Better late than never (At least this didn’t take nine years to pull-off!), what follows is a short list of the things about being in a throuple for which I am especially thankful (in no particular order).
1. The Dynamic of “Roles” is Different than in Couples
That is, since we’re not a duo, we have not fallen into a pattern of opposites. You cannot say, of any of us, “Oh, s/he acts like the wife, and s/he acts like the husband.” (Never mind the inherent flaw in those statements, silly gender norms…) There’s a third person. We can’t put each other into opposing boxes.
Other husband’s highest aspiration is to not have to work and to be a housewife (his word). He’s very good at it, too. He is a thorough tidier, he MacGyver’s delicious meals and desserts out of the random things in the pantry, and he has a good memory for preference. He knows, for example, that his wife likes the flavor of chipotle peppers, but not too much. He knows his husband is OBSESSED with hot sauce. He knows his wife loves curry, and his husband does not. He often makes two similar, but significantly different dishes, when he cooks for us. We don’t ask him to do this. But through food is a way that he likes to show affection. He doesn’t do a lot of clucking and coddling when I’ve had a bad day; he makes me hot chocolate from scratch.
Legal husband is a clucker and coddler (Am I coining a phrase? I seem to be coining a phrase.). He takes the emotional temperature of the room and his two people constantly. He is the finder of middle-grounds, the helping hands waiting and wanting to support in whatever new project the others must next undertake. He likes to slide onto the piano bench while his others are talking nearby, and gently begin to play mood-appropriate music underneath their conversation. He loves to be silly, and through great feats of physical comedy or painful puns, he brings us into the present moment and makes us smile. He’s fiercely loyal and devoted — if there is a knight in our little court, it’s legal husband. (Though, he and other husband fight all the time over whom, of the two of them, is the true princess.)
I am the most serious one, I guess. I worry about my others’ safety. I tend to hoard my money so that when life gets hard (as it is wont to do), I can loan a bit their way. They always pay me back in due course; I’m just the one with the ready emergency fund. When I’m not entirely broke I live by a maxim of my father’s, which is: “It’s just money, they’ll make more” — but only when giving it away. I rationalize everything; I dig to the bottom of my others’ predicaments and worries and experiences, and talk it through with them. I tire of it precisely never, because I a) find people’s motives and histories endlessly interesting, and b) want to help my others to unlock the doors to the truths that will help them cope, or illuminate their paths. I want to be the wise guide-person. I’m not a sugar-coater… Sometimes I can be very cutting. But what I’m after is the truth which, though sometimes hard to swallow, is always healthy to imbibe.
But all of these things are not so rigid — again, because we are three instead of two. We are not chained to poles across the metaphorical room of relationship. Sometimes I make delicious things. Sometimes legal husband does. Sometimes other husband drops the hammer of truth and spouts the wise words, and sometimes I get all touchy-feely and can’t take what I normally dish out. Sometimes legal husband swears off silly and undoes the house mess. I like the fluidity. I like that we’re not sure of who we “must” be to each other, so that we just try to be ourselves and go with it.
2. Couple Fights Get Refereed
It is extremely unlikely that we are ever all mad at each other. In fact, I don’t think that’s ever happened. But the couples get into fights, and when that happens it’s nice to have that third person there for talking to. Now, let me say this: we set down a rule for this sort of thing when we did our hand-fasting. The rule is that, should you find yourself the middle party amid a couple fight, you cannot starkly take a side. Starkly is the operative term, because sometimes one of us is going to be clearly in the wrong. We’re human. The point is that that third person should strive for equal understanding of where each party is coming from. No ganging up on one person, basically.
That said, it’s really nice to be able to talk to someone about the fight who isn’t the one you’re fighting with, and yet is as close to the situation as you are. They have good perspective on both sides of the argument or issue, and love both of the people involved. They know the triggers and the buttons that should or shouldn’t be pushed. They see the patterns and the trajectory of the relationship. They can give advice that cannot be ignored, because we the listeners won’t be able to say to ourselves, “Yeah, well, they don’t really get it.” They do. They so do.
3. We Love the Referee, and that Keeps Us Honest
Okay, so: you tell said referee of the couple fight something of your feelings, something you haven’t yet said to the person you’re fighting with. Maybe it’s the gripe of a fight to come. Maybe it’s a complaint about the other’s behavior. Maybe it’s a confession of an insecurity. Maybe you didn’t even know it was how you felt. You can say it with vehemence or melodrama or vulgarity, because you’re not talking directly to the other, and that’s satisfying.
But guess what? Now the referee knows something that someone else in the relationship doesn’t know, and that’s not fair. They are powerless to relay the information for the speaker to the other, because they a) won’t say it right, b) don’t want to say it because it’s not their battle, and c) know it will just cement their place as middle-person when really it’s the fighting folks who need to talk in order for any positive change to occur. None of us want to put each other in that position, so guess what? As soon as you say that really satisfying, crude but true thing, you have to start thinking about how to say it constructively to the person who needs to hear it. You’re on a time limit, because you love the referee.
And you know what? Once you do say it, rationally and calmly, to the person who needs to hear it, everything gets better. Everybody grows.
We don’t have rules for what is acceptable in a marriage anymore. I mean, we kind of can’t. Our marriage is broken by traditional standards, despite out great and overflowing happiness. So screw tradition, right?
I talked about the friction between other dudes and me, remember? I think of porn as cheating (mild cheating), but other guys I’ve dated take it for granted as acceptable. I wrote that into my undergraduate thesis (which was “Improving Romantic Relationships through Existentialism”): that the “rules” of a relationship can and should be formed by those individuals of whom it is comprised, NOT societal expectations. What’s okay is what we agree is okay. What we say is not, is not. It’s really very simple. But now we, and everyone who knows us, tangibly sense it and agree. We make the rules. We make them. The understanding of this simple fact makes us more responsible about our choices, about our words. It empowers us.
I like that.
5. There’s more.
When one of us is sad, there’s more comfort. When one of us triumphs, there are two cheering voices in addition to our own. When it’s chilly, there’s a snuggle pile (in our parlance, a “snugglepuff,” as in: “Come get in this snugglepuff!”). There are always enough adults under one roof to play a fun board game or cards. Three is a crowd, and sometimes we take ours for a frolic at the mall or to a restaurant. We’re silly and a little loud sometimes, like any gathered group of friends. And we are that… And more.
To close, here is our chalkboard door, in the kitchen. We started everybody off on Thanksgiving, and then our guests added their own things. I love that I don’t know who wrote each thing.