Op-ed: When Three’s a Crowd

Sometimes polyamory is fine in theory — until it gets a little too real.



This time around, we were more realistic about our short shelf life and so it seemed almost greedy not to share our electric chemistry with others. There wasn’t some big back and forth, it sort of just happened one night.

Truth be told, romantic nostalgia made it a little hard to watch and join the first time we had group sex. Seeing Brian with someone else didn’t incite jealousy exactly, but a type of unease. Maybe I just didn’t like the guy.

But over our few weeks together, I learned to let go. We both found ways to fulfill needs — real and imaginary — with other people and each other, simultaneously. Sometimes he got off more than me, and sometimes I more than him. Sometimes we liked to watch.

When it was all over, it was all lovey-dovey, hand-holding with gentle “I love you’s” peppered in. The casual sex was compartmentalized. It didn’t matter outside of those hot and heavy sessions.

Brian confessed that he had a very hard time with intimacy even among his closest family and friends, but our time crunch forced both our walls down. Being vulnerable is so easy when you have nothing to lose. And sharing our fantasies brought us even closer because now we had no secrets.

What developed was a sex-positive atmosphere. Even the best pair might disagree on a match, but open communication left no room for curveballs. Imagine no averting gaze when someone attractive walks by — just stare, admire, and compare notes. It was freeing to be honest.

And certainly, it’s not always just about the actual sex act; there can be legitimate and deep ways of experiencing things in threes.  Picture a whole new way to shake up daily routines by adding a third for even casual activities, like meals and conversations. If everyone vibes, that makes for ample stimulation.

We even joked about becoming a throuple, a pop-culture term for a three-person relationship, with someone we met on a weekend trip. The Urban Dictionary says a throuple is “two times the sex, but six times the baggage,” which would definitely recreate too much Melrose Place in my tiny Greenwich Village apartment.

So Brian and I spent our time swapping and comparing, always hunting for more. Often it was thrilling and fun, other times more like a chore because I just wanted plain old eggs for breakfast, minus the sausage. Perhaps he was tantalized by New York’s sexual smorgasbord, but the yearning seemed constant and the vetting process exhausting. It didn’t make me crave monogamy by any means, but I wondered if the pursuit had a shelf life.   

Between our romance and mutual self-interests, it generally balanced out. But there’s always a chance for someone to get hurt, feel left out, or not be in the mood. Because jealousy is a very personal emotion, part social creation and part insecurity, it can be pushed aside.

Occasionally however, all the logic in the world can’t help when you notice an emotional connection brewing. That can be killer because feelings should stay off-limits. The thrill of the chase certainly has its perils. Keeping yourself permanently on autopilot means you may eventually fly into something.

For me, this was all a work in progress. Brian had several successful long-term, open relationships that, for him, normalized it all. His first love cheated on him quite elaborately, which taught him that honest, open fun was a preferred policy to ignoring the perpetual horny elephant in the room. For me, I evaluated each experience with a learning curve. I certainly liked the idea at times and of course, the motion of it in practice, but the rest was a balancing act. The idealized versions of open relationships seem quite fun; it’s the particulars that need tinkering.

Living in a big city where the options for varied sexual partners are plentiful can confuse everything. The grass is perpetually greener or so it seems. Pervasive dating and hookup technology don’t help matters.

On our last night together, after a completely clichéd, glittery evening slugging vodka shots and swapping kisses atop the Empire State Building (maddeningly cheesy, I know), we joined my friends for a night out.

Many hours later we found ourselves at one those dark, underground, very hush-hush parties in Chinatown that are too cool for Facebook and rely on a DJ’s infamy. Intoxicated by the sights and sounds, Brian was in heaven. It wasn’t long before everyone was shirtless and Brian was haphazardly hooking up with one of my friends.   

It was far from personal, but for me it crossed the invisible line we didn’t quite draw. Strangers were fair game, but my friends were a dealbreaker.

The night was long and went downhill from there.

Despite sharing so many sublime moments together, we never quite recovered from those bumps in the night.

Crawling into bed late with little left to say, he cozied up to me one last time as we passed out. His flight home left only a few short hours later. But unlike the first morning we met, we would not brace this last dawn together.

ELLIOT KOTLYAR is a globe-trotting freelance writer based in New York City and currently working on a play about another love gone wrong. When he's not catching the latest Broadway premiere or dining at the hottest new restaurant, he's seeking out the best of culture in Beirut, Berlin, Sydney, and Istanbul. Follow his musings on CityTsar.com or everywhere else @CityTsar.