Summer may be waning, but the time is always right for a juicy beach read. Enter Ashleigh Renard’s Swing: A Memoir of Doing It All. The title is no misnomer, as the book explores everything from Renard’s adventures on the swingers’ circuit with her husband to her perfectionist tendencies to try to be everything to everyone as a wife and mom. The result is a frank and funny take on what it’s like to crave love from your partner, but ultimately realize that self-love is all you need. Check out our Q&A with Ashleigh Renard below:
From exploring the swingers’ lifestyle to diving deep into self-discovery, a lot of the things you do in Swing are essentially exercises in open-mindedness. How do you and your partner get on the same page around exploration?
Renard: Every time my partner and I have gone in a healthful direction, it is through open-mindedness. Whenever we default to traditional gender roles or make silent expectations of each other without sharing them outright, we get off track really quickly. We can veer in different directions so easily when we’re just proceeding on assumptions.
We were going down a path of resentment for a long time, but we got back on track when we realized, ‘Hey, you and I are on the same team.’ The expansion is incredible when you’re proceeding like that, when there’s a willingness to do the work. I think we get shut down when we think we’re not allowed to want what we want, or that we will be dismissed by our partner if we express our wants and needs. But a lot of that is just noise and trying to maintain that façade for our parents or society. When we come back to just us, there is so much potential there.
What was the experience of writing the book like? Has it been cathartic to have your story in print?
Renard: A couple of years before I started writing the book, I heard a podcast with Cheryl Strayed and Liz Gilbert. Cheryl said, “The story you need to write and the book you need to publish are two different things.” I found that incredibly annoying. So I have to f**king write two books? [laughs] But when I was writing Swing, I realized I’d been through a lot of struggles with people close to me who’d played a large part in that lonely and hard time in our marriage. I wrote all of it, then I took out 10,000 words right before I finished my first draft. I had to write those things to process it for myself, but they weren’t necessary for the reader.
Another thing that Cheryl Strayed said that stuck with me was to write from your scars, not from your wounds. You need to have processed enough so that no reaction to your book will impact your healing. The only person I shared this book with during much of the writing process was my husband, Manny. His love language is Acts of Service, so he realized that was a way he could support me. We got to explore what this story that we lived together meant to us, which was incredibly healing. I wish for everyone that they had the opportunity to write the story of their relationship.
What part of the book tends to elicit the most reactions when you interact with fans?
Renard: Surprisingly, not the sex stuff. The first scene in the book is about an invite-only sex party in New York City that looked like a casting call for “The Bachelor,” but people are more interested in talking about the real taboos, like the frustration and shame I express around trying to be a good wife and mother. I never expected couples would read my book together, but the messages I get are from men saying, ‘My wife and I read your book and marked pages we wanted to talk about together.’ That’s where the book has made the biggest impact.
In the book, you relate some of your experiences in therapy. Could you share more about how therapy played into your healing?
Renard: There was always a stigma around therapy for me when I was growing up. I didn’t want to admit that I had any emotional needs or weaknesses. Growing up in figure skating, that was the name of the game: ignore what your body and mind are telling you and just do the work that needs to be done. Oh, and make it look effortless and beautiful.
In marriage and motherhood, I thought that if I just worked hard enough and ignored any weaknesses or emotions, that’s how I would achieve success. It wasn’t until I reached out for help and found a therapist that I accepted that it was okay to have feelings. It was so humbling to admit that I have a lot of emotional needs and that I wanted to learn how to satisfy them for myself instead of stuffing them down as far as they could go.
What have been some of your biggest a-ha moments from therapy?
Renard: Now that I’ve been in therapy for six years, I’ve gotten to know myself for the first time—who I really am instead of trying to shape and mold who I thought I should be. I renegotiated my relationship with myself: who are you really? What do you need? How can I give that to you?
My a-ha moment was when I realized that I do need someone who loves me better, but that person is me. In the book, I talk about how I spent a year writing myself love letters, and realizing that I don’t need anything from anyone else to be okay.
You recently interviewed “Sex and the City” author Candace Bushnell. What was your biggest takeaway from that interview?
Renard: My main takeaway was that once you share a story with the world, it’s not yours anymore. Before I was a writer, I was a choreographer, and every [figure skating] program I created became something different as my athletes performed it. And then it evolved again with each audience member describing it in a different way. I like to leave space for people to connect the dots themselves and insert their own lived experience into the story.