Dear Ryan and Sam,
I can’t think of anything more public than telling you both that I love you in this forum—unless the three of us were on a Jumbotron in a stadium somewhere and broadcast on national television. But that’s not the only reason I am writing. After all, most of the people close to me know you both and know how I feel. But it makes me smile to write it now, and it underscores the last two years with you both. It’s something I didn’t think was possible, and I have deep respect for those things that, despite my once feeling they were impossible, come to be.
I hesitated to write what you are about to read. In discussing this idea-turned-assignment with my editor, I listed a litany of things I most certainly did not want this to be. No polemic, no defense, no soapbox, hopefully. It wasn’t an editorial meeting as much as a navigation of my defensive posturing. (Most writers are excited to tell you what their stories might be—not everything they won’t!) When it came time to commit these words to my computer screen, however, I realized preaching is simply a thing I cannot do. What I really wanted to write was a love letter.
When I first met you, Ryan, seven years ago, I wasn’t look- ing for anything in particular. I was enjoying being single. I was skeptical of my ability to peel some scabs off my heart. I didn’t think anyone would really affect me in any meaning- ful way—or that I had it in me to give anything back. And yet, a Craigslist meeting morphed into something extraordinary. I knew I had to reconsider some self-imposed obstacles the first night I walked into your apartment and saw the books and things you’d collected in your travels through Africa, listened to you animatedly tell stories I wanted to know more about, saw your brilliant smile, and especially when you leaned in to kiss me.
Five years later, Sam, you walked into our house one evening (bless the Internet!) and I knew I was potentially in trouble again—good trouble. I knew it because of your intellect, your humor, your handsome face. This was the kind of trouble I’d only experienced once before. I saw Ryan experience it, too, this time. We knew there was a palpable attraction between the three of us, that we were intrigued by, interested in, and enjoyed each other.
What I came to learn in those first six or seven months, when we got together every week or two, was that I reveled in seeing the two of you side by side, naked or clothed, listening to you talk, hearing you laugh. I remember Ryan and I talking during the summer, right after Sam had come back from a month abroad. We were sitting on our deck, having a drink and asking each other, “What is this?” We weren’t sure, but we were discovering that we indeed had this ability to open up our own partnership to someone else, conventions be damned. Who’s to tell you that your love life—the ways your heart, brain, and other body parts react to another person or people— should fit into a box created by an advertising company or capitalism? We are going to draw our own map, I thought. I certainly wasn’t about to regard myself as “just like everyone else,” as so many people in articles on polyamorous relationships take pains to proclaim. Nor was I about to get on the bandwagon about marriage—a right that, sure, everyone should have access to, but to me sounds more like a state-sponsored economic policy than anything about love.
I marveled that I was talking to my boyfriend of so many years about this, that I didn’t feel a surge of jealousy, even that I was confused. But I also decided to engage in the challenge and excitement of it. When I began telling friends about the three of us—at this point still framing it as casual yet enriching—some of them thought it was awesome, some seemed confused, some told me it was “advanced gay” (funny for a moment, but ultimately meaningless), and some only said, “Well, good for you.” No one was mean about it. No one shunned me.
It wasn’t until the fall of 2012 that I really gained a deeper understanding of our relationship. When all three of us went to dinner (our “gay date,” as we called it) to celebrate Sam’s successful completion of a big project, I snapped photos of the two of you eating ice cream we’d gotten at the local donut shop. I began to look at those photos daily. They made me smile. When Ryan and I went on vacation, we were happy know- ing that you, Sam, were in our house, sleeping in our bed. We talked on the streets of Berlin and Paris about you, imagining you wrapped in our comforters. We wanted to be there with you, but we also couldn’t wait to share the tale of our trip and how we had missed you. And throughout it all there was the talking: “Is this working for you?” “Does it matter if it’s not defined?” “I like seeing the two of you together—I like all of us together.” “I’m willing to see where this goes.” “Are you free next Friday night?”
The proverbial deal-sealer, for me at least, was the December night we had dinner at the house. Sam made latkes for Hanukkah. The three of us sat by candlelight in the dining room, enjoying ourselves, this homemade food, this ritual, and the pure pleasure and intimacy of the moment. This wasn’t simply camaraderie or fraternity with a helping of sex; this was its own thing entirely.
Illustration by Hadley Hooper
The push and pull of watching as Sam went through an intense job interview process in the new year brought a feeling of urgency and a bit of dread. We all knew that Sam might find a job outside of Los Angeles and was not in a position to turn it down. I was not glad when the jobs did not materialize. It’s true, however, that I was curious what it might mean if the three of us had another few months or a year together in one place.
I definitely felt we were still learning about each other, trying to understand what it meant to be calling each other “boyfriend” and “partner.” My friends noticed the shift in my tone. “So now you’re all boyfriends?” one asked. “How does that work?”
“I have no idea,” I said. “We’re figuring that out as we go.”
“Good luck with that,” she said, not unkindly. Was there luck involved, do you think? I have moments when I believe in serendipity, wondering why we meet certain people at certain times. They are not lessons per se, but vital elements that make us more well-rounded. People move in and out of our lives. They make their impact and travel on, or they collide and intertwine with us and some kind of cosmic dust rubs off and turns us into something shimmery and new. We’re transformed.
Some of this metaphysical mumbo jumbo disintegrated when you had a job interview in the late spring, Sam. When you wrote Ryan and I in the middle of the night in June to say that you had been offered a great job—thousands of miles away—a pain shot through me at the exact moment that I smiled for you. I burst into tears while feeling so proud. I know we all shed more tears over the next several days, afraid of what would come next.
It was only a few weeks later, not long before we packed up Sam’s apartment, before Ryan and I would get on a plane to see Sam in his new home, that I was on the phone with my mom and finally explained to her how the three of us were all partners. In her usual way, she sounded slightly confused, but finally she said, “I can’t say I understand. But I can tell this person makes you both happy. And that’s all that matters.” And then the subject was changed.
She was right, though. That was all that mattered. And it’s really all that matters now.
We all know it’s not easy to be three people involved in what ends up amounting to a variety of different relationships. Perhaps that is the understatement of the year, but I say it to remind us of the beauty that comes from the complexity. This hasn’t been a cakewalk—especially these last few months, as distance, emotions, logistics, and other issues have made us all reassess each other, ourselves, and how we exist together, near and far. No matter the ultimate outcome, however, I know just how much you both mean to me, separately and together. I still think of drinking gin and playing croquet in the summer heat, Sam meowing in mock anger, Ryan pretending to be a mouse nibbling cheese, the three of us entangled on the couch watching TV, watching the rise and fall of your chests in bed in the middle of the night.
No, we’re never going to be on a Jumbotron. And I doubt any of us cares. But I want you to know I am not afraid of what comes next. I am not done drawing this map.