Approaching Another Couple
January 26, 2005 12:35 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I are friends with another couple whom we'd like to become, er, more intimate with. Unfortunately, they, like us, are very reserved, and don't tend to talk about sex, so we have no idea how to begin to broach the subject. The friendship is very important to us, and we don't want to ruin it. What should we do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total)

A friend of a friend of a friend has some ideas. Email me at my profile address.
posted by vito90 at 1:23 AM on January 26, 2005

There are no clues that indicate that they would be receptive to this? No comments, no jokes? Are there any books on their shelves that would indicate so? Taste in movies? Anything?

The question to objectively ask yourself is if the desire is even possibly mutual before crossing that bridge.

If you want to be polite and correct, that is. Tame?

Or you could just ask, recognizing an easily imaginable spectrum of consequences ranging from delightful and/or amusing to downright troubling.

It's even entirely possible that they have never even considered the possibility until you have asked, and would be interested after being introduced to the idea.
posted by loquacious at 1:26 AM on January 26, 2005

Judging by situations I've witnessed, the usual method employed by hopeful protagonists is to get everyone very, very drunk. Or high, depending upon what your vices are. Getting inebriated tends to work better for the women than for the men, of course, but often in these group scenarios it's pretty female-centric anyway so that might not be such a problem.

You don't say whether you've been in couples situations before. The dynamic of couples situations does vary depending on whether you're experienced or a newcomer. People in the latter category will need much more time and can often experience nerves, even though theoretically it should be the most natural thing in the world. So if they haven't already given this scenario any thought, it could be an idea that will take a long while to percolate. It may not be advisable to try and foist this on other people if they haven't entertained the notion themselves. Either way, as mentioned in a previous thread, the book "The Ethical Slut" is a fantastic guide to polyamoury and definitely worth you reading.

With existing friends it is probably sensible to tread lightly. You only need to read previous threads in the past day or so which mention this kind of activity to realise that a lot of people, even amongst a generally liberal community like Metafilter, are very conservative when it comes to sex. Yes, they might go wild once they've had a few drinks, but peoples' natural knee-jerk response is often to feel uncomfortable about matters sexual... and therefore to run from provocative situations.

Looking back at polyamourous relationships I've had, I do see now that certain friends who were not involved in the scene did tend to shy away from us once they found out about our extracurricular activities. A little like the attitude some people have towards gays... almost like they feared they'd get sucked in or that we'd suddenly jump on them.

So the first course of action should really be to analyse or try to discern what your friends' attitude is likely to be. The morality of this is open to question, but one possible method might be to get the drinks and laughter flowing and casually mention threesomes or foursomes (perhaps by reference to some film scene... though I'm not sure whether "The Ice Storm" is the right one to quote...) and see how they react.

Another thing which I've seen happen (though you're taking your life into your own hands if you try this) is for the female partner to lightly flirt with the female partner of the other couple. That usually carries with it certain implications and could stand to titillate without (usually) being perceived as hugely offensive.
posted by skylar at 1:35 AM on January 26, 2005

The friendship is very important to us, and we don't want to ruin it.

OK, not to be a wet blanket but don't do it if the friendship is as important as you say it is. An night of hot fun followed by what?

I'm just sayin.
posted by nj_subgenius at 4:27 AM on January 26, 2005

from what i've heard, you will require a hot tub
posted by lotsofno at 5:11 AM on January 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

Here's what Mr. Savage has to say about this topic - including advice against getting everybody drunk.
posted by googly at 5:29 AM on January 26, 2005

Our good friends tried to spring something like this on us at dinner last year. We were all kinda drunk when his wife said;" We've been thinking about swinging with another couple, what do you guys think of something like that?" The look on my wife's face was priceless, she looked like a deer in the headlights of a semi. I was able to deflect an embarrassing reply by saying that, "If I was in that situation I wouldn't want to chance ruining a good friendship, I'd start with a couple that we know more casually and were both attracted to."
On the ride home my wife told me she just wasn't attracted to the other husband. Too bad, the wife was hot! Anyway, we're still good friends with them. It didn't bother us that they asked, in fact it was ego boosting to say the least.
posted by white_devil at 5:39 AM on January 26, 2005

I think what NJ_Subgenius is missing is that sometimes, intimate play (whether it's explicitly sexual or not) can actually boost a friendship. It can truly be a beautiful thing when friends share intimate moments and open themselves up sexually or emotionally.

Now that's not to say that there aren't potential pitfalls, especially when approaching your existing friends. But in my experience there is the possibility of actually deepening your friendship.

Incidentally, from my reading of the Mr. Savage article, I got the impression that while one pundit said you shouldn't get your friends drunk, the author was saying that in practice it was still the best methods. Note: on an ethical level, getting people inebriated (especially against their will) is not a nice way to get anything achieved. All I'm saying is that is how people do tend to achieve it.
posted by skylar at 5:48 AM on January 26, 2005

There are still quite a lot of people in this world that would be deeply offended at a suggestion like that.
posted by konolia at 6:40 AM on January 26, 2005

There are also quite a lot of people in this world who wouldn't be offended in the least.

I say that you should at least ask. If your friendship is solid, they'll take the query for what it's worth and respond--yes, no, or maybe--as friends.
posted by maniactown at 6:57 AM on January 26, 2005

seriously though. the hot tub is the move
posted by lotsofno at 7:19 AM on January 26, 2005

The truism that you'll never get anything if you don't ask for it applies. But you run the risk, obviously, of alienating them, particularly if they are not at all attracted to you or horrified by the suggestion for other reasons.

Still, you'll never get anywhere if you don't ask. It's up to you to weigh what risk that's worth.
posted by majick at 7:26 AM on January 26, 2005

Where angels fear to tread....

Perhaps you could say something like, "We've been thinking we might like to try swinging with another couple," without indicating that it is them specifically that you were interested in, and see how they react to that.

It might be a good idea to try a divide and conquer approach - the male or the female partner mentions this general interest to the other parter of the corresponding gender.
posted by orange swan at 7:38 AM on January 26, 2005

Well, I think you need to figure out two things, separately- is the couple open to having sex with someone else, and are they open to having sex with you? The first is probably easier to figure out through some "subtle hint" dropping (I don't know specifics, I've never personally been in the situation), but their general sense of "openness" is probably a good indication of, at the very least, whether they'd freak out or not. I have no clue how to approach the second, which is assuredly trickier.

Personally, I don't think I'd do it, but I wouldn't run screaming, either. And it would definitely be less awkward coming form more casual, than long-term, friends. Although, according to my g/f's and my "OK to have sex with lists", Derek Jeter and Kate Winslet are welcome to come over to play anytime.
posted by mkultra at 7:46 AM on January 26, 2005

Something to remember: while most of the attitudes expressed here are very accepting (a good thing), couples who like to swing still make up a tiny minority of the population. Make sure you know your friends very, very well.

I have a friend who was asked, and she never spoke to the person again. In fact, she considered the asker a big ol' creep.

It's a very intimate line you're crossing, and it may require some real patience before you know if you can.
posted by frykitty at 7:51 AM on January 26, 2005

I'm with orange swan. Sure, getting drunk helps make it actually happen, but talking about it beforehand--and giving everyone time to reflect, confer, and prepare--makes it more likely that you can retain the relationship. Don't spring it on them when they're both there and have to answer immediately. Make sure everyone has room to lay down ground rules first.

Maybe broach the topic by renting a movie together or talking about a book that raises the topic? Or say you were reading about some people online who do this kinda thing and you weren't sure what to think? Do gauge general thoughts on the topic before pressing your case. And yes, having your girlfriend subtlely approach the topic with the other lady (once they say something about how foursomes are a decent idea) is probably the best way to go.
posted by equipoise at 8:00 AM on January 26, 2005

My technique, which is really for lots of chicks and not other dudes, is alcohol, hot tub, 'games'. Get the chicks to make out with each other on a dare, or get some strip poker, or drunken jenga going and you'll soon find out what your chances are.
posted by chaz at 9:09 AM on January 26, 2005

A couple I'm friends with swings. The other day, my wife and I were over there, and a couple they swing with showed up. A toke later, and there was a lot of flirting going on between them, a lot of innuendo, a lot of undercurrent.

I 'bout laughed my ass off. Not out loud while we were there, but quite a bit after we left.

If there was an implicit invitation being put forward, they should have just come straight out. We'd have said "Nope, not for us. But we'll be heading home, and you all have fun!"

OTOH, I'm extremely secure in my relationships. I can see how asking straight-out would destroy friendships.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:20 AM on January 26, 2005

What you should do, if you really value the friendship, is nothing.
posted by kindall at 9:30 AM on January 26, 2005

There are still quite a lot of people in this world that would be deeply offended at a suggestion like that.

That implies that there used to be more, and that one day there will be none - couldn't it equally be the case that there will always be people who will be offended by suggestions like that - which is why asking beforehand or doing nothing, are the only viable options.
posted by altolinguistic at 9:36 AM on January 26, 2005

i disagree with savage's advice and agree with the advice he quotes the swingers guy in the column as saying. if these are your good friends, and you say they are, i can't see why you'd want to manipulate them to get them to say yes (the drunk thing) when it's clearly got a high risk of resulting in regret for them when they've sobered up. why a high risk? anytime you figure you'd have to get people out of their natural state to do something sexual, clearly when they revert back to that natural state they're likely to have regrets or at least feel weird about it. if they wanted to do it anyway sans drunkeness they'd, um, want to do it anyway.

of course you speak of communication. i'm with the poster above saying if your social sense is telling you even asking could cause a breach in this important friendship, you have to make a decision which is more important to you. if you have any signs it might be ok to at least ask given any little things you know about them, then ask but i'd suggest doing it in a way that doesn't put them on the spot. that's also where i think savage is wrong (about pressing them in a drunken state but not only that, pressing them and pressing them hoping the same night you do ask you'll go right away into it without giving them any time apart from you to think about it together). i think you should bring it up sober and in a nonheatofthemoment time and then depart or whatever to give the couple time alone to think about it. you know, "hey...[suggest it]...our friendship means a lot to us and we know this might be shocking or weird for you, that we asked. if it is we apologize for any discomfort. we would love for you to think it over though, and say, next week when we meet up you can bring it up if you like and think you might be interested too, we'd love that and hope you will!--but if you don't bring it up we understand and we don't have to ever speak of it again." and then really give them that time alone to mull it over, and don't bring it up again--if they want to, they will, as long as you make it clear in that ahead of time proposal that you hope they will so they don't feel embarrassed to should they choose that.
posted by ifjuly at 9:41 AM on January 26, 2005

fff's post reminds me that figuring out if your friends are open to swinging is a lot like figuring out if they smoke pot, and, if they smoke pot, whether they want to smoke it with you [or if they have any]. With some people, there is a lot of baggage, going both ways, about whether you do or don't engage in the activity, and you can come off seeming really clubby and/or creepy if you blow it on "the ask"

That said, I've been asked to both swing and smoke pot many times and I think part of the successful ask is whether you can effectively imply "We'd like to do this with you, but if you're not into it, nothing has changed in our relationship as far as we're concerned, and we won't belabor the point" Sometimes it's tough to get up the gumption to make a move on someone and not feel hurt or let down if they say no. On preview, like ifjuly says.

Seems like you have very little idea if you're friends would be into your suggestion and I'd recommend a LOT more groundwork before you go straight to "hey, let's try out the new trapeeze!" If either your or your girlfriend has an especially close relationship with one of the couple, you could try broaching the topic generally and individually just to get a rough idea of how their tastes lie. If you think they'd be open to swinging in general, you could talk more about whether they'd be into it with the two of you, as mkultra says.

On the other hand, depending on your ages and interests the best bet might be just to invite them to take ecstacy with you and/or go to Burning Man with them.
posted by jessamyn at 9:45 AM on January 26, 2005

There is a good way and a bad way to do it, IMO.

Bad way: My ex-husband and I were very close friends with another couple - they were our best friends in the area and we saw each other most weekends. The husband of the other couple would always crack jokes about 4-somes with us, and they were inappropriate because he just wouldn't stop. I think that because all four of us were very comfortable with sexuality, and because we were all good friends, he just assumed that we'd be interested in hopping into bed. However, neither my ex nor I were remotely sexually attracted to either of them and we certainly didn't want to muddy up an otherwise great friendship. The husband should have gotten a clue after the first time we obviously weren't picking up on his hints and jokes and stopped it, but he never did. Even after my ex and I got divorced, he would insinuate that now there was nothing standing in the way of a 3-some. I am still friends with this couple, but it was uncomfortable to always have to deflect the stupid jokes, insinuations and come-ons.

Good way: My ex-husband and I were on a trip and were spending one night visiting a friend of my ex and his wife. We had dinner together and quite a bit of wine, and as the evening progressed, the conversation turned quite flirty. The wife had never been with a woman and was quite curious, and when she heard I was bi she made it very clear that she would love for something to happen. It was pretty obvious that the guys were... exited at the idea, so - I made it happen.

It was the only time my ex and I did this, and it was a very good experience. We honored each other's boundaries in terms of what was and was not OK. And it really helped that the other couple were people we knew, but not that well, and didn't live close to us. We talked a lot about it afterwards to make sure we were both OK with everything that had happened.

Moral of the story: pick a couple you know slightly, but not intimately. And once the general subject of swinging has been raised, drop the bait and wait. If the other couple has any desire, they will bring it back up and you can go from there.
posted by widdershins at 9:55 AM on January 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

they, like us, are very reserved, and don't tend to talk about sex,

This sentence doesn't bode well for the venture.
posted by GeekAnimator at 9:59 AM on January 26, 2005

As usual, Jessamyn and Widdershins offer very good advice. Between the two of them I think you have the answer right there.

Is it possible for anonymous users to add more detail to their threads? It would be interesting to know what kind of interests/ attitudes 'anonymous' and their friends have; what they're seeking out of this and what kind of behaviour they find acceptable. We're making all sorts of assumptions without being in possession of much detail.

For example, if anonymous finds drugs acceptable, Jessamyn's right to note that the uninhibited and sensual nature of ecstasy can provide a good environment in which to talk about these intimate subjects, and arguably to indulge in the activities too. Note that I am not in any way suggesting that it is morally right to force others into inebriated states for your personal gain... I do not believe that in the slightest. Instead I'm saying that some very profound and erotic situations have occurred for me and my friends on ecstasy.

As for Burning Man, there is the PolyParadise camp at Black Rock City... but after fighting off dust storms and getting caked in playa dust, making love is usually the last thing on my mind!
posted by skylar at 10:25 AM on January 26, 2005

The husband should have gotten a clue after the first time we obviously weren't picking up on his hints and jokes and stopped it, but he never did.

Nor did you or your husband tell him straight-out "no," judging by the rest of your post. That's bad, too.

the uninhibited and sensual nature of ecstasy

...and the bitching depressional post-use crash, judging by the reports on Erowid. Also, it's apparently becoming next to impossible to get uncut E. IMO, E these days is to play with dynamite.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:43 PM on January 26, 2005

five fresh fish, we did say no. Every time. But it was always presented as a "joke", so we didn't get up in his face and scream I SAID NO. He is just the kind of guy who figures 'maybe I'll get lucky the 101st time'.
posted by widdershins at 1:14 PM on January 26, 2005

Perhaps, and just talking here, if the subject was broached casually say when the guys are hanging out, (or the ladies, which ever appears more approachable) without the SO around one might get a feel for the situation without a group response. (does that make sense?)
posted by edgeways at 1:30 PM on January 26, 2005

fff - don't forget that erowid users are more likely to post negative experiences than positive ones. from what I know about it, it is a lot easier to get uncut E in rural areas than in cities.

which doesn't mean that one shouldn't exercise extreme care in any case, but from various people that I've talked to about it I get the sense that Ecstasy can be a good way of increasing intimacy in any relationship, provided that everyone involved actually wants the level of intimacy to increase.

on the other hand E inhibits male erections, so it is not a good idea for sex itself.
posted by mai at 3:50 PM on January 26, 2005

oh, and on the subject of asking one partner without the other present, and in the same vein as Jessamyn's comment that this situation is analogous to pot smoking:

my boyfriend and I were at a party some years back where pot was being smoked. neither of us ever had, and we both thought the other wouldn't want to and would not like it if we smoked. so I told the hostess, our friend, that I wanted to smoke but I wasn't sure what my boyfriend would think, and she laughed and said he had just said the same thing to her about me.

I think this shows that it can be easier to get someone's honest opinions when they don't have to worry simultaneously about not offending their partner.
posted by mai at 3:55 PM on January 26, 2005

I thought that the purpose of the alcohol was to provide a sort of social buffer, to make it easier to talk about things in the first place, and to give yourself an out if they're grossed out. I don't think you're supposed to get an actual decision out of them while they're drunk, nor are you supposed to do it while drunk (unless you agree to). It's just to get over the initial uptightness and get the idea out there.
posted by breath at 4:31 PM on January 26, 2005

Following up on Mai's post... I use a test kit on all ecstasy tablets which consists of three different chemical tests. In the very rare instances that the tests suggest anything other than strong MDMA content (and I emphasise the word "suggest" as clearly I'm no chemist), I discard the pill. But such a circumstance is very very rare, leading me to suspect that comments about cut pills are similar to comments about pot being laced with crack or heroin... ie mostly apocryphal. I note that regular users complain of decreasing quality of pill, but in my opinion this has quite a lot to do with their own heightened tolerance levels.

Speaking from personal experience going back about eight years, I have never had such a thing as a "bitching depressional post-use crash." Am sure it does happen to some but perhaps my viewpoint is a result of using in moderation, and very rarely rather than every weekend. Note that I am in no way advocating everyone rushes out and tries drugs and would always advise people to become educated before experimenting.

As regards to inhibiting male erections, I have to correct Mai. What's one man's meat is another man's poison... and don't forget the importance of set and setting. People who expect not to get erections will probably attain that result - but on the other hand some people find E gives them a storming hard-on that lasts all night. Arguably E does not have the apparently unavoidable physical "brewer's droop" effect of alcohol. But as Mai rightly says the emotional intimacy is the most remarkable factor, which can be valuable and rewarding in itself. Hopefully that's not too off-topic.
posted by skylar at 4:53 PM on January 26, 2005

ot - the E I've been able to get my hands on has been clean (by "taste", rather than chemically), never had a post-use crash (I usually end up in a better mood for a couple of days afterwards than before), and Mr. Winky always takes the night off (which is why there are stories of clubbers popping Viagra in conjunction)
posted by PurplePorpoise at 5:17 PM on January 26, 2005

As jessamyn said, the ideal approach would be "We'd like to do this with you, but if you're not into it, nothing has changed in our relationship as far as we're concerned, and we won't belabor the point" if you value the friendship and want to keep it (as you appear to).

Softly, softly. You state your priority is the friendship, so go easy on the offer - and make sure it's an 'offer' and not an 'expectation'. Make it casual-like; try not to salivate. The advice given above that first you should find out if they are interested in swinging, then put you & your partner forward as candidates, is IMHO sound.

Best of luck, anonymous. (Is there an 'anonymous question follow-up' function?)

skylar - set and setting? Leary fan? Anyway, good to hear you test your stuff. After being exposed in no small measure to the supply-side of ecstasy production, I wouldn't touch anything unless I saw what went into it. Keep your policy of test & discard. It depends where you are as to the cut pills story (my exposure to the USA market is not much), but I I've seen E cut with everything, up to and including urine. Don't ask.
posted by cosmonik at 7:08 PM on January 26, 2005

Well, what if you first just mentioned to the other couple that you and your wife are interested in swinging? If you do it in the right way, right context, etc, it will come off more as "here's something about me I want you to know" instead of "here's something I want to do with the two of you, specifically." If it were me, I'd probably drop the first bomb, give them some time to adapt (a few weeks? more?) and then hit them with the other.
posted by Clay201 at 9:39 PM on January 26, 2005

Let the girls talk it over before everyone does.

Trust me.
posted by arimathea at 6:04 AM on January 27, 2005

BTW, it just occurred to me that "I just read this fascinating thread about swinging on a site I read regularly" is a good, neutral opening gambit ;)
posted by mkultra at 6:35 AM on January 28, 2005

The warning on the tag says, "Best done with disposable friends, while in a disposable relationship."
posted by VulcanMike at 1:07 PM on February 14, 2005

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