‘She asked to borrow my husband for a fetish party. Of course I said yes’
It was the week before I was due to give birth to our first child that I got the call (Helena Frith Powell writes). “My date has pulled out of the party,” wailed my best friend. “Please, please lend me your husband.”
The party in question was something called the Rubber Ball, where people dress up in excessively kinky clothes and wander around looking at other people trying to outperv them. They wear rubber at best, and at worst
strange contraptions that double as instruments of torture. My best friend, who was single at the time, was in what I would call an experimental phase of her life. And now she wanted to involve my husband.
Like Mariella Frostrup I was born in Scandinavia, so maybe the loaning out of spouses is a bit of a Scandie thing. I didn’t recoil in horror. In fact, my first thought was “Heavens, what on earth will he wear?”
On the face of it, lending your husband to your best friend sounds like a good idea. Why should it be any more complicated than lending out your car or a pair of jeans? A friend in need and all that. I asked my husband if he’d like to go and rather too quickly he said yes. I guess hanging around the house with a heavily pregnant wife who eats only peanut butter is not that exciting.
I told my friend he would be there and asked for the dress code. “Oh rubber, leather, maybe a spiked leather collar, some chains,” she suggested. So my husband and I went shopping for strange clothes. I wonder what the shop assistant thought as this vastly pregnant women picked out a sadomasochistic outfit for her husband.
The big night arrived and off he went wearing faux leather trousers with a chain, a black rubber T-shirt, a spiked collar and cuffs. He looked the part. My best friend came to collect him wearing a leather corset with spikes on the nipples and vertiginous heels .
“Have fun!” I said as they trotted off, and I meant it. I trust my friend and, possibly to a lesser extent, my husband. Anyway they’d soon be spiked to within an inch of their lives if they tried to get close to each other. I waddled off to bed early and woke at midnight.
There was no sign of my husband. I briefly wondered if perhaps my friend had taken her experimental phase a step too far. But happily I fell asleep soon after, and by the time I woke up in the morning he was next to me, his studded collar and cuffs discarded on the floor.
I have also been the one to be loaned. A friend’s husband had been given two tickets to Glyndebourne. She has no interest in opera, and she knows I love it, so it seemed like a no-brainer to ask me to go in her place. Well, up to a point. I felt uncomfortable for most of the evening. For a start, I didn’t know him very well; added to which, he was quite attractive.
There I was, in the most romantic setting, drinking champagne, watching an opera about passion and longing, all with the husband of a very good friend. I found myself avoiding eye contact and being careful not to say anything that might be seen as flirtatious. Happily we both made it home with our virtue intact and I have since laughed about it with my friend, but it didn’t make me keen to want to repeat the exercise.
Another friend of mine wasn’t so chaste. Laura (not her real name) ended up on a skiing holiday with the husband of a friend of hers and his two small children. The husband is a passionate skier and was desperate for his children to learn the sport from an early age.
His wife hates skiing and he didn’t fancy a “holiday” with two small children alone. So they invited Laura, a mutual friend who adores skiing. She got a free holiday for her and her five-year-old daughter in return for helping with his kids. Laura’s husband stayed at home to work, but didn’t object. A free skiing holiday is not to be sniffed at, even if you can’t go.
When Laura got home, she told me how everything changed dramatically once they got to Italy. It had occurred to her that it might be slightly dodgy going off on holiday with a friend’s husband, but she thought she was mature enough to handle it. In fact, on the flight out there, she congratulated herself on not fancying him at all.
By the second day she realised that things were different between them. “He was no longer the same person I knew from home,” Laura says. “Part of it was that he was such agood skier, but it was odd, almost like the whole thing crept up on me and then there was a tipping point when I knew something would happen between us. It was on the third night after dinner, when all the kids were fast asleep in bed. We kept drinking wine and chatting while we washed up. That night we ended up in bed together.”
Floss Knight, a psychotherapist who runs the website uktherapyguide.com, says Laura’s behaviour is understandable. “We sometimes feel trapped in the drudgery of our lives, stuck in unfulfilling marriages, where lack of intimacy and being taken for granted kills romance and sexual expression. The allure of the romantic setting where people are removed from daily roles can ignite the ticking time bomb of past regrets and unconscious desires for a hassle-free and exciting fling.”
Happily for everyone, landing at Gatwick brought them back to reality. They didn’t continue the affair. “It would have been a bit like drinking ouzo outside of Greece,” my friend says. She feels there was no damage done.
Is it worth the risk? I did lend my husband to my best friend, however I think the outlandishness of the occasion made it less likely that anything would happen between them. But put any two people together in a situation where they are expected to act like a couple and in my view you’re asking for trouble. My advice is if you can’t go somewhere, or don’t want to, then keep your spouse at home with you. You never know what the consequences might be.
As my husband said to a friend who asked if he could borrow me for a dinner: “Don’t ever ask to borrow my wife unless you plan on keeping her.”
Helena Frith Powell is the author of the novel The Ex-Factor, published by Gibson Square Books, £7.99
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019