I’ve been studying triads for a few years now – I believe it’s been about three years since I began my preliminary interviews. Happily, those triads whom I initially interviewed back in 2015 are all still together, I believe! I’ve also been in a triad myself since summer 2013.
I’ve been thinking that it’s about time I write up a general overview of what’s happening out there with triads in the world.
For one thing, I feel that there are more and more of them (you). Unfortunately, I can’t say that for sure, because it’s not like the government is asking us to identify ourselves in the census or anything. Some would argue that there have always been lots of triads but that they were just super-secret about their relationships. And sure, there were triads (whether they thought of themselves that way or not). I mean, we have evidence of their existence among historical figures, though it’s hard to tell when three people were in an equal, loving relationship and when they were really in a toxic love triangle. But whether it’s thanks to rising levels of acceptance of more liberal, progressive lifestyles, or just greater visibility thanks to social media, I really do think that more people are either seeking triad relationships, or falling into them accidentally.
There are a few things that I do know, because actual members of actual triads have told me:
It’s Not a Sneaky Way to Cheat (or Ease Into Leaving)
We triads really want the rest of the world to know (especially our parents and other family members!) that this isn’t just some attempt to circumvent being called out as a cheater. The three of us are in love, we are all together, and everyone is being honest with one another. Except, you know, when that’s not the case. There are dysfunctional, toxic relationships in all segments of the population, and polyamory and triads are no exception. Yes, it happens. But don’t assume that just because we’re in a triad, there is automatically something unsavoury going on.
Triads are Queer
Triads, by their very nature, almost always include at least two non-straight people. Whether the triad is two guys and a girl, two girls and a guy, three women, three men, any number of non-binary folk or trans men or women with any other genders, there are at least two people in there who are not straight. (And I’m not going to forget about my dear asexuals and aromantics in this, because you folk are in triads too!). The only (sort of tricky) exception to this is when two (cisgender) people of the same gender are in a triad with one (also cisgender) person of the opposite gender and those two people of the same gender identify as straight — with one another being “the exception to the rule.” Though this isn’t common, I have definitely talked to a few of you and I know there are others out there! Some of you call this “hetero-flexible.”
I do hope though that we can all agree to chant together, “We’re here, we’re queer, and we hold two partners dear!” Please?
Jealousy Isn’t Our Top Concern
Sure, we get jealous, just like anyone else. We’re not immune to it but we’re not plagued by it any more than anyone else is.
There are unique issues behind the jealousy that does happen in triads. They vary from one person to the next but generally stem from seeing something exchanged between your two partners that you had perceived as special and exclusive between you and one of them. For example, you and Partner A always watch Game of Thrones together and one day you come home to find Partner A and Partner B watching the new episode without you. Anyone would be angry in that situation!
This is almost always the first thing people say when we come out to them though: “Omigod, I would get so jealous. How do you not get jealous?” Well, we do. And we deal with it, largely by owning our feelings and recognizing that jealousy always has an underlying cause such as fear, and addressing that underlying cause once we figure out what it is. But we’re experiencing so many big emotions at the outset of a triad (elation, infatuation, lust, love, crippling fear, doubt, sometimes anger and feelings of loss) that jealousy is only one piece of a complex puzzle.
You Can Call Us a Lot of Things, and We’ll Get What You Mean
Personally, I believe the term triad is just correct. But really, if you say thrupple (or throuple), trio, truple, threesome or ménage a trois, we will all get what you’re trying to say. We often refer to our partners as “my people” or “my peeps,” family, unit or pod to keep things neat and tidy in conversation.
Triads Aren’t Like Religious Polygamists
If you’re picturing the family from Big Love, you’re not picturing anything near reality — at least not for triads. For one thing, we all tend to share homes (at least when we live together, which we don’t always). There aren’t any triads (that I’ve found) sharing a pool and a backyard while living in separate houses and splitting up the weekly schedule for bedsharing. Some of us do schedule nights to share the bed, but all the negative connotations that come with the stereotype don’t apply here.
It’s Not An All-the-Time Orgy
Yeah, some triads have really phenomenal sex lives, just like some couples have really phenomenal sex lives (and hey, some singles for that matter!). But we also face the same issues anyone else does — differing libidos, parenting, stress, over-scheduling, health issues, and of course the gradual ebb of desire that takes place in a lot of relationships over time. Some triads aren’t even having sex! My triad was judged by some people close to us on the assumption that we were sex maniacs (hey, don’t speak negatively about sex maniacs! Some of my favourite people are sex maniacs!). Those same people would likely be sorely disappointed if they could be a fly on our bedroom wall.
Triads are Finding One Another Online… and Elsewhere
Threesomes are hooking up via online dating sites and apps, as well as in forums, Facebook groups and other interest-specific groups — just like couples. But they’re also meeting at work and at school; through their specific communities (such as LGBTQ, kink, military, church or even the Society for Creative Anachronism); thanks to parenting (in parenting groups, at their kids’ school or through their kids’ sports); through shared hobbies and interests; and through mutual friends and at parties. If you thought three-ways were only coming about thanks to OKCupid, you were wrong — they’re happening all around you.
At least, the majority of triad members who completed my survey are young. That could, of course, be due to where I advertised (Instagram and a variety of places online). Over 75% of survey respondents were under the age of 40. What this suggests to me is that as the kids of today grow older, the number of triads (and non-monogamous folk) is only going to rise. It’s a whole new world…
Triads Don’t Necessarily Identify as Polyamorous
I know that it might seem that they are, by definition, polyamorous. But nearly 15% of survey respondents said that even after their triad began, they did not and still do not identify as polyamorous. For many of these people, this is because they identify as monogamous overall but see this relationship as the exception. They tell me that they wouldn’t seek another triad or practice polyamory if this relationship ends, but that their partners are just right for them, and so they are in a triad. But this hasn’t caused them to identify as polyamorous.
Triads Worry About How Coming Out Could Affect Their Custody, or Their Job
This is a common fear among members of triads, though more of us are being more open all the time. I encourage anyone in a triad who can safely come out, to do so in any capacity they’re comfortable. The more of us who speak openly about our relationships — at work, among friends, online, by writing about our experiences, with family — the more it will normalize triads as a relationship option and hopefully pave the way for others to safely be open, too. Frankly, I am not qualified nor comfortable telling you that you should come out and it’s not going to pose any risk. In my experience, here in Canada, being in a triad does not put you at risk of having your kids taken away, but if you are worried at all about losing your job or your custody, do your own research please. I hope to have better answers in the book!
We’re Really No Different From Anyone Else
We’re as weird as the next guy, including you! You can’t neatly summarize triads, as they’re as different from each other as any diverse group of people. Many focus on creating a stable, family-oriented home. Others seek adventure together. Some people who are in triads have just ended up here as part of their carefree dating adventures. We love one another and we’re willing to risk some weird looks and awkward questions to honour that love. And if someone you love has come out as being in a triad and you’re worried this means they’ve changed — don’t worry! They haven’t. They are still the same person you’ve loved all along (though you may have to face the fact that you didn’t know them so well after all).