Op-ed: When Three’s a Crowd

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

BY Elliot Kotlyar

June 20 2014 7:40 AM ET

“You’ll never be enough for me,” he whispered into my ear. It was the last thing he would ever say to me. Too drunk to muster some witty reply and with my eyelids heavy, I slipped into dreamland. And just like that, our social experiment exploring open relationships was over. Brian was gone before I woke up.

To tell you that our time together was perfect would be an understatement. We spent two weeks waking up entwined and enraptured. Drinking Javanese Sumatra in tandem, we ate breakfast, showered, lunched, and prowled about. We explored the city’s best and eventually settled into drinks, sometimes dinner and often dancing. Each day quickly rolled along and soon, we’d be crawling back in bed only to start it all over again the next day.

We first met in Argentina six months earlier. Brian was an American expat living a simple, peso-driven lifestyle in steamy Buenos Aires. When he approached this New Yorker at a crowded bar that night, I remember an instant pow! moment, our eyes locking. And despite saying something to me in Spanish that I couldn’t easily discern because of the loud music and his gleaming smile, he instinctively switched to English and I swooned. It wasn’t long before we left the cavernous bar, avoiding the lure of diva-spirited drag queens, shirtless Latin lovers, and feisty transsexuals.

Standing in the early glow of dawn in a verdant city park, we couldn’t stop chattering while soaking up every nuance. The warm morning sunlight beamed on our faces as we curiously locked lips for the first time. The earth practically stopped moving while epic, longing kisses made us wonder why we had ever kissed anyone else before.

Giddy with excitement over discovering tangible chemistry, we pulled out our iPhones for 6 a.m. selfies to capture it all for posterity. At the time, we laughed at our own vanity and frivolity, but we would stare at those pictures as a wonderful memory for months to come. We were anything but tired.

There’s nothing quite like a vacation romance.

We were instantly familiar. There were intimate kindnesses and grand gestures. As we shared toothbrushes, morning breath, and toilet bowl conversations, our rapport was uncanny and instinctive. Not wasting a minute, we squeezed in all types of dating rites into our short time, even romantic dinners and meeting the amigos. Hanging out was so easy, so natural, like I met a long-lost friend. Slow, sleepy mornings were so perfect that we naturally lay nuzzled up until nightfall.

New York City to Buenos Aires was definitely too far for the long-distance effort, but at the time we met, Brian eagerly buzzed about moving back stateside. While I didn’t put much into those hypothetical what-ifs, he had plenty of ambitious ideas how to make things work, but there was one issue we didn’t quite agree on. Brian was eager to add another person in the bedroom, while I wanted to relish the newness of it all. But he always pressed the point. Brian wanted a third.

Men and women who talk about sex and love today, talk about open relationships. My best friends each come up with solutions with their partners. Arrangements and rules abound. Be it a girlfriend bored in her marriage or a friend looking for a bigger dick. I know couples that don’t sleep together at all. Variety is the spice of life.

I’ve encountered orgy-loving suburban marrieds that share their kids’ carpool duties the next day. And there’s my coworker who lives in an androgynous love commune in Williamsburg. And of course, many long-term monogamish couples have their own rules, like opening up the boundaries for guilt-free sex on vacations only. Some people need a fantasy fulfilled and others simply need more than they’re getting.

Even celebrities and politicians have been caught dabbling, some openly, others discreetly rumored, depending on the rapper or GOP member. TV shows like Discovery Health’s Swingers spell it out and Showtime’s Polyamory shines with the slogan “married and dating.” This past December, the state of Utah broke from heteronormative tradition by ruling the ban on polygamy unconstitutional. Even Mom and I discussed the topic when she told me her hairdresser’s mail-order Russian lover had gone astray. Freedom tends to do that to a boy.

And maybe it’s the Jewish hippie in me, but I like to think of myself as sex modern. I always understood Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she reminded her johns, “No kissing.” Sex and love can be mutually exclusive. The religious establishment long declared sex sacred, but that’s less important today. Sex doesn’t have to be confined by morals or conventions. Live and let live.

When Brian finally came to New York for round 2, our routine had not changed. Plans never panned out for an international move, but we eased back into our rhythm with barely a long breath. Certainly, we both had other boys on the back burners, but those details were fairly inconsequential. We were in our own happy bubble.

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