Care and Feeding

My Teen Just Revealed He’s Part of a Very Unusual Relationship

I’m not sure I can support this!

two teen girls and a boy hold hands with their backs to the viewer
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by PointImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus and jacoblund/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 16-year-old son, “Kyle.” Over the weekend, Kyle introduced me to his girlfriends, plural. He is apparently dating two girls in his school simultaneously, and they’re all for this arrangement, with the two ladies apparently being together before deciding to invite my son into things. I spent the afternoon chatting with them, and they seem like a happy but immature group, pretty regular teenagers.

Intellectually, I understand that people do all sorts of nontraditional relationships these days, but emotionally, I can’t wrap my guts around it. In my previous paragraph, I wrote that they seem like a happy, but immature “couple” before deleting it because that’s not actually the right number of people involved. I keep having this feeling that their relationship is somehow wrong and is inevitably going to crash and burn. Maybe it will, but if it does, it’s probably just because teenage relationships usually do and not anything intrinsic to it being a triad. But I can’t shake that feeling.

I want to support my son, but I also know that would mean suppressing my actual feelings and putting on a projection for him. How do I do that without giving away my irrational disapproval?

— Wanting to Become the Mask

Dear Become the Mask,

Though the configuration itself is relatively uncommon, there are of course long-term throuples that live happily and function just as well as traditional couples. However, I understand your misgivings considering your son’s age and how difficult it is for teenagers to navigate relationships with “just” two people. You can both support your son and express your concerns at the same time.

What are your specific worries? Is it just that you think a relationship between three people is too difficult for such young people to manage? You can share that while still letting him know that you’re in his corner. Talk to him about the importance of being honest while dating; he needs to be able to communicate his feelings to both of these girls, and to be truthful with himself about his ability to handle this dynamic. He should also be aware that because these partnerships are not the norm, he should expect to encounter resistance, skepticism, and even rejections from other people, possibly including these girls’ parents. Whatever you do, don’t make him feel as though he can’t talk with you openly about this relationship, or any of his other dealings with romantic partners. Try your best to avoid shaming or judgement. This triad probably won’t last much longer than any other teen relationship, but it’s important that your son feels supported by you always.


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