HER: I’ve listened to three podcasts in the past month where well-known lifestyle personalities have expressed their discomfort with separate room play. Each of them said they would ‘never’ have sex without their partner present. And I understand where they’re coming from. That seemed too close to an ‘open marriage’ for us.
HIM: Near the beginning of our lifestyle journey, we were arranging a date with a couple when they surprised us by insisting that they always play in separate rooms. They told us in no uncertain terms and that we should be comfortable with that if we wanted to take things further with them. From their perspective, playing separately was the hallmark of a mature couple who were comfortable in the lifestyle. We were kind of shocked. We considered ourselves ‘mature’ and ‘comfortable’, but, like the podcasters, we considered separate room play a step too far. And that was that.
HER: As so often happens on this adventure, we’ve evolved. I think back on how we felt in 2016 today and laugh at our squeamishness. I guess I should really say my squeamishness. You were more open to it than me. Back then, I was uncomfortable with the thought of not seeing the interaction between you and the other woman. I wanted to be a part of it, because I felt like that would give me a sense of being in control of the situation.
HIM: What, exactly, were you afraid you might miss?
HER: I guess I imagined you would exchange intimacies that I wasn’t a part of, whether physical or verbal. What would happen if you gave her all your attention without having to consider me? There could be secrets between you.
HIM: Were you afraid I might say “I love you” to someone else?
HER: In my most insecure moments, yeah. Maybe.
HIM: So, what changed your mind?
HER: There were a few factors. First, I didn’t realize how much I would come to trust and care for the people we play with. Whether it’s ‘our tribe’ who we party with most often, or even couples we’ve just met and instantly bonded with, I feel safe with the kind of people we’re attracted to. I know that none of our friends are going to steal you away. They’re happy in their own relationships, and they’re not interested in ruining ours. Second, I trust you more. We’ve been doing this long enough, and I’ve seen you with enough women, to feel confident that, no matter how much fun you have, you aren’t going to leave me. We always go home together, healthier and happier than before we played.
H IM: I’m sorry you thought I was ‘stealable’ in the early days. I guess I always felt that our ship was so steady that it couldn’t be easily tipped over. But it didn’t matter much, because I was never that interested in playing separately anyway … until recently, that is, when we both figured out that playing apart could be the answer to the issues we were facing regarding our different play styles.
HER: Different is right! It’s funny because, in our everyday lives, we have so much in common, but our sexual styles are vastly different. We have different tastes in people, we move at very different paces, and we have different body clocks. I’m a night owl, while you prefer an early bed time. So there were lots of frustrating drives home after dates and lifestyle events as we tried to figure out how to navigate our differences.
HIM: I remember seeing the problem clearly for the first time last year. We brought a couple back to our place after a first date, which was rare for us. It seemed like we had barely gotten in the door when you and he started making out in the family room. She and I were chatting in the kitchen when you announced that the two of you were going upstairs, and that we should join you. We lingered a bit downstairs because, honestly, she and I weren’t even close to being ready to take it to the next level.
HER: Meanwhile, he and I were killing time in the bedroom the way swingers do, trading oral back and forth, waiting anxiously for you two to arrive. I wanted so badly for him to put his gorgeous cock in me, but I felt like I wasn’t allowed to take that next step until you were in the room.
HIM: Once we arrived, you two were finally able to get to what you had been dying to do from the beginning. She and I, on the other hand, proceeded to go through the motions. It was like we were actors in a movie playing out a sex scene simply because it was in the script. I realized later that we were probably an hour or three away from having an organic sexual experience that could have been great for both of us. But, because our partners were sexual race car drivers, we never got the chance to see what amazing sex could have happened if we had just let things unfold naturally.
HER: That’s when we started talking about possible solutions. I knew I would not be comfortable with having an open relationship, where we each date separately, but I could imagine letting you play out of my sight with someone I already knew. We decided that we would start giving each other permission to be ‘free agents’ at the house parties we host. This worked for me for two reasons. First, we only invite people we like. We haven’t necessarily played with everyone on our guest list, but we have, at minimum, had a drink and felt a connection with them. I wouldn’t want you fucking a stranger, but I felt I could trust our guests. The second reason I liked this approach was the proximity. Whenever I had imagined going on a date with a single man, I worried about my safety. Having you close at hand addressed that concern. And if I started feeling insecure about what you were up to with someone else, I wouldn’t be left imagining the worst. That was my emotional insurance policy: I could just go find you.
HIM: The ‘free agent’ solution seemed like a good way to address our issues while allowing us each the maximum freedom to move at our own pace. The problem, however, is that it’s not just about us. At a couples’ party, you can only play separately if you can find other individuals with the same arrangement. And, guess what? There are no secret handshakes. They don’t wear badges.
HER: We did consider offering colour-coded wrist bands to indicate people’s play styles, but it became too complicated. There are just too many variations. In the end, it seemed like it would come down to good old fashioned communication. We try to do our part by letting people know that we’re open to separate play so no one has to guess about us. I also try to find the partner of any man I’m about to play with to let her know what’s happening. I want to make sure she’s okay with it, and assure her that she is always welcome to join us.
HIM: This approach has worked so well at our parties, that we’ve expanded it to other situations. At last year’s Podcast-a-Palooza, for example, when I was injured, I was happy to send you off to another hotel room to play with our new friends. The same thing happened at the recent Club Euphoria foam party in Ohio. I was tired after an hour of dancing, so I went to our room to take a break while you continued rubbing up against the naked people in the bubbles. Both times, you knew you were free to have sex with whomever caught your attention, even if we had just met them. I trusted your judgment.
HER: Sounds like a great program for me, but what about you? I haven’t seen you taking advantage of your freedom nearly as much as I have.
HIM: I think there are a few reasons for that. First of all, we did this because you like to move quickly. You’re going to have more opportunities than me simply because you make faster judgments. Second of all, when you play separately you are magically transformed into a unicorn, that much sought after creature with the ability to turn some lucky couple’s twosome into an FMF threesome. As a woman, you can jump into a situation simply because you’re intrigued. You’ll be able to perform even if you aren’t necessarily turned on. I, however, will need to produce a serviceable erection at some point. I prefer to look for situations where all the stars align: the woman is really into me, I’m really into her, and she has permission to play separately. Oh, and situations where I’m not ready to fall asleep.
HER: Can you think of a time in the last couple of years when everything has fallen into place like that and separate room play really worked for you?
HIM: I think the truth is, not really.
HER: Any idea why?
HIM: I guess the real answer is that this approach wasn’t about increasing my level of happiness, but eliminating some sources of unhappiness. The motivating factor for me was that I hated being in a situation where I was expected to have sex when I wasn’t ready just because you were. So, by agreeing to play separately, you could feel free to do your thing without placing any implicit obligation on me. I was trying to get less of a negative thing rather than more of a positive thing.
HER: Wow. I’m sorry.
HIM: Don’t be sorry! Here’s the thing: we have a great sex life together. We got into the lifestyle to explore our sexualities without limits. It just so happens that operating independently is the best route for me, and that’s speaking completely selfishly. It’s about equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. In a situation where we are both free to do whatever we want, all the evidence seems to suggest that I’m going to want less than you. So, let me say it on the record here: if you have 30 awesome sexual experiences in the next 12 months, and I have 3 — that’s right, if you have ten times as much extra-curricular sex as I do — I’ll be more than happy with that. I would much rather do it this way than have my 3 awesome experiences obscured by 27 mediocre experiences where I was just trying to keep pace with you. The worst thing we can do as a couple is start keeping score.
HER: But what about the thing we said back in 2016? I still worry sometimes that we’re drifting away from the idea of being in the lifestyle together, and that we might someday find ourselves in a place I don’t like.
HIM: Whatever we’re talking about — whether it’s same room play, separate room play, or even if we try a hotwifing experiment — it starts and ends with me and you together. Even sex in separate rooms can provide that joint reward we’ve been looking for from the beginning . I don’t mind if you’re the only one who has sex at some event, there’s a big pay-off for me both from the anticipation, and from hearing about what you’ve been up to when you tell me about it afterward. I think it’s about zooming out from a narrow definition of what ‘being in this together’ truly means.
HER: Well, I’m comfortable with it if you are, but I could still never imagine us having a completely open relationship. I don’t want us dating separate people or anything.
HIM: Remember how you didn’t think separate room play was a good idea … until you did? Well, never say never.
Liam & Kate are a married couple, very much in love, writing honestly and insightfully about their adventures in the world of non-monogamy.