A friend of mine has two boyfriends and they all live together in a house they bought. I call them The Funboys. It’s just the most fitting name ever. They travel together. They cook together. They garden together. They laugh together. They love together. And they sleep together in a giant king-size bed.
More than what they do in the bedroom, I’ve always been curious about how three grown men all share one bed. I constantly ask: Do you use the same alarm clock? Who sleeps in the middle — do you take turns? Do you cuddle and spoon together three in a row? Seems like it’d be awesome in the winter but what about the summertime? …Sounds kinda sweaty.
Luckily, because I’ve known them for years, I don’t sound like I’m asking lesbians how they have sex. Instead, I’m more like some annoyingly curious kid who just really wants to know. And I do. I really want to know how they make it all work. Not just the emotional parts but also the logistics of three men in a bed. It turns out it’s the same answer. When you love each other, you figure out the small things like who sleeps next to the alarm clock the same way you figure out the big questions. You consider what works for the other(s) and what works for you. Sometimes you compromise. Sometimes you triage and take care of what matters most. There are no one-size-fits-all answers to questions of relationships. Love is a constant negotiation.
If you were wondering, they each have a favorite spot in bed but it changes from night to night based on who needs to be up earliest and who feels like cuddling. And the alarm clock is only for one of them since the other two set their own work schedules. That way there’s no fight over the snooze bar.
Naturalists recognize some plants grow better together. They call it companion planting. Some tribes of American Indians used the “Three Sisters” system of growing corn, squash and beans together on the same plot of land. The harvest provided a balanced diet and grown together the plants were an effective farming strategy. Corn grows tall and offers a structure for climbing beans to cling to. The beans and corn don’t compete for nutrients since beans provide their own nitrogen. The squash grows as ground cover and shades the weeds that might compete with the beans and corn. Each has a role to play. Nature may like pairs but it’s not always limited to them. It seems Nature prefers dynamic responsive relationships more than number sets.
Other than death, nothing in life seems to be as scary and confusing, as troublesome and endlessly debated, as how we choose to love one another. Gay marriage is a ridiculous issue. The fact anyone gets a say about who you love, how you love, to whom you pledge your life and loyalty is insufferably ignorant. The fact that interracial marriage is still an issue for anyone is embarrassing. The idea adults who choose to love each other are ever limited by other people is irretrievably stupid.
The major religions and philosophies agree love is our highest pursuit. Yet, we often define love with childish rules like it’s a game. We outline areas where a person is out-of-bounds. Far as I can tell love is boundless. As long as the adults involved aren’t hurting anyone and aren’t being hurt, no outsider should stand in their way.
My three friends who all live and love together have taught me more about love than my divorced parents did. Like the gardens they grow in their front and backyards, the Funboys tend to their love. And they let love take its own natural shape. I like that. It’s reassuring. I’ve had girlfriends who had specific expectations of what love looked like based on images they collected from television, movies, advertisements, friends’ stories, magazine articles, blog posts, pretty much everywhere but from conversations between us. Living in an imitation of others’ happiness never works for me. It’d be like moving into a model home, only to discover the books are all cardboard fronts and the flowers are cloth and plastic. I have to live in a way that makes sense to me. And I don’t believe there is any one natural way to love. Just like there’s no one way to eat an Oreo.
I once tried dating a married woman. It wasn’t like it sounds. She and her husband were polyamorists. We all lived in Berkeley where such attitudes seem almost commonplace. When she and I first started dating I had to visit the restaurant she and her husband owned so I could meet him and get his blessing. After what was one of the more uncomfortable dinners of my life, he decided I was a good guy and he gave his blessing for me to date his wife. If you think getting a blessing from a girl’s family is difficult imagine a woman’s husband. It all seemed kinda sexist to me until she explained she gave her blessing to his girlfriends, too. It was part of their “rules.”
I wish I could say everything went smoothly but it didn’t. It felt weird to me. I pass no judgment on polyamorists. I defend their right to love whomever and however they choose. The reason it felt weird was there were always others in our relationship, people I couldn’t communicate with. For instance, on one of our dates, she casually mentioned her three small children were staying with a babysitter. Her husband was out with his side-girlfriend. She was out with me. And the kids were home with a sitter. I asked how long she and her husband had been side-dating.
The whole arrangement was his idea. He had gone through a few girlfriends, but I was the first guy she’d chosen to date. They were married at eighteen because she got pregnant. They’d just graduated from high school when she found out. They had two more kids. Opened a successful restaurant. And made a go of it as full-fledged adults.
I asked why she was so insistent we go out that night. I’d assumed her husband was home with their kids. The timing of my curiosity wasn’t the best. We’d been making out in her car. We were both topless when I asked. Rather than answer, she started crying. She said her husband had subtly pushed her to take up a side-lover to “spice things up.” I stopped asking questions and just held her. I had all the answers I needed.
I knew it was time we stopped seeing each other but I didn’t say anything that night. On our next date, I told her. Again, she cried. She thought I was rejecting her, which might’ve brought up the same feelings as her husband’s subtler rejection. I don’t know. I told her I was competing with her children for her attention and it didn’t feel good. She said she understood.
Days later she showed up at my house, looking to share some expensive bottle of wine from her restaurant and wanting to figure out how we could continue seeing each other. I told her about my friends who share one happy bed. And how I learned love takes its own shape. There’s no limit to how many loves and lovers a person can have. Some folks have amazing capacities for love. I believe in asexuality, monogamy, polyamory and May-December love affairs. There are no requirements one should place on love other than… honesty and commitment.
I also said, from my time with her, I learned that the more people who enter into a relationship, the more important honesty becomes. Not truth- that’s a matter of fact versus fiction. I mean honesty- the ability to share your opinions in an open and forthright way. The Funboys make love work because they’re open and honest with each other. The same as how it works within any relationship. They know it’s imperative each person feel safe to speak up when they feel hurt, scared, neglected or left out of the decision-making process. They all commit to each other.
Without honesty, lust and desire can trick you and pretend to be love. Attachment will masquerade as commitment. My married girlfriend wasn’t being honest with herself. She was scared. She was hurt. She was acting like the teenage girl and young twenty-something women she never got to be. She accused me of being a traditionalist, kinda like she was calling me a racist or a sexist, some equally horrible label based on prejudice. Sometimes people seem to think they can shame you into doing what they want. It doesn’t usually work on me because I have to live with whatever I do.
I reiterated my simple understanding of love, “As long as you aren’t hurting anyone… and you aren’t being hurt… then you can do whatever you want.”
The sad part was she knew she was hurting her kids. She knew she was hurting herself. She knew there was no way to deny it. But she still wanted to ignore all that pain because sometimes being an adult is far more difficult than anyone prepares you for. And she just wanted to feel loved and adored and sexy and wanted.
Much like Mondrian’s increasingly abstract paintings of a tree, which began as imaginative renderings of a tree’s shape, but soon progressed to the point all one saw were lines and boundaries suggesting the shape of something once common and familiar, our adult love story no longer had much recognizable love in it. I told her we’d reached my boundary, even if she wanted to go on. She said a few more things about how I was a closet conservative. Normally, I would’ve laughed. Calling me a closet conservative is like calling Liberace a closeted straight man. But she wasn’t really talking to me, so I listened as she spit her angry hot words. It was the last time we spoke.
From The Funboys I’ve learned well and true how to love my partner and myself, and if need be, more than one person in a healthy, supportive way. From the polyamorists I learned the risks of loving more than one person, especially if you’re the third or fourth person in the bed. And from life, and all its strangeness, I’ve learned I don’t want to be in a relationship with more than one person. That’s just me.
I still feel there is no one-size-fits-all rule for relationships. But there are two requirements for love… honesty and commitment.