“I’ll never figure out this “swinging” lifestyle!” This phrase came billowing out of my mouth through tears and a host of fears, almost a decade ago. For those who’ve followed Openlove101 these past few years, you’ll remember the story I’ve told about the first time John and I decided to open up our marriage to a new phase in our journey through consensual non monogamy. We’d participated in soft swap, full swap, single play, threesomes, etc…and felt progressive enough to introduce a more in depth kind of play, one in which we’d invite play partners for more extended interactions.
As fate would have it, an old flame of John’s was going to be visiting our city and so John and I decided to invite this woman to our home for a weekend. This was new territory, but I felt confident in my ability to navigate what I believed would be an exciting new level in our relationship. I was ready and willing to take the next step in what I hoped would be a transition to a more open concept marriage. I’d done the research and done the self examination enough to know a more open relationship approach was the route I (and John) wanted.
As the story goes, John’s friend arrived and initially things were great. I was enthusiastic about her visit and enjoyed getting to know her. I felt strong in my relationship with John and good about myself. Alongside my enthusiasm though, there was this strange sense of unease. I pushed the feeling down, shrugging it off as nerves. Of course I would feel some anxiety, we were after all introducing a new ingredient in our lives.
Our initial plan was to operate in unison. All three of us would navigate her visit together. The first day’s visit unfolded in this unified manner, but on day two I switched up the game plan. “I know we all planned to go to lunch and the museum, but I want you to have a chance to visit with _______ alone.” I said this to John with conviction and a real sense of progressiveness. I was sure this was what I wanted. So, per my instructions John and this other woman left for a day of togetherness.
When John’s texts began I was okay. “We’re at lunch” then a little later he sent, “we’re at the museum.” Good, good, he is staying in touch and they are knocking items off the days list. In the meantime I was at home…alone. It would be the following texts along with a feeling of exclusion when that strange sense of unease would gather strength. “We’re holding hands” followed by “we kissed.”
Like a rising tide, I felt my resolve and confidence engulfed in a wave of fear. Oh gawd, what was I doing? What was I thinking? Had I just driven MY husband into the arms of another woman? A woman who had a past with him? A woman who I believed could give the man I married a better blowjob than me?! My fear had opened the floodgates and every huge (and minute) fear came rushing in. I went from feeling dynamic and enlightened to feeling worthless. Every internal self doubt was amplified by what I thought was happening. What did I think was happening? I thought I was not enough for John. All of a sudden I went from thinking I was “all that” to thinking this other woman’s youth, beauty, and her focus on John trumped anything I brought to the table.
By the next morning, I was a huddled mass of goo on the shower floor. Every bit of confidence I’d had about moving our relationship into a more open concept, seemed an insurmountable distance away. A place oddly enough I still wanted to get to, but not being at all sure how on earth the trek would ever be achieved.
John of course was shocked by my quick plunge into the waters of despair. He tried everything to reassure me that I was his world and that he had no intention of leaving me to be with his friend. That’s it, he said, “we’re just not going to proceed any further into swinging. I can’t stand to see you so broken up inside. Let’s just stop.”
Okay, so I know this is going to sound kind of weird because I was broken up about what was happening and I was a crying mess and felt like the lowest of the low, but when John suggested we stop swinging, I felt my heart sink a little. I remember my brain firing an internal conversation that went something along the lines of, “well now, hold on. I’m not sure if I want to give up the freedoms swinging is bringing ME!” You see, as much as John’s play time and attention with his friend had triggered a fear in me, I still enjoyed the lifestyle from my side.
That’s when I knew the falling apart reaction to John’s weekend guest was much more of a “me” problem than a “we” problem. In one swift and glaringly clear moment I realized all the bravado I’d been spouting about my self assurance and my self confidence and even my deep abiding love and trust in John might not be the full picture. Maybe, just maybe my fears were stemming from a lack of self confidence, of self assurance, of trust and even love.
Now bare with me, cause just like opening up a marriage to include others, soaking up new information can be a challenge. Just look at me! I WANTED to open my marriage and I still struggled.
What followed next was a completely vulnerable and transparent conversation with John. No, I didn’t want to cancel our plans of opening up our relationship, but it was apparent I was going to need to put some steps in place to help with the transition. I displayed ALL my fears for both of us to see. I knew enough to know we wouldn’t be able to work together as a team if I kept fears hidden. You know the phrase, “you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.”
I had to get honest about my fear of her looks, my fear of my own worth in the relationship, my fear that my level of trust of John was stemming from my past and my own insecurities. I unwrapped every fear, even going against my own ego’s fear that revealing said fears would only be setting myself up for a revelation I wouldn’t want to hear. Am I right? When we are in fear of what our imagination cooks up, the last thing we want to do is reveal our own vulnerability. In doing so, we believe we’re giving our opponent the opportunity to strike.
Yes, even then, I sucked it up and readied myself for the possibility that John might say, “yes, Jackie my friend does kiss better than you and as a result I’m leaving.” But that’s fear isn’t it? Fear is a building block for doubt.
With patience and an incredible amount of love, John patiently listened to me slowly and methodically admit each fear and then he set about reassuring me my fears were just that… fears. There was nothing solid about where my imagination had taken me. My sigh of relief was deep and guttural. A wave of relief washed over me in addition to some bravery. I’d risked what my fear had told me might be too big a price to pay for being vulnerable and I’d come out the other side knowing a deeper sense of love for myself and in turn for my partner.
In Brene Brown’s book, “Daring Greatly” she quotes Theodore Roosevelt,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
Being truthful to John in those moments made me feel like the man in the arena, I was going to go against my fear in a valiant effort to dare greatly. A desire to know the truth of our relationship became stronger than any fear!
So with the above story in mind I want to share with you a recent diary entry. An entry I made in August of 2020. I want to show you what is capable of happening if you stay the course, don’t give up and work together.
“I woke up around 7:00am. John was sleeping soundly beside me. I’d heard him climb into bed last night but I was too deeply entrenched in sleep mode to acknowledge his presence.
As I was preparing to leave the bedroom, I heard him roll over. “So how was last night?,” he smiled a sleepy grin, “good.” Yes, he and his date had sex, twice actually. Through his grogginess he told me how he and his date had talked for hours. “She’s really smart and loves to talk philosophy.” As I sat on the bed listening to my husband share the evening’s events, all I felt was a deep and all encompassing love for John. I wasn’t jealous or nervous or busy comparing his descriptions of his date with myself. All I felt was love.
How could this be? How could I possibly feel love when my husband was telling me all the details of his date with another woman? Another woman who by the way is beautiful and young and full of sexual energy?
I mean as far as society goes, the description I give of this other woman would/should/could be a HUGE red flag! I might as well be contacting the neighborhood attorney and figuring out how to divy up the marital assets, cause I’ve just invited trouble into the marriage.
But what if I haven’t? What if I’ve done the opposite? What if our marriage acknowledges and even encourages the fact that we are social by nature? What if instead of insisting on a capping off of our instinctive behavior of social interactions we allow interactions with others to continue flowing? What if engaging with those who interest us whether emotionally or physically actually draws us closer to our significant other?
For me, nothing has advanced my trust in self or in John more than our open marriage. When I chose to trust in the love John declared for me and for the love I declared for John was I able to begin relaxing in the assurance of our love. Sure knowing your partner is engaging with others can feel strange at first, it may even feel strange the 10th time, but some of this unease is part of the deprogramming process. Those decades of indoctrination we have to dismantle in order to get to the good stuff.
Our gut reaction is to acknowledge any difficulty in opening up the marriage as some kind of sign. A way to justify why we shouldn’t continue. It would be, we tell ourselves, so much easier to stuff the pain and fear we experience than to stay strong and push through. But by pushing through I learned to have compersion. My ability to be happy in my partners happiness was in direct correlation to how I viewed myself and how I viewed our marriage.
The more I loved myself, the more I embraced confidence. The more confident I felt, the more trusting I became. In trust I was able to let go of fear. Yes, it took me a long ass minute to figure that all out, but thank goodness I stayed vigilant. I knew what I wanted and by golly I was not going to let a few renegade fear based emotions run my life!
How have I progressed from a crying mass of goo to a partner who feels all the wonderfulness of love and trust in my open marriage? Well, in the years since our initial steps into an open marriage John and I have learned a few important lessons.
We don’t gauge our relationship’s strength by outside forces. Our relationship has a self sustaining power in and of itself. This strength is generated by our lack of ownership, our increase in trust, honesty, transparency, communication, and a belief love is infinite. We don’t busy ourselves with comparing the newness of a play partner against the solidified and consciously maintained relationship with each other.
We believe finding others interesting and attractive is natural. Being able to engage with them from an honest and trustworthy space increases who we are and brings about a deep appreciation for each other.
Putting in the hard work is worth every step. Being vulnerable with our partner (and ourselves) will help us combat fear. Lines of communication are opened when we are honest. Both partners understand the importance of transparency and of empathy in each other’s journey. We only move forward as fast as the slowest partner.
We know restriction is not as enjoyable as expansion. The more we engage with others the more we learn about ourselves and the world around us. This engagement with others also strangely enough gives us insight into our partner. While I may enjoy a play partner, I will always find my mind wandering to all the ways I love and appreciate my partner. It’s this sense of gratitude that helps to build a strong marital structure.
We believe true intimacy is achieved once we’ve learned to let go of ownership. John and I don’t “own” each other simply because we’ve chosen to marry. For us, our marriage is more about sharing our lives with one another. We don’t ask the other to change their behavior simply because we’ve unionized ourselves. We still have the same freedoms we had when we were single. Yet with the added benefit of a loving partner in which to share. And no freedom doesn’t mean a disregard for a partner.
We are not engaging with others from the standpoint of replacement or from any partner deficit. And no, we (me) aren’t in fear (anymore thank gawd) of our partner running off because we have great respect and love for one another. For these reasons neither of us would ever do anything to jeopardize the relationship. We understand achieving this level of love for one another is a valuable commodity, one revered as even priceless! Think about it, you’ve taken the time, effort, and energy to construct a union which enables both of you to be authentic! You’re not going to part with what you’ve built…you’ll only add to it!’
John and Jackie Melfi are in a consensually non monogamous marriage. They have been featured in ABC News Nightline Special Report “Getting Naughty In N’awlins”, Inside a New Orleans Swingers Convention, and CNN “This Is Life” with Lisa Ling. The Melfis are the force behind the industry famous colette swingers clubs in New Orleans, Dallas, Houston, and Austin. With over 20 years of combined experience, this powerhouse couple coaches thousands of singles and couples through their award winning blog Openlove101.com.