When you're asked to swing
We couldn't believe our luck when we met Charlie and Fiona (whose names have been changed for reasons which should become apparent). In them we had found the early parental Holy Grail: a couple whose offspring got on brilliantly with ours - the kids' mutual entertainment guaranteed for precious hours on end without any significant exertion on our part - and whose company we actually enjoyed.
Soon we were embarking on day trips together, letting the little ones run wild around zoos, adventure playgrounds and mazes, while we hung back, chewing the fat and bonding, basking in the almost-forgotten glow of grown-up social interaction. It had been so long.
Then, one fateful late summer weekend, we decided to take things further. Two nights in a cottage on the Mornington Peninsula. Ample opportunity for the preschoolers to exhaust themselves, bickering over buckets and spades and exploring jellyfish remains on the beach, which meant early nights for them and plenty of scope for adult-style hanging out for us.
It was about midnight on the Friday, and there hadn't been a peep out of the kids for hours. I was sitting out on the decking with Charlie, both of us smiling at the stars and nurturing a hefty buzz, when my new pal made his pitch. "We were wondering," he ventured, a mischievous glint in his swivelling eyeballs, "if you guys like to party?" The emphasis afforded the verb made its meaning plain. "Ah. Umm," I offered, scouring the constellations for adequate response. Staunchly, he attempted to help me out. "It would be any way you'd want it. I'd be happy just to watch. Though..." - at this point rewarding me with a frank grin - "I swing both ways, and so does Fi."
I stammered my apologies, how I was flattered, sure, but no, we didn't, it was nothing personal, just, ha ha, you know - hey, is that a satellite up there? No worries, I was assured, there was no pressure, and it was cool if we weren't into it, but the offer was there, so, you know, whatever ...
The rest of the weekend passed without strain or further solicitation, and nine months or so on, our kids continue to regularly cavort, compete and squabble with one another, offering us welcome reprieve when they do from the relentless pressure to entertain them. Our friendship with Charlie and Fiona is flourishing. All four of us know, though, what was figuratively slapped out on to the table that night, like some saucy genie released from its bottle, and our interactions now carry a faint crackle of sexual tension.
The party invitation, though never repeated, still hangs in the air, and Charlie and Fiona have long since taken us into their confidence regarding the details of their open relationship, despite our protestations. Not that there's been that much to tell. Just a handful of unculminated three- and four-ways, really, with the general pattern being that the co-participants back out at the pivotal moment, with cold feet or other appendages.
Despite this lack of distinction, though, their attempted carnal adventures have thrown the complacent conservatism of me and my beloved de facto, a decade together next year, into a stark and dull relief. Sure, we're devoted to one another, still appreciate the cut of one another's jib, but is our incurious monogamy an excuse to be timid and staid? In the past few years, a deeply committed gay couple within our pre-parenthood circle of friends has been extended into a harmoniously cohabiting triad, while another good friend has shaken off the shackles of a long-standing, unhappy heterosexual relationship, and found fulfilment with a same-sex lover.
All around us, sexual boundaries are being tested. The internet is clogged with doggers (not bestiality practitioners, mercifully, but strangers who meet to watch one another get it on in public, another marvel of the social media age), dabblers and fetishistas, whose exploits leave me feeling squeamish, but vaguely inadequate.
For how much is my resistance to Charlie's overture born of loyalty to my lover, and how much of fear of the unknown? (It may be worth noting that Charlie, a tall and rangy fellow, carries himself with the swaggering assurance of the spectacularly well-hung.)
As the days draw out and the mercury rises, there are likely to be more weekends at the beach, camping trips and mini-breaks for the four of us and our kids. And, once the children are tucked up in bed, the potential is there, with the right mood and intoxicants, for inhibitions to get loosened, the lines a little blurred. Charlie and Fiona are warm, funny, vivacious people. They are also a few years younger than us, which should be irrelevant, but somehow isn't. There really is something flattering about their interest.
And if, on some heady night in the Grampians, some line that's been blurred gets crossed, what harm would there be? What's the very worst thing that could happen?
But let's not go there. For that way lies the treacherous quagmire of sexual insecurity.
Things as they stand are just fine. If our play-dates and mini-breaks crackle with an erotic undercurrent, that will only make them more fun. Any actual consummation could lead that crackle to fizzle out, leaving in its place an atmosphere of mutual blame and disappointment. Or, if it didn't fizzle, but instead exploded, who knows where that would leave us? All emotional and raw is my guess, opened cans of worms all over the place, what a mess.
I must remember to take along some board games.
- Daily Life