Emily and Paul hate when people ask how they met. “Through friends,” they usually say, and it’s not entirely untrue. What they’re leaving out, however, is that those friends are their ex-husband and ex-wife, respectively, and that sometime during orgasm-filled weekends of swinging among the four of them, Emily and Paul fell head over heels for each other, divorced their spouses and lived happily ever after. It’s not your typical love story.
Emily was 23 when she . That husband was Paul. (All names used in this story are pseudonyms.) Eventually, Amanda and Emily roped Paul into the fun by giving him a threesome of his own. And, sometime after that, the couples started switching.
This was a new experience for Paul but old hat for Emily, who’d been living in an open relationship with Mark. It had begun while he was deployed.
“At first, I’d make out with guys, and I’d tell him about it,” she says, “and he was, like, ‘Eh, whatever.’ He’d be upset a little bit, but it was kind of OK. But then I gave him permission to do the same. That’s when he started messing around with Amanda,” she continues, “which evolved into them having sex.”
Eventually Paul became the guy Emily did those things with, unaware that his wife had already been a sexual guest in Emily’s marriage
In other words, no concrete boundaries were set to dictate what would fly in their arrangement and what wouldn’t. Instead, it was almost as if each party took turns upping the ante.
To a degree, threesomes with other women had been Emily’s way of buying more sexual freedom. “A little bit of it was putting money in the bank,” she says. “As in, ‘OK, I’ll do this for you, but in the future, I want to do things with other guys.’ ”
Upon looking back, neither Emily nor Paul can quite remember how he learned the backstory. “I think you told me,” Paul tells Emily, causing her to chuckle.
When she did, Paul was angry: at Amanda for cheating, and at Mark – a man he called a friend – for nailing his wife behind his back. But here’s the rub: By the time the secret came out, Paul had already developed feelings for Emily. He didn’t want to stop seeing her.
Which is, of course, where the waters got extremely murky. Each pair stayed married, but the four continued to swing regularly. It began to run their lives.
The mixed-and-matched couples would spend entire weekends holed up in hotel rooms, separated from their spouses for long hours. Emily and Paul let down their emotional guard. It didn’t seem normal. The couples knew they probably should set some rules, but fun got in the way.
“There was one time the four of us talked about drafting a contract but … we were so lazy,” Emily says, laughing. “We never really hop over to the web site got to it.”
Eventually the turmoil became too much, and in 2005, both Emily and Paul divorced their spouses and began dating each other. Emily describes the divorces as devastating for everyone, including their families. Still, , both Emily and Paul feel rock-solid in their commitment today.
By 2003, the couple was engaging in threesomes with an old college friend, Amanda, unbeknownst to her husband
“Emily opened me up to the idea that you could expect more from marriage,” says Paul, lighting up, “and be really good friends with your spouse.”
Emily, now 34, concurs that this marriage is sturdier than her first. She says to Paul, with a similar glow, “I’m confident in how you feel about me, and I think you’re confident in how I feel about you, and nothing has shaken that feeling so far.”
Of course, that may be due, in part, to the fact that they’ve put swinging aside. But while Emily and Paul have been monogamous since they’ve been together, they know sexual exploration will re-enter the picture at some point. It’s simply part of who they are. For Paul, now 33, never having a sexual experience with anyone besides his spouse “just doesn’t seem realistic,” he says.
Still, because of the bizarre circumstances under which they came together, Emily and Paul now understand the importance of staying emotionally connected, no matter what’s happening physically. Both agree boundaries must be set.
“I wouldn’t want to do it where we’re spending entire weekends apart,” says Paul. “If we’re going to do it – hotel room for a few hours. That’s it. I have no desire to separate [from Emily].”
Emily agrees: “I’d want to rein it in a little more now that I’m older. My 20s were kind of a free-for-all. But now I’d want to set limits on how much time we’d spend with another couple, and put our relationship first. I’m definitely committed to this relationship more so than I was the last one, so I would set more rules.”
For the couple, communication is key. “We talk about people we have crushes on,” Emily says. “As long as it’s all out in the open, I think it bonds us together.”
Paul agrees. “Just because someone wants to hook up with someone else doesn’t mean that foundation is in danger of being torn down,” he says.