The uncertainty and frustration that had been building under the surface of our relationship finally erupted. What seemed like an innocuous decision threw Brad and Amy into a battle of emotional safety. Without warning, my husband and I fell from a place of privilege to a place of being shut out. I reached out to Brad to find him scared, wounded, and angry. It was as though all four of us had been hiking on the cliffs of swingerdom. Initially the climb was easy and relatively smooth. We were thrilled to meet each other on the cliffs and excited to have friends join the journey. As we ascended, we saw an adjoining mountain that we thought we could cross. Myself, my husband, and Amy were carefully traversing the tight precipice between swinger and poly, but as we got closer Brad became more unsure of his footing. When I looked back, I could see he was struggling so I slowed down for him. In contrast Amy and my husband blazed the trail with great speed. Because my husband and I had been communicating so much, I was reassured that he would not leave me behind. This helped ease my fears anytime he got out of sight. However, Brad and Amy had no assurances so when there was a slight slip of the foot, Brad demanded to return to safer ground.
This began the long and arduous process of Brad figuring out where on the cliff he felt safe. We tried being platonic friends but that immediately failed when the sexual tension pulled us back into each other’s arms. We next attempted to pull back emotions but still be physical. However, that failed too when we all went on a weekend trip to the country and slipped emotionally deeper into each other. As a salve they went back to the swinging lifestyle to help dilute their feelings for us. This was not realistic for us because my husband and I found the lifestyle empty in comparison to our relationship with Brad and Amy. The thought of being with random people to help us forget them was starkly unappealing. Over time, we felt like hostages to Brad’s emotional state because we agreed to let him dictate the pace. In theory this was a great idea but his idea of safety changed on a daily basis. It became a constant struggle for me to remain patient while he cycled through hot and cold. Each unanswered text or mixed signal felt like a stab to my heart. I began to wonder how much I could take before my own frustration boiled over.
When we all met up at the end of the evening, we found out that my husband and Amy skipped the play they were supposed to be at. My reaction hit me like a lightening bolt when my husband said nonchalantly, “Oh we didn’t go! We got caught up talking.” This small decision turned into a trigger for both Brad and myself because they weren’t where they said they would be, nor did they tell us they had changed plans. It was made worse given the fact that we were essentially waiting for them to finish a conversation.
For the very first time, I felt envy gnaw at my heart. The dark emotion bled into the edges of my perspective and I started seeing the world through a lens of insecurity and unfulfilled needs. In my mind, their date was “so magical” that they got lost in each other, whereas my date felt like a therapy session. Yay me, I thought sarcastically. I was stunned into silence as a whirlwind of emotion paralyzed me. I managed to stammer an apology that I was having an emotional reaction when I felt their eyes boring into me after several moments of uncomfortable silence. I was finally able to gain my composure and get to the bottom of my feelings of jealousy, envy, fear, and regret. I shook off the moment and reengaged in the conversation with a smile knowing that I would debrief with my husband later.
However, I was alone in forgiving their mistake. My show of emotion gave Brad the validation he needed to have his own reaction. It gave him permission to not be okay. If I’m honest, he hadn’t been okay for quite awhile, but every time he brought up concerns they were marginalized and swept under the rug. My husband and I resolved the communication issue by the time we got home, but Brad completely lost it on their drive back. By the next morning we had our first breakup.
Our next separate date had a subtle, yet distinct, undercurrent of change. It was as though we were waiting for my husband and Amy to finish their date instead of focusing on the one we were on. Brad seemed far away and distracted. I noticed him checking his phone often for updates even though there weren’t any. It reminded me of swinging with couples who weren’t fully secure yet with exchanging partners. The insecure person will keep glancing over instead of focusing on the new person. We spent most of time talking about how he was scared of the emotional connection between his wife and my husband, as well as his own hesitance about his feelings towards me. He also had serious issues with Amy exploring her sexual fantasies without him.
For the first time our relationship felt tenuous as he rehashed previous discussions between Amy and himself. They all had a theme: she would casually reassure him that things would work out fine, but he would remain unconvinced. He expressed doubts whether he could be involved emotionally with someone other than his wife. My natural inclination was to run away, but it occurred to me that this was a pattern in my life that I was all too used to. My long-standing difficulty in being vulnerable with others was a constant limitation and I was ready for change. Despite all my instincts telling me to run, I made a conscious decision to stay present with him. I reached out even though he was emotionally distancing himself and had been for awhile. It resulted in a victorious breakthrough where we were both vulnerable with each other. I held his hand with no guard up, and he responded by dropping his own wall. We both had tears in our eyes as we acknowledged the overwhelming fear we felt. The beautiful connection closed the distance between us and gave us a renewed confidence that things were going to be okay. Little did we know, it was actually the beginning of the end.
With each step of the way, my husband and I recalibrated our boundaries and expectations. For several months, we talked daily about our relationship with Brad and Amy. We renegotiated, discussed our fears, and wouldn’t leave the conversation until we were both okay. By making room for emotions, we allowed the experience to unfold in its natural course. By doing this, I actually gained more faith in my relationship with my husband. I knew where he and Amy were at each stage which imparted a sense of safety. Unfortunately, Brad and Amy were not talking at this level. Instead of expanding the boundaries to allow for emotions, they slipped into a false sense of security and ignored the changes of our relationships. Even though they both were feeling, they did not admit this to each other openly. Amy was the first to feel jealousy with how much Brad and I were texting at night, especially about music which she did not share with him. My husband and Amy started exploring kink, which triggered jealousy in Brad who never knew his wife wanted to explore these fantasies.
As we plunged deeper into emotionality, there was a distinct shift in the eagerness of Brad. After that first overnight, we all agreed that it was a bit overwhelming. We decided to take a few steps back to couple’s dating with no more overnights. Amy started pushing to see us more often which made Brad uncomfortable. Our couple’s dates would turn into full weekends because she would think of other activities to extend our time. Brad started pulling back his communication with me and became less responsive to any emotional sharing. As Brad was retreating, the daily conversations with my husband were tinged with frustration as I began airing my concerns about relationship imbalances.
Initially the communication with Brad and Amy was limited to group texts which helped us compartmentalize and keep the relationship about bodies. The first hint of change was when we started texting individually and spinning off separate relationships. When we finally broke that boundary, our connection was immediate and intense. Brad and I stayed up most evenings texting the night away, sharing favorite bands and swapping life stories. This rapport fueled our sexual connection. The eye contact in the bedroom became intense as he looked deep inside me. I could not help but give myself to him when we locked eyes. However, because there was a part of me that was resistant to letting go with him, I couldn’t linger more than a couple of seconds in his gaze. He would say things like, “I want to fall into you,” or “you are the most significant relationship second to my wife.” As much as I wanted to reciprocate, I would only smile and look away bashfully. In contrast, my husband and Amy’s relationship took off like a rocket because they are naturally unguarded and run headlong into their feelings.
Over time it was as though there was a magnet was pulling us deeper and deeper into each other. We all started breaking pre-established boundaries with each other. They also had a “no separate room” rule which we broke together. They never wanted separate dating either, but we broke that too.
In fact, that was the turning point for all of us. The first separate date that Brad and I had was overwhelmingly powerful because we went to see a favorite band of ours. As he wrapped me in his strong arms, I let the music flow without resistance through my body. My emotions cascaded with each crescendo. When we sang our hearts out while holding each other, there were no more emotional barriers. Songs which had previously held no meaning for us, took on special importance and are now forever stamped with our memory.
The night following our separate date was our first separate overnight. The intensity of the solo date bled over into our time together, and the powerful feelings of connectedness struck fear at my core. All of a sudden I was faced with falling in love for someone who wasn’t my husband. When I awoke with his body pressed against mine, I felt both completely smitten and terrified. After I returned to my husband, I cried in his arms because I was afraid that I could no longer compartmentalize. The lines of our relationship were blurring and it was all moving so fast that I didn’t know what to make of it. My husband and Amy were also moving at breakneck speed and he was spooked as well. As I wept, my husband held me and reassured me that we would be okay no matter what.
To have invitations to an underworld of secret parties, cliques, and meet-ups was thrilling. But there was one couple in particular who changed our trajectory of open relationships: Brad and Amy. From the first date with Brad and Amy, we knew that there was something special about them. Strangely it was as though we were meeting reflections of ourselves when we met them. Indeed, Brad was a male version of myself in that we had similar physical features, temperaments, personality types, and caretaking roles we play in relationships. Similarly, Amy was a female reflection of my husband. This was the first time my husband and I experienced meeting needs outside of each other. My husband and I overlap in many ways, but Brad and Amy met needs beyond the gap.
Initially we confined our relationship with them to the swinging clique. We went to the same parties but also started also dated them on the side. The dating became intoxicating, to put it mildly. We all craved time with each other and talked about each other often. They told us one night over at their place that we were the first couple with whom they felt a real compatibility for. We all marveled at how perfect the chemistry was between all of us. Months into our relationship, we had all but fallen out of the swinging community. We’d get invites to parties or dates, but we would decline as would they. It makes sense really. If you have a choice of a powerful incredible connection or a random semi-impersonal fling, what would you choose? Naturally, we chose each other. We were collectively tumbling down a rabbit hole of a beautiful four-way connection.
I’ll be honest. When I first thought of “swingers”, I had a vision in my head of not-so-attractive people transplanted from scenes of 1970’s key parties. To find swingers who were young, attractive, and highly educated was like stumbling into an alternate universe. What do swingers look like? They look like your average office employees, managers, hair stylists, lawyers, city planners, artists, stay at home parents, doctors, preschool teachers, professors, and college and graduate students. Some are married, some aren’t married, and many were in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s.
Within the first week of our profile posted, we were overwhelmed with messages. Our sleepy marriage-life weekends were transformed into an electrifying dating life that had been long lost between us. Oh sure, we went on weekly date nights, but incorporating new people was like injecting a bolt of energy into our evenings.
We had no expectation of doing anything other than meeting people for drinks, but we found ourselves in an impromptu full swap situation with the third couple we met. The conversation flowed between us like long-lost old friends. Allen and Joy were more experienced than us so when they smoothly invited us back to their place to continue the fun, we didn’t think twice. While we were there, it felt natural as the laughs and drinks kept rolling. Their seduction was simple. They treated us like long-lost friends and slowly increased the physical flirting. It wasn’t until we were all nearly naked when Joy stopped us and encouraged my husband and I to have a “pow-wow”. Him and I had gotten so caught up in the moment that we didn’t realize how dangerously close we were to crossing a line in our marriage. We had gone from zero to sixty within a week and were at the point of no return. After quick checks with each other, we plunged into the pool.
The same room experience was nothing like what I expected. Instead of being jealous, I felt vibrant in my sexuality when I moved from my husband to another man. Seeing my husband with another woman was not as threatening as I had feared. To the contrary I liked seeing him happy and pleasured. On the drive back home in the morning my husband turned to me and said, “Are you okay?” I nodded and said that I was but he still seemed cautious. “Are you sure? I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.” I shrugged and assured him that I was actually okay and reaffirmed that it was a fantastic evening. For some time afterwards, we waited for the monogamy trap to close upon us, but it never did.