Suburban wife-swapping and infidelity: Fiction or fact? And who has the time or energy these days?

A topic to ponder post-Cupid’s Day?

I’m slowing getting my way through Couples, John Updike’s famed fictional account of 1960s marital discord and sexual philandering amongst prosperous and dissatisfied Boston suburbanites. The book dissects the inner lives of its characters. They’re fairly ordinary, recognizable WASPs, who, despite their outward appearance of success and happiness, are miserable and lonely.

No, this book is no pick-me-up, but it is captivating to read as this very talented observer of human interaction and psychology peels away at his characters and the society that has formed them. As for the subject of this post—swinging couples and infidelity—I just finished the chapter that deals with the wife-swapping amongst two couples, the Smiths and the Applebys. The husbands, Harold Smith and Frank Appleby work in downtown Boston in jobs having to do with finance. Their wives, Marcia Smith and Janet Appleby, oversee care of their fashionably outfitted offspring and homes back in the suburb of Tarbox.
Frank Appleby, who likes to quote Shakespeare, and Marcia Smith start an affair. When voluptuous Janet Appleby finds out, she falls into the arms of Harold Smith. For some months, each of the adulterous pairs continues to meet up and have sex, all the while keeping these affairs a secret from their respective spouses. But a group of Tarbox friends, including the “Applesmiths,” take off for a winter holiday ski vacation at some New England mountain lodge.

The dreaded heterosexual foursome stay up later than anyone else drinking, smoking, dancing, and talking in rather frank and intimate ways. The one thing that amazes me about these characters is their stamina, for late night carousing and excessive consumption of alcohol. After two martinis I would be ready to curl and go to sleep at 9 p.m. I wouldn’t be able to stay up past midnight, dancing, flirting, and falling into some hot and heavy sex with my husband’s best friend.

On this particular night, as the couples are making their way up the stairs to their rooms, Frank and Harold finally acknowledge to each other that they are sleeping with each other’s wives. No hard feelings, old chap. In fact, the tipsy collegial husbands agree to switch rooms. Frank Appleby will go into Marcia and Harold Smith’s room and do it with Marcia, while Harold Smith will go into Frank and Janet Appleby’s room and do it with Janet. The wives comply, but with mixed feelings.
Wife-swapping: The practice seems like such a relic of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s: the decades that introduced Playboy and Cosmopolitan magazines, go-go boots, birth control pills, 1972’s bestselling The Joy of Sex, and the then racy 1969 wife-swapping film Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (pictured above) into the social landscape. Wife-swiping, according to literary and film chronicles of the time, took place amongst educated, liberal middle-and upper-middle-class suburbanites. Maybe the participants in these alleged practices felt the weight and regret of mid-life fast approaching–life slipping them by–and they wanted to enjoy a last grasp of youth by adopting the mores and practices of the youth- and counter-culture-driven Sexual Revolution. The mantra these middle-class sexual revolutionaries embraced was that marriage and life-long monogamy are so passé. And unrealistic, considering that improved medical care and prosperity increased life spans. The big question they asked: Could you really commit to having sex with the same person for 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years?
As much as I’d like to enjoy Updike’s book as a time capsule, it gets me wondering how much extra-marital boinking (do people really use this term anymore?) is going on amongst my friends and suburban neighbors. Look up the statistics on infidelity, and you’ll get varying numbers on how many men cheat on their wives, and women cheat on their husbands. One figure suggests infidelity is a factor in a third of all marriages.
If that’s the case, it must be going on, but it pains me to say that I’m a bit out of the gossip loop in my Walnut Creek neighborhood. A big drawback: we don’t belong to the community swim club where the stay-at-home moms hang out together with their kids on summer afternoons, the kids compete in swim team, and the adults enjoy a lot of hot-summer-night socializing.

I see some of these couples at school and at my son’s sports games. They present themselves as exemplars of loving, loyal couplehood. I can’t imagine any of these people doing it with someone on the side. But who’s to know? Another couple’s marriage is such a strange, mysterious creature.

At the same time, I hear about couples breaking up. For example, there was the one couple in which Dad had affair. Now he’s married to his one-time mistress, and they have a new baby. Mom has remarried, too, to a man whose wife cheated on him by sleeping with the owner of a popular Walnut Creek restaurant. Now, after all the pain and loss, everyone, it seems, is content: The adults have wound up with their true loves, and, at the very least, the adults and the kids are making the best of life around new partnerships and around new and blended family units.

A good friend, who used to work in the Walnut Creek headquarters of the Contra Costa Times, shares with me tales that depicts that newsroom as a nest of sexual intrigue and betrayal. Editors got flirty with each other and cheated on their mates, some who also worked at the paper. Bit emotional stinks occurred on a fairly regular basis.
There was the talented writer and very religious who wound up cheating on his long-time girlfriend by falling for a pretty young reporter. Then there was the driven, glamorous reporter who was married to this cool dude who insisted on an open marriage. Apparently, they threw wild parties. A real Peyton Place. You know, if the struggling Times wanted to increase its circulation, perhaps it should consider airing this bit of dirty laundry. One former staffer already aired some of her own dirty laundry. For the New York Times, the Contra Costa Times’ former film critic Mary Pols wrote an essay about how her buy-out from the paper prompted a quickie affair with a co-worker.
Of course, we’re talking about mostly rumpled newspaper reporters and editors. Do any of us really want to read about or imagine these people getting it on? They’re not in the same glamour category as Updike’s prosperous, Kennedy-era WASPs.

As for me, I wouldn’t cheat on my husband, and not just because he is the love of my life and my best friend in the world.

(NOTE: With regard to the Mayor of Claycord at, as our publicists, Moe, Larry and Curly have advised, I must repeat that “we are just friends.”)

Beyond that, as I said before about Updike’s characters, I just don’t think I’d have the mental and physical stamina for an affair. Maybe it was easier back in the 1950s and 1960s. Maybe people had more energy for their social and extracurricular sexual lives. This was when professional men seemed to worked 9-to-5 jobs Monday through Friday—not 7-to-8 jobs, and on weekends, too, like men–and women–do today. And back in the 1950s and 1960s, women could focus on domestic duties during the day, and not have to catch up on laundry and bathroom cleaning at night after getting home from working all day themselves.

Another thing, parents back then—at least mine—weren’t called upon each night to monitor their elementary–school kids’ homework, because, in my experience, kids didn’t do much homework until they got to high school. For me, after trying to decipher my son’s math homework, which these days involves dividing fractions, I wouldn’t have the energy to skulk out after I put him to bed and meet some paramour at a hotel.

Also, parents, in Updike’s book and, from what I remember of my mom and dad, weren’t running around all weekend to their different kids’ sports activities. Rather, parents were running around to each others’ tennis, golf, boating, and dinner parties.

I’m one of those women who believe that the promise of the 1970s feminists was a bit of a crock. This was the promise that women can have it all. No, we can’t—and that includes having a lover on the side. Something’s gotta give. And this goes for me, too.
Oh, I often come across a few women who seem to have it all—an impressive professional resume, terrific marriage, happy, successful kids, beautiful house, narrow waists and tight abs. They juggle all their responsibilities, either because they don’t sleep, they skim across the surface of life, or they are absolute mistresses of time management. And as much as they might be mistresses of time management, I can’t see them also managing to be mistresses of some secret lover. That might be asking too much, even of these superwomen.
Me? An affair? I suck at compartmentalizing my emotional life, I’m a lousy liar, and I could never pull of that kind of deception. Most of all—and I’m going against what our busy, grasping economic and social climate demands of its citizens at this time—I really don’t like multi-tasking. It seems that in order for me–or anyone else–to have an affair in our go-go 24/7 life-style, I’d have to sign up for a class in time management and multi-tasking. And I just don’t have the time or energy for that.

14 thoughts on “Suburban wife-swapping and infidelity: Fiction or fact? And who has the time or energy these days?

  1. After almost 25 years of wonderful marriage my husband and I have started seeing other couples. its the most thrilling thing i have ever done. were your typical suburban soccer parents, no one would ever expect us. The people we have met are similar, i’ll never look at people the same way. if your marriage is strong and you have complete trust in each other you may want to give it a try.


  2. Not for me. It’s hard enough keeping track of a dual identity online! I love my husband and baby. If I had extra time, I’d share it with them. And, I’m not unhappy or disappointed. Just exhausted, very exhausted.


  3. Oh, and to answer your question. I do believe it is fact. I have met some crazy neighbors out there. As time plays out, wife-swapping doesn’t usually work out for the best. Distrust, jealousy, financial problems, party lifestyle. My guess, it is not a pretty picture.


  4. The kids are grown and i’m not going to live forever so why not. its actually like going out with regular friends not the party lifestyle you would think.


  5. I never thought I’d be the kind of person to have an affair. I had been married 15 years, two kids, and I love my husband. But we had grown busy and distant from each other, and there was the man at work. He was married too. We became friends at first, and we seemed to connect in ways that I had lost with my husband. It kind of worked out that this man was going to move out of state for a new job, so, yes, we did it. We met a few times. And since we both knew it had to end, there were no hard feelings when he left and no big effort to keep in contact. I hear from him from time to time. It’s kind of weird, but I was able to keep this as my little secret. And it taught me a few things about how to reconnect with my husband. It made me realize how much I missed that with him.


  6. It does happen. So I also believe it’s fact. I also believe it’s heartless and leads to broken families. I was a spouse of a cheater. It’s a horrible horrible thing to go through. If you need some excitement or connection in your marriage seek counseling rather then an affair.


  7. Here’s a guy from Walnut Creek looking for a local couple on Craigslist who wants to fool around.” “I want all three of us to play at the same time and get lost in a fury of touching and …” So, I guess there is some swinging going on.


  8. Come on, Soccer Mom! I could help you find ways to unwind. And we could slip it in between helping with homework and soccer practices. Signed,Ready and Able


  9. Wife swapping is fairly popular in Walnut Creek. It goes beyond the classes that represent our city.I know of couples in our city that hold “swing” parties on a regular basis. Some groups are founded by stay at home mom’s while others are made up of working class couples.My boyfriend and I were invited to a “Luau” by a co-worker of mine. We didn’t think anything of it really, just a friendly invite. Well 20 minutes after we arrived, we realized that all these couples knew each other pretty well. We were shocked/embarrassed at first, then we ended up leaving.My co-worker and I talked the following day, and she explained the scene to me, including party’s at local hotels, and a couple that owns a very large residence and hosts monthly party’s with 40-50 couples. Not for us, but from the details she gave me, it is not as isolated as one would think.


  10. Dear Anon Feb. 17, 12:47 p.m.,Would love to hear more, or from anyone else who has chosen to step outside the conventions of a monogomous marriage or relationship. There could be a good follow-up story with someone, even in an anonymous way. A Q&A or something like that. No names, no hometowns. It raises issues about love, marriage, couplehood, and so forth that I think all couples ponder at times. Feel free to email me at Thanks everyone else for your comments,Soccer Mom


  11. Lets get one thing straight, 'swinging/wige swapping is not CHEATING! We are a couple in our 70's, married 50+ years and when in our 30/40's had some marvelous relationships with other couples!I'm not aware of it ever causeing any of us any trouble. It sure made our lives more exciting and we learned things that we would never have if it wasn't for the experiences we shared. Not for wimps or know-it-alls!


  12. Its really nice blog. Swapping really keeps cheating out from marriage. For me and wife, sex doesnt have any limits. I got this from my home, where me, sister, dad and mom always sleep together. Many days we see dad and mom enjoying the sex and they too shared with us also.Allowed to participate with all ways. My mom had sex with dads friend and vice versa also. Even me had with mom and sister. There is no secrecy behind. My wife, now, presently aged 42, enjoys swapping like me and wife priya on


  13. Australian Swingers Contacts is the number 1 swinging resource for Australian Swingers in Australia! Here you can meet, chat, find friends and like minded couples or singles for partner/wife swapping fun. We have been growing fast in the Cities, why not have a look at some of the latest members in these cities Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Townsville, Cairns, Adelaide, Gold Coast, Newcastle, Wollongong, Sunshine Coast, Hobart Geelong.
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