Weeknight Hookups, Weekend Husband

RobinRinaldi

At first reckoning, the premise of Robin Rinaldi’s Wild Oats Project seems playful and titillating: On the book jacket, a naked woman bounces happily toward sexual exploration and pleasure, and bold red lettering announces her self-confidence and empowerment. But delving more deeply into the memoir provides a different picture. It’s a thoughtful, intricate and altogether darker perspective on what drives relationships, sexual yearning, happiness and fulfilment. It’s easy to think that sexual adventure within the confines of a staid marriage must end in disaster. But putting snap judgments aside, Rinaldi’s experience reminds us of the prudence of fully exploring our own relationship requirements and presenting those needs to our partners.

Rinaldi’s account begins in a bar. Out with friends one night, she receives a text message from a younger coworker looking to hook up. The scene is complete with communal should-I-or-shouldn’t-I banter, and the attendant nerves that come with such a proposition. We learn that Rinaldi is 43, ostensibly happily married and has been entertaining the prospect of an extramarital relationship ever since she and her husband, Scott, were unable to come to terms about having a child. (He didn’t want one; she wanted one desperately, but only with him.) Crucially, there is no awful or abusive husband here, only a treasured relationship in which both parties deeply love each other.

While the initial hookup is a one-off affair, Rinaldi and her husband, on her insistence, soon hash out a detailed and well-considered agreement for an open marriage. As she tells him, “I won’t go to my grave with no children and four lovers.” Per the arrangement, Rinaldi gets an apartment to live in during the week, and returns to spend weekends with her husband. Both pursue their own interests alone during the week, practicing safe sex and not sleeping with friends and acquaintances they have in common. It seems rational and manageable, until it isn’t.

Wild_Oats_largeThe Wild Oats Project is a fascinating look at relationships, and how they are predicated. Its most striking effect is Rinaldi’s deep insight into her own history—though, in perfect hindsight, this kind of self-scrutiny may have been more useful in the early stages of her marriage. Rinaldi’s renderings of sexual exploits are frank and explicit, without being tasteless. But it is her searing portrait of the person who met and married Scott, and the nature of their relationship that provide the context to understand how their decisions—both separately and together—led their marriage down its ultimate path.

The trick with this book lies in separating your own personal experiences, inclinations and feelings from those presented by Rinaldi. There are details she boldly relates that are fairly relatable—even while they’d be unpalatable if heard from a friend, and unfathomable with regard to our own relationships. But she makes the point that these things can be hard to know in the midst of making life choices. Healthy relationships, she argues, depend on our own self-knowledge and how we use it.

Photo courtesy of Robin Rinaldi