No doubt you've considered it, or at least dreamed about it, but discarded the thought as pure fantasy. But what if consensual non-monogamy, was the key to ever lasting romance and sexual happiness? It'd be worth a thought, now wouldn't it?
By Mike Spencer
The one-man-one-woman dynamic as a lone epicenter for love and sex, for good or ill, appears to be an increasingly antiquated notion. You could even say that finding loopholes in the classical monogamy framework has never been easier. There's a whole army of nifty little terms and modern social contracts to help you slip the noose, and, in theory, come out smelling like roses (among other things) on the other side.
If you're single of course, you're single…and the entire world is one big bachelor's playground. You can chase 'em and replace 'em pretty much at your whim and, with a little bit of class, you can face a minimum of hard feelings on the part of anyone concerned. Or you can opt to settle down with someone special and roll with the risks and the rewards as they come to you.
But in between letting freedom ring and attaching that ol' ball and chain a small modern thesaurus has arisen with it's sights set on your would-be liberation.
You can call yourself “involved” or “attached” none of which implies any real loyalty, intention, or obligation. If you want some consistent involvement but can't pull the trigger on a serious, dedicated relationship, you can say that you're “seeing someone” or “in an open-relationship.” If it's a king-hell, loyalty free fuck fest you can say that you've got a “friend with benefits” or a “fuck buddy.” Or you can swing for the fences, if you will, find a like minded partner and go for the ultimate F-U to convention and call yourselves “Swingers.” Ho Ho…you lucky, rebellious little devil you.
We seem to view monogamy with the same generation-wide shrug that we point at government and organized religion. And why not? It has the same antiquated, puritan echo to it, the same finger-wagging sense of superiority, all bars in the same conformist jail cell. To hell with the bastards…their time at the top is up. The abject horror of the old guard watching their precious conventions burn only adds to the sickly-sweet rush of it all. So fuck it, lets get a drink and get started!
Not So Fast There, Slick…
If all of that seems a bit too easy, if it seems a tad bit sterile and unnatural to have a ready made excuse for everything you might want to do with you're relationship, that's because it is. There is, for example, a difference between organized religion and an individual's private cultivation of faith, correct? And no matter how fast the system crumbles, there's a faint democratic echo in genuinely noble grass roots civil service and volunteering.
Monogamy may be an ancient pillar whose stock seems to be dropping, but it also has the same pliable, interpretive greatness to it…and institutions like these Big Three don't live and don't die, they are just created and eventually hijacked, which sets up the righteous backlash we're all having so much fun with now.
IT CAN BE DONE. You CAN split the difference between the classical and the chaotic, and there is much non-conventional fun to be had. But if you want to do it right, you have to be careful. Relationships aren't systems. They are personal and dynamic, and there's no honor in anarchy this time. A wise man once said, “never fuck with a friends head on accident,” and the same goes for lovers as well. Nobody is out there pimpin', and players just play games. If black-book stacking and trophy ass is what you're after, I don't know what anybody can really do for you. But if you want off the tit of high school greatness and into some Advanced Tactics, lets see if we can't figure this thing out.
Spencer and Breezy: A Case Study
Several years ago I found myself in a position that's been known to paralyze even the most confident and tenacious of minds: I hadn't been in a single certifiable relationship, and what few notches I had in my bedpost, while high on the conquest scale superficially, had been less than impressive in terms of actual bedroom theatrics. Which was all well and good and didn't bother me in the least, since I was just an up-and-coming burnout anyway. Pay no attention to me, ladies, just another drunken writer, trying to make sense of it all…
It became something of a problem, however, when I met and began seeing a gorgeous young woman who was a couple of years older than I was. That little nugget had a hit of the weird and impossible on it's own, but it turned out she had both the sexual appetite and the laundry list of semi-kinky preferences that a a guy like me at that time could have only dreamt about.
I'm talking about the Real Deal…she was a walking, multi-orgasmic set of nails down the back, who could stay out all night and talk about Kant over eggs the next morning. Needless to say, it was good times and lots of 'em, but as is often the case when a neophyte meets a nympho, the fun couldn't contain the steady, automated erosion of self-confidence.
But I fared pretty well in terms of not letting it get to me. It hits every guy who's in that position, but the net effect is very much a matter of degree. Women like this, I thought, have been ruining guys like me since the beginning of time, or at least since the creation of alcohol, so I just opted to let it ride. I had a half dozen bars and coffee shops to write my crazy shit in, a decent job, cheap rent, and I was living in a college town where there were 10 pretty girls to pick up the destruction right where she left off if she ever got tired of me. I met each new shadow of doubt with an existential snicker and took all the nights and weird mornings on their own beautiful, sweaty terms.
Time went by, the good times stayed golden, and once I learned to relax it turned out I wasn't too bad in the sack myself. Sacrifices to the Goddess we're deemed pleasing, and the fears of infidelity on her part and inadequacy on mine slowly faded down to nothing. The trust built up by leaps and bounds, and it became obvious that this was no fling; we were in it for the long haul.
“Wait, did I say my girl? I meant my pimp…'cuz she's the one with the money, and she walks with a limp. And honey, if you wanna purr you gotta register with her, ‘cuz she gets 95% before any events occur.”
~Atmosphere, Substance Abuse
It was at this point where our own views on monogamy had to be examined. First of all, she was a long time bi-sexual. And by that I mean the real kind, who had been in actual relationships with women, not the “show off in the bar to drive the guys crazy” kind. So threesomes became an immediate option. Wonderful.
It became instinctively clear to both of us, however, that no matter how happy I was, no matter how over-the-top wonderful and toe-curling the situation came to be, my inexperience would one day mean that the curiosity of illicit-tail would begin to weigh on me, heavily. As a distinctive, attractive and able-bodied young man I had to that point jipped myself out of my wanderlust before it had struck me, which it most certainly would eventually. And if it were to happen ten years down the line when there was a marriage and kids involved, there could be problems. Despite our trust and fearless openness, I'd be lying if I said those first few conversations weren't at least a little bit awkward.
Further complicating things was the fact that she did not have the same instinctual urgings. She had seen it and done it all, as most young women have, and was more than ready to stay monogamous on her end. And truth be told, early on I wasn't exactly in any rush to share her with random dudes either. That stance mixed insecurity with a nod towards the inequality of our situations. What we both “needed” and what we both “deserved” were very different, so there was no ready-made term that was going to come to our rescue. We were more than “friends with benefits” and light-years beyond “fuck buddies” but we were in too deep for an “open relationship” and had no interest in the regimented tit-for-tat nature of “swinging.”
As unbelievable as it seems, we've been rocking and rolling on this tip for years. She laid down the law very simply: “I'd rather have you sleep with five girls once than one girl five times,” meaning simply that she is my girl, and the loyalty of my heart and mind has to stay beyond reproach, no matter what happens with my nethers. Which, of course, was only a statement of my original intentions anyway. It's never been about the act of scoring in and of itself…what I have at home is enough for seven men to die smiling. It's about adventure, about not letting charms go to waste or having a lifetime of winks flow soley in one direction. My loyalty and my dedication…my want and my craving for this girl has never been in question. The only question was what I would have to do to look in the mirror and call myself a Man as we grew old together. Why should we be made to choose and suffer because we had the “misfortune” of meeting when I was 21 instead of 31? It made no sense–and with a blanket of respect and straight-shooting long since established, I was given her blessings to sew my wild oats in as many toilet-bound rubbers as necessary.
A quick phone call from the bar relaying my evenings intentions is all it takes to keep the the peace, my love and loyalty are one way enterprises, and everybody wins. This, along with constantly cruising swing-clubs and the internet for FFM threesomes, is how our hyper-honest highway to hell has been paved, with liberty and justice for all.
But Enough About Me…
None of which is to say that it's all wine and roses on the Authorized Infidelity circuit. As far as threesomes go, genuinely bi women are sparse enough for their existence to be legitimately questioned. To witness the chasm between a given girl's imagined downness and her actual threshold of kinky activity is a pretty staggering experience. Let's just say that what they are ready to do when the camera isn't rolling for MySpace ready stimulus is usually less than mind-blowing. And having your girl send winks-a-flyin' at the bar elicits an alarmingly similar effect than if you'd have gone out and done it yourself. Your best bet is to try to work within you and your partners existing network of friends, who are more likely to know and be comfortable with wherever you happen to rank on the sleeze-o-meter.
As far as extra-curricular diddling on your own goes, your carefully negotiated spousal policy will largely come to mean fuck all. The price of the world's jokers and their bullshit has spread out across the whole scene, and as a result there's a price to pay even for distinction. Explaining to a strange woman the intricate details of why the hand on her leg has a Claddagh ring, pointing out, is a tough dollar and can mean a long night, but it beats the alternative. The world can shrink up pretty quickly around those who misjudge their own slickness. Besides, in this context lying to random partners isn't a whole lot better than lying to your spouse. The idea here is a social evolution, and shamelessness is a definite necessity.
The only real way to work through it all with others who have a pre-packaged understanding of your ideology is to resort to bona fide swingers and the swing clubs they frequent. Which can be a pretty irritating scene in it's own right, but being viewed as full of shit by the mainstreamers gets old, and it can be nice to just chill in your own skin for a while. At worst, you can drink and dance the night away like any other Saturday night, and what you find on the high end is up to your own tolerance and imagination.
Having Said That…
There are some downsides. The vast majority of true-blue swingers are in the 35-and-over set, and this is something that you need to be prepared for. In most cases it takes half a lifetime of bullshit, dead-end relationships to develop the type of fatalistic comfort it takes to start swapping partners with strangers. Most of them only get to that point on the back end of long, frustrating searches for single bi girls, the difficulties of which are noted above. Good people for the most part, but if you're much under that age range and after anything short of full swap, snobbery and a distinctive brand of slime can become considerable factors. It's their turf, and they'll freeze you out like a country club any time they feel like it…that's just part of the game.
Swing clubs themselves can take a bit of getting used to. They're not particularly rough on newbies per se, but wannabes are spotted instantly…and every bit of awkwardness you bring with you will be thrown back your way 10-fold. So don't even think about showing up there until you've had serious talks with your partner about your do's, don't's and assorted unacceptables. If you're the jealous type, this probably isn't your kind of hobby either.
If you think your girl gets ogled at the bar, just wait until she's in a skimpy outfit sharing fuck-space with 40 or 50 sex-positive carnivores. Everyone there came to screw, just like you did…so if she's anything to look at every eye in the place will be slobbering up her and down her pretty much constantly…and this ain't the place for fist fights. It's the one place where you actually should take it as a compliment, keep your head and enjoy your evening.
Other than that, every club has the same sign posted: No means no, drunks are tossed at the first sign of trouble, and there are condoms by the hundred available everywhere that need to be used religiously. So wear something nice, bring your lucky rabbit's foot, leave any possessive leanings at the door and see where the night takes you. You're with friends now.
Fear Nothing; Honesty Unburdens Even the Most Perverted of Souls
“There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”
Listen, monogamy obviously isn't going to work for some of us, and that's nothing to lie about or be ashamed of. And there's nothing wrong with being flat-out single either. But cheating and stringing people along with false declarations of loyalty while using your libido as an excuse for flagrantly shady actions isn't going to cut it. And while all of the above alt-lifestyle terms do have quasi-official definitions and can be successfully lived out by some, relying on cheap philosophy to bail you out is always dangerous. What people permit to keep the peace and how they actually feel aren't always the same thing, and what sounds good and honest one month can crumble into selfish deception the next. So when your FWB or your fuck buddy or yourself catches feelings, there's a good chance your little contract very suddenly won't be worth the paper that it probably isn't printed on.
Relationships can be wonderful, awe-inspiring things. And a good idea, or a good solid back-door notion that slips through the cracks of social conformist non-sense can get the toes tingling better than a Tantric orgasm. But if you get slippery and self-serving with the way the two make music, you cheapen up both, and that's where things become unacceptable. No, these things are bigger than supposedly guilt free sex and fleeting feelings of entitlement. If you want keep your conscience clean and soar with the eagles, there's only one word that'll save your neck, and it's one with a significantly longer shelf-life: honesty.
Your situation probably won't mirror mine, but our obligations to our lovers are largely universal. So admit you can't hang and stay single, give up the Girls Gone Wild fantasies and be shamelessly and unhesitatingly committed, or be honest about your needs with your lover and make your own rules.
Just remember: no amount of slang will save the lying dipshit, the noble man sees no glory in manipulation, and the fleshy mountain top reserved for honest lovers blows all minds regardless of specifics.