Triads & T’s
While perusing on Reddit and other places one finds the poly community online, I frequently come across folks who are upset that the new person they and their partner hooked up with isn’t connecting with them both equally, or that the sex is “more of turn taking” than as a group. I can’t help but think that people are making a fairly fundamental mistake when they first get into polyamory, and maybe they should ask themselves, who are they dating?
A typical scenario: Jordan and Devon have been together for three years and they’ve decided they want to go into an open relationship. Jordan’s hot friend, Quinn, gets on with them both really well so Jordan and Devon decide to go on a date with Quinn, together. Things go well and a threesome happens, etc. etc. A few weeks down the line Quinn tells Devon that they are not really that into them; the sex is great but there’s no chemistry. Devon complains on the internet, suggesting that this whole poly thing isn’t for them, wanting to end things with Quinn – and here we are.
Now, can you see where they went wrong? Don’t worry, there’s more than one answer.
- Expectations: Jordan and Devon started dating Quinn with the expectation of a triad. Here’s a tip: People aren’t movies. You can’t hang out with Quinn and expect them to fall madly deeply in love with you. When you find yourself placing any kind of expectation on someone, especially in a romantic way, stop and think for a moment. How would you feel if someone expected the same of you? Why are you expecting something from them rather than providing something from yourself? Are you saying “I will go for dinner with Quinn and I expect they will love me,” when you should be saying “I will go for dinner with Quinn and show them a great time?”
- “Jordan and Devon decide to go on a date with Quinn, together”. So innocuous but I feel this is one of the biggest mistakes a lot of polyamorous people make. When a couple takes a person out on a date, they are actually asking them to date The Relationship, not the people in it. The Relationship isn’t a person – it’s an idea, and those things are really tricky to date. You can’t ask The Relationship what’s wrong, you can’t spend time with The Relationship, and you can’t usually do much to help The Relationship when it gets a bit wobbly and asks you to leave. When you date two people who are also dating each, that’s a triad. However, when you date two people because they are dating, that’s a T; and a T is much more problematic.
Watch out for T’s the next time someone complains about feeling really secondary; or when someone is kicked out of their triad because the “primary couple” are having trouble; or what relationship structure a unicorn hunting couple is after. As with everything in polyamory, I’m not saying T’s never work; but I am saying they seem over-represented in a lot of online discussions where people are reporting problems.
- Wanting to end things because they didn’t get their way. Hands down this is one of the worst ways to react to things being less-than-perfect, especially when coupled up with the issue of expectations. Again, people are not movies and you never know what you’re going to get when you open yourself up to another human. As is the old mantra goes, communication is key. When someone is feeling like they’ve been left out (or behind, or alone) then it’s time for everyone to have a chat to see what can be done to make things better, or to manage expectations. Perhaps the most important thing, especially if the relationship is meant to be a triad and not a T, is that no-one gets ganged-up on. All 3 should write down what they propose to fix things separately and then as 3 separate relationships (Devon and Quinn, Quinn and Jordan, Jordan and Devon) come to a compromise that everyone is happy with. It won’t be perfect (nothing ever is) but it should be something that creates the least misery and/or most happiness.
Polyamory isn’t easy, especially so given our incredibly monogamous culture, the complete lack of role models, or even well-known fully functional relationships. We can fall into bad habits, or find ourselves doing a form of monogamy + 1 rather than polyamory. It’s important to keep a check on yourself, your relationships and your polycule in general to help make sure these bad habits don’t take root.