(Editor's Note: This is the debut of Rebel Love, a new column focusing on unconventional relationships that work in spite of social ignorance and public judgment. Each month, a nontraditional couple—or not couple—will share insights into how they’ve managed to stay happily together while not fitting the mold.
If you and your partner(s) would like to be considered for an interview, please email us with “Rebel Love” in the subject line.)
The Lovers: Jonathan, 30, and Crystal, 32, in New Orleans
Jonathan: We met online back in 2000. I was running a literature website where I posted my own poetry, short stories, and so forth. Crystal contacted me through it. We started talking in June of that year and by August I was flying out to Louisiana to meet her face to face. We did the long distance thing for about six months and then we moved in. I say that I knew it was love the first time I hugged her.
Crystal: We became serious about each other fairly quickly. I don’t think either of us saw anyone else or dated after we started talking online, really.
I told him that I’d been in a relationship previously with a woman but that I wasn’t looking for that again at that time. But we started exploring the idea about 6 months after I moved in, by going to a strip club. I’d denied being bisexual prior to that even though I’d been in a relationship with a woman, but that kind-of opened up doors. Then the discussion started: “How can we incorporate this more?”
Jonathan: Prior to Crystal, I’d only had very romantic ideals about relationships. I loved the idea of being with one woman—flowers, candles, water falls—all of that stuff. I’m pretty sure the two-women fantasy crossed my mind at one point but it wasn’t something I was actively pursuing. I’m pretty serious when I say that she convinced me to pursue this rather than the other way around.
When Crystal told me she’d had a relationship with another woman, she [said] it started as a threesome with her then-boyfriend and her best friend. Then the relationship with the former best friend and lover continued afterward. She positioned it as something that was a one-time thing, and she was past it.
I accepted it and moved on, and didn’t think about it—until we began living together. I started to notice inklings and tendencies that way. Initially, I tried to get her to admit she was bisexual, which was a stupid thing to do, but at that time, for me, it was about: Be yourself. Be who you are. It’s not going to change anything between us! Which was very naïve.
Crystal: It actually caused a lot of problems because I was denying half of my sexuality. It made me very jealous, trying to live inside of what I thought a relationship was supposed to be: one woman, one man. That’s the way I was brought up.
Jonathan: The first time we went to a strip club, we had a miserable time. It was way too crowded and we swore we would never go again, but Crystal was determined make a return visit. We picked a Tuesday night and had an absolute blast. It started out with us becoming regulars. We did nothing but strip club visits for a couple of months. I don’t recall a moment when she flat-out presented the idea of a threesome to me. I think it was the evolution of an idea that started in a pretty safe and tame place and grew out of that.
Crystal: I’m a very fair-minded person and [my bisexuality] was always something I wanted Jonathan to be a part of. I cared about him, and I didn’t want him to have to give up anything, like I had been suppressing part of me… I was excited, but also nervous. I wasn’t sure how, once we got into a moment, I would feel about seeing him with someone else.
Jonathan: I don’t want to say I was being intellectual about it, but I was being very analytical about my feelings. It was a combination of excitement and a little bit of fear at the same time. I knew at this point that Crystal was truly, without a doubt, bisexual. And I knew that she was probably more lesbian than straight. The obvious fear is Maybe I can be replaced. Maybe I’m not what she wants. But she did a great job of talking with me and soothing those fears, so I don’t remember any large moments of panic.
We started going to the local gay and lesbian scene. We were in a small town in South Carolina then, so there wasn’t much in the way of swingers, but we met a girl there and ended up going on vacation for about a week.
Crystal: She was a really good and lucky choice for us. She knew that it was our first time with another woman in the relationship, and she stopped and made sure everyone was comfortable. She asked if she could do this and that.
Jonathan: It lasted about six months, but she was in another city. So we only saw each other a few times. Over the years, we’ve had about three or four serious girlfriends and I would say eight or nine more temporary partners.
Crystal: We’ve always gone into it with the notion of someone to become part of us. We’ve just never found the right fit.
Jonathan: When we first started, we sat down and wrote out a set of rules. We made a pretty big deal about it. The first was safe sex only, which for us, means condoms. We probably should be more careful about dental dams. That was something we overlooked.
Crystal: But it’s something we only learned about recently and didn’t have much of a chance to explore. Growing up, I was in a very strict religious household, so any type of homosexual sex was wrong and I didn’t even know it could happen until I was in my late teens.
Jonathan: The second rule is nothing behind the other’s back, ever. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same room, but everyone has to know what’s going on. The third is that if something is bothering you, say something. Instantly, call a stop to the action. The fourth rule is that if the other person signals that something is bothering them, stop and retreat to talk about it. The fifth rule is that this is about having fun. If it ever creates problems, we stop doing it.
Crystal: I’ve always stayed optimistic that we will find that girl who fits with us, but we’ve taken breaks from looking for girlfriends when we have trouble in our relationship, because we don’t want to bring someone into something that’s broken. That won’t fix it. It will just make it worse.
Jonathan: There have been a couple times after a really bad breakup when we did take some time away from the scene, but I don’t think it was a lack of optimism. It was a genuine need to focus on us.
Crystal: Most of the issues we’ve faced in out relationship have nothing to do with whether or not we’re dating a girl or looking to date a girl. Most of the issues occur whenever we get stressed or busy, and the communication between us breaks down. Then we have to rebuild a little, but it has nothing to do with the lifestyle. If I’m not feeling good in the relationship or not feeling confident and happy, it just doesn’t work to bring someone else in. I don’t even want to try.
Jonathan: I’d say we’ve been the happiest and healthiest when [we’re] participating in the lifestyle. If we’re not in a place where we can at least enjoy talking to women, we’re not in a very good place. The sources that have had a greater impact are stress, money, job issues, general malaise—the usual pressures of being with someone for 10 years.
If you’re looking to start swinging, start in a controlled environment. We started in a strip club and that worked out really well because you know certain things can’t happen.
Crystal: And you get to explore some of the emotions of seeing your partner interact with someone else.
Jonathan: I tell people—and I don’t exaggerate this—the amount of time we spend talking about how we would feel about things that take place in the bedroom with another woman outlasts the time we spend in the bedroom with another woman! You cannot over communicate.
Crystal: The only other thing I can think of is: Don’t do it for your partner. If you’re not into it, and it’s not something you want to try, don’t do it for somebody else.