Third Wheel

If I could choose, what would the structure of my sexual life be?

There seems to be some spectrum of commitment when it comes to sexual intimacy. On the one extreme is committed monogamous marriage for life with no exceptions. On the other is anonymous sex in public washrooms. I feel many sexually active people (even straight people) have relationships that exist between these extremes.

We have some vocabulary to describe these middle grounds, but it is pretty sparse. Bless the poly people, who are working hard on this problem. Some of the terms I am aware of include:

  • friends with benefits
  • pillow friends
  • secondary/tertiary relationship members
  • fuck buddies
  • spouse swappers
  • swingers
  • adulterers
  • pieces on the side
  • mistresses
  • casual daters
  • no-strings-attached relationship members
  • summer romance participants

Many of these terms are pejorative, but that is not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that few of them are stable states. Their failure modes tend to be either heading towards long-term committed relationships or to breaking off contact.

I want something in between. I don’t want a series of anonymous partners who do not form emotional connections with me. I also have zero interest in marriage or its substitutes, where others are obligated to stay with me when it is not fun any more. I do not want to combine finances and I do not want to have kids. But it would be nice to have people in my life who are friendly towards me, whose company I enjoyed, whom I found attractive and who wanted to enjoy sex with me precisely as long as it was worthwhile for them. Such relationships would probably last on the order of a year or three — not a few weeks, and not a few decades. I do not want a large number of sexual partners, but I am not committed to monogamy either.

Is such a thing possible?

I have my doubts, because most of the ideas we have around sexual relationships either focus on having many sexual partners (whom we may or may not care for emotionally) or focus on getting married as the “win” state. People who start out casually dating with no-strings-attached relationships often find themselves in trouble when one party is happy with keeping the relationship casual and the other is wondering whether the relationship “has a future”. Then come the ultimatums, because the long term goal of dating is supposedly to move towards marriage (or close relatives like civil partnerships).

One way around this problem would be to be a third wheel. Maybe there are couples out there who are already in committed relationships, but for some reason are not happy with strict monogamy. Maybe they have discordant sex drives. Maybe an otherwise straight man is struggling with same sex attraction, but doesn’t want to break up the marriage. Maybe both partners are tops, or bottoms, or in some other state where the other partner cannot meet all the sexual needs. Maybe they feel that two sexual partners is just not enough.

I think a common strategy among such couples is to become progressively unhappy and then eventually break up. That is a bad state. Another strategy is to bring in “guest stars”, who sometimes get treated like props or extras rather than as members of the relationship.

I think of third-wheel status as being a relatively stable, medium-term relationship in which all parties are aware of the third wheel and give explicit approval to it. The goal of the third wheel is not to become part of the primary household, and it is not to be a homewrecker and steal away one of the primary partners. For the most part, the primary partners meet each other’s emotional, material and financial needs, but one or more members shares an emotional and sexual connection with the third wheel.

I do not know how I would fare in such a relationship. Probably navigating jealousy issues between the primary partners would be too much. But such a setup might work better for me than trying to find an exclusive partner with no desires for marriage.

As I write this, it occurs to me that what I am describing is a subset of polyamorous secondary relationships. So if I am serious about pursuing this (hint: probably not) that would be the place to start.

This probably counts as Shocking Disclosure of Sexual Perversion #4.

I wish I could express these wishes with more clarity and fewer words. I also wish it was more socially acceptable to express preferences for relationship structures in the middle of the spectrum.