According to a 2020 study by YouGov, 23 percent of U.S. adults reported they were in relationships that are non-monogamous to some degree, while 32 percent of U.S. adults said their ideal relationship is non-monogamous.
Granted, polyamory may seem unconventional, as most people are raised on the idea of a monogamous end goal, but polyamorous people say that all kinds of relationships require the same things.
A Dallas man named Zig (last names are withheld for privacy) says he was in a "throuple" with two men in 2018 after realizing his brain was "more wired" toward polyamory two years earlier. He was already in a relationship with one of the men before the couple invited in a third. The triad only lasted three months, and Zig eventually married the man with whom he was in a relationship first, but Zig says he learned one of the key factors for making a poly relationship work is also essential for monogamous relationships: communication.
“If you cannot communicate how you're feeling and what you're thinking to all others involved in a relationship with you, then any relationship will always fail,” Zig says.
Like monogamous relationships, polyamorous relationships have rules by which all parties must abide. Monogamous folks might often think of polyamory as “permission to cheat,” but Zig says partners may still betray other partners if they go outside of previously established boundaries.
“There is still cheating when you're in a throuple,” Zig says. “There is still lying and deception and all of the other stuff that happens in every relationship. The goal is not to do that.”
A variety of dynamics exist in three-way relationships. Person A can be in a relationship with both person B and person C simultaneously. Or A can be in a relationship with person B, while person B is in a relationship with person C.
In Zig’s case, there were four relationships taking place: The one between him and person B, his primary partner whom he eventually married; between him and person C; between person B and person C; and one collective relationship among all three.
“Not all throuples or poly relationships have a primary partner pairing,” Zig says. “But, more often than not they do, simply because of how the relationships form. Most relationships in a poly relationship form organically, one after the other.”
Dallas-based artist Kam (whose name has been changed) was in a throuple with two women for six months but says the relationship could’ve been stronger if there had been more effective communication and boundaries had been enforced among all three of them.
Kam was in a relationship with a woman for eight years before a mutual friend of his and his then-girlfriend's expressed interest in having a more “active role” within their dynamic. He describes the experience as “liberating” and says there was never a lack of “sexually charged energy.”
Although he admits they could’ve done better when splitting their time fairly.
“Honestly, we didn’t do a great job of [managing time], and I think that’s why there were a lot of trust issues that developed,” Kam says. “I'm not quite sure if we accepted the fact that we were all in a relationship together. Expectations weren't defined as far as how much time they needed for themselves.”
Although trust issues led to the throuple’s demise, Kam has plenty of pleasant memories of that time. For five of the six months the three were together, all lived in the same home. Certainly, the idea of having three pairs of hands in the home sounds ideal for household chores, which Kam says came naturally.
“We really just did what we always do,” Kam says. “All of us were pretty sensible people when it came to the house being clean.”
While the idea of polyamory relationships may seem appealing as a way to share expenses Kam says that most of their time was spent talking with each other or going “out and about.”
“You have to set those norms based upon everybody's preferences. And no secrets. Secrets will kill you.” – Kam, who had two girlfriends
Having been friends for nearly a decade before, they had similar tastes and didn’t get into disagreements that test most couples, such as power struggles over the TV remote. On occasions when they would watch TV, it would quickly evolve into a “Netflix and chill” session before Netflix and chill was really a thing.
“Any type of watching TV together would quickly evolve into intimacy,” Kam says, “because that intimacy kind of translated into sexual energy. It was everybody's idea, but really, the movie was just an excuse to get close to each other.”
The triad had great sexual chemistry together, but even when one party couldn’t be present, the three tried to avoid restrictive rules. All of them expected that two of the three may end up having sex if one was away. Still, they would call or text the non-present party and let them know what was going on. And even if one couldn’t be there, the communication “was all foreplay.”
“We didn't have to all be in the same place at the same time,” Kam says. “We tried to stay away from those kinds of rules at first.
“We asked, ‘OK, how is it going to work?’ And we didn't know either, but oftentimes, it was just random ... If two of us were having sex, it would turn the other on.”
While some throuples choose to focus on the individual pairings within the three-person dynamic, Kam says all three of them spent most of their time together. He says he enjoyed the non-sexual side of the relationship, and there was less pressure “to be everything to one person.”
When two parties got into an argument or had a disagreement, Kam says having someone to offer objectivity helped alleviate tensions.
“If all of your eggs are in one basket, sometimes the lows and the downs can feel really low and down,” Kam says, “because you're giving everything to this particular relationship. With three people in a relationship, there tends to be one person who can meditate, or at least reflect in a more credible way, what's being said.”
Although Kam is no longer in a relationship with either of the two women, he says he would not be averse to polyamory in the future. If he were to go that route again, he would make sure everyone involved is on the same page.
“Living in a place with three people is a big undertaking,” Kam says. “You have to set those norms based upon everybody's preferences. And no secrets. Secrets will kill you.”
Regardless of how, why or when the relationships formed, everyone involved wants there to be trust. Such is the case for Ben, Lacy and their best friend Megan.
Ben and Megan have been friends since high school. When Ben began dating Lacy 11 years ago, he introduced her to Megan, and they immediately hit it off. The two women even lived as roommates before Ben and Lacy married. To this day, Ben and Lacy maintain a strong, but perhaps unconventional, friendship with Megan.
Ben and Lacy have been married for almost five years but were always curious about the poly lifestyle. They discovered polyamorous and swinger events and began sharing with each other fantasy experiences they would like to have. One of those was the desire to have a threesome with another woman.
Although they don’t consider themselves a throuple, Ben and Lacy often bring Megan with them to parties. They also occasionally engage in sex acts together, though they say it happened so naturally that they can’t even pinpoint when exactly it began.
“The three of us would hang out, but we wouldn't actually hook up,” Ben says. “And then it just kind of happened one time and then snowballed from there. I think it was just more of an organic thing.”
“It’s kind of a unique dynamic to the lifestyle,” Megan says. “It’s not like a typical relationship, because they’re my best friends first.”
Oftentimes, some parties in relationships are more dominant and others more submissive, but in the case of Ben-Lacy-Megan, the three agree their dynamic exists in the form of a “team.”
“I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that the women have no say in this,” Megan says, “which is totally wrong; they run the entire show. They plan the parties; they pick the themes, like they decide what's happening. From what I’ve seen, it’s up to the women. If she says no, it’s not happening.”
One of the most common reasons couples choose to open their relationships or bring in a third is to accommodate one of the parties’ sexual identities. Ben is straight, while Lacy and Megan describe themselves as “bi-comfortable.”
“I’ve had friends ask me ‘What if he meets someone that he loves more than you?’ or ‘What if this ends in divorce? ... And I’m like, ‘Dude, he could meet someone at the grocery store.’" – throuple member Lacy
Understanding those identities and expressing their desires was essential for Ben and Lacy when they first started exploring polyamory.
“I know tons of people who are interested in getting into the lifestyle,” Ben says, “but if you don’t talk about it between yourselves, you’re never going to know where you’re at.”
“People label [polyamory] as an OK form of cheating, and that’s not at all what it is,” Lacy says. “[Ben] isn’t texting other women on the side, but there are some couples who allow it. In everything, we’re a team. The communication aspect is very important.”
For Megan, having a platonic relationship with both Ben and Lacy helped her feel comfortable engaging in sex with the couple as they had already established a sense of trust.
One fears people may have going from monogamy to polyamory is that one party may fall in love with someone else. Ben, Lacy and Megan insist that the probability of this happening is not that much higher than in a monogamous relationship.
“I’ve had friends ask me ‘What if he meets someone that he loves more than you?’ or ‘What if this ends in divorce?’” Lacy says. “And I’m like, ‘Dude, he could meet someone at the grocery store.’ Anybody can meet someone else. It’s about having trust in your relationship.”