We're watching everyone who enters in anticipation of meeting the couple who may want to have sex with us.

Pseudonyms have been used to protect the anonymity of individuals in this article.

We’re nervous and a little drunk, my girlfriend and I. We’re in the basement of Bramhall, a popular Portland pub, watching everyone who enters in anticipation of meeting the couple who may want to have sex with us.

Their dating profile said they were older, like mid-thirties, but everyone lies online so we’re expecting mid-forties, which would make them two decades our senior. They’re from New Hampshire and said to greet them as if we’d been friends forever, to hug and say things like It’s been so long or I’m so happy we could do this again, so the other bar patrons don’t suspect the truth.

Anonymity is essential, because swinging, as this behavior is commonly known, is still seen as some kind of barbaric, fluid-for-all flesh exchange. In truth, it’s simply misunderstood. It’s not like every Friday night we’re meeting Craigslist strangers to play a sexual spin the bottle. It’s more intimate, more complex than that, but also unique to each swinger’s reasons for why they swing.

The women embrace and separate, but Theresa rests her fingers on the small of Eyvette’s back, scratching playfully in an exploratory way.

Our journey began a year ago, when Eyvette, my girlfriend of eight years, listened to an ethical nonmonogamy discussion on Dan Savage’s Savage Love podcast. It turned her on so much that she came home to ask if I ever thought about having sex with other people: “But not like you alone with someone else,” she said with a smile. “More like us alone with them.”

We read Easton and Hardy’s The Ethical Slut. We subscribed to Reddit’s /r/swingers community. We spent many nights looking at profiles on Tinder, OKCupid, Quiver, Kasidie, and SwingLifestyle, discussing what we together found attractive.

Eyvette: “No blondes — and no one too fit or too attractive. It’d make me feel bad.”

Me: “Deal, but I want people we can actually be friends with.”

“How do you feel about women?”

“What?”

“I mean me with women.”

We learned the swinger lingo. You don’t have sex; you play. You don’t switch partners; you swap. If you’re interested in swapping for penetrative sex, you’re a full swap couple. (Soft swap is when you’re cool with swapping for most anything but penetration.) A unicorn, depending on who you ask, is either 1) an unpartnered bisexual woman who will play with a couple, 2) a partnered bisexual woman who will play with a couple without her partner, or 3) a derogatory term reducing a bisexual woman who’s interested in couples to an object of mythical rarity.

After all that research — all those months discussing why we wanted to swing — we finally created a free profile on the international swinger website SwingLifestyle, which has so many profiles in the Greater Portland area that it won’t even give the exact number. And like many of the users, including the couple we’re waiting for, we went the faceless photo route.

“What if they’re ugly?” asks Eyvette, glancing around the bar. She takes a long sip of red wine and wipes hair from her forehead. “What if they’re too old?” She’s anxious in a beautiful way, eyes focused and sharp. She takes a deep breath and says, “This is insane.”

I squeeze her hand and ask if she wants to ditch the date.

“No, but I want an emergency plan. Like, one of us should return from the bathroom and say to the other, ‘You have my phone, right?’ That means we’re done.”

Done done?”

“Yeah,” she says. “Done done.”

Their names are Michael and Theresa. When they arrive they know we’re us before we know they’re them. Michael’s shorter than I am, maybe 5’11”, and built like a college athlete who never gave up the game.

Sometimes swinging isn’t even about sex. It’s about that fresh energy you take home to your partner.

Theresa looks a little older than he does, but definitely square in the mid-forties range. She’s trophy in all the stereotypical ways: bleached blonde, manicured nails, and a face that seems too perfect. Her top cuts low, her jeans ride high, and I’m wondering how we agreed to meet a couple who’s exactly what we wanted to avoid.

“CJ, Eyvette, it’s been too long,” says Michael, shaking my hand as if to crush it. “Still looking as good as ever.”

The women embrace and separate, but Theresa rests her fingers on the small of Eyvette’s back, scratching playfully in an exploratory way. It’s a tactile introduction, to test the thrill of skin meeting skin.

We sit and discuss events of our fabricated past. Michael congratulates me on a promotion I never received. Eyvette inquires about their beach house renovations. It’s silly and childish, and something within me loosens.

Eyvette and I order more drinks, but Theresa checks with Michael to see if it’s cool. He glances at us and says, “Yeah, go ahead.”

“What’s that about?” I ask.

Theresa leans close. “Some people in this scene are major creeps.”

“I’m a cop,” whispers Michael. “Hard to turn it off sometimes.”

Eyvette chuckles. “Good to know.”

“You’re new to this, right?” asks Theresa. “We pegged you for the inexperienced type just from your age. Young people don’t usually do this stuff.”

“Really?” I ask.

She nods. “A lot of people have a hard rule against meeting anyone under thirty.”

“Kids flake,” adds Michael. “They get nervous, freak out, do it for the wrong reasons. It can be a big mess, a lot of drama.”

“Then why’d you meet us?” I ask. “I mean, if our age is such a red flag.”

Michael shrugs. “It’s complicated.”

Sometimes swinging isn’t even about sex. Sometimes it’s the excitement of a first date, that fresh sexual energy you take home to spend on your partner. Or as with Theresa and Michael, it’s the fantasy of mentoring a couple in how to maneuver a sexual community, in hopes that the couple becomes your dedicated booty call buddies.

According to them, they’ve identified as swingers for more than three years, but never actually had sex with anyone else. At least once a month, they’re dating people or attending house parties or going to regional sex clubs, but they have remained virginal in their search for a specific couple who’ll meet their sexual needs.

“We know what we want, and we’ll wait for it,” says Michael. “A lot of swingers don’t consider us swingers, since we’ve never actually had sex with anyone else, but come on, it’s not a black-and-white thing. Some people dig orgies. Some dig random flings. We have our own preferences.”

“We just want a couple to call our own,” says Theresa. She sips gin through a thin straw and sighs. “Our go-to friends for intimacy.”

“Isn’t that like polyamory?” asks Eyvette.

Theresa smiles. “Not even. We only want to be in love with each other, Michael and I.”

“It’s like this,” says Michael, pointing in turn from himself to Eyvette. “Me wanting to have sex with you isn’t the same as me wanting to entwine our lives together. It’s just casual sex.”

“Except it’s committed casual sex,” I say.

Michael tilts his head. “Are you saying swingers aren’t committed? The amount of communication and respect for your partner, to watch them fuck someone else — that’s why young people aren’t good at it. They think it’s just a workaround for cheating.”

“Ease up,” says Theresa, touching Michael’s forearm. “He’s only asking a question.”

“I just hate that idea, that swingers are cheaters or not committed.”

“Anyway,” says Theresa, “the scene’s a lot of fun, too, even for us nontraditional swingers. We’ve met some great friends at clubs and parties.”

“I didn’t mean anything,” I say to Michael.

“Wait, wait,” says Eyvette. “Those clubs, they’re here in Portland?”

“Yes and no,” says Theresa. “Maine’s more into house parties in the woods; the good ones are down in Boston and New York. But I’ve heard that Styxx has hosted some third-party events. No sex on the premises, I’m sure, but softer events like that often partner with local hotels to get cheaper room rates.”

“It’s so organized,” says Eyvette.

“We’re nothing but efficient,” says Theresa with a laugh.

“So how would I find these house parties?” I ask.

“Put in your profile that you want to party,” says Michael. “They’ll find you.”

We didn’t have sex with Michael and Theresa, not then nor ever. In fact, at the time of writing, Eyvette and I still have our swinger virginity, even though we have since dated other couples and numerous single women.

“That’s why young people aren’t good at it. They think it’s just a workaround
for cheating.”

When I wonder why we keep returning to the swinger scene despite not finding what we want, I remember standing at midnight with Michael and Theresa on Congress Street, how it felt like our friendship had existed for more than the two bar-fueled hours of sexual discussion.

“So what now?” asks Eyvette, holding my hand. “We just go our separate ways?”

Theresa laughs. “Maybe one day you won’t.”

“You two are going to do great,” says Michael. “You’re fun and smart. Just remember, make friends out of swingers, not swingers out of friends. And always check in with each other during this stuff.”

We stand in silence as the older couple waves goodbye and strolls down the street. They sway a little and I can hear them giggling flirtatiously, their hands exploring each other’s back pockets as if it were still their honeymoon phase.

“They’re stupidly adorable,” says Eyvette.

“A cop,” I say.

“Didn’t expect that.”

“You think everyone in the scene is like them?”

She shrugs. “Only one way to find out.”

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