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    8 MIN READ

    The rule of thirds

    Throuples are evolving our sense of modern relationships; learning how to navigate them can often make or break a relationship. 

    In physics, it’s far easier to predict the force and movement two bodies will exert on each other, but when a third body is introduced? Things can get… chaotic. And much like the solution to the three-body problem, which eludes physicians who can comprehend far beyond my rudimentary understanding of the matter (I read one article about it), so too does the answer to whether systems of three work in the context of a relationship. 

    The way we think about throuples has a lot to do with how they’re portrayed both in print and on television. Throuples are often lumped in with polycules and other forms of non-monogamy, conjuring to mind endless rules and frayed and dizzying connections between ever-increasing numbers of people in a relationship. Or worse, we might imagine them as a couple opening up to a third to somehow revive something lost – ostensibly sexual chemistry – with a looser arrangement. Even the word “third” can elicit strong reactions from folks in throuples. Being referred to as the “third” upsets the balance on which each person in the throuple should, in theory, be on. Some couples have to unlearn the “we” language of the original two-some to be more accommodating to their third. 

    So, should a couple open up to a third? Is it advisable? Is there an ideal way in which a throuple would, theoretically, form and thrive? I could bore you with theoretical brawls between mathematicians and physicians, but it’s best to learn by example. Two throuples, one that fell apart, one that is thriving, each together for a long time and with a lot to say about the matter.

    When Neil first met Dan at Marie’s Crisis, a piano bar in the West Village, the two commiserate with each other: Neil is an orthopedic surgery resident uptown, while Dan is finishing up med school in Brooklyn hoping to specialize in emergency medicine. Neil is drawn to Dan almost magnetically: his olive skin, long, curly hair (what Neil described as “Levantine features”). The two are, almost immediately, inseparable, bonding second over their love of gay literature (they fiercely debate the ending of A Little Life on their first date at a restaurant nearby only two days later). After a year, the two moved into a studio apartment in Chelsea. All the while, the two, as Neil put it, are “fiercely monogamous” though most of the couples they know are in open relationships.  

    Neil and Dan first meet Jaime, a product manager, at a shuffleboard bar in Williamsburg. Only six months later, the three ignite a whirlwind fling that leads to Jamie at their apartment for the better part of the next month. Neil and Jamie appear to hit it off first, with Dan only capitulating after seeing how much more “lively” Neil became in the bedroom when it was the three of them.

    Very quickly, two became three. Neil and Dan’s sexual compatibility had been a perennial issue since they first started dating; they instead found in themselves deep emotional connection. “He’s intellectually stimulating… I feel like we could never run out of things to talk about.” The introduction of Jaime into their lives brought about new opportunities. Neil hated morning sex, and it was always a point of contention between the two of them, while Jaime loved morning sex and could provide that for him. 

    However, there were instances of communication breakdown. Dan and Jaime, almost imperceptibly, grew closer. Slowly at first did Neil hear whisperings between the two of them at night, exhortations of love and affection that would render Neil sleepless for the rest of the night. This snowballed quite quickly, with brewing resentment leading to screaming fights between the three, quarrels that would leave Neil often in tears more than Dan and Jamie. Eventually, Neil was told that Dan’s and Jamie’s was a relationship that would need to proceed without him. To say that Neil was devastated was an understatement. “For nearly two years, I kept replaying the decision (was it a decision?) to open our relationship up to Jamie, and whether Dan and I would still be together if we hadn’t”.

    Neil, however, doesn’t regret opening the relationship to a third. “It’s something that exposed pre existing issues within Dan and I’s relationship, and I’m very happy for them now”. 


    Chrissie and Wilma both met as undergraduates in L.A. Separately in their first relationships with women at the time, they recall dating the “only gay for you” sort of partners that many young queer people fall for in the hopes that they can change them. Needless to say, both relationships fell apart, and they suffered parallel heartbreaks before meeting each other. 

    As a young woman, Chrissie never expected to be in an open relationship, though the idea of a “forever person” that she saw in her parents relationship felt somewhat daunting when she thought about her own dating life. Her world changed when she began dating a couple. “I realized that I could love deeply in a non monogamous relationship… but that I didn’t have this essential attachment… a lot of the love in a configuration like that has to come from myself.” She reconnected with Wilma in film school at U.S.C., and the two began a relationship. Both agreed that the non monogamous lifestyle Chrissie had loved was something they’d be okay with, but they needed to ensure a bedrock of romantic monogamy on which to eventually venture out and pursue something else, something new. The two were entirely monogamous for between three and four years, slowly opening up to experiences where they were always involved, and (mostly) on the same page with external sexual experiences.

    Five years later, Chrissie and Wilma make the decision to get married. As fate would have it, it is at the spin class they take to prepare their wedding bods that they take a liking to their fitness instructor, Eladi. “She was speaking to us through her [class] playlist”, Wilma jokes. In the year leading up to their wedding, the three have spates of inseparability, falling in love at first gradually then quite quickly, finding themselves confused at how to navigate their burgeoning throuple relationship while also considering Chrissie and Wilma’s history and impending marriage. It’s a journey not without heartache and hurt; friends of theirs abandon them (albeit temporarily) for lack of understanding Chrissie’s intentions with Wilma and Eladi so close to their wedding. Eladi contemplates leaving the throuple, even as she attends their wedding and honeymoon. 

    I saw the honeymoon as sort of a free vacation. Each day I went into it thinking it’d be our last

    But, there was something that kept pulling the three of them closer and closer, an unconscious desire of wanting to be around each other, the pandemic providing the perfect opportunity for them to settle into cohabitation as a triad. Their routines align, Chrissie and Wilma waking up at the crack of dawn to attend Eladi’s workout classes, trading off dog duties. 

    Today, Chrissie, Wilma and Eladi have never felt stronger, though perennial concerns like jealousy and boundaries still persist. They all have different ideas of what makes a throuple great, and even more so what makes their relationship unique. Eladi is the stabilizing force, her calming and straight-forward nature in anchor to their vessel;  Wilma is a workhorse, more frenetic, a “hustler”; the two often reign in Chrissie’s ebullient, sometimes chaotic energy (she deprecatingly refers to herself as the “artist” of the three). The three offer slightly different prescriptions for a healthy triad, though the old adages about any relationship seem to ring true for them all: go slow, communicate, care for each relationship as something special and unique, and don’t be afraid to put each other in check. 

    In one of the many cases of art inspiring her life, Chrissie premiered a short about throuples and is working on a feature film at the moment on the same subject.

    There seems to be a lack of consensus amongst clinical psychologists regarding the viability (and advisability) of joining or developing a throuple relationship. Dr. Lexy Thompson, a therapist and practitioner of ethical non monogamy herself, views the throuple that would be most stable as one that’s “built as a throuple”, where each person meets each other at around the same time and develops that bedrock of intimacy as a third. This is, of course, nearly impossible, with the vast majority of throuples, in Thompson’s conception of the arrangement, as consisting of a couple enlisting a person to iron out the kinks (or deeper cracks) in their relationships. 

    Others are more forgiving. Dr. Adrianne Johnson, a professor and couples counselor at Wright State University, wrote an enormously popular academic entry on counseling a polyamorous client. Johnson asserts that though there are different combinations of throuples, they overwhelmingly operate around a “pivot” or primary person. While Dr. Thompson finds throuples to be amongst the most shaky and transient of arrangements, Dr. Johnson posits that so long as each member of the triad is okay with the dynamic/hierarchy, throuples have the potential to go the distance in much the same way as monogamous couplings. 

    Triads don’t necessarily have to fall into the category of polyamory. Some triads, like Neil, Dan, and Jamie, were technically open, while Eladi, Chrissie, and Wilma maintain a monogamous relationship between the three of them. It’s our association of throuples with certain aspects of polyamory that stymie acceptance of the arrangement as something capable of going the distance.

    Perhaps the triangle that Chrissie and her partners have tried and “true”-d over the seven years could prove a testament to the stability of the triangle. After all, in mathematics, triangles are the most stable shape; any amount of pressure placed on one vertex of the triangle will be equally distributed amongst its sides.