"At this point, I don't want a boyfriend," said Ann, finishing off her third glass of wine. "I just want someone to sleep with." She finished this thought with a slight smile, as if she was only realizing the truth of what she said in the exact moment that she said it.
My wife and I smiled and laughed supportively. We had been hearing the disappointing tale of Ann's latest relationship, with a 35-year-old man who in six months of dating never once tried to have sex with her.
"Six months and no sex?" I said, incredulous.
"Nothing," Ann said. "He barely kissed me. I told him early on, what's up with this? I have needs, damn it. But the months went by, and still, nothing. I think he must be gay."
"That is such a tragedy," I said. "Because -- and don't take this the wrong way -- but, I would totally have sex with you."
Ann laughed. "Well fine, I'll take that as a compliment," she said.
My wife smirked at me from behind her wine glass. She knew of my flirtatious ways.
"No, seriously Ann," I said, feeling the effects of the wine. "I've had a crush on you for like the last six years."
Ann was blushing now. We'd always had a very good rapport and the three of us always talked openly about all kinds of topics, but tonight there was a bit of additional energy in the room.
"OK, tell me more," she said.
"I just think you're an amazing person," I said, feeling bolder now, the words all falling into place. "You're so attractive. I love your spirit. You're generous, you're a great mom. Even when you were married, I used to think about you very fondly. I've just always respected you a lot."
Ann laughed. "It's nice to get some compliments from a fine gentleman like yourself," she said.
Ann was one of our favorites in a large circle of single mom friends, who often joined us for dinner and wine while our kids ran amok in the basement, leaving us at the dining room table for some precious adult conversation. She was a petite brunette with short hair, delicate features and intelligent eyes.
We always wondered why it was so hard for Ann and our other single mom friends to find a decent guy. Like the rest of our single mom friends, Ann was smart, sexy, hard working, well-educated, interesting, and engaged with the world. We enjoyed her company and hoped for the best for her.
During the early years of our marriage, my wife and I used to ask each other, "I wonder which of our friends will end up getting divorced?" We never wanted to get divorced ourselves, but we recognized that statistically speaking, at least some of the happy young married couples in our social network would eventually split up.
And then all of a sudden, it happened -- a flood of divorces. These were not orderly, amicable, "in the best interests of the child" divorces, these were dark, miserable, "Lifetime movie come to life" divorces, each more shocking than the last -- husbands getting caught with multiple affairs, husbands embezzling money and going to prison, husbands who had been living secret lives for years. The full spectrum of bad male behavior was on exhibit in the lives of our friends.
Not only did I feel terrible for our friends for what they had gone through with their divorces and all the attendant financial struggles and childraising challenges, but I also felt bad that, while their philandering husbands almost always went on to find new hookups, girlfriends or even get remarried soon after the divorce, so many of these attractive, intelligent women went on to spend the next several years without so much as going on a date. Maybe it was true -- maybe there were no good men out there.
The night Ann was at our house, we escorted her and her daughter out to the front door and waved goodbye as they drove off. My wife cuddled up to me. "I'm glad to have you," she said. "Thanks for being a good husband."
"You make it easy," I said. And it was true. Compared to the emotional wreckage of so many of our friends' marriages, my wife and I enjoyed a peaceful, contented union. We had our ups and downs, and sometimes we fought about stupid stuff, and sometimes we both said things that we later regretted, but for the most part we understood each other, we respected each other, and we wanted it all to work out.
And we still had amazing chemistry. I couldn't imagine having an affair with another woman. Every time I kissed my wife, I still felt a memory of that first magnetic kiss on our first date. Every time I saw her naked, even after 10 years together, I still remembered the first time I undressed her, alone together in her tiny graduate student apartment, loosening the knot on her bathrobe, sliding it down past her shoulders, exposing her breasts, seeing her taut nipples, running my fingers delicately up her thighs, gazing upon that perfect dark triangle between her legs, seeing how she had trimmed her hair to make herself ready for me.
Even as a married couple for 8 years now, with two young kids, every time I make love to my wife I remember that first time, both of us young and free, helping her over to the bed, both of us delirious with desire, running my tongue along her inner thighs, her body so responsive, she let out little gasps and sighs and moans, waiting with electric expectancy for everything that was to come.
How many times have my wife and I had sex? 10 years together, 52 weeks a year, twice a week on average? 520 times? It doesn't seem like much when you put it that way. Compared to the full scope of life, the duration of our lovemaking is such a small amount of time, but it has commanded such a large proportion of my mental energies.
In the early days, we used to spend the whole weekend in bed. We used to have sex 5 times each weekend, until we were exhausted and sore. We had an intense physical need that could not be satisfied, we could literally not get enough of each other, as if every new act of lovemaking was an escalating effort to more deeply envelop and absorb each other.
I loved everything about her, the way she tasted, her scent, her chemistry. Every move she made in bed seemed to perfectly anticipate my needs and my desires, an intimate choreography. I was 24 years old when we first met, and I remembered feeling like this woman was the culmination of all of my most feverish youthful fantasies. All those nights going home lonely from bars and nightclubs and school dances had led me to this moment and this woman, miraculously designed to fulfill my erotic imagination.
Of course our sex life had cooled a bit as the years went on. We had two kids and we had our careers and chores and bills to pay. We had all the regular challenges of a married couple embarking upon the early years of adulthood. But I still saw my wife as a conduit of youth and excitement. Even after 10 years together, after every climax, resting my head on the pillow and feeling her head resting on my chest, I felt as if we were the only two people in the world. And I knew that I was a lucky man.
A few days after Ann was at our house, my wife and I had just finished making love when my wife looked particularly thoughtful as she rested her head on my shoulder. She ran her fingers over my chest, kissing me softly on the neck.
"You know," my wife said, "You're pretty good at this sex thing. Maybe I should start loaning you out to our single mom friends."
I laughed, still enjoying those moments of post-coital bliss, not taking her seriously. My mind was elsewhere.
"You wouldn't allow that," I said. My wife was silent, pondering.
"Or would you?" I said, turning to look at her. She had a mischievous gleam in her eye.
Suddenly I felt a growing sense of focus on what my wife was saying.
"I can't believe you'd really be willing to share me," I said. "We know how territorial you are."
"Well, here's what I'm thinking," my wife said. "We know all of these single moms. They're amazing women. They're beautiful, talented, wonderful people. So why should they be deprived of pleasure just because they married the wrong guy?"
"So you want to loan me out?" I said. "How do you think our friends are going to react to this? And are you sure you want to share?"
"I'll consider it a community service," she said. "Charitable giving. There's only one thing that concerns me."
"What's that?" I said.
"I don't want you to fall in love with any of them. I want to be your wife."
"How could I ever give you up?" I said. "Just the thought of it seems impossible to me. No one could ever replace you, and I think you know that."
We both laid there in silence for awhile, thinking about this new possibility that my wife had just introduced into our bed.
I had never seriously thought of being with another woman, even after 8 years of marriage. Of course I'd had my fantasies, and even a rare moment of temptation, but these feelings were always easy to dismiss. I prided myself on being a rational, pragmatic person who lived in reality, and I knew what I had. I would never have considered jeopardizing my marriage for the short-term pleasures of an affair. I didn't even like to think of it in terms of "jeopardizing my marriage" -- the phrase sounds so stiff and formal -- the simple fact of the matter was, I couldn't imagine having an affair because I didn't want to hurt my wife.
And not only did I not want to hurt my "wife," but even more, I didn't want to hurt the young woman my wife used to be, when we were 24 years old and frantically kissing and undressing each other in her un-air conditioned apartment. She was still that same person in my mind and memory, and I wanted to honor that memory just as much as I honored our commitment.
So even though I couldn't imagine committing adultery, now that my wife was offering the possibility of sex with other women, I found myself feeling intrigued. I envisioned Ann, kissing me, pressing herself against me, rising and writhing as we thrust into each other, her eyes squeezed tight, biting her lip to stifle a moan.
We didn't talk any further about my wife's idea until a few days later, having a cup of tea in the living room while our children were asleep.
"Are you still interested in the idea we discussed the other day?" my wife said to me.
"I'm interested," I said. "But I don't want to be too interested, if you know what I mean. I don't want to get my hopes up. I mean, what would our single mom friends want with me? An old married guy."
"Well, let's say, there's interest," said my wife. "How would you handle it?"
"I suppose we'd have to get a hotel," I said. "Maybe she wouldn't want to have me in her bed. I assume you wouldn't want us to do this in our bed, plus the kids are always around."
"Not logistics," my wife said. "Don't jump too far ahead. What I mean is, how would this arrangement affect our marriage? Are we playing with fire here?"
"I see why you would say that," I said. "And I don't mean to argue in favor of this, or make it sound like I'm trying to convince you to give me permission. I don't want to sound overeager. I don't want to have to convince you of anything; I'm just exploring ideas here. But here's how I think it could work. You and I are each sexual beings in our own right, correct?"
"Correct," my wife said. "Before we got married, we each had our own history. You had sex with other people and I had sex with other people."
"That's right," I said. "So, if you give me permission to have this experience with a friend of ours, you're really just allowing me to reclaim and express a part of myself that was there all along. It doesn't have to take anything away from what we have together."
My wife thought about this for a moment. I found myself feeling excited, not just sexually, but intellectually. We were exploring and redefining the boundaries and ethics of our marriage.
"Is there anything that worries you about this idea?" I said.
"I just don't want to feel regrets," she said. "I don't want you to go and have sex with another woman, and then I immediately feel jealous and feel bad about it. I don't want to hate you. I don't want to feel any differently about you afterwards."
"I understand," I said. "I can imagine how that would be a concern. Here's an idea for you: does it make you feel bad that I used to have sex with other women, before I met you?"
"No," she said.
"Is my love for you diminished by the fact that I've had experiences with other women?"
"No," she said.
"Then maybe this could be just another experience with another woman," I suggested. "It doesn't have to compete with what we have, it doesn't have to take anything away. It's just another experience that's part of life and we can use it to make our relationship even stronger. But I don't want to oversell it. I'm not trying to persuade a jury here."
My wife smiled. "Sometimes you can be too persuasive for your own good."
"I wonder how persuasive you can be in convincing our friend to have sex with your husband," I said. "I really doubt anyone would be interested. It's kind of a strange thing to say, isn't it? 'Hey, would you like to have sex with my husband? I don't mind. He's a loaner.'"
"A loaner boner," my wife said, wrinkling her nose at her own bad pun. "But don't underestimate women's needs. Don't you think Ann might be at least willing to consider it? Especially since she knows you. You're someone she trusts and respects. And if there's some attraction there, why not explore it? What does she have to lose?"
"Her virginity?" I said. We both laughed.
I found myself enjoying my mid-thirties. Aside from the drudgery of childraising and the pressures of paying bills and climbing the career ladder, with each passing year I was feeling a greater degree of freedom in my own mental space, a kind of abandon of preconceived limits on what my life "should" or "had to" be. My marriage gave me freedom to find out what kind of man I wanted to be, and where I wanted to go in life with my wife as my supportive partner.
Now my wife was introducing the possibility of non-monogamy, of getting to experience the rush of a new relationship with a woman. Better than a furtive affair or a midlife crisis, I was grateful that I was getting a chance to explore some of these questions while I was still young enough and healthy enough to make some changes and try something new.
A few weeks went by, and my wife invited Ann out for drinks, just the three of us. We hired a babysitter to watch all of our kids, as we often did when we needed to get out of the house and enjoy some adult conversation and adult beverages.
We found a private table at our favorite bar and the three of us had a few drinks, talking and enjoying the night. The unusual energy from the earlier evening still seemed to linger between Ann and I, as though we had an understanding that hadn't been there before.
My wife seemed to be biding her time. She sipped her drink.
"So Ann," she said. "How's the dating game?"
"No big changes," said Ann. "I think I'm going to take a break from dating. It just hasn't been worth the effort lately."
"It's a shame," said my wife. "It seems like all the best men are married."
"I know," said Ann. "You two are very lucky."
"The luck is all mine," I said.
"Ann, I don't know how else to say this," said my wife. "I want you to have sex with my husband."
I was floored. I had no idea she was actually going to propose this idea, let alone tonight, let alone in public.
Ann was quiet, but did not seem as shocked as I was. She had a small hint of a smile creeping across her face, as her eyes shifted, calculating, taking in each of us in turn.
Finally she spoke.
"Are you serious?"
"Yes," my wife said.
"How...what would we..." Ann seemed unable to process the offer she had been presented with. "I'm going to need to think about this."
"It's exactly what you said you wanted," my wife said. "No strings attached. You can get your needs met by a man you know, trust and respect. I can vouch for his talents." She smiled slyly at me.
I wasn't sure what to say. I could hardly believe this was happening. I decided to stay silent and let the women do the talking.
"I don't know if I could do that...to your husband, to your marriage," Ann said. "Wouldn't I be 'the other woman' or something terrible like that?"
"We've talked it over and whatever happens, we can handle it," my wife said. "This is something we'd both like to see happen. We trust you to make it a good experience for everyone. We don't take this lightly. But we know you, and we trust you."
We were all silent for a moment as Ann continued to think through the ramifications of what she had just heard.
"I just need to think about this," she said. "Wow -- I'm, I'm flattered. I just don't know what to say."
"Take some time," my wife said. "The offer stands. We care about you and we want you to have some fulfillment."
After such a conversational bombshell, the evening could have ended awkwardly, but instead it ended with an air of possibility. Ann thanked us for the offer and said she would get back to us soon.
A few days later I got a text message from Ann:
"My house. Tonight. 7 p.m. Your wife will watch the kids."
I called my wife. "Is this for real?"
"You'd better believe it," she said. "I hope you're ready to satisfy a woman tonight."
"I hope so too," I said. I left work an hour early to prepare for my "date" with Ann. My heart was pounding and I felt a nervous hum of energy as I showered and shaved, thinking of how long it had been since I had gone on a first date with a woman, kissed another woman, seen another woman naked.
I packed a small travel bag with toiletries and a box of condoms, put on a touch of cologne, and then I got dressed and went downstairs. My wife was waiting in the living room with our two kids and Ann's daughter, who she had picked up from daycare. Somehow seeing Ann's daughter there in our house at that moment made me feel a twinge of guilt about what I was about to do, like I was invading what should have been the private realm of this child's parents. But then I put it out of my mind. It wasn't my fault that the child's father had been derelict in his responsibilities to his wife and family. I was involved in an adult relationship between consenting adults, and nothing that happened between us needed to affect our children.
"Are you ready?" my wife said, with a hint of nervousness in her voice.
"I think so," I said. "Are we really going through with this?"
"It looks like it," she said. "How do you feel?"
"Surprisingly comfortable," I said. "I love you. I love you incredibly. You are the best woman in the world."
I kissed my wife on the cheek and then, passionately, on the mouth, lingering over her lower lip. She smiled at me with that familiar mischievous gleam.
"Go get 'er, cowboy. Don't be late."
I arrived at Ann's apartment 10 minutes later, climbing the stairs and knocking on the door. I wondered if anyone saw me, and what they would think. My wife and I had been to Ann's place before, but not often, and I had never been there alone. Would people have any idea what we were up to? Would they assume I was cheating on my wife? No one would have any concept of this kind of permission that my wife had given me.
Ann opened the door. She was wearing a silk robe and makeup. Her hair was pulled back with stylish silver barrettes. A candle in the kitchen cast a faint glow over the room.
I wasn't sure what to say. "You look gorgeous," I finally stammered. This was a long-time friend of ours, but in this strange new context, I wasn't sure how to act.
"So, I decided to accept your wife's offer," Ann said, circling me as she closed the door behind us. "How does that make you feel?"
"Like the luckiest man alive," I said.