This week I'm delving into territory that sits on the polyamorous scale: three-person relationships. "Throuples", or "triads", as they are commonly known, come in all forms but generally include three people in a consensual, mutually-exclusive relationship.
All parties know everything that's going on so there's no lying or cheating. A throuple is more than just three-way sex: there are emotional connections too. Basically, think of dating two people at once, who might also be dating each other, and everybody in the trio knows about it and what they're in for.
Confusing? Of course. Dating is difficult on its own, and feelings are unpredictable. If throuples can be successful, how do they do it?
I've spoken to two sets of friends with throuple experience to get a personal insight into how this all works. The first is a gay couple who've had two throuples with another man (lasting two and five years, respectively). The other is a heterosexual-presenting couple who now have another woman in their relationship.
The common agreement amongst them is that a throuple is an unusual lifestyle choice, but that doesn't take away its legitimacy. People in throuples also tend to dislike the term throuple, or even labelling themselves at all. I found it too confusing to write a column on the subject without the consistent use of a noun, so I do apologise to anyone uncomfortable with the term "throuple" to begin with.
The first point to note is that three-person relationships make most other people uncomfortable. This doesn't matter internally – the only people of concern in a relationship should be those in that relationship – but regardless, throuples experience a lot of judgement from their peers. It's often why these relationships stay on the down low and are only revealed to very trusted friends, if at all.
What do people get out of their three-person relationship? On the face of it, it appears like giving the middle finger to puritanical constructs forced upon Western society. It's acknowledging that monogamy isn't for everybody and people can live happy lives without it.
But deep down, it's more about understanding and acting on emotional and physical connections with more than one person at once and accepting that these can exist in parallel.
Because throupling is all about not following rules, it's difficult to define how one operates. Throuples are romantic relationships between three people of any gender in a polyamorous way, and there may or may not be sex between everyone. In short, it's an equal, loving, open relationship between three.
They might share one large bed and live together, but equally two people may live together and a third comes and goes. Or, one person can be having simultaneous relationships with two people (and those two know about one another; essentially sharing one partner). Like having two boyfriends or two girlfriends and nobody's hiding any secrets, but you don't have to come together as a trio to be open about it.
Complicated? Undoubtedly. And that's before our favourite human emotion – jealousy – comes into play. Naturally, you'd think anyone in a throuple would have to be a completely unjealous person, and everyone I spoke with identified as "low" on the scale of green-eyed monsterdom. However, that doesn't mean that emotion doesn't exist at all.
This is why communication is paramount in three-person relationships. Acknowledging jealousy is sometimes all that is needed to move past it. Throuples do a lot of talking and tend not to keep any feelings in – something that is toxic in any relationship, but can particularly sour one if there are more than two people mutually involved.
Do they have lots of sex? The throuples I know admit to very high sex drives, and note their sex lives are living, changing organisms. Often, they'll begin only having sex in threes but later begin to pair off with the other person's blessing.
When it comes to social time, throuples operate like anyone else. They share mutual interests, they laugh, they cook, they snuggle on the couch. Despite how it looks from the outside, logistically much of it doesn't change when there's three instead of two.
So now for the big question: can throuples last? It's unfair to even try and generalise here, but my male couple friends said these relationships can work "in the short to medium term, but rarely go on for more than a few years". The reasons why are endless and individual.
As I said, three-person relationships, when consensual, are just as legitimate as any other. They are valid, and for some are the preferred way spend certain periods of their lives. So someone comes out to you as a throuple, try and understand that they're making the right choice for them at that given time.