Threesomes Aren’t a Joke to Me

2.1.11
Subj: Sugar Cubes

I’ve been thinking a little bit about this idea of being “wired” for poly and how I might explain what “compersion” feels like to someone who doesn’t experience it. I don’t know if there’s any way I could really describe the feeling, but it made me think of this story:

For a couple of years when I was a kid, my mother taught at my elementary school. Because we were teacher’s kids, this gave my brother and I special permission to enter the Teacher’s Lounge. Or, at least, we could get away with it. My brother is about two years younger than me and he might be my favorite person on the planet. Together, we discovered that the teachers kept a box full of sugar cubes next to the coffeemaker by the door. We were six and eight and this was really exciting. Not just any old sugar, but sugar cubes. We made it a practice to sneak into the lounge “looking for our Mom,” fill our pockets with sugar cubes and run away to eat them, hiding among the playground equipment.

Compersion feels like the emotional equivalent of being eight years old and eating pure sugar — and, given our culture in which this emotion is so forbidden that we refuse to even admit it exists, it feels like hiding out on the playground with someone you love, eating sugar that you have cleverly and rightfully stolen out from under the teacher’s nose. Everything about it is delicious. (And, yes, sometimes it makes you really hyper…)

Here’s another thing that makes me think I’m “wired” for poly (and I think it relates to the first thing):

I don’t know if you managed to get that video of mine to play, but I said something in there about how the way I’m oriented to relationships isn’t about replacing one specific thing with another specific thing; it’s about fundamentally questioning the idea that relationships, or love, should look like anything in particular. “Queerlyamorous” is a better description for me than “poly”. Still, in terms of sexual orientation, my queerness doesn’t mean I have no qualifying criteria in who I’m attracted to, just that gender isn’t one of the qualifiers. I still have a “type” or “types”. (Case in point: No one who knows me was surprised that I was instantly attracted to you!) Likewise, queering my notion of what “counts” as a Real Relationship™ doesn’t change the fact that, empirically, certain relationship structures do it for me or work better for me than others.

First and foremost — and here’s where the “poly wiring” comes in — three-person relationships feel more “natural,” comfortable, stable and normal to me than two-person relationships. They always have. Not just in terms of romantic relationships (although that’s nice, too), but in general. I was never the little girl with the one BFF; it was always a Three Musketeers-type situation. Conversations with two other people always flow most easily for me. I work best on a team of three, and I drink best when my whiskey-drinkin’ buddies are a pair. I enjoy the intense intimacy of interacting one-on-one, and the stimulation of being in a larger group, but both of those situations require concentrated extroversion from me; whereas, when it’s just me and two people I like who like each other, it’s easiest to let go and be myself. I’m forever introducing people I know to other people I know, hoping they’ll make a connection. (This has made me into a pretty great matchmaker and a hell of a wingman…)

Of course, this plays out in romantic relationships. But even when my romances are dyadic, there’s almost always some third person with whom I have an equally meaningful relationship even if we’re not romantic with each other. For example, there’s my girlfriend’s partner who I have a drinkin’-buddy/bromance/revolutionary comrade/occasional passionate-yet-comical makeout session/friendship with that goes far deeper than your typical “metamour” relationship. Sometimes, I think my ideal social space looks like a honeycomb of interconnected triangles.

I’m sure it’s no surprise, then, that what works for me emotionally also works for me sexually. I sort of understood, when I was younger, that threesomes weren’t as much a part of the average person’s erotic life as they were of mine…but I didn’t put it together until I was 25 or so that most people don’t have them AT ALL. Don’t get me wrong; I love sex with just one other person, because I love people and I love sex, and that kind of one-on-one connection can be powerfully intense. And I understand that finding good three-part sexual and emotional chemistry takes more work and more luck than the two-part version. I’ve had a hundred times more twosome sex in my life than I’ve had threesomes, and I’ve very much enjoyed most of it. And I recognize that, in mainstream sex-negative society, threesomes are considered to be sort of a wild and kinky exotic fantasy. That sometimes works in my favor but it can also be totally annoying. I hate the implication that I’m “into threesomes” the way people are “into”, like, whipped cream instead of they way they’re “into”, say, girls.

I mean, of course I find good threesomes incredibly sexy, but that’s because good sex is incredibly sexy. That’s the point. It’s not a fetish; it’s a sexual orientation or, at least, a component part of one. I’m used to getting a bad reaction to that. One the one hand, rejection and slut shaming. On the other, well, I’m really used to my sexuality being fetishized, both as a bisexual woman and a polyamorous woman. Even by people who I expect to “get it.” The problem is that I really am this thing that even the greater poly community claims isn’t real. A “unicorn”. A “hot bi babe” who dates couples and loves threesomes and doesn’t get jealous (much). And I don’t like that my sexuality fits into this mythological stereotype. It makes me feel like a caricature, or like other people see me as a caricature, when this is just the reality of my lived experience.

Some people would say that this is a ridiculous thing to be upset by. That I’m lucky to be “the thing that everybody wants”. But I’m not a thing and I’m NOT what everybody wants; I’m what sketchy unicorn-hunting couples want. And I don’t want sketchy unicorn-hunting couples. They’re sketchy. I want equitable triangulation that evolves organically out of the complex interconnected fabric of my social network and gets taken seriously. Still, ultimately, all other things being equal, making love with two partners is just what feels “right” to me; it feels the most normal and also the most arousing, the most satisfying, the most complete.

I’ve never articulated a lot of this stuff quite so explicitly before. This is something I want to share about myself but… Am I afraid you won’t take me seriously? Not really. No. I think I’m just nervous from getting burned in the past.

In the end, I think it all goes back to the compersion thing. Knowing that someone I love is connecting with someone they love makes me feel so good, but getting to actually see them do it is even better, and being a part of it — and having both those people be a part of each others’ love for me and vice versa — is like a universal rush of indescribable glow. I wonder if this interlocking-triangles idea is just about trying to create some kind of perpetual compersion feedback loop.

Because, really, maybe all I want to do is hang out with people I love on the playground and eat stolen sugar cubes together.

. . .

The piece above is excerpted from an e-mail I sent one of my partners a couple of years ago, when we were first getting to know one another. They had asked me about what being polyamorous meant to me. I was at a time in my life when I felt particularly optimistic about being able to find or build the kinds of relationships I wanted.

Two years later, I’m still strongly opposed a culture of compulsory monogamy but, for a variety of personal and political reasons, I no longer (or very rarely) describe myself as “polyamorous”. I have also, to a great degree, given up on the kind of triangulated intimacy structures that I describe above — mostly due to the difficulty of maintaining sufficiently meaningful metamourship within a hyper-individualist relationship culture. Notably, I still have never had and do not know that I will ever have the experience I’ve long imagined as “the kind of sex I really want”: A threesome with two people both of whom I am romantically in love with.

Still, I wanted this description of an orientation toward triadic intimacy to be out there in the world. With mainstream public awareness of alternative relationship structures on the rise, I’m starting to see even more conversations about whether polyamory is “how we’re wired” vs “a lifestyle choice”. I think that’s the wrong way to frame the conversation and I’ll deconstruct erotic essentialism down to dust any day. But when I have those conversations, I want to be able to link this post. I want people to understand that, regardless of what kinds of relationships are realistically possible in our current society or how we position ourselves politically in that field of options, there are fundamentally different ways to desire intimacy. Other desires can feel just as real and deep and defining as “I want to find The One.”

A friend asked me recently what I want most out of intimate relationships.

I told her, “I want to collaborate on love.”

I still want that.

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2 comments

  1. Paula R.

    I’m having a hard time deciding what to write because I feel so amazed to have read what you wrote! I’m shaking with excitement and desire to share! I felt like I had to read this as soon as I saw it. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve thought about similar things.

    I’ve had a hard time thinking about the kinds of relationships I desire at times because I know that I desire things that many people would think of as a joke or just something “hot.” That said, I know I am very desirous of romantic and sexual situations with multiple people together, and I can’t even tell you how elated I felt recently to be holding the hand of a former partner and the arm of a current one while walking down the street. It just felt so right to me – like so much of what I love and how I enjoy being with people I love (not to mention something I had missed lately)! One of the times I felt happiest with my relationships was when I was dating or partners with at least four people that were involved with each other through long friendships, dating, and/or trying to get to know each other. I felt so wonderful! I felt so happy getting to spend time together in groups, usually of three, and having sex frequently that way too! Those situations just felt so fulfilling to me, like all of me was content and joyful.

    Thank you for writing such an interesting and thoughtful post! I appreciate so much that you would share what you’ve wrote!

  2. Pingback: “Compersion” Means Shipping the People You Love | Emotional Mutation

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