Crossposted from Yes Means Yes Blog.
There’s a running joke between my spouse and me: “one is not enough, and three is too many.” It’s a joke about threesomes, but not about the number of people. It’s a joke about one that got away.
Before I get to the story, I’ll say this: I feel like I can’t tell other adults much about reasonable alcohol use. I have a skewed perception of what that is. Both my parents had alcohol problems, and in my early teens I decided I didn’t drink, and that remains true. For lots of reasons, I don’t think I can drink in moderation, and the consequences of being correct are too high to test the hypothesis. My wife can and does drink socially, knowing that she always has a designated driver, and is well acquainted with, for her, the difference between alcohol as social lubricant and drinking to suppress judgment. It’s a distinction other folks draw for themselves, and one I only see from a distance.
So. We were out of town with a group of my wife’s school friend from all over the country. This was a long time ago, before the demands of renovating a fixer-upper and raising a brood of small children. Shannon was newly free from a bad marriage. I flirted with her constantly, and she had told my wife she liked the attention, all the more so because of the thrill that came with knowing that I was entirely serious and potentially available. We made a week of it, and we were with Shannon just about the whole time.
By the night of the big dinner, Shannon was hinting that she was going to cash in the pile of rainchecks with my wife and I. She was nervous, but she was grinning ear-to-ear. After the first Long Island Iced Tea, she was loosened up. Her marriage at a young age had stifled her. She had missed a lot. As the years went on, she didn’t feel attractive or fun or sexy anymore, and in her (then) early thirties, she wanted to make up for lost time. After the second Long Island Iced Tea, I was pretty convinced that she had decided. She was clear-headed and lucid. She was sounding like she was coming back to our room with us. She was crossing a personal Rubicon: the churchgoing “good girl” was going to have a little fun on her own terms and take the ride that was on offer. My wife and I were nodding – though she’s always said she wasn’t entirely sure Shannon had quite committed, and I’ve always been sure that Shannon had made up her mind. We had seen this coming a long way off and had talked about Shannon many times. We had navigated the MFF waters with friends before and we could work with whatever kinds of play she wanted.
She ordered another round, and as the third, tall Long Island Iced Tea worked its way from stomach to bloodstream to brain, Shannon stopped being a woman in full control of her faculties and became someone drunk enough to blame it on the booze. My wife and I looked at each other with pursed lips. On the way home, Shannon needed help to walk a straight line, and we brought her back to her room, and left for ours. She wasn’t throwing up, she wasn’t unconscious, the whole night was not going to be a blank … but she was drunk.
I don’t think any of us were confused about what she wanted. I don’t think she was confused about what she wanted. She wanted a threesome with us that night. She had months to think about it. But when the hour was at hand, she didn’t want to do it sober. Maybe she felt self-conscious about her body, which was not the stick-thin athletic form that walked down the aisle years before. Maybe she was nervous about sex with friends, or about the dynamics of a threesome with a married couple. Maybe she started to feel the eyes of the rest of the table on her, and whether real or imagined sensed them wagging judgment fingers at her for doing something she had always believed that only other people did. She never explained. We never asked. She missed her window; since then every time we’ve seen her she’s been in a committed relationship.
My wife and I talked about it after, though. Sober, whatever mental block she had got in her way, and she wouldn’t take the leap that she pretty clearly wanted to. Drunk, we wouldn’t do it. She was just drunk enough that we couldn’t really call it “enthusiastic participation.” She needed more than to take the edge off. She needed to have an excuse, to hold it at arm’s length, to be something other than a full participant. For my wife like for me, sex is interaction with a partner. Neither of us wants a partner with diminished capacity, because ze just can’t give much back. And for me, and for us, it’s what the other partner brings to the table that adds to the fun. If that person isn’t really with us, the additional body adds nothing to the experience.
(Over the years, we’ve had more potential fun than I can count go out the window for so many different reasons. People got in relationships and suddenly turned monogamous, or their new partners didn’t want them hanging out with bad influences anymore, or they moved away, or just decided that it was a good fantasy but they didn’t want to try it for real, or my wife or I got uncomfortable with the dynamics, or somebody was part of hers or my professional circle and we distrusted their abilities to keep their mouths shut … and lots of other things. Some things look like they’re going to work out until they don’t.)
This is an anecdote, not a fable. I can’t distill a simple set of principles or wrap it up with a neat line-drawing exercise. That’s what happened and what we did; make of it what you will.
*Obviously the title is a Dead Kennedys reference. The sharp-eyed may also notice that I lifted phrases from Holly Hughes and Seamus Heaney. If I’ve lifted anything from any other authors, it was unintentional.