Dear Patrick: I was part of a lesbian triad that broke up. My best friend wound up with a lover we were sharing. Now I am still expected to be part of their social circle, and it rankles. I feel my friend was underhanded. For example, we had an agreement that we would only meet as a group, and I now know that she spent time alone with “our” girlfriend. It really hurts to see them together. When will it stop being so painful? Do triads always have to dissolve into one couple and one stranded loner? In the past, girlfriends have told me I am too intense. But with my needs divided up between two lovers, I felt balanced and nurtured. I have never been so satisfied, both sexually and emotionally. But I don't know if I would ever be brave enough to be part of another triad. The two of them talked me into experimenting. I was always afraid my happiness would be short-lived. That turned out to be an accurate prediction.
My intuition tells me that this is a key experience that might set the tone for the rest of your life. You have some difficult choices to make. You could certainly justify contracting into a ball of pain, blame, and jealousy. In fact, you probably can't help doing that, at least for a while! But you can also refuse to let one bad experience turn a bold and beautiful explorer into a conservative curmudgeon.
I have no idea how long you are going to feel pain about losing two lovers. Breaking up with one person is bad enough! But I do think you can prolong a period of mourning beyond what is appropriate or even necessary. These are people who violated your trust, so how much do you want to let them make you suffer? Start taking really, really good care of yourself. I realize you probably don't want to do this. You got used to having two lovers who were always there for you. But right now, this is your job. Nobody else is available. So pay good attention to sleep, nutrition, and treating yourself. Maybe there are things you liked or enjoyed that you couldn't do while you were in a relationship. If so, now is the time to revel in them.
If you find that you can't pull yourself out of a hurtful place, get some extra help. There is nothing wrong with a spot of counselling to give you perspective. Just be careful not to wind up with a therapist who will make you feel guilty for taking a sexual and emotional risk. Because it may very well be that, for you, the ideal relationship comes in the shape of a triangle. Why not? This isn't what most people do, but most people never aspire to more than being average.
I have met folks who have been in threesomes for decades. While it may be true that most triads break up, this is also true of most couples. Perhaps the problem is our assumption that a good relationship is also one that will last forever. This does set us up to experience repeated heartbreak and disappointment. I have come to believe that all relationships are in a state of flux. They last as long as they are supposed to endure, unless they are prolonged artificially. It is much easier to welcome a new person into your life than it is to let one go, easier to fall in love than accept an ex as a friend instead. But I don't know if people can control how long they remain in love or lust. I would rather hear the truth even if it will require making a big change in my life.
Your situation is complicated because the breakup was not handled in a very ethical or considerate fashion. You can't accept being socially neutral or pleasant with these two because you feel they broke the rules. So one thing you will be alert for in your next relationship is whether that person can be trusted to keep agreements, or tell you that agreements need to be re-negotiated. If either of them had said, “We want to spend some time alone together,” that would have at least given you a head's-up that change was in the wind. I'm not sure who is expecting you to act as if nothing happened, but that expectation is not reasonable. Right now, the last thing you need is being pressured to fake it and ignore your heartbreak.
Are the rest of your friends worth keeping? This is an important question. You really need to know whether you should keep the network you've got right now, or totally change it. A reshuffling is about to take place. This usually happens when there is a major breakup. A wave effect is set off that affects even people who are not in the central relationship. Make a list of the people you want to keep in your life, and arrange to see them away from your exes. You are not required to spend any time with the Gruesome Twosome if you prefer to avoid them. But that means you will have to create social opportunities or events with other people. Since your energy might be low, this can be as simple as a coffee date, for now.
But do consider the adage, “Living well is the best revenge.” Becoming known as the hostess of fabulous parties may tweak their noses. The thought of you having big fun can trouble your enemies worse than any long face. I doubt they feel much guilt for being together. As a couple, they will already have constructed a story to explain why they were destined to be together rather than with you. So give up on making them eat crow, and think about what you'd rather have under your own tongue.
Any time you start living closer to the edge, you stop receiving some degree of social support. The more deviant a person is, the less support they get. This means that the social disapproval of a triad is much greater than the discrimination against a lesbian couple. Now that gay marriage is such a big deal, there is even more social pressure for gay men and lesbians to “settle down” in romantic arrangements that mimic heterosexual expectations. Some of us can sail against the wind with more skill than others. So a successful triad needs to be very self-aware, strong, and compatible.
Life is going to continue to offer you many opportunities to have new experiences. It's up to you to decide whether you value novelty or want more predictability. In the former case, you can tell yourself that learning something different is worth a chance of some discomfort or pain. In the latter case, you may still find that things don't always work out the way that you want. The hard part of a relationship is the part that involves other people's needs or choices. I don't mean to be cavalier about how you feel. I know few things in life are more painful than the loss of love. But if you become a hermit for the next ten years (or even two), how many chances to find a better love will pass by the mouth of your cave? So I, at least, hope you can find healing sooner rather than later.