When Daniel and Elizabeth married in 1993, they found it was easy enough to choose a ring for her, but there were far fewer choices for him. Daniel, then a 27-year-old who worked in information technology, decided to design one himself, requesting that tiny stones be placed in a gold band, like planets orbiting in a solar system. He was happy with the ring, and what it represented, until it became obvious after the wedding that he was allergic to the nickel that was mixed in with the gold in the band. As if in revolt, his finger grew red and raw, beneath the circle of metal. He started to think of the ring as if it were radioactive, an object burning holes in his flesh. A month into the marriage, he took it off and never got around to replacing it.He and Elizabeth might not tell the story of that ring, with all its obvious metaphorical meaning, as readily as they do if Daniel were, in fact, ambivalent about marriage, so resentful of its boundaries that he found its most potent symbol too toxic to bear. But Daniel is a softhearted bear of a man, affectionate and affection-seeking, someone who entered marriage expecting, if not everlasting passion, at least an enduring physical connection. He was relieved to find, as the years passed, that he still loved his wife — they kissed hello each time they reunited, they made each other laugh and he was someone inclined to appreciate what he had. They had, by all appearances, a happy marriage.But as with any happy marriage, there were frustrations. Daniel liked sex, and not long after they were married, it became clear that Elizabeth’s interest in it had cooled. She thought hers was the normal response: She was raised by strict Catholics, she would tell Daniel, as if that explained it, and she never saw her own parents hold hands, much less kiss. It was not as if she and Daniel never had sex, but when they did, Daniel often felt lonely in his desire for something more — not necessarily exotic sex but sex in which both partners cared about it, and cared about each other, with one of those interests fueling the other.
Is an Open Marriage a Happier Marriage?