I Accidentally Ended Up In a Polyamorous Triad—Here's What I Learned from It
The beauty of non-monogamy is that you can tear down the social and emotional constructs you've been fed and DIY a unique dynamic that ebbs and flows and works for you. Here's how that went for me.
The topic of polyamory has been in the headlines a lot in recent years. From talk of William Moulton Marston creating the Wonder Woman comic based on his polyamorous triad to the fourth season of House of Cards to Cartoon Network's series Steven Universe breaking ground for LGBTQ visibility in kids' shows, it's clear: Consensual non-monogamy (CNM) is having a cultural moment. What's more, these oft-ignored relationships are even starting to be studied by scientific communities.
Sure, many people seem to be inclined—whether by hard-wiring or everything we've been brought up to believe—to need only one person in their life, romantically. But for me? This is not the case. I believe it's unrealistic to expect one person to provide 100 percent of another's emotional and physical needs. (To be fair, relationship experts agree, and say that you shouldn't expect your romantic partner to fulfill every single one of your needs—that's why relationships with friends and family are also important, as well—but a polyamorous relationship is certainly a more direct way of divvying up those needs.)
Yet, monogamy is the default model for romantic relationships. Rarely are alternatives considered, nor the idea that one can choose to design their own relationship. A January 2020 YouGov poll of more than 1,300 U.S. adults found that about one-third (32 percent) of U.S. adults say their ideal relationship is non-monogamous to some degree; however, only roughly 5 percent of Americans already live a non-monogamous lifestyle. (For context, that's about the same size as the entire LGBTQ community.)
If your head is spinning at the idea of a non-monogamous relationship, you might be wondering exactly what this kind of thing looks like. Don't worry, I'll fill you in—not only do I practice polyamory, but I was also in a polyamorous triad or "throuple" for a year. Here is what it was like.
I Swiped Right
As a solo polyamorous woman, I was already involved in a handful of concurrent consensual non-monogamy (CNM) relationships when I met John* on Tinder. (Note: Sometimes, my relationships are casual, but they're always intentional and committed in a meaningful way, even with varying degrees of physical and emotional intimacy. More here: What a Polyamorous Relationship Actually Looks Like.) We met for brunch, drank a bunch of old fashioneds, then went back to my place and had sex (even though he adamantly prefaced and punctuated the date by saying that he did not have sex on first dates). He radiated Southern charm and a refreshing social conscience, and although he wasn't exactly my type, I found his sweetness endearing. We started dating.
A few short weeks later, he disclosed that his wife, Lynn*—whom he disclosed in his Tinder profile—was having issues with their newfound foray into polyamory, so penis in vagina (PIV) sex was off the table until further notice. I should have cut and run right there, but I begrudgingly obliged. The following week, John and I ended up having sex anyway.
I was a patient partner as he and Lynn worked through the many first-time hurdles of having an open marriage. I prefer to practice kitchen table polyamory (KTP), a dynamic where partners and metamours (a partner's partner—in this case, Lynn) all know each other, and in theory, would feel comfortable sharing space together for coffee or a meal. It entails a certain "we're all in this together" mentality that other forms of polyamory may lack. It's also important to note that KTP may look different from relationship to relationship. KTP isn't a requirement in my relationships, but it sure does make life easier. The beauty of non-monogamy is that people can tear down the social and emotional constructs they've been fed (ex: outside relationships are bad) and DIY a unique dynamic that ebbs and flows and works for them (ex: I can be friends with Lynn or romantically involved with Lynn, or neither—we make the rules). So, I gave Lynn her space, eventually meeting one another at a political protest four months later; her reception was standoffish at best.
(Accidentally) Becoming a Triad
Two months later, I had tickets for a local burlesque show and decided to invite John and Lynn. The invitation was an olive branch of sorts. I wanted to get to know her and for us to spend some time together. If we didn't click, I wasn't going to push it any further. I've learned that if I meet my metamours, it makes them less scary, less of a threat, and I can appreciate that we're all dating the same person. (Related: How to Have a Healthy Polyamorous Relationship)
All dressed up, we grabbed dinner at a local Caribbean spot. Everything was copacetic and convivial, and as we left, John grabbed both of our hands as we headed to the show. I was happy; it seemed like progress.
John sat between us during the performance, but there was palpable chemistry between Lynn and I. When he got up to get us drinks, I got my flirt on. Hard. After the performance, Lynn and I kissed in the hallway of the venue. We all ended up going back to my place and had a threesome. And that's how I accidentally ended up in a triad, aka a "throuple" or a three-way relationship in which all three people are involved with each other intimately. Essentially, a triad requires managing four individual relationships: those between each partner, and the group dynamic as well.
There was really no discussion amongst us—it just kinda happened. I'd been in V relationship structures before, a hinge-like model where one person has two partners who aren't romantically involved with each another (literally, like the letter "V"). But this dynamic, where everyone was sexually and emotionally involved with one another, was new to me.
In hindsight, I realize that Lynn isn't the type of woman I typically date. But she was sweet and sexy, and I think somewhere in the back of my mind, I felt bad she was having a hard time dating outside her marriage. She was bi-curious and hadn't been with a woman before, and I've been known to readily assume the role of sex sherpa for other people's "firsts." My willingness didn't do our dynamic any favors. I should've stayed far away, but new relationship energy (NRE) can be intoxicating. (Related: 6 Things Monogamous People Can Learn from Open Relationships)
Immediately, John started keeping score. He'd report on whether Lynn was pleased with the quantity and quality of communication I was giving her. I'm not a big fan of sleepovers with partners but somehow managed to have peaceful nights with John. Slumbering with Lynn was a hit or miss scenario, but time was divided fairly equally, and although it was never spoken, sleepovers were no exception. I loved snuggling with Lynn. It just didn't need to be an all-night event every time.
Don't get me wrong. I loved John and cared about Lynn immensely. But planning and dividing time between two people, then trying to schedule time with all of us (because remember, a triad requires managing four individual relationships), was overwhelming. Not to mention expensive. They rarely paid for anything, and that's my fault for not setting a firm financial boundary. In all my other relationships, things are generally split 50/50, and if a date is beyond a partner's means, we plan something else that works for everyone involved. And, among all this, I was balancing other preexisting relationships when I met this couple and continuing to actively date throughout the relationship—as did John and Lynn.
The good outweighed the bad, though. We had some great adventures, and there was a lot of love and respect between the three of us. And for six months, we had regular, mind-blowingly good threesomes.
Looking Back On It Now
Spoiler: It ended.
In retrospect, I took on too many "firsts." It's challenging to be a couple's first polyamorous experience, first threesome experience, first kink experience, and someone's first same-sex experience. Any one of those aspects would be a lot to navigate, in and of itself. I took them all on with a couple who'd just opened their marriage and had no experience in CNM. Because of this, of course, our triad was destined to crash and burn.
There was a silver lining: When John and I split, one of my other partners and my metamour showed up in a big way and took care of me. It was KTP at its best and a reminder that abundant love is a big reason I practice CNM. (Related: What It's Like to Go Through a Polyamorous Breakup)
And, as with so many failed relationships, I learned a great deal about my personal boundaries and clearly established what I do and do not want in any relationship. As of now, I'm not inclined to date another couple in the near future, but, hey, I'm definitely down for a group ~swim~.
Nowadays, I screen dates way more carefully. I steer clear of newly-divorced people and just-opened relationships. I have a lot of sexual and dating experience; I'm not a 101-level partner. I get that everyone needs to start somewhere, but I'm tired of being part of the prerequisite learning curve on non-monogamy (or queerness or kink).
My Tinder profile now reads: "If you're not experienced with consensual non-monogamy, we're probably not a good fit."
Writer's Note: For people curious about learning more about CNM relationship models, Amory is a beautifully raw and frank podcast on exploring polyamory. Also, Opening Up by Tristan Taormino is my go-to guide for beginners.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.