We recently discussed how non-traditional relationships have become normalized in pop-culture.  By now, you’re likely saying, “Sure Lilly, sure. TV, books, and movies are showing open marriages, polyamorous relationships, throuples, etc. as an everyday thing. But that’s TV, books, and movies. That’s not … REAL life.”

Welp, news flash.

Yes. It is REAL life. And it has been for a long time. We’re only now really talking about it.

We are all past the days of the key parties we saw in The Ice Storm (or possibly have actual repressed memories of our parents participating in), but that doesn’t mean your average married couples are well past the days of looking elsewhere to add a little spark to their marriage.

Your Neighbors May Not Be Shopping for What You Think

I live right outside D.C. in an area that borders a rather infamous neighborhood just across the line of another county. This other neighborhood has gained a reputation of being a hot spot for swingers. Rumor has it that there are a number of ways to indicate you are into that community – some claim putting white rocks in your front yard means you are up for it. Others claim if you shop at the local Whole Foods and put a pineapple in your cart, that’s a sign you’re open to invitation.

The reality of the situation is that yes, there is a selection of swingers in this neighborhood, but they don’t use secret signals anymore. They have a healthy, free, safe-from-accidental-pineapple-purchases online community where they talk, meet up, and experiment without judgement and shame. And the bigger reality of this situation, is this neighborhood is much like MANY neighborhoods in America.

You probably won’t find open marriage forums on NextDoor, but it’s likely you live in or near a neighborhood that has some sort of alternative lifestyle component. In some cases, they are relegated to quiet online communities. In others, they may have meetups or even designated nights at local eateries. The next time your neighborhood pizzeria’s back room is closed for a private pizza, they might be tossing more than dough.  

In addition to online communities, sex clubs have begun to quietly creep into the suburbs. Most of them require memberships to participate in order to ensure it’s not just a room full of men creeping on the few ladies present, but they are safe places for couples to experience voyeurism, partner swapping, and other proclivities that used to be regulated to erotic literature.

A Personal Perspective

Why am I so obsessed with this? My spouse suffers from severe depression. We’ve been married for twenty years—almost half our lives. He’s seeing a therapist (probably way too late, but therapy and Gen X is a whole other article that needs writing) and he is on medication, but even so, I felt like trying to help him build his confidence was a never-ending uphill battle. It got to the point where no matter what I said, it was not taken seriously. It was as if because I was his wife, what I offered didn’t count because I was contractually obligated to say nice things about him.

So, after the idea had originally been triggered when I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and then was further normalized through pop-culture, I began to consider it as an option. I suggested he find other people to say nice things and to … uh … “do” nice things.

There are rules. No friends. No coworkers. No falling in love. Protection always. Family first, always. And others. it’s been an interesting experiment. We’re still together. He still has down days. But overall, he has more confidence—that walking on air feeling that comes with knowing someone out there is intrigued by you, knowing you are interesting and wanted, can be more empowering than any drug or therapist I can think of. 

Long Story Short

Those of us who are interested in non-traditional relationships all have our own reasons for considering it. Other couples probably have different approaches. It worked for us. It doesn’t work for everyone. You can be into it, or not. But thanks to the prevalence of non traditional relationships in the media, it is something that people can consider as an alternative to adultery or divorce. More importantly, stories about non-traditional relationships can be shared in a healthy and honest way without feeling we will be judged, the way we might have felt prior to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and everything that followed it.

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About Lily Winters

A full-time copywriter, Lilly Winters lives outside Washington, D.C. in a house full of animals—which include her husband and teenager. Under a different name, she’s written a book of short stories, a Young Adult novel, and was most recently published in Gravity Dancers. Lilly Winters isn’t posting her real picture because it’s possible she is currently wanted by the Mexican drug cartel. It’s also possible she watches too much Ozark.

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