Note: this post originally appeared on In Our Words.
Guys we need to talk. Specifically, about this really terrible word everyone has suddenly decided they love: “thruple.” (Or is it “throuple?” God, I don’t even want to debate this.)
It started with New York Magazine a few weeks ago, doing an otherwise adorable little profile on a committed triad of gay men who happen to all run a porn company together. These three men apparently like to refer to themselves as a “throuple” (I refuse to remove the quotes), and, as I read about their life, I decided this was because they have no poly friends and don’t really know how this stuff works.
Then it just got worse. Those three Brazilians got married. I want to be happy for them; this is a huge step and represents the kind of civil rights I might want one day, and yet all I can do is hate them. Because, whether by their own choice or because everyone who has written about this is awful, they keep being called a “throuple.” The Guardian thinks this word is “charming.” The Guardian is wrong about a lot of things.
I’ve spent this weekend watching all of Showtime’s Polyamory: Married and Datingbecause the season wrapped and it’s all finally available on illegal channels. Like any proper internet resident, I then spent a few hours reading blogs about it, to make sure that I was snarking on all the right parts, and maybe to develop a good drinking game in case I ever watch this thing with Johnny. And Gawker just had to review the show, and refer to the triad (who call themselves a triad the whole time!) as a “thruple.” Why? Where did they get this word?
I’ve done some research now. Urban dictionary results for both spellings date to 2008. A few poly blogs and forums have posts from people self-identifying as such a relationship. The word seems to be used predominately in all-male trios, which may explain why I didn’t encounter it until this summer. I may be an Advanced Polyamorist who’s read all the major theory, but my exposure has been almost entirely in the multi-gendered end of the pool–bisexuals are more common in the poly world, and it hasn’t occurred to me to go looking for stories of all-male poly experiences.
Nevertheless, this word is terrible, and gay men don’t get a pass, especially now that it’s being applied to all committed three-way relationships. There is a word for that. It’s well established, and it doesn’t make me want to puke. That word is triad. A triad is what happens when three people love each other and form an equilateral triangle of relationships. Triad. Not “throuple.” Never “throuple.” Triad.
There are lots of other words for three people in some relationship configuration, too! If one person loves two other people, but those two are not connected to each other, that is called a Vee (because it looks like a letter V if you draw it). The person in the middle of the Vee is called a fulcrum, and the two people on either end are each other’s metamours (a word that is used for any partner-of-a-partner).
The favorite kind of triad of people who are a little bit too heteronormative is the MFF, in which a straight dude and two bisexual ladies are all committed to each other. These things totally happen in real life (the triad on Polyamory: Married and Dating is such a triad!) but waaaay too many male-female couples get into polyamory looking for a “hot bisexual babe” to “complete their family” and it’s creepy and gross. Lots of people call the MFF triad a Unicorn, because it’s the goal of many a poly person/couple, and because it is much rarer than other configurations, and maybe also because a single horn is evocative of a single penis.
I love unicorns, and I hate supporting heteronormativity. So I use the term Unicorn interchangeably with triad, especially because when I was 12, I had an elaborate story going on in my head in which I both had a unicorn AND two boyfriends who were also with each other. So the two obviously go together as “things little girls want,” although one of them is mildly easier to achieve. (I gave up on my interest in unicorns shortly thereafter, but I still tell myself bedtime stories about a variation of that adolescent imaginary triad. Because bedtime stories are cool.)
Beyond Triad, Vee, and Unicorn, there are obviously the terms three-way and threesome. These refer to sex more than committed relationships, but are still totally useful and are actual words, unlike “throuple.” Please continue to use them to refer to your three-person sexual encounters, whether you’re in it for the long haul or not. “Three-way relationship” is a little bit clunky, but a whole lot more graceful than “throuple.”
Normally, I’m a descriptivist, and I’m happy to let people use language any way they damn well please. I love a good portmanteau, but “throuple” is an AWFUL one. It sounds like something being killed in the blades of a helicopter, or maybe some weird sludge you clean out of the filter of your water feature. At best, it smacks of the New Age-y approach to relationships that wants to talk about “lovestyles” and forbid kissing with your eyes closed. I say this as a person who mixes spirituality with my sex, and who uses the word metamour in casual conversation. “Throuple” is NOT A WORD.
It’s still early in the spread of this linguistic disease. I’m worried about major news outlets picking it up, though, especially with the Brazilian marriage case. If this breaks out into the wider marriage equality movement, it’s all over. We need to put a stop to it now. It’s going to be hard to take back where it’s already shown up, but if we put out a stronger usage of Triad, we’ll be fine. Start working it into your daily conversation. If you’re friends with someone at a major network morning show, or one of those pop tv psychologists, especially encourage them to use the right word. As long as no housewife ever hears this crime against language, “throuple” can die an ignoble death. Please. Make this happen.