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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Savage Love Letter of the Day

posted by on October 21 at 11:30 AM

I’m writing this letter on behalf of three of us (although all of us worked on editing it). I’ve been in a relationship with my partner (we’re both women in our mid-20’s) for about three and a half years. Six months or so ago, we started a three-way relationship with a guy. It started when I kissed him at a party (with my partner’s knowledge and OK). The guy and I hooked up a few times, then my partner joined us. We never expected it to turn into a long-lasting relationship, but we all were having fun and enjoying each other, so we kept it going. It’s more than just sex—we’re good friends, we hang out, and we call him our boyfriend.

The problem is this: Whereas our boyfriend and I have an easy and fun time with the relationship, my partner has found it much more difficult. My partner and I have a great relationship and for the most part having a boyfriend hasn’t caused problems between us—the problem is more between him and her. She sometimes doesn’t feel a strong connection with him, and even though she really adores him, doesn’t always feel quite as loved in return. We’ve talked about it, he feels like his love is spread equally and he’s trying everything to make sure she feels good about it. It seems to be this intangible thing—she just doesn’t feel the I’m-into-you vibes coming from him sometimes—and we’re not sure what can actually be done about it.

Anyways, most of the time we have a blast together. Then about once a month my partner feels overwhelmed by the emotional insecurity of not knowing bone-deep that he really is that into her and she gets really upset. Last week was one such meltdown and the three of us made a mutual decision that this was causing too much pain for her, and we should split with our boyfriend (my partner and I are staying together).

But… this just doesn’t feel right! We all love each other, we all really want to be together, and when it’s good, it’s really really good. We don’t wanna split up, it doesn’t seem like the right thing to do, but we just don’t know if there’s a way to make it work and no one wants to put my partner through the emotional wringer any more. Do you think there’s any way we can make it work, or are we just dragging out an impossible situation and making it more painful in the long run? We are very much open to any advice you have.

Trio Has Relationship Ending Early

Splitting up with your boyfriend, at least for now, is absolutely the right thing to do. Your partner needs to see that, first off, she’s your top priority. You came to this party with her, you’ll leave this party with her if she wants to go.

I doubt that her insecurity is really or entirely about not feeling as close a connection to your boyfriend; I suspect it’s wrapped up in feelings of insecurity about your connection with the boyfriend and fears of losing you to him. By splitting up with him—for now—your girlfriend may come to understand, bone-deep, that you two are the foundation, the rock, the cake, and he’s the addition, the moss, the frosting. Then she will be able to relax and feel more secure about this relationship—and by “relationship,” of course, I mean the original relationship, the two of you, not the three of you.

Now about your three-way relationship—your triad—there are always real or perceived imbalances of affection and connection in a triad. And those imbalances can shift—you may feel on the outs one day, or he may, if you three get back together and stay together long enough. A perfectly balanced triad is impossible; you’re three people, not three legs on a stool. If a person can’t handle imbalances and fleeting feelings of jealousy and/or panic, if she can’t handle the emotional crosscurrents created by imbalances of affection and power and sexual connection, if she can’t be zen about it, and accept that an imbalance isn’t a bug, as they say, but a feature, and be at peace with it, blah blah blah, then it’s best to avoid triads.

If your girlfriend can’t hack it unless she’s always feeling that things are absolutely equally balanced—that her connection to you is as intense as yours is to her and his is to you and his is to her and her to him and wocka wocka—then your triad is doomed.

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Agreed! Nicely done, Dan. You should do this professionally.

Posted by violet_dagrinder | October 21, 2008 11:57 AM

Maybe the partner has really bad PMS.

Posted by Miss Stereo | October 21, 2008 12:03 PM

@2: yeah, I hate to play to the stereotype, but if she feels this way about once a month...

I like Dan's advice, but I think the girl could also use a therapist.

Posted by EmilyP | October 21, 2008 12:07 PM

Yeah, I wondered about the once-a-month thing, too. But the three of them must have thought to rule this out. Right?

When I was in my teens and early '20s, I used to think a triad would be my ideal relationship. Then I grew up and spent half my life dating psychos and losers. If I ever conquer finding one partner, I think I'll quit while I'm ahead.

Posted by whatevernevermind | October 21, 2008 12:11 PM

As always, Dan, I love your advice. I know you write for a living and can't possibly catch every mistake, but there's a "your" where there should be a "you're" in the third paragraph. Elementary school teachers everywhere are cringing.

(Hey, teachers! What are you doing reading Dan Savage? The shame!)

Posted by Grammar Nazi | October 21, 2008 12:12 PM

Maybe the two women could connect with him on a more casual basis. They sound like they're trying too hard. Less pressure=more fun.

Posted by Vince | October 21, 2008 12:16 PM


Spot on advice, Dan... But I can't help feeling sorry for the poor schlub who is letting himself be jerked around by these two. There are bi women couples out there that would value his feelings as well.

Posted by kitschnsync | October 21, 2008 12:18 PM

I agree. Getting two people into a perfectly balanced relationship is nearly impossible. Any attempt at perfect balance with three people is an utterly lost cause.

Live with imbalance, or stick with being a couple.

Posted by Reverse Polarity | October 21, 2008 12:47 PM

Maybe they got what they needed out of the triad and it's time to move on ...

Threesome relationship ... check ... next song.

Maybe just MAYBE one of the girls is not as gay as the other. I get the sense that one of them is in love with guy, and other has some physical attraction but is more in love with the girl. The upset girl does it more for her sake than the guys. They sound like nice open respectful people, with the one upset who is repressing her true feelings about the situation.

Posted by formerly OR Matt | October 21, 2008 12:55 PM

Jealousy is a totally normal feeling. For nearly everybody it's just inevitable. At its worst it's grief as bad as the death of parent. So that's why we have monogamy, not because of God, or because it makes you a better person, but because you want your partner to be monogamous, and then you have to do the same in return. It's for minimizing jealousy.

If you can manage to find three people with an unusually low capacity for jealousy, and they all happen to be attracted to each other, this sort of thing can work. I suppose it's possible, but it sure ain't common.

Posted by carlos | October 21, 2008 1:10 PM

this isn't going to work out - the writer likes men. she'll be sneaking off sooner or later.

Posted by i can smell a LUG | October 21, 2008 1:59 PM

My straightdar is pinging.

Posted by mint chocolate chip | October 21, 2008 2:22 PM

Sometimes there's no good reason for this kind of feeling. I was in a foursome once (me & my gf with another bf/gf couple) and everyone but me insisted they had got the least amount of attention. Mathematically, this was impossible, especially since I know I didn't get the *most* attention. (I was just having fun and not worrying about it.) Apparently it's easy to misinterpret or fail to recognize positive stuff. Or something like that.

Anyway, Dan, I agree with your advice.

Posted by breklor | October 21, 2008 2:28 PM

but, Dan, you HATE poly people. this sound, thoughtful advice belies your true, poly-phobic nature. Why don't you just tell them to go fuck themselves, with their polyamourous asses.

Posted by Jill | October 21, 2008 2:30 PM

My ex was always interested in persuing a 3-way relationship, but even he would agree that they are a lot more work. They're actually four relationships: A:B, B:C, A:C, and A:B:C together. Plus, not only are you juggling all of these factors, but you're also making sure the other components aren't hurt in the process. I have enough trouble with 1:1 relationships. Never say never, but "not likely" for me at least.

Posted by RS | October 21, 2008 3:20 PM

What about the feelings of the guy? He's got a hot three way with an amazing bi girl and her bitchy dike sig-other. Dump the dike and find another hot bi girl to keep the hot three way going.

What is wrong with you, Dan? Are you gay?

Posted by Ecce Homo | October 21, 2008 3:28 PM

Although people like to believe that balance is a 50-50 proposition, a) there are too many different qualities to simply add up and say there it's all "even" (how would one even measure the quality and quantity of affection?) b) what feels right is completely subjective and not necessarily "even". With this in mind, the three separately or in a group, could likely benefit from some counseling (5-12 sessions), especially as they are mid 20's folks figuring relationships and themselves out. Odds are that if the bi couple just dumps the guy without processing it, there is going to be trouble down the road as one remaining half is likely to feel resentment at the loss/limitation while the other half might remain feeling insecure.

Posted by LMSW | October 21, 2008 5:04 PM

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