'Right now I love three people': Molly Roden Winter on her controversial open marriage

Molly Roden Winter, author of More (Molly Roden Winter)
Molly Roden Winter, author of More (Molly Roden Winter)

Molly Roden Winter is talking me through some of the more surprising messages she’s had since publishing her bestselling book More: A Memoir of Open Marriage, which details her rollercoaster decade of sexual adventures after she and her husband, Stewart, decided to open up their 24-year marriage.

The racy, riotous romp of a memoir — described as “breathtakingly candid” by the New York Times and “an unsparing account of a polyamorous life” by The Atlantic — became an instant hit when it was released in the US in January, generating a perhaps inevitable slew of ‘this book will blow up your group chat’ headlines and essays about what it means to authentically desire and whether polyamory was simply becoming latest fad to attempt to hog the so-called cultural duvet.

Roden Winter, 52, a former English teacher and mother-of-two sons from Brooklyn’s upmarket Park Slope neighbourhood, had readied herself for much of the criticism that’s been aimed at her over the book. The attacks on writing about her sons (now 19 and 22), for example, and the comments from men calling her a “c***” and a “whore” (”not a lot of creativity or variety in them, I will say”).

Then and now: Molly and her husband Stewart in 1998 and today (Stewart Winter)
Then and now: Molly and her husband Stewart in 1998 and today (Stewart Winter)

But there was one message that stood out to her in particular. It was from a man in his sixties from Texas, who told her he’d initially thought her a “promiscuous and selfish woman” until he read More. “He told me he loved it and that he was glad Stewart and I were still together and that I was a mensch (a good person), and signed off ‘God bless you’,” she remembers, chuckling at the memory from the kitchen of her chic New York townhouse.

“It made me realise people are people and it made me very happy to have reached someone who is not my target demographic and who was pre-disposed not to like my book but was curious enough to read it and then changed his mind and went out of his way to write a letter to me.... That’s the thing about this book: it makes people angry and I get it — it’s threatening the status quo. And there are lots of ways to shake up the status quo. You absolutely don’t have to open your marriage and I’m not saying every woman should be like me, far from it. I’m saying every woman should be herself.”

If you’re wondering what it is exactly that’s got readers angry, it probably has something to do with the graphic, unflinching detail Roden Winter chooses to go into. The book spans the decade between 2008 and 2018 and details hers and Stewart’s riveting and often turbulent experiences of polyamory with a gasp-inducing candidacy that is perhaps surprising for a woman from Roden Winter’s demographic: a circle of elite, educated yummy mummy Brooklynites who frequent cafes, meditation studios and the local CrossFit.

I’m not saying every woman should be like me, far from it. I’m saying every woman should be herself

The book is littered with explicit sexual details: Roden Winter’s experiments with butt plugs, fisting and anal intercourse; her encounters in seedy motel rooms; even a form of sexual assault known as stealthing (unsolicited condom removal) that is considered as rape in the UK. Other (family newspaper-appropriate) particularly memorable moments include the moment her then- 13-year-old son discovered his father’s OkCupid profile and thought he was cheating, and a time Roden Winter thought she was texting her husband to tell him her new boyfriend has nothing on him as a lover, only to realise she’d texted the boyfriend instead (spoiler: he breaks up with her).

Roden Winter has dozens of extramarital relationships during the book, from flings to a fully-fledged romance with another man by the end in 2018, an outcome she initially intended to avoid but now accepts after changing her mindset to think of romantic love as more like friendship: limitless, not finite. One particularly striking chapter details the moment she discovered that her own parents — retired school teachers in their eighties — had also had an open marriage after her father encouraged her mother, a virgin when they got married, to sleep with another man to boost her confidence.

She did not know it at the time, but Roden Winter’s was a similar story, in many ways. The seeds for hers and Stewart’s open marriage had been sown more than a decade earlier, when they’d agreed to get married and Stewart had suggested he’d be OK with her sleeping with other people, encourage it even, because she was only 23 when they met (he was 28) and had only just broken up with her college boyfriend.

 (Molly Roden Winter)
(Molly Roden Winter)

When they did eventually open their marriage eight years later it wasn’t without its hurdles of course. Jealousy, tearful breakups and awkward conversations with their sons are all detailed in the book, and Roden Winter credits 10 years of therapy and a year of couple’s therapy for navigating the whole thing.

But 17 years after that first extramarital affair when Roden Winter — then a frazzled 35-year-old with two sons under seven — stormed out of the house and had sex with another man, she says she and her family have finally found a way to make ethical non-monogamy work. The boys are both adults now, and have accepted their parents’ situation since realising they’re both happy and not about to divorce (their eldest son is now at college and recently admitted he’d known more than he’d let on at the time, after reading her old journals detailing his parents’ threesomes when he was 12), and she and Stewart have moved past a recent rocky period in which she “got all worked up” about one of his new partners.

Today, Stewart, 57, a successful TV music writer, is no longer with said partner but he still dates other women and has a girlfriend of nine years. Meanwhile Roden Winter has two relationships alongside her marriage with Stewart: one with a 49-year-old nightclub owner called Jason who is also in an open marriage and Roden Winter has been seeing for about three years (they currently meet once a week, generally on Sundays when his club is closed). The other relationship is with a 42-year-old man she chooses not to name, but who she happily tells me she met two years ago and fell into the friend zone at first but recently made it to boyfriend status.

I’m looking for completely different things now. Being poly means I don’t put the same amount of pressure on any single individual

“As of the last couple of months I love three people — and that’s new,” she tells me with a teenager-like grin. “Even the guy who is Scott in the book [a character she breaks up with], I still love him. We text each other, we have dinner once in a while... it doesn’t end for me. I kind of forewarn people, I may very well love you forever, even if we break up.”

It all sounds, frankly, pretty exhausting — and surely at the very least a logistical nightmare for a woman who already has to fit in seeing her friends, parents, husband and sons, plus the PR and press attention that comes with writing a bestselling book. But Roden Winter assures me it’s freeing. Compared to singles currently tearing their hair out trying to find one partner amid the chaos that is modern dating culture, she considers herself lucky. She uses OKCupid to meet most of her partners (the dungeon parties she was invited to when she tried Feeld made her realise she is “pretty vanilla”) and she is not trying to find one person who ticks all of her boxes. “’I’m looking for four people to tick a bunch of boxes,” she explains. “If they tick a box, they’re of interest. I don’t need to find someone who’s going to co-parent with me or be financially stable... I’m looking for completely different things now. It doesn’t put the same amount of pressure on any single individual.”

Roden Winter certainly puts forward a convincing case for the merits of polyamory and has even been called the poster girl for a new mainstream non-monogamy movement following her book’s release (the original draft was rejected by 50 agents before she rewrote it in the present tense and secured a book deal with Doubleday in 2022).

She teases that non-monogamous people are “just better at relationships, period” because they’re almost certainly good communicators; almost certainly respectful; and almost certainly good in bed (”it’s a good vetting process”), and tells me she often suggests to heartbroken friends that they date men in open marriages because “you don’t have to commit, but they’ll be lovely”.

She also insists her own forays into polyamory, albeit rocky and tearful at times, have only made her marriage stronger: that Stewart has been her constant cheerleader and was her first-ever reader (he’s been interviewed since the book, too, which has helped them to feel “in this together”); that her parents, albeit nervous of the book being published, were supportive; that even her sons eventually accepted their mother’s decision to write the book as long as she changed their names (the eldest, now at college, has read it but skipped over what he calls the “nitty gritty” parts; the youngest isn’t interested, “thank God”).

It’s facts like these, of course, that have only sent some critics into even more of a moral flap. Surely there must be repercussions to all of this? Surely a woman can’t be happy and fulfilled and have a good relationship with her kids and multiple romantic relationships all at once? But this is exactly Roden Winter’s point. There’s a sexism to the idea that a woman can’t have it all, she believes. “I love my children, I love being a mother, but there is a straight-jacket that is put on mothers by society that is not OK — and if we don’t let women breathe and be and explore the fullness of who they are, I really think our society is doomed.”

I love my children, I love being a mother, but there is a straight-jacket that is put on mothers by society that is not OK

She agrees that surely women don’t have to open their marriage to have a more equal or healthier one. “You absolutely don’t have to open your marriage. But I would say that the backlash that has come at me is because I opened my marriage. It’s funny, the idea of women’s memoirs as instructive of what you’re supposed to be doing. I just wrote my story! But because it rubs up against something we have been taught is the default setting and the only moral way to live, that’s when people get upset.”

Not everyone has been upset by the book, however. Roden Winter says her most regular fans have fallen into two categories: one set being women who are non-monogamous, too, but say they are too scared to come out for fear of being stigmatised in their community; the other set being monogamous mothers, who resonated with the parts about motherhood feeling like a straight-jacket. One message, from a friend of her mother’s, stood out in particular. “She said: ‘I’m 81 years old and I don’t know if I’ve ever done anything without worrying about what other people would think’. That’s potent; it’s indicative of the way a lot of women are raised to act.”

Many critics accept this particular feminist narrative but still have their reservations. They argue that someone seems to be left upset or disappointed in almost every sexual encounter Roden Winter describes; that this person is more often than not Roden Winter herself (”for every one orgasm scene, there are three of sobbing fits,” reads one particularly scathing review); and that perhaps she just needed an equal marriage rather than an open one (she openly admits to having been 'the Wiper of Noses, the Doer of Dishes, the Nag in Residence' in the house).

Molly and Stewart say opening their marriage has made it stronger (Stewart Winter)
Molly and Stewart say opening their marriage has made it stronger (Stewart Winter)

Roden Winter was ready for most of this backlash; what she was less ready for were criticisms of her privilege. She lives in an affluent suburb of New York and admits to having spent considerable time and money on therapy, with some readers saying she appears to lack empathy for hers and her husband’s younger, less wealthy partners.

She accepts this, but believes it is a mis-representation of polyamory in general. “Within the polyamory community there are people who live together in polycules, which is very anti-capitalist and subversive and actually makes a lot of sense because you can share rent and share your childcare,” she explains. “I agree that I’m in a position of privilege, but I am not on the level of Shiv from Succession or Daphne from White Lotus [fictional characters she’s been compared to in articles calling polyamory a “fad”]. My parents were both school teachers in the mid-west and they were poly. So you don’t have to go to hotels... My dad used to take women camping! Nobody says that infidelity requires a certain amount of money.”

There is also the fact that privilege was almost certainly a key reason her book was picked up, she points out. Not only is there something more intriguing about “a heterosexual white woman with kids doing this thing that people want to think is on the margins”, but her privilege was exactly what put her in the financial position to write a book in the first place,” she argues. “If I wasn’t going to write this story, who was?”

It’s scary to have your partner grow because of another relationship they’re in because the worry is that they’re growing away from you. But that’s not the way it works

She’s currently working on her next book, Metamour (the word for your partner’s partner), which is still in its infancy but will explore how to deal with jealousy in polyamorous relationships and the wider questions it raises about competitiveness between women. “I think we’re trained as women in the patriarchy to see each other as competition and to believe that our value comes from being chosen by men,” she says. “So to be chosen, someone else has to be less than. And I think that’s a really problematic aspect of our culture.”

Like her last book, the idea stems from first-hand experience: in this case, a time Roden Winter felt particularly threatened by one of her husband’s former partners — a relationship she has since come to appreciate. “I was upset at first at how this other woman was impacting him, affecting the way he thought, because I was like ‘You’re not supposed to listen to anyone but me’. But then I came to realise that it’s good for him, he’s growing. It’s scary to have your partner grow because of another relationship they’re in because the worry is that they’re growing away from you. But that’s not the way it works. It ended up being a transformative relationship for Stewart and because of that it transformed my marriage and some things for me as well.”

Once again, Roden Winter knows some people might struggle with this idea. And once again, she comes back to her central premise. “I’m not trying to convince anybody of anything,” she says. “You don’t have to read the book. And you certainly don’t have to do what I’m doing. This is just me telling my own story — it’s interesting how threatening that can be to some people.”

More: A Memoir of Open Marriage by Molly Roden Winter is out now (Ebury Press £18.99)