Molly Roden Winter, MORE: A Memoir of Open Marriage

Molly Roden Winter, MORE: A Memoir of Open Marriage

Zibby is joined by debut author Molly Roden Winter to discuss MORE, an electric, intimate, and unputdownable memoir of love, desire, motherhood, and self-fulfillment that follows a happily married mother as she explores sex and relationships outside her marriage. Molly describes the intimate details of her unconventional journey into an open marriage and then delves into how she has grappled with societal expectations and judgments, family commitments, personal desires, and honoring her most authentic self. As she shares moments of vulnerability, heartbreak, and growth, you’ll undoubtedly reflect on your own perceptions of love and marriage.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Molly. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss More: A Memoir of Open Marriage.

Molly Roden Winter: Thank you for having me.

Zibby: It’s my pleasure. I have to say, I was reading this, I could not put this book down. I was reading one Sunday as my husband is watching all this football. He looked over kind of annoyed. He was like, “Oh, yeah? How is that book?”

Molly: A lot of conversations, I think, are going to start as a result of this book. Conversations go a long way, I have to say.

Zibby: Then this weekend, I showed him — I was like, “Remember when I was just reading this book? Now look, it’s in The New York Times. See? It’s a big deal, this book. I’m not just looking for an open marriage.” If I was, that would be fine. No judgement. I’m just saying I don’t happen to be looking for that with him. He was like, “Oh, look at that.”

Molly: I’m glad you said that because it’s really important to me that I convey to folks that I am not proselytizing. I don’t think all we need in this world is if everybody were polyamorous. That is not my message here. I’m glad that you felt like it spoke to you even without being, necessarily, interested in non-monogamy.

Zibby: There is so much in your story simply about motherhood and desire and trying to marry those two aspects of yourself. How do we preserve our marriages and ourselves and our kids? It’s such a mishmash. Even though you have opted for this path that not everybody opts for, the way and the decision-making and the day-to-day is so familiar that I feel like so many people will feel themselves in the story.

Molly: That’s my hope. It’s true. I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned on this path is that there are disparate parts of myself. Sometimes I describe it as, there’s this mom suit that we’re supposed to put on as if it’s one size fits all. You find yourself loping off an arm or trying to hold in your gut because it doesn’t quite fit and not really being able to breathe. I’m just trying to challenge this idea that we have to look and act in a very particular way in order to be a good mother. I don’t think that’s true.

Zibby: Truth be told, if we weren’t having sex, we wouldn’t have the kids to begin with.

Molly: It reminds me of when my mother — my mother was a teacher also. I was a teacher for about fifteen years too. I’m a teacher for at least five of the years that I’m talking about in More. My mother didn’t get any days off for having a baby. I was born in 1972, my sister in ’69. She was able to get a few days paid because she had the flu when she delivered me. Otherwise, there were no — this is for a school. I always think of these things. We pretend like teachers matter and mothers matter, but we don’t give any support. We’re mothers because we have had sex. As my son said when he first found out how babies were made when he was about six or seven, he said, “Wait a minute. You did that?” I was like, “Yeah. Twice.” It was kind of like, yeah, I did it twice. Now we have very different conversations. At the time, I would only confess to twice.

Zibby: I told my younger kids not so long ago. They were like, “Wait, are you going to be doing that when we come into your room?” I’m like, “No, you’ve never seen that happen.” Then they’ll FaceTime me when they’re at their dad’s. My little guy, he’s nine now. He would call and be like, “Are you having sex?” I was like, “No, I’m not having sex. It’s fine. We can just talk.”

Molly: I think that’s great, Zibby. I think it’s great even that they know that these aren’t virgin births. We are actually whole people with bodies. Now that my children are adults, they have talked to me about some of the questions and concerns that have come up with sexuality and sex. I think it’s largely because they know I’m not a pearl clutcher. They know I’m not going to freak out about having sex. I know it’s normal. I know it’s healthy. I know there are healthier ways to do it than a lot of the things I was doing that I talk about in the book. I feel like I kind of went through my adolescence in my forties because I didn’t really have very rebellious teen years. I’d much rather have my kids talk to me about things than to walk around feeling like they have to be ashamed of whatever it is they’re doing and hide the truth of their humanity from me.

Zibby: Your love for your kids comes through so strongly. That scene when you’re leaning against the wall with the suitcase between your legs and itching yourself and your son is like, “What? You’re in an open marriage. We found Dad on OkCupid.” — Then when you realized that it didn’t even occur to him that you would also be pursuing other partners, oh, my gosh. You were like, what do I tell him? Your adorable, supportive husband who was like, “It’s okay. Do you want me to help?” oh, my gosh, that scene. How old are your kids now? I feel like they’re frozen in time in this book.

Molly: Almost twenty-two and nineteen.

Zibby: How do they feel about the book?

Molly: They’re very supportive of me. My oldest read it. My youngest did not. He is away at college right now, my youngest. He was very cute. He said, “Mom, I have to tell you something.” He was like, “Don’t be mad. I checked the campus bookstore. They don’t have your book, and I’m really happy about it.” I was like, “I am not mad. I am actually really happy. I would be shocked if it were at the campus –” Maybe not shocked. You’re not actually the target market, honey, so it’s fine.

Zibby: Although, I’m annoyed on your behalf that it’s not. You have a connection to that school. You should be represented.

Molly: That’s all right. I’m trying to steer clear of that whole vicinity while the dust settles. It’s something that’s also very important to me with my children, that their path is their path, and my path is mine. That’s something that comes up in the book with my mother’s journey and my own.

Zibby: I loved your mother’s journey. How is your mom?

Molly: She’s doing well. Thanks. She’s in a wheelchair now permanently. I shouldn’t say permanently. She can get herself up and down. Actually, the wheelchair has given her a lot more independence. She’s able to get herself places and is not falling over, which was the main problem, falling and breaking things. She’s doing great. My parents are actually having a pretty good time with the book. My hometown paper in Evanston, Illinois, is running a review today. I’m there tomorrow. I’m going back to Chicago for a reading on Wednesday. I’m doing some signings at a bookstore in Evanston. They’re excited. It’s really sweet how everybody’s been. They were nervous. They sometimes still get nervous. It’s a lot. They believe the same things I believe. My values are very much in line with theirs about what this book really is about.

Zibby: Actually, maybe we should back up. I was so excited to jump in and talk to you about so many parts of this book. Maybe you should describe the book for people who are like, what are they talking about?

Molly: What are we talking about? Oh, my gosh. The book pretty much tells the story of the first ten years of my open marriage. I got married in 1999. I had had very few partners. I was very young for high school. I went to college at sixteen. I had the same boyfriend for four and a half years. Then when we broke up, the first person I started dating was my husband. That was not my plan, but I just fell for him. He had said to me before we got engaged that, “If you want to sleep with someone else, you can.” He actually predicted that I would want to. He’s five years older. He had been dating a lot. He was living in New York, living the single life throughout his twenties. The fact that I was kind of wide-eyed, he said, “I think you’re going to want to sleep with someone else eventually. That’s okay. Just, you have to tell me.” He’s a little turned on by that. There’s a little frisson for him, but I don’t feel the same way. I do not get turned on by the idea of him with another person even now. That idea was planted. I thought, oh, no, I’m never going to want to do that. Lo and behold, when my children were little and I was just about at the end of my rope, I walked out of the house one night and met a friend who took me to a bar. I met someone who — I was shocked at the feeling of desire that just poured through me. I told my husband about it. Long story short, he said, “Go for it.” That was the beginning more than the end.

Zibby: Actually, not only it sounds like is it not a turn-on when your husband is with someone else, but you had a lot of scenes where you would cry. I think you had one scene where your legs buckled. You collapsed just thinking about him with someone else, even though it was okay for you to be with someone else. He was like, “What? We agreed on this,” basically. There was that visceral reaction of, no, no, no.

Molly: What I’ve learned both through experience — at first, it was just through books like The Ethical Slut or things like that. What that feeling was was fear that I was going to lose him and deep insecurity about how loveable I was, really, and the feeling that maybe love is a scare resource. Maybe if he loves somebody else, he can’t love me as much or can’t love me at all. It was a fear that took me probably close to ten years, the length of the book, to feel in my body differently. It’s partly why I told the book the way I did. My first draft, I thought was just genius, but it was not. I got rejected by about fifty agents. They say don’t send it to fifty agents. Send it to five, and then you’ll get some feedback. I was like, oh, no, no, this is too good. I don’t want to deprive the world of this. Just one no after another. I realized what I had done is I had written a book of essays, basically, all of which began something like, I’m fine now, don’t worry about me, but back in the day, this is what happened.

I was doing too much from my current sensibility and my current vantage point. Nobody would quite buy it. Nobody would believe me when I said, no, I’m actually not jealous anymore. I wouldn’t have believed it. My agent who eventually signed me kept making me start over. Ultimately, where I landed was writing it in the present tense. That’s when I got it. That’s when I got the voice that I needed, which was an embodied younger self. I needed to be that thirty-six or thirty-seven-year-old with the legs buckling, the nausea. I had to relive that in order to trace the evolution of what happened to me. Now I’m fifty-one. That thirty-seven-year-old self, I have so much compassion for. My twenty-year-old self, my six-year-old self, I have so much compassion for all of them. They were all very different in so many ways. What you were starting out saying, Zibby, about all these disparate parts of ourselves as mothers, how do we integrate them? How do we integrate them into a whole that is probably going to serve our children a lot better in the long run?

Zibby: Yes. How do we all survive those earlier years? My marriage ended. I ended up getting remarried to my tennis pro. I’ve written about this, so it’s public. There was a sneaking-around period, which I actually just wrote about, before everybody knew. I was already separated, but the kids didn’t know. All the friends didn’t know. It was like, oh, my gosh, what am I doing? How am I in a hotel room? It’s crazy. Now I’m at pick-up, and it’s like, oh, yeah, my day was fine. It was a long time ago now. Just even going through that, that’s not what you’re supposed to be doing while the kids are at school.

Molly: Or maybe it is. I don’t know.

Zibby: Or maybe it is.

Molly: It’s different for different people. I think it’s about giving yourself that freedom to be curious about yourself and to say, whoa, there is a part of me that wants to do this. Let me ask some more questions about it instead of just shutting it down as fast as I can. Maybe it’s going to take one form or another. Not necessarily hotels and sneaking. Maybe it’s going to be writing a book. I didn’t think I could write a book either, and look at me now.

Zibby: It doesn’t have to be in this way. I do feel that while you are in the thick of it with kids, without some sort of outlet, you can just go crazy. There needs to be something, whether it’s working out or talking to a friend or starting an open marriage or whatever it is. You have to have something. Reading. Just some outlet.

Molly: Something that’s yours and yours only in which your spirit can be free.

Zibby: Yes, you said that very well.

Molly: The working out, I tried to do that. I don’t think this scene made it into the book. When my kids were little, I hurt my hip. Oh, I know what it was. I had the bright idea that the thing I was going to do to be free was to run a half marathon. I did. It was really exciting, but I injured myself pretty badly. I had hip issues for years afterwards. I was doing my physical therapy exercises at night when I watched TV. Then my physical therapist said, “Actually, I think that’s really messing up your alignment. You need to turn off the TV and really focus.” The next night, I was doing my exercises and just started to sob because I was like, this is my me time. This is what it’s come to. My me time is doing my hip exercises because I tried to do something for myself and run. It was just too much. It was too pathetic. We do, we need something. It’s not always going to be to run at breakneck speed. Maybe for some people that does work out. For me, it was not a great idea to start running in my mid-thirties.

Zibby: I’ve had many a physical therapist over the last decade or so. I’m like, this is why I don’t ski. It’s too much.

Molly: This is why I don’t…fill in the blank.

Zibby: Exactly. It’s not worth it. It’s not worth it. Then I’m like, I’m not going to do those exercises. They’re like, it’s not going to take you that long. I’m like, you know what? I’d rather write another book than do a toe raise in the shower. I don’t know why, but that’s just the way it is.

Molly: I am with you. I am with you, yes. Oh, my god.

Zibby: The relationships that you write about in the book — I also, by the way, found myself getting so worried about you because you just don’t know who these people are. I know that there were some situations that were a little sketchier than others. How do you even handle that now? How do you make sure you’re okay?

Molly: You weren’t the only one to be worried about me. My friends were worried about me. I was worried about me, to be frank. At this stage, I’m not on dating apps anymore. I have one partner that I’ve been with for three years-plus. It’s funny, sometimes people, they’ll be someone who, they kind of are out of my life for a little while, often because sometimes they’re younger and they’re having children. I’m very understanding of that. I want all my partners to be very good partners to their wives. I like to say I am a big champion of the wives. My partners’ wives love me because I am the one saying, no, I’m not going out with you. You need to go home. What are you doing? I’ve always got their back. There was a guy who messaged me on one of the dating apps years ago and was telling me that they had just opened their marriage about a year ago. Now his wife was pregnant. She said it was fine if he kept — I was like, no, no, no, that is not fine. There is no piece of that that is fine. Even if she says it’s fine, I don’t think it’s fine. I was like, if you can find someone else, good for you. My advice is to close the marriage for at least two years and pay attention to each other. He wrote me again two years later and was like, that was the best advice you could’ve give me. Duh, but still.

Zibby: He’s like, but the two years are now up, so here I am.

Molly: Right. I was like, still not interested.

Zibby: One of the things that was so unique in this book, too, is that when you went through heartbreak, it was your husband comforting you. That is such a unique thing to read about, to go through. It’s just so wonderful. Talk about that.

Molly: I know. Now I’m able to do it for him too. We’ve both been through some heartbreak. It’s been a lot of years now. It’s been a solid fifteen years. I’ve had my heart broken more than once, and so has he. It’s a different kind of feeling, too, now that we can really connect with each other around it. My mother is the other person I can talk to. Nobody would believe it unless I wrote about it in a way that really showed all the turning points and moments of evolution. The idea that I break up with a guy outside of my marriage and the two people I need to talk to are my mom and my husband, come on, but it’s true. They love me. They want me to be happy. It is a beautiful, amazing thing. There’s a magic to it too. I don’t even know how I can describe it except to say I think what happens is that — my mother has had this feeling. She has been in love with someone else and loved my father at the same time. My husband has had that, loving more than one person at the time. Now I’ve had it.

Once you kind of know what that feeling is, it doesn’t feel threatening anymore because you realize this is not a game of scarcity and zero-sum where, oh, thank god she’s gone, so now you can love me more. No. She’s gone. Now you’re going to be really sad for a while. I’m so sorry. I want my partner to be with people who make him happy, not people who he’s glad to be rid of. It reminds me a little bit of some of the tropes around mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws as if there’s this competition. When you see it done through central casting or something in a sitcom where the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law are very in competition, I think of Charlotte from Sex and the City or something like that. There’s something very dysfunctional about that. If you both love the same person, don’t you want them to have love? I want my boys to find amazing partners that they love, and hopefully love more than me. If I loved my dad more than I loved my husband right now, there would be something — I love my dad, but it’s a different love.

Zibby: I feel like that’s what you outline, too, in the book. It’s not about more or less. It’s not coming from the same vertical test tube of love. There are just so many. You talk about how with friends, you’re not like, oh, I have a really good friend, so I can’t have this other really good friend. You can have as many really good friends as you need. Maybe one’s from college. One’s from high school. They all feed different parts of your soul. That’s okay. You can’t run out of love.

Molly: Right, and for children too. I make that comparison as well. I don’t know if you experienced this, but I had a moment of paralyzing fear when I had to get induced for both my children. I was leaving for the hospital to have my second child. I was just like, how am I going to do this? I was just filled with love for my first child. I’m like, oh, no, I’m leaving you for two days to go cheat on you with another baby. That’s kind of the way it felt. My father actually said to me that day — they were staying with my oldest when I went to the hospital. He said, “You are giving him the greatest gift in the world. You’re giving him a brother.” I was like, that’s nice. It’s just a different way to look at love.

Zibby: I remember feeling so guilty being like, I have to leave, go to the hospital, have your sibling. I felt so bad.

Molly: Isn’t that funny?

Zibby: We can feel guilty over the craziest stuff.

Molly: We really can. If there’s not enough that’s guilt inducing, we will find something.

Zibby: Yeah, like adding to the planet .

Molly: Oh, no, I had a baby. Oh, no, I’m having a baby.

Zibby: I’m sorry I was gone for three days that you’ll never remember.

Molly: So true.

Zibby: Do you worry about being judged?

Molly: I’ll be honest. Some of the comments in New York Times article or other media that’s come out, I told myself I wouldn’t look, but then I might peak a little. I might feel a little, . Ultimately, not really, though. I feel like I’m at a time in my life and just a sense of self that I have now that doesn’t feel very vulnerable to random opinions. If someone in my life is upset about something I’ve written — that has happened. I take that very seriously and make sure we talk about it. So far, so good. A couple people have been upset and have talked to me. We’re good now. Ultimately, I’ve found that it can be a very healing thing. I’ll give an example too. My aunt, who is the one who told me about my parents — I write about it in the book. She hadn’t read the book yet. I saw her at Christmas. She was like, “Well, now I’m going to be immortalized as a blabbermouth.” I talked to her about it. I was like, “I’m so glad you told me because I don’t think my mother ever would have.” I needed to know. It has been such an important part of my relationship with my mother. It’s affected the whole trajectory of my life in a way that feels really meaningful.

People might judge me. That’s okay. I’m putting myself out there not for the purposes of self-aggrandizement. If I were, I wouldn’t have written a lot of the things I wrote. I tried to show all of the ugly underbelly of these years in a way that was as honest as I could make it because I wanted to make sure — I was seeing a lot about open marriage that either seemed — it was going in one of two ways. One was, we tried it, it didn’t work, or it was, I think we were just born polyamorous. This has been just so easy and lovely. I feel great. Neither of those felt like me. I felt like it is possible. For me, it has been worth it, but it is really hard. I wanted to show that. That wasn’t anywhere else. In order to do that, I knew I was going to invite some criticism. I have so much love in my life, my friends, my family. I haven’t lost a single relationship I care about because of this book. More than anything, people are just coming out of the woodwork to say how much they loved the book or how supportive they are.

Zibby: I’m very happy to hear that. Memoir is a genre I love because you get in there with someone in a way that you wouldn’t in a conversation, even an intimate conversation, all the details. Tons of editing to make it a beautiful book, but not censoring out the unflattering bits or all of that. That’s what makes memoir so great. It’s seeing the whole thing. You really let us in. That is so generous of you to do. I loved it. It’s really awesome. You’re awesome. You’re just such a rockstar.

Molly: You’re awesome too.

Zibby: Thank you.

Molly: I hope we can do this again sometime.

Zibby: Yeah, let’s do something else. This is so fun.

Molly: I’m coming to your bookstore in Santa Monica on February 1st.

Zibby: Oh, yay. Great. I’m not going to be there, but good. I’m so glad you’re going. Excellent. We’ll meet up in person or do another event or something. Congratulations.

Molly: Perfect. I hope so. Thank you, Zibby. I appreciate it.

Zibby: Bye.

Molly: Bye.

Molly Roden Winter, MORE: A Memoir of Open Marriage

MORE: A Memoir of Open Marriage by Molly Roden Winter

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