both sides of a breakup

Their Open Marriage Still Makes Him Want to Vomit

In Both Sides of a Breakup, the Cut talks to exes about how they got together and why they split up. David and Lana, both 45, both artists, tried an open marriage at Lana’s urging. It led to divorce. This is their story.

David: We got married young: 22. Neither of us went to traditional colleges, but it was around the time one graduates college. She was luminescent and so, so sweet.

Lana: I was pregnant, but I would have married him in a second even if I weren’t. I wanted to marry him since the day I met him at 18, when we were both assistants at an art camp in the Berkshires.

David: I was VERY lucky that my grandmother had a rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper West Side. She said we could live there and raise our son there — double lucky, my uncle gave me a salaried job at an art-supply store he had nearby.

Lana: I went with the flow. We had just enough money to scrape by and I was too young to really “get” the cost of living with kids in the city anyway. We settled into New York life, had two more kids, and before I knew it I was 28, tired, fat, friendless, and sad. Neither of us ever drank or did drugs, but I started fantasizing about starting a second life as a fucked-up, carefree party person. It was a fantasy I couldn’t get out of my mind. I remember doing my makeup really heavy, all by myself, and saying slutty things to the mirror like, “Come on, you fucking whore … spread your fucking legs.” And then I’d shower, put on a robe, and make a macaroni dinner for my family of five.

David: Our sex was good, when we had the energy to have it.

Lana: I’ve always liked sex with David. It wasn’t about that.

David: She had gained a lot of weight, which never mattered to me. But it was a sign of something else. We never kept secrets, so I just asked her to tell me what was going on with her. What could I do? I would have done anything for her. Really.

Lana: I remember these explosive tears and just bawling to him about hating my life. Loving my kids, but hating my life. This was around my 30th birthday. We decided that, first of all, he was going to work less. He could afford to do it because he had inherited some family money by then. With him around more, I could join a gym. In about six months, I lost something like 68 pounds. I was a size 2. I had made friends at the gym. I was doing things I never did in the city, like going to art shows, poetry nights, open-mike nights. By 32, I found myself in New York City.

David: She always was and always will be a phenomenal mother. Sure, she was having a little too much fun, but she deserved it.

Lana: One night I partied a little too hard and came home really sick. I admitted to David I had done coke and my heart rate was really high — I was really scared. We called an ambulance and then sent them home, because we were just … scared. Like, that one stupid night would affect our kids for the rest of their lives. Next day, horrific hangover. Next few days, lots of long talks.

David: The good news is, she never really drank or drugged again. The less-good news: We decided in order to save our marriage, Lana needed freedom to explore her sexuality. She really thought that was the root of her wild behavior. Again, I went with it, even though my gut was like, “Oh, fuck. Here we go …”

Lana: I had met other guys here and there and never cheated. But I wanted to. I still had these unmanageable X-rated fantasies pretty much nonstop. When we decided to test out an open marriage, I was excited. I wasn’t sure I’d act on it, but the option to be free was almost enough. The first man I hit on … well, this is really embarrassing, but I remember putting the vibe out there to one of my kid’s teachers. He did not respond well. He shut it down. I kinda liked how the rejection felt. At least it was something! The next guy I hit on was someone named Billy, a writer for a big magazine (which I thought was sooo cool) and a Buddhist … and he was game. And then there were a couple more.

David: The only rule was to tell each other anything we wanted to know. If I didn’t want to hear about it, that was that. If I wanted to hear every single detail, then I got it. With Billy, because it was our first time in the new situation, I stupidly asked for every detail. Let me tell you, those details still haunt me — and it’s been ten years. I can’t even talk to a Buddhist without wanting to barf.

Lana: David never went out with anyone else, even though I genuinely wanted him to. It just didn’t interest him. I felt bad, but I didn’t feel that bad because we had talked about everything. Nothing I did was “against the rules.” There was never one lie in our marriage. No betrayal. We just wanted different lifestyles in the end.

David: Our open-marriage trial didn’t last long. Maybe a year. I found it completely unbearable. Devastating. But I wasn’t going to put her on a leash like some dog. The only option was to break up the marriage and co-parent. The idea of divorce killed me, but her sleeping with other men was even more brutal than that.

Lana: You know, we had three GREAT kids. Like, really compassionate, cool, loving, smart kids. I knew they could handle it, especially since David and I still loved each other very much. There would be no ugliness in our divorce.

David: It never got ugly. In a way, the divorce was the lightest thing we had been through in years. We just got it done with. I rented an apartment a block away. There were a few rough nights with the kids. But we tried to make it a fun adventure. Their sense of family togetherness never really got fractured. It’s hard to explain, but we made it work.

Lana: I never loved him more than during our divorce. He handled everything with such grace. I knew in my heart it was the right thing.

David: I guess it was the right thing because I met my second wife a few months after and we’ve been happily married for seven years now. We have one of those big, funny, dysfunctional New York families now. I like how our movie played out … it wasn’t always easy, but I’m comfortable with it.

Lana: David’s wife is fucking incredible. She was the best thing to happen to our family’s life. She completes us. I never married again, but have had some fantastic relationships. For the last few years I’ve been seeing someone who lives on the West Coast. It’s a complicated, thrilling relationship that keeps me on my toes. I’m enjoying it. My kids are doing great. We’re all happy and healthy.

David: If I could do it any differently, I would have probably divorced Lana before she started having sex with other men. All that shit — um, it’s a strong word but I’ll use it — “damaged” me in a way that might never be quite repaired.

Both Sides of a Breakup: An Open Marriage Made Him Feel Sick