The text message from my oldest and one of my closest friends knocked me off balance and sent that all too familiar knot straight to my gut. She went on to say that if we decided to change our lifestyle, she and her husband would be happy to consider resuming the relationship.
What a cold and bitter end to a friendship that started when she was three days old – the day I was born. We had gone to school together, spent time together, taken trips together – even our children (seven between the two families) had become friends. We celebrated our birthdays together since they were three days apart.
There were ups and downs to be sure, in all of our lives, but for more than 35 years our friendship endured. And, now, suddenly and definitively it was over. But, why?
After more than two years of becoming increasingly active in the lifestyle, we casually mentioned it to a few of our closest friends. No particular decision compelled us to share our involvement in the lifestyle. The fact simply came up as a matter of course. Close friends share so many intimate details of their lives (often including their sex lives), and this was no different.
Stacy's oldest friend already knew, and our friendship with her family continued. We have always found them to be salt-of-the-earth types and there were never any thoughts of judgment or condemnation regarding our choices. I assumed the same would be true about my oldest friend. My blindness to her inability to accept the lifestyle shocked me.
As two couples we had shared many conversations about sex, both serious and humorous. The “disclosure” about our participation in the lifestyle came as part of a seemingly innocuous conversation about our sex lives. But, for my friend the idea that we participate in group sex with other people proved to be a breaking point. After pondering all of this my initial question remained: Why?
As a long-time advertiser and marketer for large American corporations, I have noted that a growing and increasingly valuable market segment is the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender (GLBT) community. Notice that the L does not stand for lifestyle. In fact, the GLBT community really does not have a place for the lifestyle crowd. Even bisexuals find it hard to fit in with the GLBT community – and they have their own letter in its acronym! That leaves a major gap for those us of who consider ourselves part of the lifestyle.
Society is beginning to more readily accept GLBT types. Changing attitudes regarding gay marriage reflect that. Unfortunately, the lifestyle remains misunderstood in the minds of many. Naturists, polygamists, dirty old men and swingers are grouped into a single category that is considered peculiar and taboo. There certainly are those who understand the differences between the various groups and accept those in the lifestyle, but they do not represent the majority.
The same people who openly accept, or at least tolerate, their gay friends often turn their backs on those who are discovered to be in the lifestyle. So, what then are we left to do? Popular culture is currently filled with images and video clips of women kissing women and now even men kissing men. Typically, younger generations are much more open to changes in societal norms, which is certainly the case when it comes to the lifestyle. The under 30 crowd may not warm to the terms “lifestyle” and “swinger”, but they are much more accepting of the concept than those over 40.
There are no easy answers for those of us in the lifestyle who want to be able to speak freely to close friends, but fear potential repercussions. Some will understand, while others turn away. Sharing involvement in the lifestyle can often feel like a game of Russian Roulette. Your approach will come down to the amount of risk you are willing to take in your relationships. The first thing you should determine is the level of importance you place on the freedom to be open with your friends and family about the lifestyle.
In a polite society people do not typically run around telling random strangers about their sex lives, regardless of whether they are straight, gay, bisexual, polyamorous, or something else entirely. Given that, there is no reason to feel that you are stuck “in the closet” simply because most of your acquaintances, friends and family members have no idea that you are part of the lifestyle. Uncle Bob and Aunt Betty do not usually sit down to Christmas dinner and begin regaling the family with their latest sexual escapades. In the same sense, there is no need to feel that everyone you know should be aware of your private sexual activities. Once you have determined the level of freedom to share that you desire, you can more effectively develop an approach to openness.
One option is simply to throw caution to the wind and talk about the lifestyle whenever it naturally comes up in conversation. If your so-called friends are true friends, will they really allow your lifestyle choices to disrupt your relationship? You might ask yourself whether you want those kinds of “friends” in your life to begin with. This approach is for those who want to be completely open and are not at all concerned about how others might react to the revelation.
Those who want to share, but remain concerned about the reactions of friends and family might consider an alternative approach. Consider your current relationships and share your involvement in the lifestyle with one or two people or couples whom you think most likely to be accepting of the information. I told a cousin who is a very liberal, open-minded person. While I had no idea what her reaction would be, it was more of a calculated risk. How did she react? She gave a simple “Good for you two!”
The most challenging issue around disclosing participation in the lifestyle (and often the greatest feeling of pressure to remain in the closet) revolves around family relationships. Some families are completely open, while others remain closed to the idea of accepting the lifestyle. The choice of whether to share this part of your life with family is deeply personal and for many, highly stressful. My advice is to relax. Approach your family with Uncle Bob and Aunt Betty in mind. For most in the lifestyle, our sexual activities fall under the “behind closed doors” category. Unless you are planning to bring other lifestyle couples home for the holidays, it's probably not something the family needs to discuss. The same is true with friends.
Telling someone that you participate in the lifestyle does not mean you are trying to get them to join in on group fun in the bedroom. That is no different than a couple taking part in the biker phenomenon. Sharing an enjoyment of dressing in leather and riding the open road would not make a friend feel pressure to run out and by a Harley.
When considering whether you need to come out of the lifestyle closet to family, friends and acquaintances, step back and change your perspective. You just might find that the closet was simply an illusion, and that you are already standing in the open.