Or maybe people will just start talking about it more. Because in its mildest form, managed monogamy is nothing more than the ability to joke about temptation. Our friend Patrick is fond of introducing his wife, Anne, as “my first wife.” Ty and Lynn tease each other about their respective “work girlfriends and boyfriends.” Andrew and his fiancée, Heidi, browse online ads to stimulate role play—imagining three-ways in a manner that is sheerly theoretical, so far. And then there are the popular celebrity lists swapped between partners, like a dirty game of fantasy football.
“My fiancé and I each have a Hump Island,” says Karen, a 30-year-old editor. The idea being, which stars occupy their personal fantasy retreat? “The island has many iterations,” Karen explains. There’s Geriatric Hump Island (“for Robert Redford and Catherine Deneuve”), Lolita Hump Island (“That was for him, before Natalie Portman turned 18—I didn’t invite any young boys”), and Homo Hump Island (“He’s picked Elvis Costello, though I think it’s more of a man crush than an actual attraction”).
What all these lists have in common is that they’re not meant to be attainable—mutual friends are definitely not welcome on Karen’s Hump Island. And even if she should find herself behind a velvet rope with the Sundance Kid, she’s not supposed to really make a move.
However, not all couples keep the people around them out of the fantasy mix. Some freely scope men and women together—and a few go further. “My ex and I used to go to a bar and see who could start a conversation first,” says Kirk, a 32-year-old film editor. “It never went past flirting, but then we would go home and role-play the scenario. It always made for hot sex but never crossed the line of fantasy.”
Of course, the trick is to keep that line from moving. Which is exactly why neither of us mentioned the happy-ending idea to our boyfriends. Until now.
But let’s face it: Batting around hypotheticals is beginners’ stuff. “Before I met my boyfriend, I enjoyed nasty IMing and phone calls with a stranger I call my insignificant other,” says Diane, 30, a renovations project manager. When the couple got serious, they started negotiating and decided to be monogamous in physical acts only; they are still free to flirt, talk dirty on the phone, and share fantasies over IM. “As long as no one ends up actually making out with anyone else, it’s all fine.”
There are risks involved in such experiments, of course: Letting your partner talk dirty is one thing; reading the transcripts another. So for many, being more directly involved in the dalliances can be, ironically, the more comfortable choice. Take strip clubs. “On my boyfriend’s birthday,” says Melinda Gallagher, Club Cake founder and co-author of A Piece of Cake: Recipes for Female Sexual Pleasure, “I asked all the female Cake dancers to give him a collective lap dance. We are friends with the dancers, so it was cute and playful.” And the giving goes both ways: “I wouldn’t hesitate to get him a lap dance at a strip club, but he usually prefers to get them for me instead.”
If you’re partners in crime, it would seem, then there’s really no crime.
Jonathan, an attorney, and his wife of one year, Natalie, both 30, prefer to keep professionals out of it, but they too like both parties to be present. “We’re more a couple who does everything together than a couple with separate social lives,” says Jonathan, “and that’s not about to change because we’re talking about nookie.” They recently took part in an extended game of Truth or Dare, says Natalie. “It involved a lot of kissing and feeling up—boys on boys, girls on girls, all combinations—and me getting licked navel to throat by the hot 23-year-old girl across the table.”
Mike (42, writer) and Jessica (31, graphic designer) just celebrated their fourth anniversary. “When we first started dating, we talked about monogamy and how it seemed to create more problems than it solved,” says Mike. “So we decided we’d be open to new things, so long as we told each other everything and never did anything for the sake of the experience—we would only have sex when we were actually turned on.” They tested the waters by making out with people at clubs, and then a year or so later, had a three-way with a mutual friend. When that experience didn’t lead to jealousy, they agreed to “being open to other possibilities as they came along,” says Mike. Those “possibilities” have included, to date, make-out parties, more three-ways, a four-way (Jessica had sex with both members of the couple, Mike only with the other woman), and a full-blown orgy. They’ve even had the occasional licit one-night-stand independent of one another.