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Triad or V - What's More Complicated?

I get a lot of people new to polyamory insisting that they must date together, or meet people together, because it "will be less complicated." I see this in comments on social media, on dating app profiles, on couple's profiles on social media (that black and red one that starts with an F, looking at you), and in couples who come to peer support sessions when they've had a bad breakup and both think it "was the others's fault" or "it's so hard to find a third, we need some guidance on our approach." You may have noticed, over the years on this blog, that I don't prefer the triad or quad as a structure for myself and largely suggest against dating "as a package deal," although folks can do what they want. Today we're going to talk about why. What is it about a triad that's actually more complicated than a V or even an N relationship, from my point of view? Why do I think the assumption that dating together is simpler is wrong?

First, I'd like to give the caveat that if you are swinging, meeting people together is definitely easier. Swapping, meeting in couples, and being in that community as a unit of two is the simplest way to enter it. But this article now isn't talking about swinging, it's talking about polyamory, and the possibility of romantic relationships - or at least folks claim they're open to that - and if you actually are, these are the ways that "being a package deal" who are "seeking a third" creates a relationship that is more complicated and harder to maintain than dating separately does.

In a triad, there are 4 romantic relationships. The one between Alex and Bob, Bob and Carol, and Carol and Alex, and the one between all three together. Each of these needs separate nurturing and time to grow, and each dyadic relationship grows at its own pace. If you're "seeking a third" this implies that one of these relationships (let's say the one between Bob and Carol) has a longer history - so in being partners, they're more stable with one another, but in being each others's metamours now, Bob and Carol have to figure out how not to compare their growing relationships with Alex. They have to do this, while still letting the triad connection grow, and not letting all their couple time become processing time about the new relationships. It's hard not to compare when you're dating the same person - and it might seem simple to say "okay, we'll spend all our time together then" - but then you're making Alex an accessory to your relationship and not actually building individual connections, which isn't fair to her. There are 7 relationships in any triad - 4 romantic ones and 3 metamour relationships, which are usually in the backseat, but end up mattering sometimes when one new dyad connects more quickly than another and the processing part of these relationships comes to the forefront. People often feel a LOT of jealousy over watching small differences in a relationship of someone they're also engaged with up close and personal, and this can take a lot of big processing talks to work through and find the roots of.

This assumes, of course, that you meet someone who is totally down with "a package deal" and has feelings for both of you that turn out to stay present - have you pre-negotiated what happens if one of you wants to break up or if it turns out that only one of you feels a romantic connection? A lot of the time, couples have (pretty harsh) policies about immediately both breaking up with someone in a veto-power style manner if one of them wants to break up, and they don't always disclose this up front, or they're surprised if they do disclose it and then get much less interest. This is not "just how it works" and lots of people are not interested in seeing people with these policies. Triads work out when you have a high degree of willingness to deconstruct your couple's privilege and engage equally with your newer partner (or move to quickly escalate things with your newer partner to give them equal privileges - some triads I know worked well because they relationship escalatored to all living together very quickly, which again equalized things), or when everyone has very clear communication about expectations throughout, and with a big pinch of luck, because they are simply more complex.

If you date separately, the relationship shapes that arise out of this are a V (when one of you meets someone they'd like to date) and an N (when both of you have). The thing people are most often worried about or think will be most complicating is jealousy when you meet people at different intervals. Women or femme-looking nonbinary people will generally get a lot more offers and options but a lot of them will not be people you want or options that go past a first date; Men and masc-presenting nonbinary people will get fewer replies, matches, and options via dating apps but the ones they get will be more willing to engage in conversation and often will go better proportionally. Once you've met folks, a V has 2 romantic connections and one meta relationship to worry about and an N has 3 romantic and 2 metamour relationships (vs 4 and 3 in the triad). It's just a level of complexity lower, even if you involve an extra person. To use Bob and Carol who were opening to polyamory in our previous example, Bob would start dating Alex, and Carol would meet Dana. If they were friendly metamours, maybe they'd have double-date dinners and game nights sometimes, but Alex wouldn't be dating Carol, and Dana wouldn't date Bob, and so the level of complexity is a level lower.

This is not to say "never have a triad" - but maybe be prepared to try dating separately, to not be surprised if people want to date only one half of a couple or find triads too complex to navigate and give the option a pass, and understand that "it will be less complicated" is an illusion. Good luck in all your relationships (because they're all complicated - we're all human!) and consider not limiting yourself to one style.

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