Maureen Marovitch is a nice Jewish girl from Montreal. Eleven years ago, while volunteering at a center for homeless youth, she met David Finch, a nice (half-) Jewish boy, also from the city. Maureen, now thirty-three, is a Rubenesque redhead, smart and sweet. David, despite being twelve years her senior, is youthful and upbeat, an Adam Sandler look-alike whose sense of compassion hasn't dampened his sense of humor. Both documentary filmmakers, they started a production company, and everyone, including them, thought they made a great couple. There was one problem: Maureen kept cheating on David. "It wasn't that there was something wrong with him," she says, "It was just that the idea of this being it, forever, felt so confining."
After a few years of living and working together, both on films and on Maureen's little commitment problem, Maureen started to look into making a documentary about polyamorists, people who have open, romantic relationships with more than one person. She swears her project began as an intellectual one. "I wanted to know who was doing it, how it worked, and hopefully get paid for it," she says. But in the course of her research, she met a dry-witted paleobotanist named Wilson Taylor and fell in love.
Ordinarily Maureen's dalliances resulted in a fight with David, followed by a breakup and eventual reconciliation, but this time, she proposed something else. She would date Wilson, but she wouldn't break up with David. Five years later, Maureen is still with David, and she's also with Wilson (called Wil), forty-two. Wil is a professor at the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire, and he spends weekends and vacations, including the summer, in Montreal with David and Maureen. Maureen visits Wil, too, and David often joins her, especially if Wil needs a hand with a home-improvement project. Maureen is as surprised as anyone that things have turned out this way. "I identified with these people," she says, "but I never imagined I would become one."
Until recently, I'd assumed the term "polyamory" applied to Mormons, with their thirty-foot dining-room tables, or hippies, who, after patching their yurts, bedded each other's spouses in fields of goldenrod. I even knew about the 1962 Robert Heinlein cult classic Stranger in a Strange Land, which imagines the future as a sort of orgiastic episode of Star Trek. I'd read, too, that renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas has been openly involved with two women, but then again, he is a citizen of one of those smugly permissive European countries.
Then one day a close friend—gay, but otherwise very traditional—confided that he was seriously involved with a male couple. Next, at a party in Los Angeles, where I had recently moved, I met Gina (not her real name)—a stylish thirty-three-year-old voice-over actress—who introduced me to her two live-in boyfriends, Chris and Matt (also not their real names). These are just nine out of an estimated 50,000 polyamorous people living in the United States. Those numbers are from the Boulder-based Loving More magazine, a quarterly dedicated to multi-partner relationships, and it's hard to say how accurate they are, even harder to say how many of them are science-fiction freaks or hippies or Mormons. At any rate, when I told friends that I knew two sets of threesomes, not only were they not surprised, but many of them knew a threesome, too. I discovered—and I know how dreadfully Cheever-esque this sounds—that this formerly unimaginable way of conducting relationships was now being practiced among my set.
Naturally my curiosity was aroused. It was online, while exploring one of the many earnestly welcoming sites devoted to polyamory, that I found Maureen, David, and Wil, and read about their documentary, called When Two Won't Do.
Just so we're clear, David and Wil don't do it. The kind of threesome they're in is called a "V." Both men sleep with Maureen, and while they're emotionally involved with each other, the intimacy ends there. (When two partners who sleep with a third also sleep with each other, it's called a "triad.")
When I arrive, David answers the door. For some reason, I'd assumed he wouldn't be attractive. After all, he has to share his woman. This turns out to be as sound as the notion that women turn out to become lesbians because they can't get a guy. David has short brown hair, a bright smile, and a muscular body. I'd also expected to dislike their home, to find it smelling of incense, and their bathroom scattered with books of inspirational poetry and other signs of intellectual flaccidity. But it is neither frilly or funky, filled with furniture halfway between antique and just old. I feel relief that although whatever goes on in this house is outside my experience, it will at least be in good taste.
David tells me that Wil is driving up from Wisconsin, and that the three of us will pick up Maureen at her acting class and go to dinner. When Wil arrives, they embrace, and each tells the other he looks great. Wil is a lot cuter than I expected, too, with a short dark beard and sneaky smile, and hot in a nerdy sort of way. En route to pick up Maureen they sit up front, and from the back I watch for signs of bitterness or one-upmanship. But David just gripes about some repairs to his new SUV, and Wil says repeatedly, "I hear you, buddy." They're just a couple of guys, going to pick of their girlfriend.
Maureen meets us outside the restaurant. There is a moment of awkwardness as she hugs Wil, shakes my hand, and heads inside. "What about me?" David asks, only half joking, and she hugs him, too. The host seats us, and I wait until Maureen is arranged, hand on Wil's leg, reading off David's menu, before seating myself.
During dinner, we talk about how their relationship works. While they are primarily committed to each other, they are also all free to date other people. Only Wil has taken advantage of this. "But I haven't met anyone I like as much as Maureen," he says. "There's just not that spark." David kissed another woman once, and Maureen was mad, but only because he stayed out all night and didn't call. Maureen wants to make it clear that people who have relationships with more than one person aren't sex freaks (like swingers, whose lifestyle she describes as "sex with people that you don't have to make breakfast for"); they're people who believe that their lives can be improved by being intimately involved with more than one person. "Not having that option seems totally stifling to me," she says.
Of course, sex is part of it, too. David and Maureen share a room downstairs, but Maureen has her own room upstairs. Wil stays there when he is visiting, and she alternates between the two. When we arrive home, Wil goes up to bed. Maureen and David talk for a few minutes about their plans for the next day, then Maureen kisses him and heads up herself. Lest I think this whole threesome thing is a cinch, she pauses on the landing and says wryly, "It might seem like this all works so smoothly. Let me assure you that hours of discussion went into working out every last detail."
"When people hear the word threesome," Wil tells me the next day, "they probably think, Wooo! Free love for all! But being in a three isn't about no commitment, it's about making a different kind." One of their rules is to always talk about everything. "There are more people, more feelings, more things to work out, more potential for things to come to a head," says Maureen.
Then there's sex. Maureen is on the Pill, and David and Wil don't use condoms, so everyone's trust of each other must be rock-solid. "It is dead-serious stuff," Wil says, "and if you lied, you would be compromising the safety of a lot of people.
Finally, there is the matter of adhering to some sort of schedule. Since it's Wil's first night here in a while, it's understood Maureen will stay with him. But on any other night, she'll ask David if it's okay to "sleep upstairs." "It sort of evolved that way over time," Maureen says. "It was my idea to start this relationship with Wil, so it's my responsibility to make sure that David feels the situation is not out of his control." (For Gina, the Los Angeles voice-over actress also involved in a "V," Mondays are for Matt, Fridays are for Chris, and each of them sleeps with her every other night. This arrangement didn't happen overnight, she says: Chris, whom she fell for after three years with Matt, was integrated gradually, like Prozac.)
Of course, a sleeping schedule isn't like a chore wheel. The test of the rules isn't whether the three obey them, but how they do so without resentment or scorekeeping. "Maureen either comes upstairs or she doesn't, and I don't mind that it's not up to me," Wil says. "It gives me a chance to feel victimized, which I strangely enjoy."
He's being characteristically droll, but he's not kidding. In "poly" language, Wil is what is referred to as the secondary, and David is the primary. "Maureen hates those terms," David and Wil tell me independently, but the fact that they both use them demonstrates how grateful they are to know where they stand. "I don't think I could have done this if I doubted that Maureen would put me first," says David. "I don't even think Wil wants to be the primary." Wil confirms this. Wil's wife, Robin, committed suicide in 1999 after a history of mental illness, and part of him worries that he's not ready to be everything to someone again. "I am happy to love Maureen; I am absolutely crazy about her. But I am also happy to know that David is there to take care of her."
The next morning, David and I are drinking tea and reading the paper when Wil descends, showered and dressed. I seem to be the only person in the room fixated on the fact that Wil very likely just had sex with Maureen. Maureen arrives, in a T-shirt and pajama bottoms. She ruffles David's hair, and they smile at each other. "How'd you sleep?" David asks. "Fine," she says as she leaves the room to check her e-mail. David returns to his article about Pakistan. I am watching him. He shrugs. "Wil is a known entity. I don't have that horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach when they're together. I might feel, Oh, I wish Maureen was here, but I don't think, Oh, no, she's with Wil." Matt, Gina's boyfriend, succinctly explains why he doesn't get jealous anymore: "The idea that another guy wants her, well, I can't blame him. And as long as I still get to sleep with her, and she really loves me, what do I care?"
That evening, Wil and Maureen snuggle on the couch, and David sits at Maureen's feet, his head resting against her knee. After spending a few days here, I can see why she has two men devoted to her. She is delicate and warm, natural and unaffected, and she has lovely skin. I don't pretend not to stare, but as hard as I look, I can't summon a feeling of shock.
It's all so pleasant, so civilized—and, perhaps owing to their carefully crafted "rules," they seem much less needy or volatile than some couples who have no outlet but each other. ("After living in a threesome, being in a couple would, frankly, feel like a protracted staring contest," says my gay friend with the two boyfriends.) "When you're involved with two other people it's really hard to get away with bad behavior," Maureen affirms. "When you're with one person and your partner says you're acting like a jerk, your first instinct is, well, maybe you're the one being a jerk. But when two people tell you, you know." Maureen observes that Wil has actually made her relationship with David stronger. "Sometimes Dave and I will be fighting, and we'll ask Wil, 'What's going on here?' And he'll say, 'Well, you tend to get condescending when you're feeling trapped.'" Free couples therapy, and someone else to have sex with? Sounds like a good deal to me.
They warn me that their relationship isn't without its flaws. David and Maureen are extremely busy with their jobs and classes, so Wil is left on his own a lot. He's mopey, a trait he's quick to acknowledge: "I'm throwing one of my famous pity parties." He's not jealous of David, just upset that he doesn't have more time with Maureen. For his part, David gets annoyed when Maureen, making preparations for Wil's arrival, completely checks out. "Wil has this perception that we've been spending all this time together," David says. "And we have, but it's not all quality time filled with fun and sex."
Then one day, doing errands with Wil and Maureen, I ask her if there is something that she gets from David that she does't get from Wil, or vice versa. Maureen stammers, "Well you know, clearly, you always get something from someone that you don't get from another." Wil looks at her sideways. "You deftly avoided that question," he says.
"Are you more attracted to one of them?" I ask.
"I can't see what good would possibly be served by my answering that," she snaps.
"What do you think?" Wil asks me.
"I think she is more attracted to you," I say. "And I think that mostly, you don't want her to leave David for you, but that you also know she never would, because she is deeply in love with him, and in some ways, he's a better match. I think the whole thing is, on one level, deeply confusing and an emotional minefield. And at the same time, I still think the three of you have a better relationship than 90 percent of the couples I know."
People clearly want intimate, lasting connections; otherwise nearly five million of them wouldn't have gotten married last year. But people also are very conflicted about such connections; otherwise more than two million of them wouldn't have gotten divorced in the same period. "The things people want out of relationships are contradictory. They want stability, but they also want independence, they want commitment, but they also want freedom," Wil says. "I don't think poly is for everyone, but I really think more people are going to start considering it. In some ways, it's nuts. But in other ways, it makes a lot of sense."
I return home and see Unfaithful, starring Diane Lane and Richard Gere as a fortyish married couple, and Olivier Martinez as Lane's young French lover. Everyone's talking about it, but after the week I've just had, I'm finding the films supposedly controversial premise silly, the characters' angst unnecessary. Oh, hell, I want to tell Diane, just tell your husband you're having an affair. You'll get sick of Frenchie soon enough, and in the meantime, you guys can ride the Metro North into New York City together, he to work and you to get laid. Tell him, I still love you, but I am sleeping with someone. You should meet him. You will be jealous of how young and good-looking he is, but you might appreciate his cooking and his book collection as much as I do. For tonight, you can stay up late watching those cowboy movies you love, and take up the whole bed.
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