The story of how We Three and We Fit came to be wouldn’t be complete without my sharing about the wonderful character of Eric Tanner.
Inspiration and Characterization
Eric Tanner is primarily a mix of two people. The first is unquestionably Tom Decker of Swingtown (married to Trina, Elena’s inspiration). The other inspirational figure is my wonderful husband, John, and I dedicated We Three to him.
My husband’s influence on creating the Eric Tanner character is mostly emotional too. We’ve been married thirty years and we’ve done a lot of the hard work in conversation and shared experience that made that stability possible even as I came out and we opened ourselves to other relationship types. He’s been my most supportive partner as I learn more about myself, my identity, and what makes me happiest. I couldn’t be a successful writer and editor working from home today without his continual confidence in me. He’s always been my biggest supporter.
Eric Tanner got the same pilot’s job as Tom because that profession made it simpler to build Jess and Elena’s relationship separately from any relationship with Eric, because he’s often off flying his routes. Also, Eric being a pilot and Elena being a former flight attendant gave me the inspiration for the “layover party” (as far as I know not a real thing) as a way that Eric and Elena first met. There’s a whole conversation about it that Elena and Eric share with Jess in We Three.
“You haven’t been here long?” Eric asked. “What brought you to Florida?”
“Looking for something new,” Jess said. “Gus calls me a free spirit, but really, I’m a drifter. I’ve sort of grown into the rootless life.”
“You’re not very old,” Elena said.
“If you’re fishing, I’m twenty-five. I gather both of you are in your thirties?”
“I’m thirty-eight,” Eric concurred. “I graduated from high school in Dubuque, and then enlisted in the Air Force to become a pilot.”
“Are you in the reserves?” Jess asked.
“Retired. I’m a commercial pilot for Diligent Air.”
“Oh, now the ‘gotta fly’ makes sense.” Jess laughed, and the sound made Elena smile. “What about you? Where have you modeled?”
“I don’t actually model. Except in Eric’s pictures. We find the photo shoots, like the swinging, add spice to our sex life. I used to work as a flight attendant.”
“That’s how we met, actually,” Eric said. “At a layover party.”
“What’s a layover party?”
“When flight crews fly long-distance routes and stay overnight in a city, some of us get together. The more domestic ones plan sightseeing if it’s someplace cool.” He crushed his now empty beer can, walked over to a low cabinet in the kitchen, pulled out something, and tossed it in. “More often, though, we crowd into one big hotel suite and have sex,” Eric finished as he turned back.
We Fit: Eric’s Plot
Eric gets a little less time on the page in We Three because the central relationship being built in the first book is unquestionably the one between Elena and Jess. But Elena/Jess probably wouldn’t have gotten very far without Eric and his instinctual understanding of compersion, ethical non-monogamy, and Elena. He’s no novice, having been into casual sex and relationships for a long time, even before meeting Elena those many years ago.
He’s also seen a lot in life in general. I gave Eric an active military service background, not just in passing, but he’s had battle experience. He’s lost people, he’s worked as part of a team, and he’s learned to work with all kinds of people with a common goal. He’s seen what negative things can happen when people are seen as interchangeable and generalized for whatever “traits” they possess.
So basically in reaction to that, Eric Tanner has made an effort to see everyone he meets as an individual, unique. That’s why Jess’s slightly ill-fitting suit (because it wasn’t hers) that first night caught his attention. Here was a very beautiful woman wearing a men’s suit. That dichotomy in the club full of feminine-presenting people in strappy heels, elegant dresses, and lingerie made him want to get to know her better. He noticed the details, and wanted to learn more.
Being that detail-oriented, he’s also very aware when Elena’s casual approach to Jess shifts because of serious emotion.
Writing We Fit, I was able to finally really showcase those qualities in Eric as he starts out first focused on helping Elena fix her relationship with Jess, and then works to create a relationship that is different and separate with Jess because Jess needs it. And he cares enough to give her what she needs. He learns that he also wants a relationship with Jess that is equal to his relationship with Elena, growing from a sort of brotherly affection to full romantic and intimate love. His practice of already being open with all his partners makes a lot of that transition possible, even though he also falls a little into the “I didn’t know you wanted more” camp when he’s surprised by his regular layover partner’s frustration. I didn’t want to make him too perfect.
It is notable in We Three, but also in We Fit, that Elena and Eric do not give “permission” to each other for their relationships. True polyamorists understand down that road are too many traps, coerced feelings, performative behaviors, and other things detrimental to self-respect and autonomy.
Eric and Elena have been swingers from the get-go. Elena and Eric married for reasons other than wanting to be exclusive sexually or emotionally. The love they have for one another started and grew out of that respect for each other’s personhood and the experiences they’ve shared emotionally and physically over the ten years they’ve been together. Trope-lovers might label it a “friends with benefits” relationship, but a common angle in that trope is that the FWB characters are blindsided by deeper feelings. Or one of them is. Instead, in We Three, it’s clear that Eric and Elena have always been aware of their mutual love and care.
In We Fit, it’s Eric’s support of Elena and advice that finally sends her to seek out Jess and figure out what happened to trip up their relationship. Then he gives them the space to fix it. When he learns of the part his behavior potentially played in Jess’s reluctance, he does the hard work to be a more responsive partner. He knows his relationship with Jess is not at the same place as Elena’s, and it’s also based around different things. He’s also comfortable with that, which is a healthy non-monogamous relationship position.
[Eric said]“Yeah, but just like we’ve been with you, we were not all about the sex.”
“That has been something to get used to,” Jess said. “One night stands were my thing.”
“We’re way past one night here. It’s been more than six months.”
“Well, if I hadn’t been stupid and run in December.”
“Forget it.” He brushed his fingers through the hair falling forward over her cheeks and tucked strands behind her ears, cupping her cheeks. “I just…I’m glad you’re here now.”
Jess leaned forward and pressed her lips to his, moving them softly from corner to corner before pulling back. She cupped his face. “So am I.”
As they continued to kiss, Jess rocked her hips, which put pressure on his groin. Along with the heat of her he felt even through both their jeans, Eric’s cock started to swell. Her reaction when she felt the growing bulge in his pants was to rock more. He groaned into the skin of her shoulder, nosing aside the jersey neckline and finding her satin skin where he pressed kisses. “Uh. God.”
She wrapped her arms around the back of his head and chuckled into his ear, making him groan again, and his cock became even harder. “So, how’s your photography coming along?” she asked.
“Mmm.” Eric wrenched his attention away from his cock and the desire to sink into Jess’s body. “Um. Hmm. It-it’s good. Thinking of posing some more?”
Jess’s slow shifting renewed the pressure on his cock and, once again, he felt his brain short-circuit. “You do have that auto-snap feature, and”—she trailed off as Eric grazed the pulse in her throat with his teeth—”uh, video.”
He slid his hands down Jess’s back until he was pulling on her ass, helping her rock herself against his cock. He ordered himself not to come, but that didn’t mean that he was going to leave Jess with dry underwear. “You’re so hot and wet just thinking about us on camera, aren’t you?”
She may not be the same level of exhibitionist as Elena, turned on by just anyone watching her have sex or be naked, but he’d learned enough that he knew it turned Jess on to be the reason someone else was turned on. Namely him or Elena.
Because of Eric’s presence in the story I was able to bring out the different equity practiced in ENM relationships. Even when people share partners, the individual one-to-one relationships (there are four in a triad) are always in motion, and seldom, if ever, on the same emotional “step” at the same time.
People are different, the history of the relationship is different, and the things the individuals enjoy doing together are different, both sexually and non-sexually. Bottom line: requiring the same level of intimacy from a shared partner as they have with another would be against the very notion of individuality and ethical non-monogamy.
And Eric already recognizes individuality and places importance on building relationships that are unique. In We Fit, he grows in his understanding of ethical non-monogamy, realizing he is more interested in the intimate relationships he can build when shifting his focus away from casual sex.