The freezer: A fictional place you are put when your romantic interest wishes to pursue someone else as a preference while reserving the right to pick up where they left off with you if it doesn’t work out.
Tell-tale phrases: ‘Let’s put a pin in this’, ‘I need some time to myself’, ‘I’m really busy’ and ‘I’ll get back to you.’
Classic trajectory: After initial presentation as a possible available partner, good sex and what appears to be the development of mutual romantic feeling, the attention wanes, the person becomes dismissive and preoccupied, and appears to formulate plans to exclude you generally from seeing them. Any further romantic progression stalls from them, and they will attempt to break it off nicely, call for a ‘break’, ‘time apart’ or occasionally level with you that they are now going to pursue someone else while wishing to remain ‘friends’. They may just block you or stop replying altogether, though this crosses over into ‘ghosting’ and ‘zombies’. You will likely intermittently receive requests for nudes when their new partner isn’t putting out or is away. When their new relationship fails, they will pop up out the blue, expecting your original affections to be unchanged in direction and intensity.
The stable: The fictional place where a collection of romantic partners is kept, who may or not be aware of the others, to maintain their availability with the lowest possible investment of time, energy and attention. A stable may be created both for pragmatic reasons, to ensure continuous availability of loving sexual partner on demand, and as a demonstration of personal prowess to boost one’s own ego.
Tell-tale phrases: ‘I have other plans already’, ‘I’m trying to save money’, ‘I’m really busy’, ‘I’ve got other things to deal with at the moment’ or ‘I’m just having so much fun at the moment’.
Classic trajectory: After initial presentation as a possible available partner, good sex and what appears to be the development of mutual romantic feeling, the attention seems to reach a plateau, the teeny tiny step beyond which would be to have an actual official relationship. Never did the apple hang so low. However, increasing contact with their actual friends or family never seems forthcoming. They do not make consistent romantic gestures or include you in plans for how they will be spending their time as much as would seem natural at this point. Plans together will always involve sex, and often little or nothing else. Offers to spend time with your friends or family will be declined. As you do not have an official relationship, they are of course still free to see other people (as are you) but there are a variety of mechanisms that can be employed to make this inconvenient for you, from occupying the time you are free (if they have more) to subtle hints that they might feel jealous or dislike it. Besides, at this point, you really just want to show them that you are what they are looking for and discover the cause of their hesitation in order to overcome it. They may imply to you that you are their ‘favourite’, assign special activities that the two of you are only to do together (besides sex), say you are the only one they have sex with bareback or make out that they are almost ready but just not quite. Unfortunately, you are actually of equal status to the rest of the stable, who you may or may not be aware of. Once in this state, they can maintain your affection with a relatively low input of investment, as they can with all the others. An occasional bale of hay and you are expected to be good. Forever. One day you will be waiting and waiting, and they just won’t come back. When you kick down the stable door, you will be branded a volatile psycho for becoming so ‘needy’, or they will go ‘oh, I thought you’d have figured out ages ago that I wasn’t coming back’.
These sound terribly dark analogies, and like the very worst of behaviours, however, any group of women, especially those on the swing scene, will have numerous versions of being in either or both of these positions. This is not limited to the women, however, and any gender can be equally capable of being on the receiving end of such situations.
There’s a Greek girl that I met a couple of years back who contacts me every 4 months or so for a night out and a booty call. Now, considering that I’m already in a long-term relationship (which she is fully aware of), we both know that we’d only be friends with benefits at best, but it’s still a bit strange to me that when I text her she never replies back as if she isn’t interested any more, but then months later out of the blue she calls/texts because she wants sex again. Now, I absolutely don’t mind booty calls, especially with someone as attractive as her, but it still phases me now that she doesn’t seem interested in maintaining some level of friendship as well.
I like to think that I have an emotional connection to the people I sleep around with as well as a physical connection, you know? When we ‘dirty dance’ she tells me things like ‘Oh my God that was amazing, I SOOO needed that right now!’
My favourite one: “I’m going to take you back home in Athens and introduce you to my parents!’
When we hang out she’s always smiling and looks like she’s in no rush to get away from me, talking to me for hours afterwards. Then, the next day, and for months afterwards, complete radio silence. Still trying to understand if it’s a cultural thing or just her.
BP, 30’s, open relationship
The division between sex and love is a phenomenon that many women resent and despise. Indeed, being continuously treated as ‘only for sex’ is a dehumanising long-term experience for anyone (as indeed, is being treated as ‘only wife material’), however taking the opposite approach and mingling the two also has its pitfalls. Many men who identify as passionate or romantic in nature prefer to have less division, taking a ‘whirlwind romance’ approach to getting to know somebody in the early stages of dating, and can be quite nonplussed when the women turn around and accuse them of leading them on when this excitement rapidly wanes. Within the swing world, there is the additional complexity and uncertainty of whether or not this means that the man does indeed have feelings for them and whether this is, therefore, a prospect for a conventional or swinging relationship. All around, little corpses of embryonic relationships litter the scene like prickly dead leaves, unexplained and easy to trip on. Men, too, need more than sex in life.
I’ve tried to avoid situations where people have found themselves in a freezer or stable. I like to have a connection, not every hole is a goal. If they don’t like that, that’s fine, but you won’t go past acquaintance at best (I’ll see you at the next party- maybe).
Otherwise, it just feels a bit too mechanical and what’s the point in that? I could cruise a bar for that, if that was my thing, or pick up on Tinder or Bumble.
K, 20’s, swinger/poly male
So what is it that can be done? Is there any way to do it right? For the freezer, probably not. Unless it is a completely mutual decision, perhaps due to life circumstances taking you apart unavoidably, and if you are both content to put things on hold, emotions don’t freeze well. The happy, loving person you left behind may or may not be there at all, but it will not be the same. They will either have forgotten about you utterly or there will be a cesspool of rancid, emotional sludge that comes pouring out on you when you try to open that freezer door. That may sound extremely unpleasant for the person who did the freezing to have to deal with, and indeed it is, but it is actually also a great deal worse for the person you froze in the first place to have to go through. If you leave someone, do the decent thing and stay gone. Let them get on with their life. Or step up and be there for them when they don’t want you to go and they miss you. The fact that someone validated you first and chose to see your worth doesn’t make them worthless. It just makes them your responsibility to take care of while they are fragile. You may not mean to break their heart, but if you must do so, don’t do them the disrespect of then treating them like an easy access facility for potential future use.
Can the stable be navigated ethically? It certainly sounds like a desirable situation for anyone in the swing or poly worlds- yet it seems to always be so poorly done. Is there a way it can be mutual, equal and fair? Perhaps, with honesty.
As a young poly? Just that communication is key, communication is crucial. Beyond crucial. Communication with yourself and anyone you are involved with. People should do what they can to be considerate of others, but at the end of the day we aren’t mind readers and you are ultimately primarily responsible for making your own needs, wants and intentions known.
Make sure you have your needs clear in your head and prioritise them. Don’t fill up on snacks when you want a main meal. I think in that case it needs to be made clear that the people keeping you in the freezer or stable aren’t the people you should be pushing for more. If you don’t feel like you have enough time to find a full-time someone, but still make time to be someone’s side-person, then you are just gonna have to put THEM in the freezer until you’ve found someone that can cater to your more day to day needs. My first thought is that, with people in these situations, would it be that they wouldn’t feel in the ‘freezer’ or ‘stable’ if they had a primary or nesting partner?
I think where a lot of the anxiety, doubt, and knocks to self-confidence come is that when you aren’t a top priority in someone’s life, even if it’s nothing personal (the person is busy, doesn’t have a lot of time, could be a distance thing, or maybe they just don’t have strong enough feelings to move to make it a more ‘serious’ thing,) it makes you feel like you are worthless, that if you were ‘good enough’ then that person would ‘upgrade’ you (or whatever negative, inaccurate and unhelpful lingo) to a more full-time relationship status.
And, a point of clarification, I’m not saying people don’t use other people in a ‘freezer’ or ‘stable’, because people most definitely do. What I don’t think is that the majority of these people are doing it in a malicious way. They are probably thinking ‘cool! A person who is different from the people I see normally, someone who I trust and can have fun with, and they want to have fun (or whatever) with me too!’, maybe not realising (through lack of consideration or just lack of being told) that the other person is feeling a bit emotionally hungry, and short or infrequent encounters aren’t satisfying that person, leaving them feeling cheap and used. And this really gets down to what, I think, is the problem. That all humans need, crave, at least one person like a regular, almost daily, solid constant. A nesting partner to give them close to full time emotional, sexual, romantic attention.
If you are single and in the position of being in the freezer or stable, you have to ask yourself, ‘Am I trying to fill up an empty stomach with MacDonalds when really I need and want a hot Sunday roast? Or am I actually pretty full already and fancy a quick bite?’
In other words, do you really want a primary/nesting partner/serious relationship? And so are left feeling empty, unsatisfied and worthless from flings and bits? Or are you actually satisfied as a whole, or too busy for something full time, and are happy being in a stable?
If it’s the first, I would cut off those freezer/stable contacts and focus on finding a serious partner first. If the freezer/stable lifestyle suits your current needs/time/energy/wants, then go for it. Either way, you have to be honest with yourself as to what you really want and need, and you have to be open and honest with the people you are seeing as to what you want and need. If you want something more full time, then tell the person who is keeping you in the freezer or stable. Don’t let them think you are fine when really you need something a bit more. Don’t wait on hopes and maybes to see if your snack turns into a main course, leave the snack and go get what you need.
James Luther, 23, poly
So there you have it; an ethical stable might be a possibility. If you are looking to keep a stable, you may do better to assess whether you are really going to feed them and care for them enough to keep anyone happy, especially if you are looking to be the only one doing so. Keeping just one person content and fulfilled is a huge task, let alone multiplying it up into a personal harem. Perhaps it would be better to have one completely contented person for yourself first, and use your communication skills to build delicately, work and invest little by little, looking to add in a controlled, respectful, and honest way, rather than leaving a trail of destruction. Or just let them all know they are out in the field, free-range, and not waiting for you, ever hungrier.
If you find yourself in a stable it might work for you, but if it isn’t what you need, then it’s never going to be enough, or become enough. At the end of the day, you have the agency to determine your own role in your life, and if you are not the main character, it’s time to change the script.
All my love, my Baby Ducklings xx