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We left the bar with a renewed energy and a lightness to our steps. Any anxiety had vanished from breaking down the wall. Yes, we were both scared…but sharing our fears made it more comfortable.
Brad pulled me by the hand and pressed me against a brick wall. Strands of my blonde hair swept into my face as the wind whipped between our bodies. He gently pushed the stray hairs away and pressed his lips against mine. The contrast of his warm lips in the chilly air melted any defenses I had left. His strong hands tamed my hair as his sensual tongue met mine. As he pulled his lips away, he paused to let the breeze pass in the tiny space between us. My lips tingled with anticipation of feeling him again, and my body fell into his when he closed the gap between us. His hands roamed my curves as I pushed against him. I craved him.
After catching our breath, we made our way to the rendezvous point to meet our spouses. We ordered another drink at the bar, but the conversation was stilted after the passionate walk. In some respects, it was as though we were waiting for our spouses. We made small conversation about reality T.V. to keep the awkward silence at bay, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were done with our date and our spouses were running late. I assumed that their show ran long which would explain their delay.
They did come shortly after and they joined us in the booth. The mood was light and friendly as I turned to my husband and said, “So, how was the show?”
“Oh…we didn’t go.”
I flinched. My confusion was given away by my furrowed brows. “What? What do you mean?”
“We had such a great time at dinner, that we started talking and missed the show.” He added cautiously, “We’ve been walking around the city.”
My face crumbled. They were late because they ‘walked around the city’?! While we were sitting here waiting for them? It was happening. I felt as though they were swept up in the moment and I didn’t have that kind of date. Ours was spent convincing each other that we didn’t like each other and how we couldn’t be emotionally connected. Yes, we broke through the wall, after the first 4 hours of the charade. I was thrown into an emotional backlash and could not hide it. It was as though my husband stepped on a landmine, and Brad and Amy were watching me explode. I could feel the turmoil building within me and I felt choked into silence. I reached out a hand as if to apologize as I could not speak for what seemed like an eternity. Amy and my husband looked concerned while Brad looked like he couldn’t breathe.
“I’m sorry,” I muttered, “I think I’m having an emotional reaction.” I could see the worry in both my husband’s and Amy’s eyes. They knew that they had made a questionable choice and were dealing with the fallout. I quickly processed my emotions and got to the root of my issue. Does my husband want to leave me? No? Okay, why I am upset? After taking a moment, I explained that I was okay and my husband let out a sigh of relief. I glanced over at Brad and saw he still looked burdened but he did not speak up.
After we regained the lightness in the conversation, I excused myself to the restroom. Brad volunteered to go with me and while finding our way through the labyrinth of the hotel’s hallways, he asked me, “Are you okay?” I nodded and assured him I was fine. I quickly explained that I felt taken aback because their plans changed and they didn’t communicate with me and that made me feel like I was dismissed in their minds. It didn’t occur to me to ask him.
When we said our goodbyes for the evening, I thought everyone was okay. On the way home, my husband expressed genuine remorse and I forgave him. We negotiated new boundaries and while we were expressing what we needed and how to make it work, his phone chimed with a message from Amy. Normally at that time, we exchanged “Thank you for such a great evening,” texts but this time it was different.
The color drained from his face as he read the message.
Brad had exploded…
…and she didn’t know if we would be able to continue.
I sat at the bar intently looking at my phone when I felt a hand sliding across my lower back. Slightly startled, I turned and found Brad standing there. It was the first time I had seen him in a full suit and my smile for him was immediate and reflexive. My anxiety faded away when he returned the warm greeting. We talked for hours, our conversation never penetrating below the surface of our artifices. Through the laughs about the randomness of life I kept trying to peer behind his eyes to get a sense of where he was really at but there was nothing but a stone wall.
Our spouses were also off on their own date, this wasn’t the first time for us, but I noticed Brad checking his phone frequently to see if she had texted. I had seen that behavior before in the swinging lifestyle too. When someone is entirely secure with their significant other sleeping with someone else, they focus all of their attention on the new partner. If they are worried, or concerned, or threatened, they will break away to glance over. Observing this in Brad was concerning and I asked him how he was handling our “situation”.
This opened up the conversation and I felt a breath of relief that we were finally getting to our honest selves. He remarked at how ironic it was that he got into the lifestyle because he wanted a deeper connection when he realized that he didn’t know if that was true. He was scared that it wouldn’t be okay if there were intense feelings. He spoke about the confusion that his wife just wanted “bodies” when she realized she wanted something different and how they didn’t sign up for missing people. I agreed that it was strange because my husband went down the same path. It stung hearing that he just wanted “friends who sleep with each other” and I defensively mirrored his coldness. “Oh yeah,” I said, “I don’t know if I can really connect with you either.”
My eyes lingered away from him as if trying to shield myself from his gaze. A quietness fell between us. Am I going to be this way forever? Pretending to not have feelings? Pretending to not have needs? I felt like an emotional child, stumped in my growth. It was an instinctual pattern that has played out many times in my life. But this time, there was a pause before the instinct. I was faced with a choice. I could be guarded and add another brick in the wall…or I could start dismantling the barrier.
My jaw clenched as if to work up courage. I turned back to him, my eyes soft and as I put my hand in his. “I’m sorry. I can’t sit here and pretend like there wasn’t a wave of emotion that struck me after the show. I can’t lie and say that waking up with you that morning didn’t fill me with happiness. There is something here and I know it. I feel it.”
His eyes filled with tears as his mask fell away. We sat there, holding hands, and looking in each other’s eyes with a tenderness. The connection was overwhelming and it roused a feeling of victory within me. I had broken through the wall. Both of ours.
I actually knew something was off with Brad well before the fallout. It was hard to put my finger on, but there was something off in our text communication after the last overnight at their place. Even when the signs are subtle, we know when patterns of communication are disrupted. Sometimes they mean something and sometimes they don’t. It’s easy to deny and rationalize that we are being too sensitive and I was no stranger to this process. Especially given the fact that I am often overly-analytical, I rejected the idea that something was different. I denied my heart and told myself that I was wrong.
But I wasn’t.
A few days after our last overnight at their place, I sent him a song that I made me think of him. Embarrassingly, I also included an overly descriptive prose describing how it represented us. Just a week prior my message would have been met with a warm and reciprocating response from him. What’s even more telling is that I knew he was pulling back because in that embarrassing text, I left out emotional language and focused on the physical. But he didn’t even acknowledge it.
Getting no response chilled my heart and my enthusiasm. I felt a deep sense of confusion at how we could go from such intense texts to such lackluster involvement. It was as though we were playing by one game and he changed to a different game without telling me. I felt a sharp twinge disappointment but still I rationalized his coolness. He had friends visiting from college the next weekend and my mind told me that not hearing from him over the week and weekend was because he was having a great time. I brushed it off as silly insecurity and continued to give him space.
Up until this point, it was all in my head and easily denied. Feeling frustrated, I vented my concerns to my husband. He was worried and he encouraged me to keep reaching out to Brad and drawing him in. I tried this a few times and was often met with a lukewarm response. It was saddening to realize that he had stopped initiating.
Finally, it was when my husband and Amy made plans to see a live show and when Brad and I did not make plans, that I could not deny anymore. Given that we had not approved separate solo dates yet, it was surprising that we weren’t trying to balance our dates. In addition, he is also a planner and likes to have the details mapped out, so it was very contrary to his nature. All of this was adding up to the obvious conclusion that he was not okay. Anxiously, I waited as long as I could. A few days before they were supposed to meet, I couldn’t take not take it anymore. I reached out to him and I told him that I missed him and I wanted to see him. We agreed to get drinks while our spouses were at the show. My heart fluttered in my chest when he agreed. I really did want to see him.
We made plans and then did not speak again until the night that we were supposed to meet. The quietness even before our meeting was a far cry from when we would count down the hours or tell each other how excited we were.
I walked in knowing that by the end of our date, I would either be walking out with tears in my eyes or with his hand in mine.
Talking about our emotions and acknowledging that we wanted to feel with another couple opened up an entirely new world between myself and my husband. No longer did we feel like swingers in that we just wanted random bodies. When we talked honestly about our desires for an emotional connection we found ourselves in agreement that we wanted more of the type of connection we were getting from Brad and Amy. We couldn’t quite put words on what that label would be, but we knew it was beyond swingerdom. None of us were seeing other people at this point and we were by all measures, ‘dating’. My husband and I realized that we would need to negotiate very carefully how we would go forward between between us. We agreed to be honest and forthright about what we needed and our insecurities as we moved towards an emotional connection. Because Brad and Amy were also connecting with us emotionally, we assumed they would be doing the same.
However, despite me agreeing to my husband being free to explore, I felt more hesitant in some ways due to my personal baggage. Emotionally, I haven’t always had the easiest time truly connecting emotionally with people. It is a difficult process for me and one that I work on to this day, but it is very hard for me to be vulnerable with others. While it feels comfortable and exciting for others to get close to a new love, I tend to feel anxious and worried in addition to the excitement. Most people don’t realize that if I do build up enough courage to tell someone something meaningful and vulnerable about myself, I feel terrified that I shared that much of myself. Because of this, I tend to hold back until I feel like the person is “safe”. Oftentimes, I deem that they are not safe well before I’ve actually given them a real chance. Once they have my trust, then it tends to be a bombardment and it takes a lot for me to lose faith in them. I was hoping not to prematurely call Brad “unsafe” before I really gave him a chance. This was something I was intent on working on.
For example, in our last get together and in our first overnight, Brad and I connected very intensely. At one point he whispered into my ear, “I want to fall into you.” I felt a slight cold panic run through my veins but even worse when he said, “I want the line between you and me to blur.” This was a bit early for me and I don’t know how effective I was at truly reciprocating. Generally, I need some time to feel safe before I can explore being vulnerable with someone. Because it was in the heat of the moment, I dismissed it as him being overly affectionate. He must have picked up on my hesitance because the last time we were over at their place, Brad mentioned something about me being guarded. I laughed uncomfortably and said that yes, I was guarded, but that’s the way I was taught to protect myself. He probed for more details about some of my childhood life and I swept his question away dismissively. “Ahh, it would just bring the moment down. We don’t want to bring the moment down do we?” I flashed him a coy smile behind my bangs and slid my hip to the side to accentuate my curves. He did not press for details as I went back to slowly stripping the clothes off my body.
For me though, this represented an opportunity to grow beyond my usual comfort zone. I was committed to trying to connect with him and put myself out there more after that evening when he said I was guarded. Sadly, as you’ll read onward, this did not work out for me very well.
He leaned over the table and lowered his voice, “What if she tells me she loves me?” My husband looked to the left and right to see if anyone had heard him. He showed a sense of nervousness as if he was planning a plot against the president.
I paused for a second and raised my water glass and slowly sipped the straw to steal a moment to gather my composure. With a steady voice I said, “Do you mean if she tells you that she loves you in the light of the day or during ‘the moment’?” I swallowed deeply. I described how sometimes “the moment” during sex felt so powerful and overwhelming that even I sometimes felt the urge to say, “I love you,” but that I might not mean it outside of the bedroom. He looked relieved.
At that very second, the waiter came by to take our order. We straightened our posture in the wooden booth and pretended as though we were having a nonchalant conversation. I found my pitch higher as if to disguise how serious our conversation was. With an artificial enthusiasm I said, “Yes, I’d like the white pizza!” The waiter was amused. Lombari’s was a casual but excellent pizza joint in Little Italy. We were elbow to elbow with customers and had to wait what seemed like forever for a table, but it was worth it. Having the roar of the conversation of other patrons helped us feel more anonymous in our public conversation, but when the waiter came by it disrupted our bubble. He took our order and after as he walked off we leaned back across the table towards each other. My right eyebrow raised as I looked my husband in the eyes. Does he love her? I thought to myself. How do I feel about this?
He seemed more scared than certain and he also seemed more worried than happy. He was concerned she would be wanting to tell him during an unrequited moment. That’s when he explained to me the difference between him feeling it in the moment versus outside of the bedroom. He talked about feeling pressured to tell her in return and what that might mean for our relationship. We had been married for over a decade, and I was his first love. He was grappling with the idea of broadening his horizons by loving another woman. In some ways I felt as though he was both testing my approval of him falling for another woman while also stretching his own boundaries in how he felt.
Given that we had just gone to breakfast with Amy and Brad and observing their interactions, I felt certain that she was not ready to tell my husband that she loved him in the coldness of the day. I saw how her eyes did not linger on his…I heard her voice steady when she spoke to him. No…I didn’t feel that she was ready to tell him she really loved him. Maybe she was a good actress, but my gut told me that she was not ready to tell him that in the daylight.
Even so, this was different for us.
When we started out as swingers, there was no mention of an emotional involvement. In fact, there was an adamant agreement to be as non-involved as possible. Meeting Brad and Amy threw us for a loop. It changed our rules and it changed our boundaries. Throughout our exploration with them we realized how much we enjoyed the getting to know each other as lovers – not just as bodies. It was silly in the sense that in the beginning stages of our relationship, we kept wanting to “diversify” ourselves by meeting others but we could not bring ourselves to. If we had any free time, we spent it with them. For awhile they felt the same way and we were all practicing closed-swinging but without the verbal agreement.
As we progressed, my husband and I grew our boundaries accordingly. It was that day that I told him it was okay if he told her he loved her back. Even so, I felt uncertain. I felt scared. I also felt as though we were embarking on a new journey. However, at the same time, I wanted him to feel the love of another woman. I knew how beautiful that experience could be and I didn’t want to hold him back because I was scared. It helped that I also felt secure in his love for me. I fought back my insecurity and encouraged him to reciprocate. I told him I supported her telling him the “L word” and if he said it back too that it would be okay. If I am honest with myself, it didn’t take this conversation for me to realize that we had transitioned out of swinging to some undetermined realm of “polyish”. But that day we acknowledged and consented verbally that it would grow into something more. It was that day that I relinquished the expectation of being the sole winner of my husband’s heart and let another woman into our emotional lives.
The next morning we joined them to have homemade scones served next to a pot of freshly made french-pressed coffee. We sat on the same tweed couch which looked slightly different in the morning light. It still was sophisticated, but it was more formal in some ways. My husband said things were off with Brad but I did not notice. Upon greater reflection, I might have seen that Brad was not okay, but I was also feeling quite ill from the drinks and very little food from the previous night. We discussed getting breakfast but no one moved, much to my dismay. Instead, Amy initiated a kiss with my husband which set off a chain reaction between Brad and I. My body was not hungry for sex as much as it was for food, so I was reluctant at first. As Brad unbuttoned my jeans, I tried to get myself in the mood and push away the queasy feeling in my stomach. This time, I pulled us away from them and asked Brad if we could go to the master bedroom. He went down on me for a very long time while I heard Amy and my husband were strangely quiet. I stole a peek from the open bedroom door and could see her sitting on top of my husband while looking him in the eyes. I was worried that she would whisper a mistake to him and freak him out, so I prayed that she would keep the moment inside.
After Brad finished with me, I returned the favor. I was slow, gentle, and loving with my tongue. As I quickened speed, I could feel him getting closer and offered encouragement with soft moans. Swallowing a taste of him felt forbidden even though we had pre-arranged that I could do this. I was anxious to get dressed and leave, but Amy ran towards me naked, throwing me back on the bed while laughing. I was playful at first and cuddled with her, but I said that I had to get food as soon as possible. It almost felt as though she was stalling our departure because she knew that after breakfast we would go home. This feeling was enhanced when they spontaneously suggested visiting a local brewery after we paid for the check. The last thing I wanted to do was drink more, but I was enjoying my time with them so I agreed. My husband was less enthusiastic but I don’t think they picked up on it.
On the drive back to pick up our bag, Amy sat in the backseat with me. She told me she didn’t get enough time with me and asked us to stay. My instinct told me it wasn’t really about me as much as it was about getting my husband to stay. Of course there is no way to be certain, but I did find out that she had previously tried to convince him to come back by rubbing a hand over his cock and asking what it would take to get us to come back with them. Because my husband was shutting down in terms of energy, I declined the offer. She persisted. I declined again. As we were departing, she asked what they could do to make us stay. I said that if we stayed, we would never leave, and gently pried us away with a reassuring smile.
We left, but something had shifted in the dynamic. It was subtle…too subtle for any of us to pick up on.
We walked a few blocks to their contemporary loft apartment. An air of anticipation followed us while we took the elevator. When the doors closed behind us, we each embraced the other partner for a much desired kiss. Because of their downtown location, their apartment was only a one bedroom. They had rented out an adjacent apartment for us to play and sleep in. Initially, we all started in their living room. Brad turned on the playlist poured us cocktails that he made from barrel-aged rum. We sat on their sleek-lined tweed couch and kissed the partner of the other. I was pleased to hear favorite songs come on the playlist. One in particular inspired Brad and I to get up and start singing and dancing with each other. In that moment, life was perfect and effortless.
Very soon after we got started, my husband and Amy ran off to the other apartment. It felt strange to be in a completely different place from them, even though they were only next door. Brad and I remarked at how surprised we were that we didn’t mind that they had slipped away so we could be together. I sat on top of him as he laid on the couch. I slowly removed my sweater to see him smiling in approval at my lingerie selection. We kissed deeply and passionately for quite some time. There was one moment where he looked up at me inquisitively and said, “There is no way we could ever work in a relationship, right? We way are too similar.” My intuition told me that he needed to feel safe with our exploration by saying that we couldn’t ever be with each other. I nodded in agreement and smiled.
He led me to the bedroom where we had the entire queen sized bed to ourselves. The track lighting was dimmed and imparted a softness to the clean lines of their room. I pushed my body against his as he took me. My hair was wild, the long strands untamable like a mane. He pushed the hair out of my face so we could look at each other in the eyes. “There you are…” he said as his voice trailed off. We smiled at each other, like warm rays beaming from the sun. After we finished, we laid in each other’s arms, the beads of sweat slowly evaporating from our warm bodies. We talked and listened to music. We found ourselves opening up and sharing parts from our past intermixed with excited discussions about the songs that came on.
My husband came back in. “Hey Brad, Amy is falling asleep in the other room. Do you want to retrieve her?” This was important because we had agreed that sleeping separately was too much for us in the stage we were at. After the intense overnight, we had an explicit agreement that we would sleep with our own partners. Part of me was sad because I felt like the evening was a short relative to the luxuriating that we had done last time. When my husband and I were alone, he told me that Amy was very disappointed to not sleep with him. A worried look came across his face as he said that she was close to telling him that she loved him. He knew that she was saying it without saying it, and that they had spent the entire evening looking each other in the eyes deeply while they didn’t have much sex. I was also worried. We were only a few months in, and barely established as “not swingers” anymore, and I felt that it might be too fast. We agreed to discuss it and process later.
“Do you like this or this one?” my husband asked as he held up two shirts for my opinion for our date with Brad and Amy.
I slid open the glass shower door. Water dripped onto the bathmat as I poked my head out to get a better look. “The striped one,” I said as I gestured to his left.
We were running late so I finished shaving with quick strokes of the razor. Despite the initial rush, I carefully picked out my own outfit taking great care to select lingerie that I thought Brad would like. His taste tends towards the soft and feminine so I did a quick fashion show for my husband to poll for his opinion. I was nervous and he could tell by my indecision. This would be our first date after the first overnight and it was Valentine’s day. After endless conversations about what it meant to see our lovers on Valentine’s day, we reluctantly agreed to meet with them. There was a certain air of heaviness as the implications pressed upon us. As we got off of the subway, I realized what a mistake it was to wear highheeled boots after a snowstorm. Manhattan is good about salting the sidewalks, but I had to carefully navigate the sidewalks by holding my husband’s arm to keep steady. As I stepped around snow piles and avoided losing my footing, it struck me how it felt similar to navigating our relationship with Brad and Amy.
We arrived very late and they had already gotten a table. As they stood up to greet us, there was an uncomfortable moment as we all decided if we should sit next to our spouses across from the other couple or if we should mix it up. We sat next to our spouses and shielded ourselves from the gravity of the situation by making meaningless small talk. We ignored the fact that last time was an intense overnight. Even though we were preparing for another overnight (but at their place), we spoke as though we were just friends who were grabbing drinks.
I locked eyes with Brad and smiled. We had an intense build up to the evening. Our nights had been spent texting back and forth with each other. We shared romantic texts about how we wanted each other and described the different ways we wanted to explore each other’s bodies. We exchanged “questions of the day” as a way to get to know each other better. We were opening up, talking about fears and insecurities, talking about past relationships, talking about it all. A few nights before, we had stayed up quite late texting while Amy was asleep. It was a very connected conversation and when his phone died, he moved to chat. It was exciting to have so much in common, but I worried if Amy would be upset or jealous. The next few nights, we did not talk so much because he was painstakingly putting together a massive playlist of songs that he thought I would like that would last the entire evening. I did not ever suspect that would be one of the last times we would talk so extensively with each other through text.
Some days I struggle with our arrangement. As Brad comes closer to me, he pulls even further away. As Amy and my husband fall deeper, I feel the gap between us widen. Jealousy has started invading the edges of my world. With all the women my husband passionately took in front of me, I never felt any dark emotion. In small moments now, I feel it almost choking me as I struggle to tread these romantic waters.
I’m scared now.
Afraid that I will be left behind.
Worried that Brad and I will never catch up.
Terrified that I will be replaced.
I question whether or not I made a mistake. This pill has been like a sweet poison. While at first it tasted great, it is slowly sickening me. Like unpredictable waves of nausea, the envy comes and goes. The irony is that I was the one who pushed for the emotional relationship. I was the one who encouraged my husband to let go. Yet I am the one holding the bag of wanting. I’m getting small shreds of reciprocated affection while my husband and Amy leave us behind. When those waves hit, I do my best to tread the romantic waters without making a splash, but sometimes I feel like my legs can’t kick anymore.
Small things that would otherwise not bother me eat away at me. Yesterday it was when my husband was talking about him and Amy chatting about a solo date. He let me read the text message but before he passed the phone to me he said, “yeah, we hadn’t texted in awhile so this conversation was disjointed.” A leftward swipe to see the timestamps revealed over 7 texts in one day. My throat tightened as I felt the wind taken from me. That was more texts than I had gotten from Brad over a couple of weeks. That’s not because I don’t want to text with Brad, but rather the observation that I was initiating most of the texts with him and simply stopped. No, in fact, I yearn for the times where I get a random “thinking of you” or even a “hello”. Instead, days go by without a single word while my husband sometimes talks all day with her.
My heart sank. I looked at him and tried to joke, “this is not texting for awhile?” but my expression and shrill voice gave me away.
I knew I shouldn’t compare. Every relationship has it’s own path and you can’t predict where you are going or how fast you will get to the end. But in the moment, I couldn’t help but feel the sharp jab of envy. I am grateful that it passed in an instant, but I wonder how many waves I’ll be able to take before they swallow me whole.