Sacrifice. Isn’t that what motherhood is all about? Or is that what we have made ourselves believe? We sacrifice our sleep, our vanity and often our dignity. Anyone who has ever whipped out a boob in a crowded restaurant or has had to deal with a screaming tantrum in a toy store knows exactly what I mean. We mothers have convinced ourselves that to be the best for our children, we have to give up almost everything that separates us from the childless women out there.
But to be good mothers must we sacrifice that which makes us who we are? For Sophie Jenkins, absolutely not. One recent evening, following dinner with her husband Steve and their six-year-old daughter, Sophie planned a fun night out dancing with the girls. This isn’t unusual for most moms – we still enjoy nights out with our friends, even though they may end earlier than they did in our child-free days. But for Sophie, the concept of ‘girls night out’ takes on a whole different meaning.
On this night, Sophie enters the club and watches the gorgeous women, eyeing their soft curves. But she won’t be viewing them with envy, comparing her own body to theirs, as so many of us tend to do. No, Sophie will be looking at them with interest. You see, Sophie is a bisexual, married mom and tonight, she wants to find a woman to dance with and maybe make out with and then see where it leads.
You might be shocked, even horrified, to think that Sophie is cheating on her clueless husband. You might be judging this behavior as unsuitable for a mom. But Sophie is neither cheating nor doing anything wrong. She is simply living her life the way she wants to. And Steve knows all about it.
From the minute they met, Steve knew that Sophie was the woman he was going to marry and have children with. He also knew that she was bisexual and he had no problem with it. He understood that it’s the person – not the gender – that Sophie loves, and that she loves her husband deeply. And for the first few years of their marriage, it was enough.
Then Sophie had her daughter, a traumatic birth that led to severe postpartum depression. She felt lost, unhappy and desperate to have her old life back, which had included dating women. After therapy and a lot of soul searching, Sophie realized that she had sacrificed too much. She is a married mom, yes, but she is also a bisexual woman who needs other women to feel whole.
Bisexuality is confusing for most people. Isn’t it enough to just choose one gender and stick with it? Must people be allowed to sample from every menu? Well, why not? If Sophie’s bisexuality is “an elemental capacity to develop an attraction to the same gender,” then how can one argue with an innate part of her identity? Our most important job as moms is to teach our children to be proud of who they are. Sophie is doing exactly that. Though, like most parents, she has no intention of discussing her sex life with her daughter, she is exemplifying how to live a full, content life by being honest with herself and her husband about who she is.
Where is her loving partner in all of this? Well, he also has desires, but his don’t include going to bars and picking up women. What he wants is the classic male fantasy: a threesome with his wife and another woman. But as Sophie explains, it’s not easy to find a woman who wants to be brought home to someone else’s husband. In fact, it’s so hard to find this elusive other woman that it became part of an iconic Sex and the City episode in which Miranda answers a personals ad from a couple looking for this rare third party. According to Sophie, most potential “thirds” aren’t so sure about joining in with a married couple with kids. Even the most open-minded of people have particular views of family life, and they don’t include threesomes.
Sophie is first and foremost a mother. She takes Maddy to school and chats with the other moms about this and that. But when asked what she had done on Saturday night at her daughter’s class picnic, she neglects to mention the kissing and slow dancing with a woman at a club. Imagining the wide-eyed stares and gaping mouths on the moms’ faces (and the awe perhaps from the dads) is reason enough for Sophie to keep her true identity hidden. This causes a cognitive dissonance of sorts. Sophie is neither embarrassed nor ashamed of who she is, yet to protect her family, she cannot reveal a great part of who she is because of what other moms might think. And as educated and enlightened as we purport to be, moms are, at heart, often competitive and judgmental when it comes to what might seem like inappropriate “mom” behavior. Maybe it’s because we have our own secret proclivities.
But Sophie is not alone. A recent New York Times article by Mark Oppenheimer called “Married, With Infidelities” profiles Dan Savage, America’s best known sex columnist. His column, Savage Love, often looks at monogamy and what he considers its problems. For Savage, the best relationships are had if both people involved are “good, giving and game,” whatever that might entail for the couple. For Savage personally, it includes some extramarital activity; in Sophie’s case, it’s finding women to fool around with and perhaps sharing them with her husband, as she’s done in the past.
Judith Stacey, a New York University sociologist quoted in Oppenheimer’s article, succinctly sums up Sophie’s definition of her marriage: “Monogamy is not natural, non-monogamy is not natural. Variation is natural.” Variation is the key to Sophie’s happy marriage and her ability to be the best mother she can be.
Marriage and motherhood are never easy. In addition to balancing the demands of a husband and child, Sophie also has to find the time (and place) to fulfill a whole other need. She isn’t looking for a girlfriend per se, but she is looking for variation in her sex life. And though Steve is never accusing in his questions, he does want to be included in every part of Sophie’s life – and so it’s a challenge for her to decide how much to share. If Sophie ultimately decides that she wants to find another man, or Steve decides he does want to see another woman, these will be other lines they’ll have to cross. Fluidity in their relationship is understood as part of human nature, and Sophie knows that they will approach it together.
Sophie and Steve love each other, their child and the variation on life they’re mapping out for themselves. With the current media explosion about Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Weiner and countless other celebrities and politicians literally being caught with their pants down, Sophie has figured out something most people haven’t. Honesty is truly the core of a relationship, and being who you really are, no holds barred, is the secret to happiness.