Redefining Relationships

Open (Penguin Random House: Harmony, $28.00) documents Rachel Krantz’s long-term relationship with a non-monogamous partner. But, in the way a good memoir should, it also illuminates larger truths about gender and autonomy—as well as what it’s like to return to yourself (or a new version of yourself) after a long time of not being allowed to give credence to your own reality.

When we meet Krantz she’s in her late 20s, and interested both in finding a partner and in retaining her independence. “I couldn’t stand not being able to do whatever I wanted with my life,” she writes. Throughout their relationship, Krantz and her partner, Adam (intellectual, paternalistic, a proponent of logic at the cost of most everything else), embark on non-monogamy in many forms, including sex parties and swingers’ events, while living in many ways as a normative heterosexual couple (including trips to visit Adam’s Jewish family, described as “hamish” by Krantz, whose own family life was considerably less traditional).

Feminist readers will recognize themselves throughout Open, ensnared as we all are in the trap of patriarchy. “Was I a successful object of desire, or was I failing?” wonders Krantz, grappling with jealousy in all its implications as Adam takes on partner after partner, while she, also seeing other people, wishes for him to confirm that she’s his primary romantic priority. That, even if she used her veto power to pull the plug on their arrangement, he would still want her, would still choose her.

While Krantz examines what this all means for her own boundaries and sexuality, she finds herself courting what she refers to as “retrograde” thoughts—Is she being a slut? Will she end up an old, unwanted spinster? When will she arrive at her “adult” life? Even if we don’t want traditional relationships, we can’t seem to outrun the belief that our worth as women is perpetually chained to the concept of being desired by men, just as, Krantz points out, we’re entrenched in white supremacy culture, which is obsessed with perfectionism, as well as binary thinking, part of the reason non- monogamous relationships are deemed immoral and inferior.

Krantz’s quest for answers about her own sexual identity in the context of non-
monogamy is happening amid the chaos of ongoing gaslighting by Adam. Some of Open takes place during the early days of the #MeToo Twitter storm, as many women told their stories of abuse, and others, including Krantz, held back, deeming their own experiences “not terrible enough” to mention.

At the same time, Krantz negotiated her daily life living with a man who continually negated her emotions, dictated the terms of their relationship (while at the same insisting that he didn’t), and punished her when she attempted to assert herself. Imagining what it would take to tunnel out of life with Adam, Krantz realizes the hold those “retrograde” beliefs still have over her, in spite of the sexual and emotional liberation she’s spent the book searching for.

A review that doesn’t want to provide spoilers can only scratch the surface of
everything this book contains (do not, under any circumstances, skip the foot-
notes—they’re a work of art in themselves). Every page not only provides an opportunity for examination of our own beliefs and discomforts about relationships, gender, power, queerness, it also demands it.

“You have to trust yourself and the reader to be nuanced,” says Krantz’s friend Ayesha, in an invaluable moment of instruction to us and to Krantz.

Open is an exercise in companionship, a book about, among many things, relationships and all their contortions, and the reader is a partner, a witness to Krantz’s creation of the work and of a new version of herself. A reader must be willing to submit, to suspend, and to allow for entanglement in the gray and blurry spaces it illuminates.

Chanel Dubofsky is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn.