HIM: Everyone gets into the world of swinging because they want to get together with other people. The truth is, however, that you’ll probably do more breaking up than hooking up. For every couple you say yes to, there will probably be several you have to say no to.
HER: That was actually the part of our adventures that scared me the most in the first place. I hate giving people bad news. I was afraid that I would end up agreeing to something I didn’t want to do, simply because that would be easier than potentially hurting someone’s feelings. I’m totally the kind of person who would ‘take one for the team,’ and not just our team!
HIM: I guess that’s why saying no for both of us is my job. I don’t like letting people down any more than you do, but I always keep in mind that, ultimately, we all want to be with people who are crazy about us. No one (well, aside from the typical teenage boy) wants pity sex. So if you’re really not feeling it, then you have to tell the other people, just as you would want them to tell you.
You’d think getting this news would be easy for people in the lifestyle. After all, they’re mainly looking for sex, not a long-term commitment. And when you’re dealing with couples, they obviously already have a partner; you’re not consigning them to a lifetime of loneliness. Yet in a very brief time, we’ve managed to find ourselves in a number of awkward break-up situations. Sometimes it’s been as simple as telling a couple who have just shown us their pictures online that we’re not feeling the attraction. At the other extreme, we’ve had to tell people we’ve already had sex with that it’s not working for us. Neither is easy.
HER: Interestingly, the easiest break-ups have been with our long-term threesome partners: the closest we’ve come to true polyamory. My friend, who was part of our first threesome, met the love of her life, and he just wasn’t into sharing. So, after a couple years of playing with her, that was the end of that. And our male threesome partner started online dating and didn’t feel right not telling the women he met about our little trysts, so that has fizzled out after a year and a half. In both cases, we cared about them enough to want what was best for them, and there were absolutely no hard feelings. We still love seeing each of them, but the nights end differently.
HIM: Those were exceptional situations, though. The end was more organic: it was more about a life change than a rejection of us. But those rejections sometimes have to happen. Over time I think I’ve figured out a few things that have made it easier to say no to a couple who we’re just not that into.
One of the most useful approaches, I think, is to talk about the possibility of it not working out right from the beginning. Before anyone has a chance to say yes to anything, we let them know that we want to be the easiest people to say no to. Of course, talking about our expectations of ourselves is just another way of talking about what we want from them. And, sure enough, most couples will step right up to let us know that we can expect the same kind of no pressure/no drama attitude from them. Putting that card on the table early makes it easier to play it later if needed. And, of course, we have to mean it. If someone tells us they don’t want to move forward, our job is to accept that verdict with good humour. And without a debate.
HER: The problems arise because not everyone has that kind of good humour. I think we’d all agree, there are two kinds of break ups: the amicable and the bitter. The most positive ‘break-up’ experiences we’ve had have been with the couples who graciously accept the simple explanation that there just wasn’t a four-way connection. They may express regret or say that that wasn’t their experience, which is cool, but they don’t demand explanations or details. Those are the kinds of people I’d be happy to see again in the future, either for a drink or dance at the club.
On the other hand, there are the people who try to argue, as if we could be logically debated into finding them attractive, or who enumerate all the ways we let them down or mislead them. While I understand the need for closure, entering into a debate takes what could be an opportunity to end things as friends and turns it bitter.
HIM: It’s a fine line. I’m sure their objections make sense to them, so that’s a lesson to us: just don’t go there. You might feel like there’s an opportunity for learning or explaining, but realistically, you’re just drawing out an unpleasant situation for both sides. Now, there are some instances when you know you’re dealing with a like-minded ‘relationship nerd’ who might enjoy a little post-game analysis, but that’s extremely rare.
This can be hard to remember when the reason given for ending things seems lame. Even then, however, you have to accept it at face value. I get it: I’m 54 years old, and my hair is mainly silver. It is not inconceivable that some younger woman might think ‘he just seems like an old man to me.’ Do I expect her to actually say that? No. Her job is to come up with the most plausible excuse she can think of, and my job is to accept it amiably without question.
HER: What about honesty in the service of self-improvement? What if the truth is potentially helpful for the person to know? We had that situation recently where one of the people had distractingly bad breath. If we told them, they would be able to actually do something about it. Don’t we owe them that?
HIM: If that had been the only problem with this couple, I think it might have been possible to say ‘Hey, we love everything about you except this one little thing.’ I think that’s fair, and I honestly think I could handle hearing that if it was me. But in the situation you’re speaking of, bad breath was just one of several issues. Even if they solved that one, there were other reasons why the relationship would not have made it off the runway.
In the end, it’s not our job to make people better. If there is an issue with grooming, or hygiene, or behaviour, and they can’t figure it out for themselves, it’s their partner’s reponsibility to point it out. That goes for us, too.
HER: Fair enough. Okay, so back to breaking it to them gently, you have a couple other tricks up your sleeve that are pretty good. Like the way you dealt with the couple we met at that rooftop cafe.
HIM: That was interesting. You and I both agreed on the way back to the car that nothing was going to happen with these people. They were nice, but the erotic dimension was non-existent. I wrote to them as soon as I could and basically said, “You may have been thinking the same thing, but in spite of the fact that you are obviously a smart and attractive couple, we just didn’t feel any sexual chemistry.” By writing “you may have been thinking the same thing,” it gives them a chance to say that they also weren’t feeling it before they put themselves out on a limb by suggesting a second date. Sure enough, that’s exactly what they did.
The other thing is to ALWAYS say that you don’t play on the first date. If you say what most people do — that you might be open to playing if it feels right — you can end up in the awkward situation where a couple you’re not attracted to invites you back to their place and you have to tell them ‘no’ face-to-face. It’s easier just to remind them of the policy you’ve already clearly communicated.
HER: But what if you actually DO want to play on the first date. What if the other couple is totally amazing?
HIM: No problem. If there really is a four way connection, and everyone is feeling it, no one’s going to mind if you suggest breaking the rule.
But it’s important to point out that these are not tricks. In the first situation, you really don’t know what the other people are experiencing. The odds are good that, if we’re not feeling it, they aren’t either. As for the rule about not playing on the first date, it’s just a no-lose proposition. It could save you from some really bad (possibly drunken) decisions. And reserving the right to break your own rules should always be a given.
In the end, though, the best approach is still just to gently deliver the truth. Everyone in the lifestyle should have to sign a waiver stating that they recognize that attraction is a quirky thing. We’ve all met that perfect physical specimen who somehow leaves us cold, and we’ve all found ourselves having dirty thoughts about someone who definitely isn’t our type. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.
HER: Or as satisfying when everything finally comes together.
Liam & Kate are a married couple, very much in love, writing honestly and insightfully about their adventures in the world of non-monogamy.