatory “how to” manual (“Shifting Gears”). A self-help manual on how to navigate, and how they themselves navigated, into an open marriage. In 1977, Nena, now alone and divorced, followed with a third study entitled “The Marriage Premise,” rescinding and revoking everything she and her then-husband ever said about the wonders of polyamorous marriage.
In short, open marriages don’t work for very long and in higher-than-average numbers lead to divorce. More often than not, the opening of a marriage entails one partner having an affair and suggesting to the partner that an open marriage be tried. Unsurprisingly, the monogamous partner refuses and a divorce ensues (cf, Newt Gingrich’s experience asking his then-wife if he could openly consort with his then paramour — now wife — Calista).
In cases where an open marriage is mutually consented to, there are generally two pathways followed: one to brief disappointing polyamory with return to monogamy, the other to divorce. Universally described are serious troubles with jealousy, with the primary partner feeling betrayed by the initiating spouse’s attention paid to the secondary sexual partner. Nena acknowledged that the opening of a marriage, whatever the cause, is the first step toward the closing of the primary sexual bond, as happened with her.
Seems that men and women both experience surges of the cuddle/bonding hormone oxytocin during sexual excitement and climax with their partners that strengthens and intensifies the bond between them. It is not surprising then that the strengthening and intensifying of a physical bond between lovers cannot be shared overly broadly without in some way weakening it for the primary original couple.
At about the time Nena wrote The Marriage Premise (1977), Masters and Johnson, of The Human Sexual Response fame and now married to each other after divorcing their spouses following their affair, in 1980 wrote “The Pleasure Bond.” They argued that there’s something unique in a committed trusting sexually monogamous relationship that cements a marriage in a positive way that opening it destroys.
Seems the road to and through open polyamory is strewn with divorces in far greater numbers than for monogamous couples. The road into polyamory is littered with the shattered hopes and dreams of once deeply committed and romantically connected couples hungering for something lost. Seeking to brighten a dimming candle by lighting and bringing another candle in does nothing to bring new life to the flame going out.
The case of Sabrina Limon and Jonathan Hearn is the stuff of tawdry gossip and pulp fiction. The tale is so worn and weary as to be hackneyed beyond the telling. But we are living in a time when Bennett’s “The Book of Virtues” lies dusty and unopened unread in favor of tales about swinging that have always been.
Maybe the passing of The Hef and his Playboy ethos will usher in a rethinking of what sexual horseplay leads to. And, as for Alex Comfort’s “Joy of Sex,” written shortly before his divorce from his wife of 30 years to marry his mistress — his wife’s best friend, and all the emptiness it brings will have passed with his passing. Seems once a marriage becomes polyamorous, by all evidence, it doesn’t last very long.
‘Tis a messy web we weave …
Brik McDill of Bakersfield is a retired psychologist.