In 2009, when I watched Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona for the first time, I vowed to myself I would not end up like the character Cristina. Though I would give anything to be as beautiful as Scarlett Johansson, the character terrifies me. I have immense fear that I would have her mentality of giving everything a go and then scrapping it when I felt like it was not for me. Suffice to say, that is precisely how my life ended up. After my recent trip to San Francisco, I discovered I mirrored Cristina’s journey more than I would have liked. Something happened to me in San Francisco that also happened to Cristina in the film: I entered into a ‘throuple’.
A throuple is a relationship that involves three people instead of two. When I watched Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona and saw the throuple in that movie, I instantly dismissed that dynamic as a proper relationship. In the 00s, the thought of a throuple was utterly taboo. Three people in a relationship, no way that would never work. Navigating a fierce storm in a tugboat would be more comfortable. First of all, imagine the jealousy involved. Being ignorant to the idea, I could easily place a throuple in the ‘I know what I don’t want’ category.
That was all until my experience in San Francisco.
I view myself as a pretty vanilla person. I am not adventurous when it comes to relationships and I yearn for monogamy. In my world, I am a complete traditionalist when it comes to a relationship. This contradicts the polygamous mentality within the gay community. Open relationships are all the rage at the moment, so trying to find one person who wants to be with just me is tricky. On this holiday, I decided to be more open-minded and challenge my closed-off psyche. Whether it be due to uncultivated reasons, fear, or uncertainty, I wanted to embrace my adventurous side. If I made mistakes or did something I regretted, it was easy to leave behind. Who cares? I’d never see those people again. So I pacified the fear, abandoned the doubt, and decided I was going to give anything a go.
Enter John, the charming introvert who lured me in with his blue eyes and adamantine confidence. We started chatting on the gay social networking app, Grindr. Grindr is to the gay man what a scalpel is to the surgeon. At first, I was very unimpressed; he came across as seedy and sleazy. I initially wrote him off. After a week, I decided that maybe I was exhibiting too much of the tendencies I was trying to discontinue, so I decided to engage in more conversation. Behind the sleazy facade, he was actually a really nice guy. Smart, cultured, and super easy to talk too. Once I felt like I had broken that initial barrier, I wanted to know more.
Enter Mike, his cute, beguiling boyfriend. I did not start talking to Mike initially, as I only spoke to John. Mike was great at captivating me with so little to go off. In the beginning, John was the primary communicator online and Mike felt like a tag along. It was a little while after meeting them both that I was desperate to know more. The more I spoke to both of them, the more entranced I became. My curiosity grew, and I had developed questions that I needed the answers to: How did their open relationship work? Who was more authoritarian at home? How do they not get jealous sharing each other with strangers? So we decided to meet for drinks. That was my idea. The both of them would have happily just met at their apartment and skipped to the main event. That is not my style. I like romance, I adore intimacy and most of all, I crave structure. I had to follow the steps in my head and create a connection. In my brain, skipping to sex does not establish that. So I tried to add something beforehand that would let me make a good impression on them.
We met at a bar they suggested, called the Saloon. I was delighted that it actually looked like a saloon out of a western film. This was juxtaposed by pride flags hanging off of every space available. America is weird. I went to the bar and was surprised that I had to order from a specific spot, unlike in Australia where you can order from anywhere. What was this place? An Australian bistro. Are they going to give me a number next? I ordered my drink and sat down at one of the stools next to the wall. It was so dim in there that I couldn’t make out what anyone looked like. Mike and John were running late. One of them sent me a message when I arrived.
‘Sorry running late, very Californian of us,’ the message said.
I took in more of the scenery of the bar and skulled my drink. I was nervous. I thought to myself, ‘If I drink it quick enough, I can get another drink and pretend this is my first one’. I cannot remember which drink I was on when John and Mike entered the Saloon.
We hit it off. I used my Australianisms to my advantage. They seem charmed by it. The thing about Americans is they are curious about the rest of the world but ignorant about it at the same time. We talked about politics, their poly science majors, and San Francisco. I already offend them by calling it San Fran.
‘Only tourists call it San Fran. Either say San Francisco, SF, or the city,’ John said to me.
You know a date is going well when you stop being polite to each other and just say things as you mean. Since John was the more serious one, it made it easy for Mike to make me laugh. I immediately saw what was so attractive to John. I was getting tipsy very quickly. It added to my confidence, and before I knew it, I was back at their place.
‘Just be honest,’ I said to them before I left. ‘I don’t want you to feel like you can’t tell me the truth. If you don’t want to see me again, just say so.’
The fact that they invited me to hang out with them again solidifies that the night went well.
The next time we met up was at a jazz bar. I should not have been inviting people out as I was pretty intoxicated, but I could not help myself. They lived within five minutes of where I was drinking, and to my surprise, they said yes. It was already pretty late, so the fact that they agreed to come out again showed me how much they liked me. I was starting to feel secure in the dynamic, and my confidence was growing. The trust and security was subduing my anxiety and jealousy, which I believed let me be my genuine, authentic self. Or it could have been the alcohol? Who knows? Yet, I seemed to slide into the middle of their dynamic. I meshed with John because we are both introverts but also appreciate art and deep thought. I was ensnared by Mike’s allure and ability to make me laugh. I possessed the perfect balance to exist in this ideal synergy with them.
We started spending even more time together. First, they took me out for dinner. Then, they invited me over for dinner. We just kept seeing each other, and the relationship felt so natural besides it being the three of us. No toxicity involved. No jealousy, anxiety, or self-sabotage. These things always plague my ability to form romantic connections. It shocks me that it was a throuple that defeated these toxic thoughts. A throuple always seemed so farfetched to me, in my pre-San Francisco close-minded brain. I believed that this type of relationship was doomed from the start.
I knew the relationship had an expiry date, and that was what provided the safety net. I was able to be more open-minded because I knew there were no repercussions involved. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. On a more positive note, it could also be because I felt so secure in myself, negative emotions never arose. We laughed, we chatted, they humoured me way more than they needed to. They genuinely seemed to care about what I was trying to convey about my life back here in Australia. They listened to what pop culture influenced me and were attentive to what music impacted the man I am today. It was fun, there was no pressure, and then I came back to Australia.
I knew that that type of relationship was unsustainable for me. I had fun, tried it out, and left. My physical life underwent no changes, but on the inside, I was fundamentally changed forever. I came back in the same position I had left, single, but understanding myself more. Comprehending my anxiety a little better. Realising it is me who was self-sabotaging, as opposed to the other person.
So I went full circle. I ended up like Cristina, on holidays and in a throuple. As much as I tried to escape it, I seemed to be following the trajectory that she followed in the movie. Even though I had fun, I don’t think I could do a throuple again. It’s safe to say, I don’t know what I want, but I know what I don’t want.
Jakeb Smith is a writer who specialises in queer writing. Life is too heteronormative, so Jakeb always tries to liven things up and tell a story from a queer perspective. Whether that be in poetry, short stories, or any other creative medium, Jakeb always tries to add a bit of glitter and sparkle to each tale he writes.