Private lives: When there's three in a marriage

A Family Affair; this week, a husband and wife talk about their `non-monogamous' marriage

Songwriter and poet Fran Landesman, 70, married author and publisher Jay in 1950. He edited the New York counter-culture magazine Neurotica during the Forties and has published three volumes of memoirs. Fran has written songs for Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett, and published five collections of poetry. They live in Islington and have two grown-up sons. Although they disapprove of the term "open marriage", it has been an element of their 48-year-old relationship.

Fran

You could say Jay and I had an "open marriage" - although it's a term I dislike. I'd say we weren't monogamous. It's something you can't plan for, but we liked to be spontaneous.

When we met, Jay was a nice Jewish boy who wanted to get married. I didn't want to at all.

My mother always said, "Don't marry young, otherwise you'll be tied down." Those words always echoed in my mind. I wanted freedom. Oddly enough I did marry, but that didn't mean I'd got no room in my life for someone else.

I think it's hopeless to expect everything from one person. Certainly for the first four to five years I wouldn't recommend an "open relationship". But after that period of time, it doesn't last; that frisson that everyone gets at first when it's more exciting. Someone once said, everyone needs a little strange and I believe that.

There were a lot of attractive people around at that time - mostly piano players. I kept wanting to tell Jay when I met someone else.

I found it easy to be honest but he didn't want to know. Every time I saw someone, he sent me to a psychiatrist - he thought it was an aberration. Then he came along as well; he found out about me and I did about him.

Although I really learnt about him through his friend, who told me Jay had been with all these girls. I couldn't have been more relieved. I thought, "My God, he's like me." From then on, he was like a real friend. After that, we opened up and told the truth.

Once I fantasised about running off with this composer but then I thought, "I wonder if I can take Jay with us?"

So I never considered leaving him. I never got possessive because I knew I was Jay's first love and that I'd never lose him. It never occured to me that he'd leave me for someone else.

Other people we met would usually become friends and come for supper and then we'd hang out. I'm not saying it was the easiest thing in the world and that I never felt a pang of jealousy, but I knew that I couldn't stop Jay because he couldn't stop me.

Funnily enough, it was the beautiful, smart girls that Jay bought back that I really liked, not the plain ones. I used to think, "What on earth is he doing with her?"

But ultimately, something always happened and the friendship would end. Perhaps it was harder for them being the third person in the relationship - eventually they'd want someone for themselves.

There was a cut off point for me - it came when I was 60 years old and when I became a grandmother. When you reach 60 - forget it. I just think it's unattractive after that.

We didn't talk a lot about our relationships and anyway, I never met anyone who came close to Jay - who was anywhere near as good-looking or could make me laugh as much.

Jay

When we got married in 1950, we were meeting so many interesting people. Neither of us thought of it in terms of fidelity. We got married because it was what our parents did.

At first Fran said she didn't want to marry me, but I told her that she would regret it if she didn't. There was no other way to live then - you couldn't just set up house with each othe, like now.

But we lived according to how we felt and we had a feeling for life. That included meeting lots of different people. We didn't bring them back - we went to their places or went to bars where interesting things were happening.

Emotionally, we stayed faithful and there was no possessiveness. I never felt jealous. We're all basically insecure but it never once occurr-ed to us that we'd leave one another.

We weren't looking for anybody else. It's just if someone else came along it could be interesting. But there weren't any one-night stands. There were buddies and "friendships" - I have friends I made 50 years ago. Sex didn't play such a big part then, although we were unfaithful in special cases.

We didn't like the labels "girlfriend" or "boyfriend" - we were people. "Open marriage" as a term is a misnomer. People think of suburban sex games.

We weren't like that. Our friendships introduced us to a way of life and a world that many aren't party to. I don't recommend it for most people. It takes a rare gift to manage an "open marriage."

If you care about what other people think, it can be disastrous. Although it never bothered me and Fran. We set out to shock and we certainly succeeded. It would probably be too complicated for people today - the time is not right. We live in very square times. But we were different to other people; less hypocritical. It expanded our horizons. We were more in touch with a child's perspective - we are children at heart. I think the way we lived did and has strengthened our relationship. It has helped us to understand ourselves and each other.

Fran Landesman's musical "Forbidden Games" is currently playing at The Pleasance, Edinburgh.

Interviews by Emma Cook

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