Tall, dark and lacking flexibility, Ricky (not his real name) nonetheless came faithfully to yoga. I often imagined this translating into an eagerness to please in bed. He was flirtatious and chatty around classes, but he never made a move. Finally I asked him to tell me his best vacation sex story—in the name of researching an article – and he invited me to listen over a drink.
At the bar Ricky confessed his interest. In my writing. He and his partner organized adult parties, maybe I’d write one up. Partner? Adult? Were those euphemisms for wife and sex? The answers were yes.
Right up until my divorce three years earlier, the idea of adultery repulsed me. I didn’t wasn’t someone who could forgive a Josh Duggar-type, even with rehab. But when my husband ended our four-year marriage over the phone saying he didn’t “feel like being married anymore.” I wondered if he was bored with our sex life. I know I was.
When I hit my late 30s, I began to experience the libido of a teenage boy. This hardly seemed like cause to split. I didn’t want a divorce. “What if we started having sex with other people but stayed married?” I heard myself ask him. But he remained steadfast—he still wanted a divorce.
The closest I’d come to intimacy since that break up had been a year of erratic encounters with a man who kept insisting we were not in a relationship. When I pointed out that we were and that I liked the relationship we were in, he told me he “kinda sorta” had a girlfriend. I’d like to say I ended it on the spot, but the truth is, he stopped contacting me.
Otherwise I was having trouble getting past the first date or two. The men I met online seemed to be one of two types—men who wanted to be in a serious relationship, and men who couldn’t be in a relationship at all. I wanted something in between.
By the time Ricky and I met in that bar, I’d thought enough about my disastrous love life to be downright intrigued by the idea of multiple sex partners. After all, I’d spent years working in a Muslim country where polygamy was common. At the time there was a prime time show (albeit on HBO) about polygamy on TV. It was part of the zeitgeist in a way it had never been before. More to the point, it stung a bit that this guy hadn’t asked me out. If this Ricky and his wife are swingers, why didn’t he come on to me?
For the record, I was ignoring one obvious thing—Ricky was my student in that yoga class. Never before had I come anywhere near sleeping with a student. And not because it was against some code of ethics for yoga teachers, but because yoga had saved my life post-divorce. I hated the thought of turning anyone away from the practice. But Ricky wasn’t exactly my student, I only saw him occasionally when I subbed for my colleague. Fuck it, I thought. Desperate times.
So I asked about their “adult” parties, which must have come across as squeamishness. “You don’t need to remove so much as a wristwatch,” he assured me.
As I wondered why I might seem uptight, Ricky explained that he and his wife did not host typical swingers parties because they weren’t swingers, they were polyamorists. Whereas swingers were just out for sex, polyamorists embraced the idea of multiple partners with an expanded definition of love. “The human capacity for love is much greater than we think, otherwise we’d never have evolved,” he said. “What would happen if parents ran out of love after one child?” Ricky asked.
My ex- had insisted there was no one else, thus I wondered why we couldn’t stay married. My first boyfriend had taught me that true love meant discovering what you really hated about another person and learning how to stay anyway. The fact that he drowned after we’d been together for five years didn’t change that truth, or my love for him. Yet I’d gone on to meet and marry another.
Now here was Ricky talking about the human animal’s boundless capacity for love. He was also attentive, making sure my club soda was refilled, and asking questions that showed he was listening to what I said. He was definitely in the “could do relationships” column, with the bonus of being taken.
Trying for casual, I confessed I’d found his attentiveness confusing; I’d taken it as a sign of attraction. Bingo.
Our courtship began slowly, regular dating. Dinner. Theater. A day at Coney Island. This meshed well with my philosophy (make sure you want to wake up with someone before you go to bed with them) even if his reasoning was different. He needed to coordinate with his wife’s dating schedule. Though there was something nice about the lack of pretense, it did make for a somewhat disconcerting leap. We’d not begun a sexual relationship, but the careful coordination assumed we would.
But I could overlook that. This was less of a relationship and more of a rehearsal. It’s not as if this guy was about to become a fixture in my life. “Oh, Ricky couldn’t make it to the Christening,” I imagined never hearing myself say. “His wife got sick.”
Here was a chance to work on my relationship skills with a man who’d shown his ability to commit. I never had to question whether he was with another woman when he wasn’t with me. He was, and everybody knew everything. Sure it eliminated a lot of the thrill, but it was better than never getting to a second date.
Our encounters got a little racier—a burlesque show. A happy hour with other polyamorists. I was really starting to want in on this. As much sex as you want and everybody plays nice? Sign me up.
When they were both ready to take the next step I picked up the requested coconut oil and imagined the coming virtuoso performance. I mean, the guy organized sex parties. I soon learned I had been right, Ricky did prove eager to please, if not exceptionally talented. There was a methodical aspect to his technique, as if I was a numbered canvas to which he was applying paint. Actually, that would have been more fun. Maybe this explained his wife’s willingness to lend him out. Though I was skeptical things could improve tremendously considering the amount of practice he was already getting, I figured I might as well stick it out and see what I might learn from my student. At least make it to one of his parties.
Then Ricky wanted me to meet his wife. Just as I suspected. Mad sex with strangers at a party was one thing, but I’d never been interested in a threesome. I could live with being relegated to a lower tier in a lover’s life in general, but in the throes of passion I wanted to be the top priority. But Ricky wasn’t suggesting that the three of us have sex, just that we meet before the “adult party.” Where, Ricky also informed me, I wasn’t supposed to hook up either.
This struck me as insanely unfair. He had his wife and other lovers. All I had were intermittent bouts with him. Once I was at the party, what could he do to stop me anyway? As the date for the party drew nearer, I veered between imagining myself at the center of a wild orgy and edging toward the nearest exit. I was squeamish. Why did I feel so drawn to giving it a try?
A week before the big event, Ricky announced they were going to cancel. A stripper convention was siphoning off their clientele. As a consolation prize he suggested we spend the weekend together. Whoa.
Put my life on hold for an entire weekend? His time may have suddenly freed up, but mine hadn’t. That’s when I knew I had to end things. So much for me and free love. The sex sucked, and it was a constant negotiation. I could complain all I wanted about men and their lack of commitment, but now it dawned on me, in the past three years I hadn’t wanted to make any man a deep part of my life. For Chrissakes, a married man wanted more than I was willing to give. The break up proved to be tedious as well.
Ricky was unable to meet with me for a week, and I wanted out right away. So I did it over the phone. Just like the ex-husband. Was I as bad as he?
“I can’t do this,” I told him.
“Do what?” he asked.
Is he high? I wondered. “Keep dating.”
After a pause Ricky asked why. Without waiting for an answer he told me, “you’re better off being in a relationship than alone and unhappy.”
Not only did I disagree, I didn’t think those were my only options. “It’s all just a bit much for me,” I told him.
“It can be hard to handle,” he agreed. Did he think I wanted him all to myself? But I didn’t need to know. At least we could break up without having to negotiate. Part of me still wanted to check out those parties. A larger part, however, longed to get love right with just one person. What Ricky showed me was exactly why the idea of many loves was so appealing. Just because I’m no longer with an ex- doesn’t mean I no longer love him, and I’m not talking about the hair-splitting love/in love definition.
When my other half decided our marriage was over, I couldn’t turn off my feelings any more than I could when my first boyfriend died. The heart does not make such distinctions in grief. But if simultaneous love is possible, then I don’t have to stop loving anyone, and there’s still a chance of getting it right.
What are your best strategies for overcoming a broken heart? Connect with me @lisakirchner.