As the real estate agent showed me what would eventually become my new apartment, I quietly slipped into the closet without even taking a step.
“So, you’re looking for … a two bedroom”, he said, peering at the notes on his phone. “You and a roommate?”
“Two,” I called out, busying myself by looking at the apartment’s fixtures, the windows, the woodwork – anything but him.
“Bedrooms!” I shouted down the hall at him, as though I didn’t understand the question.
“Yes, but – you and a roommate? A couple?” He sounded frustrated.
I glanced his way, bit my lip, and nodded. It always feels like less of a lie if I don’t say it out loud.
And what would I have said, really? “No, it’s for me and my two boyfriends, and we need the second bedroom for an office because we all work from home some times?”
I’m not ashamed of my life, but this is New York City: the competition for a two-bedroom garden apartment in a writer’s price range is ridiculous. I’ve done the apartment hunter’s dance a million times before this relationship, smiling for the real estate agent or the broker or the landlord. I know how to make these guys – always guys – like me, sympathize with me, want to rent to me.
But this dance, this time, I’ve got two partners waiting in the wings, and I don’t know how to say that without taking a chance that our apartment hunt will go pear shaped.
Even after four years together, I still haven’t found a great way to talk about us to anyone: not my boss, not my doctor, and especially not the distant relatives I only see at Christmas. One lesson I’ve learned from my long years in the sexual wilderness: the less comfortable society is with an idea, the harder it is to discuss – and I mean that quite literally. There are few words for the things that make us most uncomfortable, even if you’re not personally uncomfortable with it.
My least favorite part of being in a thruple might just be the word “thruple”, which sounds like a small bird puking. I’ve auditioned other words in conversations: troika (too fascist); trinity (too holy); and triple threat (which would work better if we were an actor, a singer, and a dancer instead of a writer, a costume artist, and a set designer.). But nothing’s stuck.
Instinctually, I’m a rather private person and, were it not for the fact that I feel it politically and socially imperative to be out, I would probably never discuss the intricacies of my personal life with anyone not actively involved in it. (So to everyone at my day job just now discovering that I’ve had two boyfriends for the last four years: Sorry! It’s not you, it’s me.)
Uniformly, the important people in our lives have been great about our unique relationship: I’ve been welcomed with open arms by the friends and families of my partners (which is all the more impressive considering that they were together for 10 years before I met them). My mother asked only two questions:“Are you all ‘intimate’ at the same time?” and “Do you all sleep in the same bed?”.
I replied, “Yes, but do you really want to know any more about that?”
My mother considered for a moment, then nodded to herself. “You still have to have grandchildren”, was her final word on the subject.
Still, being out to my family doesn’t make talking about my situation with strangers any easier – all it takes is one idiot to ruin your day. It’s not like I’m afraid that someone’s going to kill me – though I guess I should maybe worry about that too? It’s the linguistic inconvenience, the awkwardness of trying to talk about one boyfriend while not implying I only have one, and the salacious questions. It’s the people who take our three-person relationship as an invitation to hit on me, or proposition one of my partners, or ask to join all of us. Above all, it’s the never-knowing if this person, today, is going to be the one who totally freaks out about it. Most days, I just don’t want to deal with it.
All of that is why we lied to our last landlord (and didn’t let him into the apartment to see the one and only bed in the one and only bedroom) until he’d gotten to know us and seen that we are good tenants and good people. It’s why I never told this most recent real estate agent that the three of us are all in a relationship together – and why we avoid the new landlady, who lives upstairs, as much as possible.
I don’t know if it’s the ideal way to handle the situation, or if it means we might be hunting for a new apartment sooner than we would like. But we did get this apartment so, for now, it works well enough.