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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 30th January 2005

Just what do women get out of open marriages?


I'm always astonished when I hear that a couple have an "open" marriage. There's no mystery as to why the man would agree to this arrangement--men are naturally polygamous, after all--but what on earth is in it for the woman? She may enjoy one or two flings while she's still in her prime, but once she's turned 40 and had a couple of kids she's unlikely to get nearly as many opportunities as him. The result, in my experience, is a long, bitter middle age in which the woman grows increasingly resentful of her husband's lovers.

Terry Jones and Alison Telfer are a case in point. The 62-year-old funnyman, one of the original members of the Monty Python troupe, has just been kicked out of the family home after his wife of 34 years discovered that his latest squeeze is a 22-year-old Oxford University student. This was too much for Telfer, a distinguished biochemist, who until now has enjoyed an open relationship with her husband. I imagine the chances of her retaliating by taking up with a 22-year-old playboy--as Sadie Frost did when her husband started walking out with Sienna Miller--are fairly remote.

Given how common it is for young women to become sexually involved with much older men, and how unusual the opposite arrangement is, why do women agree to open marriages?

One possibility is that they've simply been bamboozled by Sixties gobbledygook about free love, not realizing that this was just a chat-up line to get nubile young hippy chics into bed. It's taken women an extraordinarily long time to figure out that, far from being an instrument of oppression, the institution of marriage--and I'm talking about a conventional marriage--is designed to protect their interests. After all, women in stable, monogamous relationships are far better off than single women--not only emotionally, but often financially, as well--and this is particularly true if they have children. The only people who don't pay for free love are men.

Another possibility is that women like Alison Tefler think their partners are bound to have affairs anyway and at least if they're in an open relationship they'll avoid the inevitable cycle of deception, discovery and divorce. But in this instance that hasn't proved to be the case. Terry Jones may not have attempted to conceal the fact that he was having an affair with a women 40 years his junior, but as soon as his wife found out about it she threw him out anyway.

It may not be ideal, but a much more practical way of dealing with an unfaithful husband is to simply feign ignorance. If a woman thinks her partner is the type of man who's going to have affairs, she's better off either ending the relationship or, when the inevitable happens, pretending she knows nothing about it. I imagine Terry Jones's 22-year-old lover will quickly lose interest in him and, had he and his wife not been in an open marriage, Tefler could have simply turned a blind eye, as so many other married women have done before her.

I have no doubt that our own children will look back on open relationships as an anachronistic fad that enjoyed a short life in the second half of the 20th Century and then were seen no more. The wonder is that Terry Jones and Alison Tefler's marriage lasted as long as it did.

BAD RAP FOR THEATRE

According to reports last week, Sean "P Diddy" Combs, the rap impresario, is seeking to add four of Andrew Lloyd Webber's theatres to his global empire. If the Government thought it was right to intervene to stop the Getty Museum buying the Macclesfield Psalter, surely there's an equally strong case to be made for stopping four of our most distinguished West End theatres falling into the hands of P Diddy?

The Lyric, the Duchess, the Apollo and the Garrick are as much part of our heritage as the Macclesfield Psalter and, if Combs got his mitts on them, there's no guarantee that he wouldn't turn them into nightclubs or shopping emporia.

If P Diddy does make an offer, the Governemnt should do what it did in the case of the Macclesfield Psalter--hold up the sale for a fixed period of time and see if a national appeal can raise matching funds. If it can--and I've no doubt that it could, particularly with a little help from the National Lottery--the four venues could then become part of the Royal National Theatre, enabling the more popular shows on the South Bank to enjoy a West End run.

LESS IS MOORE

Hooray for Hollywood! For once in their lives, the octogenarian members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have made a good decision. They've declined to nominate Fahrenheit 9/11 for a Best Picture Oscar.

Last year, Michael Moore grandly announced that he was taking his latest film out of the running for Best Documentary Feature because--at least so he claimed--he wanted to give some other, less well-known documentary-makers a shot at the Oscar and if Fahrenheit 9/11 was entered it was absolutely bound to win. In fact, the real reason was to maximize its chances of winning Best Picture. He figured that if it wasn't eligible for Best Documentary, it would definitely get nominated in the more prestigious Best Picture category.

Alas, his gamble hasn't paid off. Poor Michael Moore. First he fails to get his candidate into the White House, and now this! He'll have to leave the country. Let's just hope he doesn't end up here.

PLASTIC FANTASTIC?

I was sorry to read that the number of people having plastic surgery in Britain rose by 50 per cent last year. The majority of these operations were carried out on women, but amongst men the rise is even steeper, with the number increasing by 61 percent. The most popular procedures for men, apparently, are nose jobs and ear-pinning.

Anyone doubting the wisdom of abstaining from plastic surgery need only compare Germaine Greer and Jackie Stallone in the recent series of Celebrity Big Brother. Germaine's face is a thing of beauty, full of character and wisdom, while Jackie Stallone looks like a burns victim standing in a wind tunnel.

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