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July 4, 2024 64 mins

When Molly’s secret longings and buried desires become the basis of her marriage, she must decide how—and how much—to disclose. To her husband, her children, and herself.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Family Secrets is a production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 2 (00:06):
There comes a time when what you feared simply happens.
I've dreaded this moment for seven years, or maybe longer.
Maybe I've dreaded it ever since Daniel was born, and
I realized that my child would one day grow up
and see me with a critical eye, would know who
I really am. But such a thing never happens in

(00:29):
just a day. Falling from grace can take a while.
It took many years for me to see my own
mother as a flawed, flesh and blood woman, a sexual
and spiritual being with needs of her own that sometimes
ran counter to those of her child, and in the
split second it takes to decide what to say next
to Daniel, whether to tell the truth or a lie.

(00:52):
I think of my mother. I wonder if she'd do
it all differently now, I wonder if I'd do it
differently too.

Speaker 3 (01:04):
That's Molly Rodent Winter, a former school teacher, writer, wife,
and mom who lives with her family in Brooklyn. She's
the author of the recently published More, a memoir of
open marriage. Mollie's is a story about desire and the
profound risks and potential rewards we face when we confront

(01:26):
and give voice to our own secret longings. I'm Danny Shapiro,
and this is family secrets, the secrets that are kept

(01:47):
from us, the secrets we keep from others, and the
secrets we keep from ourselves.

Speaker 2 (02:00):
Up in Evanston, Illinois, which is a suburb of Chicago,
my father taught history at the local high school and
my mother taught English, and so growing up my parents
had teaching schedules, which meant they had summers free. I

(02:21):
have an older sister and my parents the year that
my sister was born, they bought a piece of property
up in Wisconsin with my dad's first royalty check for
a history textbook he co wrote. In the summers, we
would often go up to this place in Wisconsin, which
became an important kind of haven for me in some ways,

(02:43):
although it was also very It was very rustic. There
was no hot water, no heat, no indoor bathroom. We
occasionally went in the dead of winter, when it was
pretty crazy to be there, I thought. But my grandparents
would frequently be up there with us, and once in
a while, my parents, especially my dad, would go up
by himself. You know, My childhood was in many ways,

(03:06):
very similar I think to a lot of suburban childhoods
in the seventies and eighties, where we didn't have tons
of parental supervision. There were a bunch of kids and
particularly girls, who lived on my block in Evanston and
just kind of ran around and did our thing. And
I read a lot too, and I didn't have someone

(03:27):
to play with. I was obsessed with Laura Ingleswilder. I
wanted to be a teacher. My mother was a teacher,
my father was a teacher, and Laura Ingles Wilder was
a teacher. My sister was three and a half years older,
so she was often my babysitter, even when maybe I
was seven or eight and she was ten or eleven,
because there was always the neighbor across the street, or

(03:50):
we didn't have you know, we had some teenage babysitters
from the block as well. But my sister was my
main source of tension, and it was a pretty man
major source of tension in our family. My mother and
my sister clashed a lot, and I often felt like

(04:10):
it was my job to be extra extra good to
kind of make up for my sister being bad. She
was kind of pure shadow and I saw myself as
needing to be pure light in order to balance out
the scene.

Speaker 3 (04:30):
So that was very formative, right.

Speaker 2 (04:33):
Very formative. Yes, you know, my sister was the focal
point of a lot of my parents worry and concern,
so I aimed to be the opposite, and therefore studied
and you know, played piano and did all the things
I could think of to be good. I kind of

(04:55):
leap frogged through the suburban elementary school curriculm. So I
ended up skipping fourth grade, which put me closer in
school to my sister. So we were in the same
middle school when I was in sixth grade and she
was in eighth grade. And I think that was hard
for her in some ways because I kept shining, you know,

(05:16):
and I wanted to make her like me too. But
I'm sure it was just insufferable for her because she
was having so much kind of self loathing at the time,
and here I was this terribly competent, cheery little thing
that was just her opposite in every way. And that

(05:37):
was partly by design. I wanted to be her opposite.
She scared me, She drank and she smoked, and she
had boyfriends.

Speaker 3 (05:43):
So did that continue to dog you that sense of
needing to be, you know, the perfect one or the
good one. After you left home, did that kind of
did you carry that with you?

Speaker 2 (05:55):
I did. When I was a senior in high school,
my sister had gotten pregnant after her freshman year of
college and dropped out and decided to keep the baby,
and she came back to Evanstone with a child. So
when I was sixteen, I left home and she kind

(06:15):
of came back. She didn't live with my parents, but
my parents helped her quite a bit with her son.
And that formed me more than I realized at the
time in terms of I think I had a pretty
strong year of sex. I equated it with pregnancy and
having to you know, not go to college and everything

(06:40):
kind of stopping. So again, in an effort to be different,
I held onto my virginity as long as I could.
I didn't lose my virginity till I was almost nineteen,
which you know, at the time, I felt like every
single one of my friends had already had sex, and
so I was very I was not a sexually promiscuous teen,

(07:02):
quite the opposite. In college, I did start to kind
of flex a little bit in terms of going to parties,
you know, drinking, and I probably went a little crazy
Compared to some of what people might experiment with in
high school. I was just so much younger that it
didn't occur to me. I didn't have the urges and

(07:23):
the drive. But I also had been so carefully kind
of curating myself in opposition to my sister that it
wasn't until I felt kind of like I had my
own space when I was away at school that I
could even start to experiment with those things. The guy
I lost my virginity to we had sex, which was

(07:45):
very brief, in my dorm room, and then he broke
up with me the next week. Though that was not
a real relationship, even though it was the closest thing
I had ever had. I had sex with one other
guy after that to try to convince myself that didn't matter.
And then I started dating someone who had been a

(08:06):
friend of mine in college, and we dated for four
and a half years, and I spent my time trying
to figure out what I should do to make him impressed.
You know, he was going away to Zimbabwe after college,
and so I went to Costa Rica to teach English.
My father had been in the Peace Corps, so I
knew in Nigeria, and I knew this was a way

(08:28):
that I could get their approval and admiration. My college
boyfriend was quite a bit like my father, and it
didn't work out very well. I kind of had a
nervous breakdown month one. I was very, very lonely and
culture shocked, and I ended up leaving the program that
I had joined and feeling like a huge failure for

(08:50):
years and years afterwards because I hadn't been able to
cut it the way my father had or the way
my college boyfriend had. So the people pleasing ran deep
and included, and I think really manifested out of a
lack of clarity over who I was when I wasn't
in some kind of role as daughter, as girlfriend, as sister.

(09:15):
I define myself almost always, as far back as I
can remember, in terms of other people. When we broke up,
you know, it was early twenty stuff and not exactly
high drama, but it felt like highdrama at the time,
I consess to him, and I didn't even realize it
until I was bawling my eyes out and we were

(09:35):
breaking up, and I told him that I didn't feel
like I was myself with him most of the time,
and this concession came out of me before I even
had processed it, and I realized, it's this people pleasing
tendency which I have, since you know, very recently seen
reframed as self abandonment, which I think is a really

(09:59):
good reframe, a very true reframe that I had spent
so much of my life trying to figure out how
to please pretty much my parents, to make their lives
easier and also to get noticed in some way, that

(10:20):
it just carried over right away to this boyfriend. So
it was after I broke up with that college boyfriend
that I met my husband. When I was twenty three
years old. Stuart and I met at my best friend's
twenty fifth birthday party and I was still with my
college boyfriend. Stuart was with his girlfriend at the time,

(10:43):
and I found Stuart completely obnoxious. You know, I found
out leader that he liked me. He wasn't with somebody
that he was very serious about. And Stuart had been
a stand up comedian he started in high school and
did it all through college and let it go after college.
But was very funny, but he had this kind of

(11:06):
shtick that he would put on and I found out later,
you know, it's like nerves for him. He was much
funnier to me once we were one on one. So
my friend told me that he was interested in me,
but she didn't tell me that until after I had
broken up with my boyfriend about three or four months later,

(11:26):
and Stewart started asking my friend about you know, hey,
can I ask him Molly out? Can I ask Molly out?
And she was like fending him off on my behap,
saying like her heart is broken, No, she's not available,
you know, you can't ask her out. But he was
very persistent. He was so eager to take me out.

(11:47):
And this was just this just felt so new. First
of all, that I was being pursued like this. I
had always felt like my college boyfriend was out of
my lee cues, very tall and kind of classic, handsome
and spoke French, and he was a great tennis player,
just kind of did it all. And Stuart was different.

(12:11):
He was balding and wore pleaded pants, and I hadn't
really seen him as attractive. And one of the very
interesting things that happened on our first date was that
I felt super attracted to him. And this is kind
of a big realization for me. Also that like I

(12:31):
thought I had a type, but I realized I didn't,
And he had a way about him that was so engaging,
and he listened to me, he found me funny. That
might have been the most exciting thing about being with him.
I felt like I could be completely myself. He made
me feel so comfortable and we just really connected. From

(12:57):
word go and a second date that I had with him,
I was already thinking, like, I think I might be
in love with him. I think I could marry him,
you know what I mean. It was it threw me
for a loop because my plan was to kind of
sew my oats for a little while, because I hadn't
ever done that. I'd had this boyfriend for four years,

(13:18):
and then Stuart just really swept me off my feet.
My mother asked me a question when I was first
telling her about Stuart. She said, how do you feel
about yourself when you're with him? And I said, I
feel amazing and she was like, that's good, you know.

(13:40):
So I was like, and that's what I kind of realized,
how terrible I'd been feeling about myself with my college boyfriend.
How I kept trying to kind of twist myself into
Notts to be who he wanted me to be, and
I felt like I never quite figured it out. But
with Stuart, I felt like, Oh, I can just be
me and he's into me, you know, in a way

(14:00):
that felt so amazing.

Speaker 3 (14:06):
Molly and Stuart have a powerful, positive connection. It feels safe,
and that safety feels exciting. Just as Mollie feels like
she can be fully herself with Stuart, he feels like
he can be fully himself with her. So Stuart starts
to tell Mollie about some of his sexual fantasies and

(14:27):
this becomes the catalyst for their sexual exploration together.

Speaker 2 (14:33):
Stuart told me that he liked the idea of me
with other men, and I, being the pleaser that I am,
wanted to oblige, you know. So we tried a few things.
We went to a sex club called Le Trapeze in

(14:56):
New York City and we went twice. You know, my
memory of it, I had to really excavate my memories
of it in order to write about it, because I
went to consult my journals, which I kept a journal
all through my twenties, and so I had the first
time we went to the sex club, and I wrote

(15:19):
about it as if it had been the best experience
I had ever had. My memory of it, though when
I by the time I consulted my journal, was that
it had been awful. So there was this strange disconnect,
and I think the truth was actually somewhere in between.
There were parts of it that I did like, but
it was mostly like getting the attention and pleasing Stuart.

(15:42):
I think that I liked and I didn't like the
anonymity of it at all. I don't know how well
I verbalized that. At the time I got married when
I was twenty six, so this must have been when
I was maybe twenty four. We went to the sex club,
and then we also before before we got married, had
a couple threesomes. One of them was with one of

(16:04):
Stuart's sex's girlfriends who was bisexual. And all of these
experiences didn't quite do it for me. Like I I
wasn't sure what it was, and I think I did
a lot of convincing myself that I did like things
because Stuart liked them, and I, you know, I hadn't

(16:25):
parsed out what parts of myself were for me and
what parts of myself were doing things for other people.
So it was somewhere in the midst of those experiences
because I was saying that I didn't really like the
Three Sums, but there was something about it that was titillating,

(16:46):
and so Stuart was willing to be like, Okay, we
don't have to do anymore right now, but he was like,
I think ten years from now, you're gonna want to
sleep with someone else that you know, you really He
knew I had not had money sexual exploration, and he
was I think part of why he was interested in

(17:06):
sex clubs and threesomes. Part of it was his own
you know, arousal titilation, but part of it was also recognizing,
you know, that we did have great sex and he
saw me as a sexual being. And he also had
had a whole decade of experimentation before we met. He's
five years older than I am, and he did not
have lots of long term girlfriends. He had a few,

(17:28):
but not, you know, never more than like a year
or so. So I didn't never have that period of exploration,
and I think Stuart intuited that that would be something
I would want, and so he said to me, I
have a feeling you're you're gonna want to sleep with
somebody else at some point, and just so you know,
it's okay with me, but I just want you to

(17:50):
tell me about it, And then telling him about it
was twofold. It was like he didn't want me to
lie and he wanted to let me know it wasn't
going to be a deal breaker, that the honesty part
is what would keep us solid, not me going away
from the marriage without his participation. I don't know, but

(18:10):
I didn't think I was ever going to want to.
I said to him, Oh, no, I'm never going to
want to do that. I was probably, you know, twenty
five at the time when he said that. And then
it was right around when I was thirty five that
things changed a little for me.

Speaker 3 (18:31):
We'll be right back in those intervening years, that decade
between twenty five and thirty five, something else happens. Mollie
and Stewart have two children, sons. The twentieth century feminist

(18:55):
author Kate Chopin once wrote, I would give my life
for my children, but I wouldn't give myself. This quote
resonates with Molly in the blur of early motherhood. She's
begun to feel like something's missing, and that's something is herself.

Speaker 2 (19:13):
Because of the fact that I hadn't ever done that
kind of deeper exploratory work before I had kids of
who the HECKU I was. And I think this is
true for a lot of women. I'm sure it was
true for my mother as well. I didn't know what
I was even losing. It almost felt like a failure

(19:37):
to launch, even more than a loss in some ways,
because I had it ever figured myself out. I had
just gone from pleasing one person to pleasing another person
to trying to be a good mother and a good

(19:58):
wife and a good daughter and a good friend. Like
this is actually something I haven't thought about for a
long time. But there were a number of years where
I would say a prayer every night and I basically
prayed to be guided to being a good and this

(20:21):
was always the order a good mother, a good wife, daughter,
a good friend. And I don't even know exactly when
I stopped doing that, but it was it was years
that I that that's how I kind of went to
sleep every night with that wish on my lip, and

(20:41):
of course, like, what does that mean? What does that
look like? And there really isn't a lot of room
for selthhood. If that's what you're all of your kind
of emotional energy as being driven towards you know, how
can I be good in these to these people I love?

Speaker 3 (21:03):
Do you think your mother had a similar litany in
her mind about her own goodness?

Speaker 2 (21:09):
I absolutely think that she did, you know, without knowing,
I know that she did. And I think I am
very like my mother. Some of it maybe is genetic,
and some of it may be because I tried so
hard to kind of model myself after her when I

(21:31):
was a kid. My mother struck me as kind of
uncomplicated goodness. When I was young, I saw my mother
working really hard always to be a good teacher, a
good mother, a good wife, and a good person. She

(21:53):
was also very much on a spiritual quest. She was
very drawn to East Asian traditions, and she practiced tai
chi in our living room. She started to do aiketo.
I started going to the aikito dojo with her when

(22:16):
I was probably seven or eight years old. Because my
parents were very busy, it was a good way to
spend time with them was to attach yourself to one
of their interests. So I was doing aikito with my
mom and then eventually followed her into mahakari, which was

(22:41):
her spiritual practice that involved giving and receiving divine light.
I joined when I was ten years old because she
told me that it would make her the happiest mother
in the world if I would join. My sister would
never have join, and she did not want to do
anything my mom was doing. So I, as a good girl,

(23:04):
took it upon myself to be her partner in this
in the family, and so it involved my going to
a dojo, my taking four day ceremony kind of initiation.
It was kind of a major activity for me and
my mother. I quit when I was twelve, and it

(23:25):
was kind of the first act of rebellion against my
mother ever I had ever done, to say I didn't
want to go to mahakari anymore.

Speaker 3 (23:33):
And do you know why you didn't want to go anymore?

Speaker 2 (23:36):
It was weird, you know. As a middle schooler, it
was boring too. It was a lot of hours of
listening to people talk about things that I could understand
but it wasn't of interest to me, and a lot
of sitting with your eyes closed, and it was kind

(23:57):
of a sedentary boring activity that none of my friends had.
You know it, people looked at me funny if I
talked about it. So one of my secrets. I didn't
want anybody to know that we did this weird thing at.

Speaker 3 (24:12):
Home one night when the boys are young, Daniel six
and Nate is a toddler. Stuart gets home a bit
later than expected, and in a moment of fraught chaotic domesticity,
Mollie feels trapped and busts out. She leaves the house
says she's going out to get some air Stuart can

(24:34):
take over. Out on the street in Brooklyn, she runs
into an old work colleague, Kayla, who's on her way
to a bar to meet some friends. Kayla invites Molly
to tag along. Mollie doesn't have her phone or her wallet,
but Kayla convinces her to come anyway. She'll buy her
a glass of wine.

Speaker 2 (24:52):
It was all kind of surrealed, all of a sudden,
I have been, you know, kind of wrapped up in
the life of a single person. You know, this friend
of mine pulled me into this, into this other world.
It felt like because I had moved to Brooklyn ten
days before my first child was born, I had never
been single in Brooklyn. I had lived on the Upper

(25:15):
West Side for five years prior, and that's where Stuart
and I lived before we had kids. So there's this
bar that was kind of famous, the Gate, and I'd
walked by it a bunch of times, but I'd go
in with her and it just felt so good for
one to just be in this bar atmosphere that I

(25:35):
hadn't really allowed myself to do since having kids then
six years at that point. And there was a guy there,
one of her friends who I it was like I
got hit by like a lightning bolt of desire and
it shocked me. You know. It's that kind of like

(25:57):
butterflies in the stomach, but it's also sort in your
growing kind of feeling like oh my, you know. And
I couldn't have felt less sexy. When I walked out
of the house, right, I was literally in like jeans
and a hoodie, which is kind of my mom uniform,
not wearing makeup, nothing. But this guy and I like

(26:21):
we hit it off, you know, we were we had
banter and it was like fun, flirtatious and he ended
up buying my beer and at the end of this night,
you know, we exchanged numbers like old school style. I mean,
it was two thousand and eight, so I had a phone,

(26:42):
but I had it wasn't the kind of thing where
you would always even remember to bring your phone, so
I hadn't brought my phone with me, so it's like
it was literally like phone number on a on a
napkin kind of style. And then I went home. You know,
I was still kind of buzzing from this experience. When
I walked into the living room and saw the mess

(27:02):
of the kids and went in and checked on them.
It was kind of like it was kind of like, Okay,
now you're back in your real life. You know, that
was fun, but this is real life. And my husband
Stuart had seen my phone had a text, and you know,
we didn't There's nothing that I was ever hiding from him.

(27:24):
We could look at each other's phones without feeling like
we were snooping. So he told me, you know, this
guy Matt does texted you. I was like, what right?
And it became clear as we're talking about it that
Stuart knew that Matt was into me and was encouraging
me to act on this. And this was when I

(27:48):
kind of remembered that conversation we had had before we
got engaged where started said, if you ever went asleep
with somebody, just let me know. And here I was
in this moment, and it what was fascinating in retrospect
the moment, like I felt terrified, and there's something so

(28:08):
fascinating about that because I here I was, I had
had this fun flirtation. My husband was saying, go for it,
and my initial response was just terror. And I'm you know,
I can I can try to analyze myself from the

(28:29):
distance of sixteen years later why that was. But I
think it was just it was so unknown. It was
like this piece of me was coming to life that
I didn't even know she was there.

Speaker 3 (28:45):
You know.

Speaker 2 (28:46):
It was like having a like hosting another spirit or something.
It just felt so strange, and so I also didn't
know how on earth this new being within me could
live side by side with the mother in me. You know,
I didn't know how that was possible, and it felt

(29:10):
like it felt very dangerous. It felt like this is
not an itch you should scratch. But at the same time,
it was a really strong itch. And that's kind of
where it all began.

Speaker 3 (29:28):
Molly and Matt engage in a brief, sporadic flirtation, but
soon she shuts it down. That is, she shuts down
her communication with Matt. The feeling she's had of desire, curiosity,
and connection that isn't shutting down. It lingers, it haunts her.
But she's not sure what to do with this, so
she does nothing. It's an unnameable secret she's keeping from herself.

(29:54):
But then one day she gets an invitation to a
karaoke party and Matt's name is on the guest list.

Speaker 2 (30:01):
At the karaoke party, I saw mad again and we
ended up at the end of the night alone in
a karaoke room and we sang a song together and
he had he was standing behind me with his hands
on my hips. He was much taller, and it's like

(30:22):
chin on my head and it was just electric. It
wasn't you know, in terms of transgression. I mean he
he had a girlfriend, so it was definitely we're not
supposed to touch other people when we are in a relationship.

(30:42):
Like that is the beginning or maybe even several steps
along the line of what I think in our society
we call cheating, right, Like even like going out for
a drink could be considered cheating too, and we had
done that one early on and that's when I shut

(31:02):
it down. But there was a touch now that was
so impossible for me to ignore, and a moment where
I could have kissed him and I didn't. So when
I went back home that night Stuart, I had not
told Stuart. This is also, you know, like kind of

(31:23):
like the mini secret. I had not told Stuart that
Matt was going to be at this party, but Stuart
had figured it out, so when I confessed to him,
he was not at all surprised that it wasn't It
wasn't even something I needed to confess. That was part
of what was confusing to me is what did I
need to tell him and what did I not need
to tell him? In terms of the secret kept from myself,

(31:49):
one of the things that it took me a long
time to admit to myself is that I was doing
this for me, That my attraction to Matt and my
desire for him was not about my turning Stuart on.
Even though I knew that Stuart got turned on by

(32:09):
the idea of me with other guys. It was really
becoming clear to me that I didn't want to tell
him detailed I didn't want to tell Stuart details about
what had happened with Matt because that felt like it
was cheapening it. It felt like it wasn't mine anymore.
And this was one of the things that created a
lot of inner conflict for me, because here I was,

(32:31):
I had my husband's permission as long as I told
him everything, but I didn't want to tell him everything.
So it did feel like a little part of me
was still cheating even though I had his whole permission,
and that was something we had to navigate as we
moved forward.

Speaker 3 (32:54):
This is pretty confusing stuff. It's no wonder that Mollie
needs help navigating all her fears, including or perhaps especially,
the feelings she doesn't understand. So she starts therapy, and
soon her therapist helps her to identify some of the
secrets she's keeping from herself. Together with her therapist, Mollie

(33:14):
begins to realize that her interior life, her sense of
herself and her own worth, has been like a bucket
with a hole in it. No matter how full that
bucket becomes, it will continue to leak and leak. That
metaphorical bucket becomes part of Molly's inner construct.

Speaker 2 (33:34):
I think the way we were kind of talking about
it is how I could fill myself up. Actually I
wasn't filling myself up. I could let others fill me up.
Stewart or my children could make me feel good and
fill me with their love, but somehow it would leak

(33:56):
out the bottom and my bucket would end up again.

Speaker 3 (34:01):
So it's at this point that you start feeling compelled
to understand more about your parents' marriage and what really
went on in that idealized perfect you know, Ozzie and
Harriet existence. Yeah, and you go to your mother and

(34:25):
I guess you knew, or on some level you knew
that your mother had had an affair.

Speaker 2 (34:31):
Yeah. So when I was twenty eight, so I had
already been married for a couple of years, but not
yet a mother, my aunt, my mother's older sister, told
me that she had had an affair, and I was shocked.
I was pretty sure I knew who it was because

(34:52):
my mother's best friend when I was a kid, Jim,
seemed like a very strong candidate, and and my mother
had both joined Mahakari at around the same time. They
kind of were on there a spiritual quest together, and
both landed at Mahakari around the same time. It's my

(35:14):
memory of how it had happened. But then it took
me a year to actually even confront my mother about
the affair, as my aunt had called it, and my
mother also called it an affair. It was right after
my older son, Daniel was born, and Stuart's father was
in the hospital dying, and my mother came to help,

(35:37):
and it was you know, I think it almost had
to get to to a kind of critical stage where
life and death were kind of immediate. I didn't know
how to ask my mother this question. So here I
am a brand new mother. I've been hanging on to
this knowledge for a year that my mother had an affair.

(35:58):
And I just told her, I said, you know, I
know about your affair with Jim, like does dad know?
And she said it was your father's idea. And this
was after Stuart and I had done some of our explorations,
you know, the sex party and the three and things
like that. This was years before or six years before

(36:22):
I met Matt. So that conversation that I had with
my mother when she told me it was my dad's
idea to have an affair, we didn't go much further.
Than that, she just kind of mumbled something about, you know,
while I was a virgin when we got married, your
father thought it would give me confidence. And I was
in that new mom brain hays at my father in

(36:46):
law was dying, So it's all kind of cloudy what
that conversation was like, but I know it ended and
I did not bring it up again until I was
kind of in the throes of what was going on
with me and Matt, and that's when in therapy, my
therapist was like, I think you need to talk to
your mother about this, because there was such a clear,

(37:08):
you know, through line between her story and my story,
and it was something I was really nervous to talk
to her about.

Speaker 3 (37:22):
We'll be back in a moment with more family secrets.
With Stuart's consent, his words are go for it, Molly
and Matt begin a relationship. Stuart would also like to
embark on his own extracurricular exploration, so at this point

(37:45):
they decide to open their marriage. Mollie agrees to the arrangement,
but it sets off an intense emotional experience for her.
During this time, she wishes even more than before that
she could muster the courage to talk about all this
with her mother.

Speaker 2 (38:04):
Stuart slept with an ex girlfriend, was the first person
he slept with outside of the marriage with my permission.
I wasn't nearly as enthusiastic about him doing it as
he was about me doing it. But I was visiting
my parents with the kids the weekend that it happened

(38:24):
with Stuart, and I knew it was probably going to
happen that weekend, and I was in agony the whole weekend,
and I wanted to talk to my mother, but I
couldn't bring myself to do it. And that's one of
the really interesting things I think that here I am.
I know that my mother has had this situation and

(38:46):
it's similar to my situation, But why can't I talk
to her about it? And I really do think there
was shame for both of us. I didn't feel like
she ever really gave herself full permission to do to
be a sexual person. I feel like she kept it

(39:09):
under wraps because she didn't want anybody to know. My
father knew, and you know, she had told her older
sister and clearly, you know, definitely regretted it once your
sister had flapped it to me, And I think she
felt like it would also be misunderstood and seen as

(39:31):
maybe more salacious than it really was, or she didn't
want to be seen as this, you know, kind of
a sexual deviant. And I think I carried a lot
of that same shame that there was even though it
was something my mother had done, that there was something
just unsavory about it, and I was afraid to talk

(39:55):
about it. I didn't know how to talk about it.
You know, my relationship with Matt, we could even call
it a relationship as really really spased out over several years.
It wasn't like this was a constant weekly event. It
was kind of every six months or so we would
kind of hook up. But it was very fraught with drama.

Speaker 3 (40:19):
And there was a secret was in that as well,
which is that you were keeping the secret from Matt,
which was that Stuart was in full more than knowledge.
Stuart was almost a participant in that relationship, and that
you would share a lot of what went on with
Matt with Stuart and Stuart wanted you to, and it

(40:40):
turned Stuart on, and so it was part of your marriage.
And Matt also had a girlfriend who he was quote
unquote cheating on, who knew nothing about this, and he
assumed that the same was true for you with your husband.

Speaker 2 (40:58):
Yeah, and so I, you know, the fact that Stuart
knew about what I was doing, I felt would I
was afraid to tell Matt that too, because I thought
there would be I thought he would find it really weird,
you know. And it's so interesting now, Danny, that you know,

(41:21):
polyamory and ethical non monogamy are kind of coming away
from the fringes, because now it would be unthinkable to
me that I wouldn't be straightforward with somebody about being
in an open marriage. But at the time I didn't
even want to. I didn't know even to use that language.
It still felt deviant and strange and therefore something to

(41:46):
be a little ashamed of.

Speaker 3 (41:55):
Time and time again we see how secrecy and shame
can lead to some kind of crisis or conflagration. And
this is true of Molly and Matt's relationship, which spectacularly
flames out this by way of an impulsive and inflammatory
text message. Of all things.

Speaker 2 (42:16):
Stuart had left so that I could invite Matt over to,
you know, have a little tryst in our guest room,
and I ended up running to the kitchen to get
some water and to quickly text Stuart that Matt was there,
and I wanted to reassure Stuart, so I wrote him.
Still it still kind of gives me a little wave
of nausea to think about it, I texted, but don't worry,

(42:39):
he has nothing on you as a lover. And I
accidentally sent that text to Matt, not to Stuart. So yeah,
that's how Matt found out that Stuart knew and he
knew everything, and it did kind of that was the

(43:00):
And for me and Matt, there's so many secrets embedded
in that that I was keeping the secret of my
open marriage from the man I was being intimate with,
And that tells you right there how limited my intimacy
was outside of my marriage at that point. And the

(43:20):
story of More is kind of the story of me
opening myself up more and more and more in part
of it the exposure of the secrets or the kind
of crushing of the secretive part of what this was.
And it kind of culminates, of course, in the fact
that I've written a book about it. Now now there's

(43:42):
no more secrets for anybody, whether they wanted to keep
them or not.

Speaker 3 (43:46):
Yeah, I mean, it strikes me so much that your
story is more about the sort of eradicating of the
interior secrets. It's the interior secrets of the things that
you know we keep secret from ourselves become faceable by us.
Then it almost is inevitable that the outward facing secrets

(44:10):
are going to take care of themselves, because the only
reason why they're even there is because we don't really
know what's driving us. I mean, one of my favorite
quotes is from Carl Jung, and he wrote, until you
make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and
you will call it fate. At the end of Molly's

(44:32):
relationship with Matt, she decides on a new path. She
joins a dating app for married people called Ashley Madison.
Even the logo for the app itself advertises its commitment
to secrecy the lower half of a woman's face one
finger pressed to her lips. This leads Molly into several relationships,

(44:54):
increasingly pressing against an edge, it all becomes seedier, rougher,
pushing further and further away from her otherwise bourgeois life
as a wife and mom.

Speaker 2 (45:07):
This was me trying to do a couple of things.
I think, for one, I was really in escape mode,
I think escaping from my role as a mother and
trying to have an adventure that was just for me.

(45:30):
I think it was also me not realizing and this
is you know again about the unconscious or the conscious
staying unconscious. I think I was trying to get my
bucket filled. I think it was partly about me aging.
I was in my early forties at this time, and

(45:54):
as women were often told that once we're forty, were
kind of done, you know, like nobody's going to value
us or find us attractive anymore, and we're going to
dry up and it, you know, just the beginning of
the end. And so part of me felt like, oh,
if I'm ever going to have like a crazy sexual escapade,

(46:17):
i'd better do it now. I feel like I was
trying to live fully. You know. There's a line at
one point where I've had a kind of a very
what I consider now a very sad sexual experience at
the Sleep No More show, and I'm like, ah, I'm

(46:38):
really living. You know. It's like like I was thinking
that it had to be a seen from some sort
of showtime soft porn movie in order for it to
be exciting and liberating, right, I had. I just had
this really messed up idea of what sexual liberation looked like.

(47:01):
I thought I was being sexually liberated, but I was
just working myself deeper into the layer somehow of trying
to please and trying to seek myself through pleasing others.
It's just not how it works. And thank god I
was in therapy, or I never would have figured it out.

Speaker 3 (47:20):
And through the gaze of others, right like through new
eyes looking at you and saying you're beautiful, you know,
you're sexy, You're perfect. That is a kind of briefly
bucket filling feeling, but there is that hole underneath.

Speaker 2 (47:37):
Yes, exactly. It was a bit of a dopamine hit.
It wasn't even the sex. It was the validation. I
was getting male validation. That it felt like a little
dopamine hit every time. But then the low would get
a little lower, you know, the highs weren't quite as
high and the lows were much lower. And ultimately it

(48:00):
took quite a few bad relationships, although I don't actually
have regrets about any of them, because I feel like
they all helped me to figure myself out in some way,
shape or form. But yeah, I eventually came to some
understandings through therapy, largely of what it was that I
was doing and what it was I needed to change.

(48:22):
And I'm realizing I wanted Stewart to fill me up,
or I wanted my kids to fill me up, and
when they didn't, I went out looking for someone else
to fill me up. But what I was discovering is
that I has to fill myself up.

Speaker 3 (48:42):
It's during this Ashley Madison period that Mollie's on a
business trip and when her plane lands, a cascade of
text messages appear. It's her son, Daniel, who's thirteen at
the time. Daniel is in a panic. His laptop had died,
so he went to grab his dad's and on Stewart's laptop,
he saw a shocking window open his dad's Okay Cupid profile.

(49:07):
His immediate thought is that his dad must be cheating
on his mom.

Speaker 2 (49:13):
What's interesting is that I wasn't actually sure in that
moment what would be worse. What would be worse. Would
it be worse for Daniel to think his father was
cheating on me, or for Daniel to know that we
had an open marriage and I was also having sex

(49:34):
with other men. You know, there was no precedent in
my own family for this. My mother had never told me,
and I still at that stage, had never spoken to
my father about it. But yeah, it was kind of
a moment of my mom's self and my you know
what I had partitioned off as my sexual self meeting

(50:00):
in that moment in the airport, and it felt calamitous.
It felt like the worst possible thing. But what's interesting
is that when what you think is the worst possible
thing happens, it actually frees you up quite a bit.

(50:22):
So in that moment I was able to you know,
I don't think I did it very gracefully. I did
feel like, oh, I can tell him what this is,
and I can tell him honestly why he doesn't have
to worry. And there was something very freeing and comforting

(50:43):
to myself about that, even though I continued to worry
for years about how much I had kind of screwed
Daniel up as a result. But I did feel like
I can tell him honestly, like, don't worry, honey. Dad
and I really love each other and we do tell
each other everything. And this doesn't mean that anything in

(51:06):
your world is going to change. And I could say
that and mean it and know it. That our marriage
has actually, you know, just gotten stronger and stronger as
we've kind of brought more of our inner truths to
the light instead of keeping them in the shadows. So

(51:27):
we are in a strong place. And I was able
to tell Daniel at that time, which is now, I
can't believe it, but nine years ago, that everything is
really okay and you don't need to worry. There's nothing
you have to worry about here, and to mean it.
So it was hard, and it was hard for me
to feel like I had become something other in his eyes.

(51:53):
But I realized too how important it is. It's occurred
to me more as I was right the book, and
as the book has kind of entered the world, how
important it is to be your authentic self, not and
I don't mean a self without boundaries or privacy, because
boundaries and privacy are still important, very important, I think

(52:15):
between parents and children. But I also think the fact
that my mother never let me see any part of
herself that wasn't kind of part of this Ozzie and
Harriet image, this perfect mom image, because I never saw that.
I didn't know what was possible for myself and although
I have sons, I still think it's so important for

(52:36):
boys to see their mothers being their full, authentic self,
so they know when they're looking for partners and try
to be a good partner, that they are meeting the
women that come into their lives as whole people who
are not gonna, you know, who you're not going to

(52:57):
ask to shelve a part of them selves just because
they're also gonna, you know, maybe start a family. I
feel like that happens so often that we think that
we're done being ourselves as mothers, and we're not, and
we shouldn't be. You know, there's too much of life

(53:18):
left and too much that mature women have to give
to the world for us to just shut ourselves down.

Speaker 3 (53:27):
Well, it's so interesting. I mean, one of the thoughts
that I've had many times in recent years is that
once you're a parent, you're a parent forever. But the
years of active parenting of kids under your roof are actually,
if things go according to plan, one of the shorter
chapters in a long adult life. You know, yes, there

(53:47):
are the years before children, and there are the many
years once children have moved into their young adult lives,
and we lose sight of that, or the years of
being parents are ones that we're supposed to feel nostalgic for.
We're supposed to yearn for before we have them, and

(54:08):
then we're supposed to feel nostalgic for, like the best
years are behind us. And it's just something that's really
true in our culture that I think, you know, your
story speaks to in a really really interesting way.

Speaker 2 (54:20):
Yeah, I agree that this is true.

Speaker 3 (54:29):
Molly's done pushing against the edges of the bucket. She
deletes her Ashley Madison account, now only interested in the
honest version of open marriage, the kind where true communication
being seen, being heard, being understood in a deep way
is the foundation for the erotic. It's during this time

(54:50):
that she meets Scott. She goes out on a date
with Scott and is struck by the realization that the
safety she feels with him to be herself, to be valued,
for her true self, not to be performing putting on
an act. It reminds her of something. It reminds her
of how she felt when she first met Stuart. One

(55:14):
night after she's been with Scott, Molly comes home, but
before she heads inside, she sees Stuart through a lit
window of their house. He's in his first floor recording
studio doing his work, and it's almost like she's seeing
her husband and her marriage with fresh eyes. She's reminded
of why she is in love with Stuart, why this

(55:36):
man is her husband. As time goes on, Scott wants more,
his own marriage implodes, and what he really wants, ironically,
is monogamy. He asks Molly if she's ever going to
leave Stuart, and the answer is an emphatic no. Molly

(55:57):
is certain that the answer will forever be an emphatic no,
no matter what either of them does, they are in
this together.

Speaker 2 (56:09):
That was a really significant moment for me because it
felt for the first time, if I'm forced to choose
between Stewart and anybody, the answer is going to be Stuart.
I want Stuart. Stuart is my husband forever, not because
we're stuck, but because we're choosing each other. And that's

(56:31):
part of what has made our relationship so strong, is
that we both choose each other over and over and
over again, and we have reason to choose each other.
And it's like, I just don't see that ever ever changing.
But the other thing I was choosing in that moment
was I was realizing I was really choosing polyamory. That

(56:54):
experience of loving Scott and having it make me love
Stuart more not less. I didn't know that was possible.
One of our rules early on was no falling in love,
like you can go have sex with other people, but
make sure you don't fall in love with anyone else,
because that seemed really dangerous to me. And my relationship

(57:18):
with Scott taught me not only is it possible, but
it's magical to love more than one person. This is
about ten years into my open marriage journey that I
really had that experience. But now I don't settle for
anything less than that. I don't want to have casual sex.

(57:41):
I can only have now connected sex and relationships that
are loving. So that was a real moment for me,
and I think that's the real arc for me in
all of this. It was me coming home to myself
and coming home to all the parts of myself that

(58:01):
I had kept secret. And I think it's the one
aspect of womanhood that we are taught to be ashamed
of our sexuality. I just found out that the word
pudendum comes from the Latin to be ashamed of, which
was shocking to me. You know, I quote Audre Lord,

(58:22):
the erotic is the nurturer of all our deepest knowledge.
And when we don't allow or encourage women to explore
their own erotic selves, I feel like we cut off
a piece of ourselves. And especially when we're taught that
it's something that belongs to our husband or that we

(58:43):
have to just reject because it conflicts with motherhood. You
can't be a sexual person and a mother. I feel
like it's really to our detriment. And I feel like
one of my biggest secrets was, oh, I am a
sexual being that is evolving throughout life. That my sexuality,

(59:06):
if it stayed the same as it was when I
was twenty three when I first met my husband, that
would be a tragedy. It's through I think, for me anyway,
and the erotic self that I have come to know,
my fullest, multifaceted self. I think jealousy is a fear

(59:28):
that there won't be enough for me, or that I'm
not enough, that if he loves someone else, there will
be less love for me. And I have found first
and foremost that that just isn't true. I have found
that our love has deepened as we've allowed ourselves to

(59:50):
love other people that we have less fear and less
need to guard what the other one might be getting
somewhere else. And I think there's a secretive aspect to
this too that we've had to let go of. There
was the don't fall in love rule at another point

(01:00:10):
I also briefly tried, and I think a lot of
people who open their marriages try this for a time
at least, a don't ask, don't tell kind of policy
where we say, you know, I would rather you keep
a secret from me. Is basically what we're saying, I
would rather not know the truth because the truth is

(01:00:31):
too painful. That's kind of what the message is behind
don't tell me what you're doing. And I found myself
actually getting angry with Stuart when he wasn't lying to
me well enough, when he didn't keep his secrets well enough.
And so where we've evolved at this stage is that
you can tell me anything, but we don't have to

(01:00:53):
tell each other everything. We both allow for the other
to have things that are our own, because I think
we just have such a strong trust that we do
love each other and we are committed to each other.
And if you have something that you want to keep
to yourself. It's okay, but we also feel I also

(01:01:15):
really strongly feel that if Stuart tells me something and
it sparks a feeling in me, that doesn't mean he
shouldn't have told me. It means I'm having a feeling
and I might need help holding it. So that if
he tells me that he went out with someone new
and they were just hilarious and we're cracking him up,

(01:01:38):
that often, you know, sparks some jealousy in me, that like,
oh no, that means that he thinks she's funnier than
I am, or I'm not you know, his favorite, or
you know, all these kinds of insecurities and fears and all.
What I'm really asking for is, can you reassure me?
Can you tell me that you love me again? Can

(01:01:58):
you spend time with me, give me some attention. You know,
it used to be like maybe a four hour conversation
that involves a lot of my crying and things like that.
I feel like we're getting to a point now where
it's much more like I can ask for what I
need more quickly and he can readily give it, and

(01:02:18):
so then I just feel taken care of then I
feel okay, and it's so much It's so much healthier
and healing to be able to do that as opposed
to saying no, don't tell me you know anything that
might make me feel something I don't want to feel.
If instead we let ourselves share freely and then help

(01:02:43):
each other hold the feelings that arise, that's how you
work through tough feelings and kind of get to the
magical place on the other side.

Speaker 3 (01:03:19):
Family Secret is a production of iHeartRadio. Molly Zacour is
the story editor and Dylan Fagan is the executive producer.
If you have a family secret you'd like to share,
please leave us a voicemail and your story could appear
on an upcoming episode. Our number is one eight eight
eight Secret zero. That's the number zero. You can also

(01:03:40):
find me on Instagram at Danny Ryder. And if you'd
like to know more about the story that inspired this podcast,
check out my memoir Inheritance.

Speaker 1 (01:04:12):
For more podcasts from iHeartRadio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts,
or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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