AARP relationship experts Dr. Pepper Schwartz and Michael Castleman examine the up- and downsides of granting a mate a free ticket to sexual adventure — with someone else.
Dr. Pepper Schwartz:
I was flipping channels the other night when I came across the nearly unwatchable Hall Pass (2011), a simpleminded movie with an even simpler premise: When the partners in a long-term marriage get sexually antsy, they start fantasizing — seriously fantasizing — about strangers.
And they become obsessed with the question, “Will I ever have sex with anyone but my wife/husband before I die?”
Two suburban dads, Rick and Fred (played by Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis), get the chance to find out when their wives, Maggie and Grace (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate), grant them a once-in-a-marriage “hall pass” — a weeklong free ticket to sexual adventure. Their rationale seems to be that a lighthearted fling might forestall an actual affair. Also implied is the notion that a good marriage should be able to withstand this sort of sexual generosity.
What do I think? I think they’re playing with fire.
No matter how casual its immediate lustful attraction, sex often develops into an emotional bond — one that could threaten the original couple. I also believe that most people are way more territorial than they let on. They can easily imagine themselves handling a free night out, but it’s nearly impossible for them to visualize their partner in the throes of passion with someone else.
“Let’s be honest here,” you might reasonably say. “Lots of people have a sexcapade without their partner discovering it. Wouldn’t it be more honest — more respectful — to be open with each other?”
Um, no. Toby Keith summed it up nicely when he wrote, “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” His line gets at the truism that secrets may be a good thing: Even if both parties agreed to the experiment ahead of time, learning what happened in the sex lab can haunt one or both spouses so much that it destroys the relationship. Isn’t that what nearly scuttled Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore’s marriage in Indecent Proposal? (Your own hall pass, of course, is unlikely to feature a million-dollar proposition from Robert Redford.)
So consider the potential emotional fallout from getting, or granting, a hall pass of your own: Regardless of what the two of you consent to in advance, you could easily find yourselves unable to handle the emotional wreckage of your own hearts.