Easier With Three

My wife’s girlfriend moved in with us, and balancing work, life, and leisure has never gone better.

Evan, Cassie, and Mandy celebrate a birthday.
Evan, Cassie, and Mandy celebrate a birthday. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock and courtesy of Evan Urquhart.

When people think of polyamorous relationships, they usually jump right to the potential complications: How will you deal with jealousy? How will you schedule your time so that nobody feels shortchanged? What if your partners argue and can’t get along? What if you feel left out when your special someone has a date with a special someone who isn’t you? I once had these worries too, but for nine months I’ve been living with my wife and my wife’s girlfriend (a poly threesome V, rather than a triad, because all three of us are not romantically involved). We’re finding that having more people around means less, not more, complexity—more hands for the chores, more options for socializing and fun, an extra income to help with the bills, and more time for any one of us to spend going our own way.

A typical day at our house begins at 6 a.m., when I grab my laptop from my bedside table and begin my work for Slate without getting dressed, or even out of bed. (I kept up my East Coast, 9–5 schedule after I moved to California, but I won’t claim to have done so with much grace.) When it was just the two of us, my wife’s breakfast and morning routine often got in the way of my early-morning productivity. I’d feel obliged to keep her company at breakfast, chat about our plans for the day, and help her find her missing shoe (under the blanket, dear, on the floor by the couch). Nowadays Cassie and her girlfriend, Mandy, get up at about 7. Mandy makes breakfast. She and Cassie feed and walk our dogs, plan their days, and commute together to their respective workplaces. I get a plate of bacon and eggs brought into the bedroom as I work.

Lest I sound like a leech, I’ll add that having one of the three of us working from home has benefits for Mandy and Cassie as well. When we inevitably forget which day is trash day, I’m there to do a last-minute dash for the curb. I’m around to let a worker in to do repairs or receive a package, and often I’ve got extra time in the afternoon to take a dog to the vet or make a trip to the store.

It turns out that splitting household chores three ways is a lot easier than dividing them in two! With dishes, we rotate so that everyone has a luxurious two days off in between each day they spend scrubbing a pan. We each take responsibility for cooking dinner once a week, and then those of us who like to cook (Mandy and myself) work out the rest of the cooking informally between ourselves. Most of the cat feeding and care falls to me, while Mandy and Cassie largely take care of the dogs. I hate having to make calls for appointments, insurance, or home maintenance, so Cassie kindly takes them off my plate. We all do other little tasks as they come up, and when the whole house needs to be cleaned, the work goes quickly with all hands on deck.

And the benefits spill over into socializing. My extroverted wife and I had a long-standing tendency to clash on how often we’d go out. With Mandy around, there’s an extra person to go do something with her if I’m not in the mood—and we also do things together as a family, comfortably watching TV, playing video games, or going out for a picnic in the park. And, would you believe, it’s actually pretty nice to have a bed to stretch out on by myself three nights a week? One of the few problems we have encountered is that my wife might like to sleep alone once in a while herself.

It’s probably not surprising that it’s great to have the income of an extra working adult as well. A rent we could afford as two becomes easy as pie with three, and there’s something extra relaxing about the nights when Mandy treats both of us out to dinner. It’s really common sense—if pooling resources between two people is good, pooling them with three is great!

Of course, not everyone is going to want to get involved in a polyamorous relationship, and even those who do won’t necessarily find it easy to replicate the structure that we have. It helps that Mandy and I were friends before she and Cassie began to date, and that we’d each had success dating others casually without incident before Cassie tried adding a second, serious, long-term relationship to the mix. We talked a lot before and immediately after Mandy moved in about how to make things work and set some ground rules around how we’d show affection when all three of us were present, how many nights Cassie would spend with her versus with me, what contribution to the rent it would be reasonable for Mandy to make, and how we’d address it if it didn’t seem to be working out. Cassie felt strongly that she didn’t want a hierarchical structure where Mandy felt like she was second class, and while there were a few jitters early on, we’ve found that relating to one another as equal members of one family really works for us. In many ways, we’ve been lucky to make this work for us so well.

It’s a shame Americans have to luck into work-life balance and that, even with two working adults in the house, so many families are struggling to make ends meet. With employers demanding more and more at work, so many people find they have little left to take home, while having one person stay home while the other works has become less and less feasible as wages fail to purchase what they once did. That’s why so many Americans are so worn down, and work-life conflict is affecting everything from their health to their relationships.

The big obstacles in most relationships are in the little details—finances, housework, child and/or pet care, and how to spend free time. Before I lived with my wife’s girlfriend, I might have said that having an extra person would only make the conflicts and disagreements of daily life that much harder to work out. Instead, for our family, we’ve found the opposite is true. Whether we need an extra set of hands, an extra listening ear, another chum to hang out with, or an extra couple of bucks, our family has found that three can be easier, not harder, than two.