N Likes explains how non-monogamy saved his marriage
I love my wife. Fourteen years in, our marriage is stronger, closer, more fulfilling and more sexually satisfying than it’s ever been. We have a kid, a house, demanding professions and a wide circle of friends. We don’t live in a perpetual state of nirvana. We fight, we struggle, we work, and even the best parts of our marriage have ebbs and flows, just like in any other marriage. In spite of that all, we are both happier than we’ve ever been. Our secret? We are monogamish.
Dan Savage, the syndicated sex columnist, coined the term “monogamish” to fill a linguistic gap, describing couples that occasionally bring other partners into their marriages.
We aren’t polyamorous. We don’t think of ourselves as having an open marriage. We’re not swingers. We’re monogamish. We love each other truly, madly, deeply. We are emotionally faithful to one another, and relentlessly honest with one another. We are committed to being one another’s (only) partner in life. And, occasionally, we have sex with other people—sometimes together, sometimes separately.
There are growing numbers of people like us, people that, for whatever reason, have concluded that their marriage would be enriched (or preserved) by non-monogamy. We are not typical. In our travels in this world over the last couple of years, we’ve yet to meet another couple with our story. We haven’t met any two couples with the exact same story. Our tale won’t be yours—it’s ours alone.
We got married when we were thirty, after a couple of years of dating. We were truly soulmates, but our sexual connection was never the strongest or easiest part of our relationship. In both functional and dysfunctional ways, we struggled achieving sexual satisfaction together. I was unfaithful on an epic, grand scale. My wife shut down sexually, convinced she would never find the kind of sexual fulfillment she had experienced with others before we met. But not with me. She made the honorable—if not a bit stifling—decision to remain faithful. I didn’t. I tried, but I failed.
Fast forward ten or twelve years, the last few of which were nearly unbearably sad and confusing—for both of us, but especially for my wife, as I receded from our marriage and our household. Finally, my infidelity became intolerable to me. She had never noticed—at least not consciously. I confessed. “I love you,” I said. “I need you. I couldn’t bear to lose you.” I revealed my deep, dark, awful secrets and betrayals. My wife, after much soul-searching and pain, decided to stay with me. And we spent the better part of two years trying to make a go of it.
This period was a searing and painful time, not least because of the magnitude of my betrayals. We tried to live monogamously. But if it ever might have worked for us—and, to be honest, I was never really successful at it our first go-round—it wasn’t working now. My wife’s sexuality awakened a bit, activated, in part, by a brief affair of her own, but I was useless in repeating that awakening inside her. My sexuality clamored in the darkness. We were miserable and lonely together.
We started conducting experiments—little ones, at first. Our hypothesis was, “We love each other, and we want to be together sexually, but maybe we need something different than either of us can give one another.” We placed an ad on Craigslist. We met another couple. Had drinks with them. Flirted with them. And then—gasp—we brought them back to our house (our kid was away) and had sex next to them on the same bed. It wasn’t exactly a sexual encounter with them. It was a sexual encounter near them. And it was hot. Later on, we went to a sex club together: we wouldn’t touch another soul. We’d just watch. And we did watch, and then we had our own sex. Again, near other people, in front of other people, turning them on, turned on by them. And we debriefed. It was fascinating.
For us, debriefing about what happened (the dinners, the parties, the trips) has always been the place where our greatest passion lies. We love to analyze, deconstruct, observe, and criticize together. But suddenly, sex—this previous conversational no-go zone for both us—became a new area of shared experience, reaction, and thought. We were connecting sexually, both intellectually and physically. Even our sex together began improving once we introduced external stimuli. Not only that, but being able to talk about the sex we’d seen each other became a surprisingly fertile, and non-threatening way of talking about our own desires, needs, and fantasies.
The next Craigslist ad was more adventurous: we contemplated the possibility of actually having sex with other people, with another couple. Our first date was a rousing success: we met another couple very similar to us in many ways. It was honestly surprising we weren’t already friends. We didn’t trade too many identifiable details with them yet but we realized quickly that we already had Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections in common. We drank, chatted, and flirted with them. We made out in the bathrooms of a bar, ultimately getting ourselves kicked out of the place like teenagers. For the first time since my wife and I had started dating, each of us shared the same experience of learning our way around a new pair of lips with our partner’s blessing. And it was hot.
That night, my wife and I went home, had great sex, and began an e-mail flirtation with this couple. We set up new e-mail accounts and shared logins. (No more secrets.) My wife flirted with the husband. I flirted with the wife. We ratcheted up our excitement, we experienced what some in the world of polyamory call “new relationship energy,” or “NRE.” We took delight in discovering and in being discovered. We had increasingly hot sex too. I saw how this guy, so different than me in some ways, so similar in others, turned my wife on. She saw how his wife turned me on. We each saw our partner activate mad, passionate desire in another person. We saw one another through new eyes. And we saw one another aroused in ways neither of us had ever seen. At least not together.
Our flirtation continued with the same couple and then deepened over the next few days. Those days felt like delicious weeks. We played intellectually and flirtatiously via e-mail. Sometimes, just with our new partners. Sometimes, the four of us together. We all hit it off so well.
Sometimes, though, jealousy was an issue. It was incredibly scary to see my wife so excited, so turned on by a guy who wasn’t me. Was I going to lose her? Was he better than I was? (He’s taller. In some ways, he’s smarter. And as it turned out, better endowed). He seemed able to activate my wife’s desire in ways I never had. My wife, to her credit, seemed fine with everything. I guess I had convinced her I wasn’t leaving her, over a shockingly large number of other partners, and she didn’t feel threatened. Or maybe it’s just not in her blood. I don’t know.
But jealousy—and its cousin, envy—remained issues for me for some time, growing in intensity in proportion to the growth in sexual intensity of the relationship. We met the other couple again, this time, planning to have sex. We drank together. We went to a hotel together. We swapped spouses. It was insanely hot. And insanely terrifying.
At one point, my wife and her (new) partner left the room where the four of us had been earlier, leaving me alone with my new partner. And my thoughts, fantasies, and fears about what was happening behind that closed door made me flip out. My arousal, and my erection, temporarily vanished, replaced by fear, anxiety, and terror. Soon, they emerged. My wife looked content. Satisfied. So did the guy who’d just fucked her. Damn.
Notwithstanding the firestorm of anxiety their seclusion had ignited in me, I had survived it, which made me feel better. And I had just had hot sex with a hot woman, not my wife. We kissed this other couple good night after a little idle post-coital chitchat, and T and I went home. And had more hot sex.
Our affair with that couple continued for some time. We became actual Facebook friends. We were lucky to connect with such like-minded people: their approach to the monogamish lifestyle was fairly similar to ours. Because they’d had a tiny bit more experience, they helped us in the beginning as we navigated the confusing and treacherous shoals of preliminary non-monogamy.
I’m eager to avoid evangelizing: non-monogamy isn’t right for everybody. It’s not a panacea. Sex still isn’t our greatest point of connection, and while we’ve had some insanely exciting moments fueled by our extramarital adventures, I’d be surprised if we ever found the sexual part of our relationship easy. That’s just not who we are together. It’s not what our marriage is. What non-monogamy has done for us is to allow us to achieve greater sexual satisfaction together than we would have done otherwise. For us, non-monogamy saved our marriage. For many people we’ve met, it’s felt less mandatory, less necessary, and more like a fun luxury. There are as many versions and interpretations of non-monogamy as there are people. Ours is just one story.
Image credit: Flickr/davidtribby.com