Though she’s new to poly lifestyles and still adjusting to the terminology, one might call Heidel’s living arrangement a poly-fidelitous closed triad, though she prefers to just call it her pride. Prior to discovering poly lingo, that’s what she called her family: a pride of lions. Heidel’s pride consists of one other beautiful woman, one gorgeous man, three sons, two stepsons, a step-baby on the way, one very, very old pitbull named Jones, two snakes, a bunch of lizards and toads, and one ham-eating Eastern box turtle named Gary. Heidel writes from Central California.

Previous editions of this column can be found in the Monthly Columns Archives.

Being the Third

Reading other polyamory columns, stories and web sites, I’ve seen a pattern emerge among triads, particularly those that involve a girlfriend or boyfriend moving in on a married couple. There seem to be experiences and struggles common among the thirds – the latest in the triad to enter the relationship.

I am a third. How I became a third is a little unconventional in that I entered the home as a roommate and slowly worked my way into the relationship, one sexual or social faux pas after another. Still, I had the advantage of entering the relationship as a friend first and lover second, and that has proven to be more valuable than I ever could have imagined. As I blindly navigate my way through the first year of our relationship, I have stepped on toes, pushed people away verbally, grasped desperately at them as they retreated, and blundered through one transgression after another. What has kept the three of us from throwing our six hands in the air and calling it quits is the fact that we are all friends -- best friends -- and our friendship is too valuable to us to throw away after a fight. In a sense, we all feel obligated to push through the tough times that come with learning to live with someone new and learning to navigate a new relationship, knowing there has to be better times ahead.

The Lion and Lioness have been married for five years and dated for eight before that. At present, they know each other intimately well, have seen each other’s ugly sides and memorized their beautiful sides. They have learned how to communicate with each other, how to express themselves in order to make the other understand what they’re trying to say, when to force an issue, when to shut up and let time work its magic. When they fight, they quarrel over little things; but even those quarrels have lost their edge over time.

When I first moved in, my quarrels with Lion were volatile and heated. We had fought this way for 15 years, but never lived together. Always before when we fought we’d stop talking for months until we’d both cooled down enough to become friends again. After I moved in, it became clear that we needed to learn a new way to overcome our differences, as well as learn how to make up much quicker. This took some time and quite a bit of open discussion. We stumbled through a recent bout of miscommunication and arguments that made us question whether we really could change our 15-year pattern. It took the Lioness’ patient intervention to make us realize that we were struggling because, even though we’ve known each other a lifetime, we’ve never interacted as a romantic couple and we’re still learning how to do that. Most importantly, its OK that we’re still learning – it’s OK to allow ourselves to have a learning curve.

That’s one of the major problems of being a third. Any fights, arguments, miscommunications, and social or sexual faux pas seem all the more stark and threatening simply because they are compared to the relative peace of the original marriage. It’s easy for long-married couples to forget that they went through a similar volatile period when they were first starting out. When the Lioness brought this fact to both of our attentions, it made the fact that we were struggling to communicate seem less frightening. The slow process of learning how to fight constructively and communicate effectively seems less urgent, less of a threat to the viability of our relationship, and more like a rite of passage, something we can and will get through. It also reminded them both that there is a lot about them I still don’t know. They take their intimate knowledge for granted. As the third, the newbie, I don’t have the benefit of such intimacy.

The second major problem arose several months ago. I was succumbing to jealousy over the fact that the Lioness and Lion spent much more alone-time together than either of them did with me. Part of that was due to familiarity and old patterns. Often they didn’t realize they were being exclusionary, and only needed to be made aware of it in order to stop or include me. The other part had to do with me feeling short changed in the relationship. As soon as the relationship became sexual, I wanted what I considered should be my fair share. This stepped on the Lioness’ toes considerably. A bit of a control freak, the Lioness was reluctant to let anything out of her iron grip, whether it was laundry duties or bedroom duties. I resented that. I whined about it.

This power struggle was alleviated when the Lion pointed something out to me. A karate instructor, he presented me with a martial arts metaphor. “Listen,” he said. “The Lioness and I have been married for a long time, and we can’t just ignore that. It’s going to take time for you to reach the same comfort and familiarity levels with us that she and I have. Think of it this way. If the Lioness was a black belt, think how many years she spent training to become a black belt. You can’t come in as a white belt and demand I give you a black belt. In order to become a black belt, you have to put in the same time and effort she did. Otherwise it just wouldn’t be fair.”

Of course, it was a simplified allegory. But it hit me nonetheless. I have a lot of catching up to do, and I need to be patient. That didn’t mean the Lioness didn’t need to let me have some concessions, and she did. But the Lion was right, I couldn’t come in as the third and demand my fair share without paying some dues. It’s not easy to pay your dues. There’s a lot to learn about people when relationships are new, a lot of nuances and intricacies to navigate, a lot of behaviors to change and adapt to, a lot of rules to learn and pitfalls to learn to avoid. As a third, I seem to be doing these things in double time – I have to learn these things about both of them, whereas they only have to learn them about me. Yet they have their secure, comfortable marriage to fall back on when things get complicated with the “new” one. But time passes and we grow closer. As we near our one-year mark, I know I’ve become more valuable to them, more a part of their lives, something they’d miss if I was gone. I’m slowly working my way into their marriage so that the lines that separate us are beginning to dissipate. I now have inside jokes with them both and tricks I’ve learned to better communicate with them both. I’m slowly recognizing their ugliness and memorizing their beautiful sides. Soon, I too will be a black belt. Maybe then I won’t be a third, but rather one of three.

Heidel is a contributing writer as well as a member of this online Community. She can be contacted here or through our message board Forums.

Heidel ; August 21, 2007


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