The news media, movies, TV programs, even education in the 1970s suddenly shifted from omission’s silence to instructor’s mode about sex to catch up for its past suppression. The new mantra was, “Sex isn’t for procreation, it’s for pleasure, a casual fun like chewing gum.”
It was free love, sex on demand, whatever floats your boat. With “the pill” procreation became an afterthought, something put off until later in life or never. Why get married after Woodstock? It was love boat time.
Married with kids, the love boat had sailed away without us. Stuck on shore, hubby and I were limited to observer status.
On 1975 New Year's Eve, the kids tucked in bed, tipsy from wine after midnight kisses and midnight fireworks, I broached an idea until then unsaid.
“Honey, I want to ask something.” I’m tired of taking the pill. Can you get fixed?”
His inebriated answer as he slid in was.
“Great idea, if I’m fixed, we can go swinging”.
There it was, proposed sex with others, as we rang in the New Year rocking the bed. He had joked about swinging before but this was tipsy serious.
Having sex with others was a turn on fantasy for both of us, but for me, not by swinging. The idea of anonymous sex was unappealing. I didn’t want to be a group, grope toy. The concept of couples meeting for casual sex was something a man would dream up.
On the marriage bed, I’d titillated myself imagining sex with actors, men flirted with, the San Francisco belly dance patron, even Joe Montana, the San Francisco 49er quarterback. Only he got me to watch football on TV while I prepared snacks and drinks for the guys. On occasion, I led hubby, post-game, once the gang left, to bed and joked about his donning a 49’er football helmet.
With his inebriated suggestion, I nodded implied acquiescence. I was ready to see what I was missing, for me, not for him. While he may not be jealous, I still was, even in my fantasies.
After his New Year’s innuendo, he failed to bring the subject up, embarrassed of his drinking declaration. To renew the conversation, I related a girl at work swinging story, true but elaborated on, to spur him on. Through alluded encouragements and subtle hints, his swinging fantasy grew to open acceptance of it occurring once he was "fixed". He then announced he made the appointment.
His decision to get "fixed" was an open admission we would try swinging to which I gave inferred consent by not disagreeing. My possibility of getting pregnant wasn’t discussed. Why his having a vasectomy justified our swinging was irrational but accepted by us both. It was the go past go Chance card. If he did it, swinging followed.
After recovery from his snipping, referred by him as “chop-chop”, he overtly planned swinging, part of his post-op schedule. His two little testicle scars were our love boat passage tickets.
During his recovery, I quizzed him about jealousy and allowing me to have sex with another. It was my safety backup interrogation. His rationalized response was swinging would help me have more sexual experience since I was limited to only him. My being a virgin bride, an ideal status he ensured, was now a flaw. Everyone else in the 70's had more sexual experience than me as if I had a defect. I conceded to needing more experience but harped he couldn’t cope with jealousy, that he needed to prove otherwise. My position was he, needed to assure me his lack of jealousy made it okay before we proceeded.
With his eventual strident proclamations, he wouldn’t be jealous, I let him commit to our going to a swinging party with conditions. It had to be in another city, with only married couples, it would only be a "look-see" and we would leave before “activities" so we could decide if we really wanted to do it. He readily agreed and scoured the San Jose Mercury newspaper classifieds for a suitable swinger’s group. I had my agenda and waited to see how strong was his and rationalized.
Let’s see if he is willing to barter me to have sex with another. If he is, it won’t be swinging. I’ll find one I want but who knows, maybe Joe Montana will show up at the party.
Contacting a group that met my conditions, he arranged for us to go. With his encouragement, I bought a suggestive wardrobe and he bought a package of condoms for me, in case I changed my mind and wanted to speed our response time. With a baby sitter at home, off we went.
The address given was a modest house in Milpitas, in a neighborhood not dissimilar from Tropicana Village. The yard was unkempt, lots of cars were parked down the street, the house needed paint, wary indicators before ringing the doorbell. Inside there were eight couples, all losers.
I was hot-property. They talked the scene up but you could tell a couple of the wives were less enthused. I acted social but kept my distance and didn't want to be touched, let alone have sex with any of them. The "look-see" reaffirmed my swinging reluctance. The males were swinging because that was the only way to entice others to have sex with them. If they were movie stars, it was a horror film. After socializing and their heavy drinking, we left. In the car, I laughed about getting dressed up for a bunch of losers. He agreed.
His agenda waylaid, we went to a movie, The Turning Point with Ann Bancroft and Shirly McLane, a ballet dance to a different tune.
Afterward, while disappointed, he still harbored a suppressed swinging fantasy. I kept it suppressed by accusing him of having a jealousy issue. We argued. I said he was jealous, he argued he wasn’t. I let him win, free to flirt. I flirted openly to the edge.
A man’s smile pushed me over it. Our accidental meeting skewed my life’s assumed projection to a far, far away universe.
I cashed in the not jealous card. My flirt agenda, condoned by his proposed swinging, blessed by his purported lack of jealousy, suffused into a life of fornication.
It started in May.
Tra la! It's May!
The lusty month of May!
That lovely month when ev'ryone goes
Like the lyrics in Camelot, in May I went astray, Lancelot entered my Camelot.
It was June 1975, five months after hubby’s inebriated New Year’s Eve innuendo, three months after his “fixing” to pursue it, and a month after the swinger’s party deflation. Swinging was in our marriage closet and monogyny stumbled backward.
It was on a Saturday morning, just after my 25th birthday and 7th marriage anniversary. The air’s crisp scent was pregnant with seasonal change, The new velvet green leaf canopy of Sycamore trees at the Stanford Mall heralded change. The green verdant carpet of the Diablo Range’s distant hills augured tectonic change.
Under these portents of change, we met. I held a pair of shoes selected for hubby in a men’s shoe store and felt a presence behind me. I turned. He stood a shoe rack row away, openly admiring me.
I was not a stare or leer but a welcome gaze accompanied with a warm smile, a look of kindred recognition, the kind which draws one closer.
I looked down, then back up. He still smiled back. I smiled a returning invitation, then blushed. He approached confidently and asked as if no longer strangers.
"What do you think about this shoe? Does it go with me?"
I set the pair held down and observed him. He wore expensive, casual attire. His tan, polished cotton slacks creased and bent perfectly at the cuffs as they met his shoes. His linen cloth, light blue blazer matched the expectant weather change from Spring to Summer. Over six feet tall, clean-shaven, deep water blue-eyed, he had a square jaw. His smile was good-natured, unthreatening with perfect teeth that invited friendship. He was not outright handsome but pleasant to look at. He appeared to be his in mid-twenties, of professional demeanor with brown hair combed straight back. I could tell he would eventually be bald.
I flirted a demur smile, turned back to the shoe rack displays, walked about as if disinterested, and selected a tan-colored oxford shoe with darkened trim instead of the one he asked my opinion about and presented it to him.
"Try this. See if it goes with your pants."
He sat in a chair and gave the shoe I selected to the salesman who scurried to get a pair his 91/2-D size. As my new acquaintance unlaced his shoes, I stood aside and observed additional details. His bent neck was muscular, the straight back pompadour covered evident thinning, his shirt collar was starched, he smelled good.
The salesman returned, slid his unlaced shoes off, and shoehorned the ones I selected on his feet and tied the laces. My new friend stood up, pranced around the showroom and then exclaimed in his resonant chest, based voice.
"I like them! I would never have selected them. They go with my slacks."
He then asked.
"Thank you for your assistance. How can I help you? Why are you here?"
I stumbled and inanely blurted.
"I’m here to help a good-looking man select shoes."
As the salesman put his old shoes in the box he replied.
"You found him."
He paid while I stood silent and watched his confident, deliberate, movements. Once he signed for his card, we walked to the Mall esplanade, I surprised, I exited the store with him. The shoes I’d selected for hubby laid abandoned for the salesman to re-stock.
Nervous waking with a strange man, his voice calmed me. I reflected as we walked.
I need to say goodbye. What if I meet someone?
Instead, we strolled along, in step among the shoppers, as if acquaintances that accidentally met and needed to catch up on a conversation.
He led to a kiosk for tea, an innocent excuse for continued contact. Facing one another he formally introduced himself as Edward and asked my name. I told him Elizabeth. As the tea simmered, we exchanged interests. He led the conversation. When I asked what he did, he replied he was a student but when pressed revealed he was doing his medical internship. A flush of unease swept me. I was a simple girl. He would soon find me foolish.
He didn’t ask, what I did. He asked what I liked. His confidence, demeanor, pleasant voice spawned instant comradeship. When I spoke, he listened attentively, responded based on what I said, and didn’t interrupt my thread of speech to inform me of his august opinion like my husband. I stared at his full lips, mesmerized by his attention.
Our tea was innocent but we knew better. He had an agenda. I encouraged it. He could see my wedding ring but didn’t comment on it. We continued our tea act with the pot between us from which he added to my cup now and then. I thought of Alice In Wonderland and her tea party. I too was in a fantasy. For the first time, I was romantically smitten.
I’ve found what I’m missing.
He smiled each time he looked at me, as if he too, had found something missing.
He told me I was beautiful. I blushed.
My husband never says so. Now he wants to barter me for other women by swinging.
I was wearing jade stud earrings with gold posts, my husband's last Christmas present. With the last of the tea sipped, the cups in their saucers, he stared at my ears and commented.
"You should wear dangling earrings to emphasize your neck."
I blushed and scrunched my neck down.
He sees I’m a long-necked duck.
"I have gold hoops but don’t wear them."
"Well, how about dangling ones?"
I was not sure what he meant but suspected he was saying it would help hide my neck.
"I have an ugly neck! It's too long, only good for belly dancing."
"Only good for belly dancing? You're mistaken. It’s beautiful, needs emphasis, with earrings."
He stood up.
"We need to confirm what dangling earrings say. They’ll say your neck’s beautiful, like a swan’s."
He walked me to a jewelry store and looked at earrings under a locked glass case while I pretended to look at men's watches and checked if anyone noticed us. My Mall trip had taken an unexpected veer. I became nervous and tried to think of an excuse to leave before things went too far. I had never flirted this far afield. It was too close to the edge. His voice, however, kept me by his side. I was falling.
He selected a pair with a pearl at the end of a gold chain. It had European style ear lobe hooks; real gold not platted. The saleslady opened the case with her little key and handed them to him. He held one up to my left earlobe, our first contact, just a brush, my ear and neck yearned for further caress.
He told me to take off the jade earrings and try on the pearl ones. I obeyed. My hands shook as I sought the ear lobe holes while I stared down at my husband's Christmas present, laid skewed on the glass counter.
On, they caressed my neck as if they were his touch when I moved. Looking in the mirror my neck stood even longer. I scrunched down.
"Elizabeth, you're not a turtle, please stand tall so I can enjoy the beauty of your neck."
I straightened up, a posture rarely taken, especially in the pumps I was wearing.
"Your neck’s beautiful, no exquisite, the nape enticing. The earrings make it all more so."
Maybe Dad’s right; I’m a swan, not an ugly duck.
He insisted on buying them. I complained I didn’t know him; they were too expensive. He replied he was purchasing them to please himself. I was thrilled.
Back on the Mall esplanade, he asked for my phone number. I gave it to him but said to call during a weekday. With my wedding ring, I didn’t need to explain. He wrote it down in a little leather notebook. I told him I had to leave. He said he would call. A white lie, I assumed. With earrings swaying and caressing my neck I walked taller than usual, erect in my pumps, elated. I didn’t look back but felt the presence of his gaze until I rounded the corner.
At home, I took off my new earrings; put them in the box they came with, and hid them in my lingerie drawer. I put on my jade post ones. I looked and felt shorter.
Author Notes: A 7 year itch begins with kids in school, society sexual revolution and husband's swinging suggestion. A strange man enters and skews a life projection.