The Safe Zone: Giving Yourself Permission to Screw Up
A while back I found myself flirting with some Canadian friends, newbies to swing. We talked about the possibility of a playdate somewhere mid-way between us (‘round middle of Michigan). They were understandably nervous, as it would be their first time doing anything, and I stumbled across an idea of how to look at the possibility of sexual activity on our weekend: The Safe Zone. In The Safe Zone, they can try things they’re nervous about trying without repercussions afterward.
Freedom to Explore in The Safe Zone
If you designate a day or a place as an anomaly in your life, it allows you the freedom to explore those taboos and things that make you nervous. If you wind up not enjoying yourself, or feeling jealousy, or having an issue, you can write it off as a self-contained package. That happened in The Safe Zone and it doesn’t need to happen again.
My Canadian friends were worried about what might happen if they tried something they wound up not liking and left discouraged or angry or jealous or regretting the weekend. These are all valid concerns, and things that could very well happen as you dip your first tentative toes into the waters of any variant in the non-monogamous lifestyle spectrum. My Safe Zone idea is about giving yourself permission to make those mistakes and fuck up, because it’s those potential mistakes, those things that could backfire so greatly, that wind up being the absolute best things about the lifestyle.
“Leave it in Michigan”
I suggested that they look at this weekend trip across the border into Michigan as stepping outside their lives together. Whatever happens in Michigan can stay in Michigan if they want. If something bad happens, like jealousy or anger, they can give themselves permission to “leave it in Michigan.” Going forward in life they can look at it as a minor aberration, something that need not be repeated, something that they did “in Michigan.”
I think this can easily apply to most of the things we do at the beginning of the lifestyle.
Planning for The Safe Zone
If you’re planning a date with a couple for the first time, you can designate that date as The Safe Zone. Once you give yourself permission to take the risk, to really hold your breath and jump, it is like the waters of freedom rushing in. Plus, with true freedom and openness comes the likelihood that you won’t create lasting scars.
There is an essential component to this, however: the agreement that whatever issues crop up in The Safe Zone do, in fact, stay there. This is indeed a hard one. If you see your spouse or significant other doing something surprising and it raises deep new feelings and jealousies that you didn’t expect, it sure as hell can feel impossible to leave those issues at the door.
But I think that part of the price of admission to this lifestyle is pushing yourself to leave some of these things behind. Not all of us will get through our first experiences without feeling conflicted and jealous. In some cases that’ll be the end of the experiment. But these feelings of conflict and jealousy needn’t mean that this lifestyle shouldn’t be for us, or isn’t for us. They just mean we’re processing feelings differently than expected.
Like the removal of The End Game (the idea that any breach would be cause to immediately shut down your relationship), this is something that you have to implant inside you. This is a completely external concept, that I simply won’t hold this or that against my partner if things go badly. Even if I so desperately want to. Even if things go so unbelievably bad, this is the risk of the leap.
I believe that even our worst anger, our worst jealousy, the most angry and selfish thoughts we have towards our partner are optional, even if they don’t feel that way at the time. We can decide that yes, I feel this way, but I’m going to own and stop it. That I’m going to change the dialog. That I’m going to decide to be alright.
Because if we can do that, if we can decide that The Safe Zone exists in its own little bubble in time and space that may be a swing date, or a swingers club, or somewhere in the middle of Michigan’s wine country, and no lasting relationship damage can come from anything we try there, we’re giving ourselves permission to be who we truly are; which can only teach us and our partners more.
Learning Through Experimentation
Experimentation and pushing boundaries are the bread and butter of a happy life. The mantra that “I’ll try anything twice (in case I did it wrong the first time)” is so very important because that’s how you learn who you really are.
You know what? It’s fucking okay if you try something you don’t like. That moment is not a failure. That’s a moment you learned something new about yourself. If you never try these things for fear that you may not like them, you cut yourself off from the possibility of discovering something exciting. Something you never thought you’d like. And you might really like it.
The Safe Zone is about allowing yourself to fuck it all up, to destroy it and rebuild it, without fear of retribution on the outside. It’s within that freedom that catharsis can happen, and it’s within catharsis that true learning lives.
‘Cuz sometimes you learn, in a little hotel in Michigan, that girls are soft, and smell good, and taste good, and you’re only able to learn that because you felt safe.
This article is an excerpt from my book, My Life on the Swingset: Adventures in Swinging & Polyamory.