I haven't given much thought to the topic of swinging lately, as in non-monogamous sex experienced within a married couple. We all hear the occasional joke about swingers, or say something in jest such as, "Oh, we didn't know you guys were into swinging!" Honestly when I hear the word, the first thing I think of is a kiddie playground, hence my surprise upon receiving an invitation to join a swingers club via my Meetup membership!
Perhaps you have heard of the internet networking site, Meetup. As you might imagine, like other cities the greater New York area has a fairly large number of participants looking to find like-minded individuals to share common interests. I first encountered Meetup.com upon moving to the suburbs from NYC with a new baby. I was looking to meet new moms so I got onto the mailing list for new parenting meetup groups. I initially joined two mommy groups, but now I ignore or delete most of the announcements. Luckily the title of the newest group caught my eye as I skimmed through my e-mails, finally giving me the full entertainment value that a Meetup account could possibly provide! Lo and behold, there in my inbox was a suggestion that I join "A New Meetup Group That Matches Your Interests," Married but not Dead. I giggled. As I read the group description, the giggling quickly accelerated into full-on laughter: "This group is for married men and women, 40 yrs and over who find themselves wanting to escape the married world for awhile and get out and have fun and socialize with people other than your husband or wife. We will have happy hours, dinners, and possibly weekend getaways. This is not geared for couples but as individuals. A photo is required, no exceptions. I will try to have an even ratio of men to women. Everyone will be screened to make sure you can be discreet and honest about who you are and why you joined. Your input is greatly appreciated. Ideas on meetup spots and times are certainly welcomed!" Holy Cannoli, I certainly did not think that my stay-at-home mother Meetup profile would qualify me as a candidate for Married but not Dead, but then I guess the show Desperate Housewives had to be inspired by some real life women, right? My only complaint about receiving this invitation is that I am actually not yet 40. I know, I know... in your late thirties people tend to round up, but I'd still like to hang onto a little bit of youthful freshness and innocence! Weekend getaways? Screening for discretion? All I can say is WOW!
Some people do speak of marriage as a sort of death, and I suppose it is, in a way. In order to get married we must die to our single selves. We cannot, or at the very least we are not supposed to hook up with co-workers, cruise bars for sex on weekends or chat up the dentist. I did have a friend once who wanted to ask her dentist out on a date. If she ever gets married, that opportunity is forever lost! We mourn the death of our single selves at bachelor and bachelorette parties. Personally, I think the guys get the better deal in that department since most women are simply too uncomfortable with the idea of male strippers, and female strippers are quite frankly much hotter than the guys.
A bit of superficial research on the topic of swinging turns up this amusing commentary from Wikipedia, "Swinging has been called wife swapping in the past, but this term has been criticized as androcentric and inaccurately describing the full range of sexual activities in which swingers may take part." Apparently swinging has a formally documented history dating back to the 16th century, and certainly just as solid a history dating back to the inception of marriage... it just wasn't that easy to transmit and preserve documents pre-Renaissance! Of course the ancient Romans had their share of fun orgies. What must it have been like to be a wealthy Roman? Maybe these new Meetup participants are looking to find out! If you are finding humor in this as I have been, do read the Wikipedia write-up on swinging. It is impressively comprehensive. I haven't been called a prude in quite a few years, but some of the swingers lingo was quite alien to me until today. Cuckolding is a familiar term, but I had never heard of "soft swap," "dogging," or "hot wife." Is it girlish of me to find these terms hilarious?
It would appear that most swingers clubs try to keep their groups private. At the top of the aforementioned group's page is a line reading, "sssshhhhhhhh!" Isn't it ironic that these groups are private when some of our most public figures are raging philanderers? My grandmother always said, "If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all," so I won't name names but a whole bunch of politicians, actors, preachers and athletes actively "swing" as a hobby. Anyone who has turned on the television or skimmed a single news publication in the past month might have learned something about a certain champion golfer! Why should everyone else have to keep this hobby private? I have always loved the truth of this scripture from the Christian Bible, "For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light" (Luke 8:17). I wonder if Bernie Madoff ever read that one? Surely there's a Torah equivalent. Irrespective of our religion, we give credence to our ability to hide prohibited behaviors somehow knowing all the while these acts will eventually be uncovered. Perhaps that is part of the appeal! It must feel good to get caught in the act and then receive forgiveness. Is swinging just another stab at finding unconditional love under the banner of sex?
In her book, Grant Me a Higher Love, Cindi Sansone-Braff delves into the depths of conditional versus unconditional love in romantic relationships. She also analyzes many marriage and relationship traps that we all fall into; one of my favorites is what she calls the Everybody Loves Raymond marriage, wherein the partners relate to one another as Raymond and Debra Barone. I can think of many marriages I have witnessed that seem to follow that pattern. Repetitive domestic routines can quickly lead to the doldrums, and when you throw in the challenge of children--well, you know the rest of the story. Grant Me a Higher Love is an excellent relationship resource, but it certainly doesn't recommend swinging. I am not standing in judgment of swingers. If it was socially and culturally acceptable, I cannot say with certainty that I wouldn't do it myself. Being human makes it difficult to claim anything with certainty.
Do we really need swinging to stay alive in a marriage? Are we doomed to live as zombies if we follow the traditional pattern? I don't believe so. I believe that through delving into the best parts of ourselves and reaching the capacity to love ourselves and our partners unconditionally, we truly can be Married but not Dead, in the confines of our original vows. It is not the easiest path. It is not like following a cake recipe--but it is less complicated than a highly intricate web of extra-marital sex, be it consensual or not (i.e. cheating versus swinging!)
To close, I'll leave you with two funny "meetup topics" used as criteria for group participant selection: "Hip Parents," and "Discreet Friendship." I would love to be considered hip and when I really try, discretion is within my power but...I ain't no married zombie!