Opposite the photographs is an array of antique silver boxes lined up just so, one of them filled with golden dollar coins. “Jason’s treasure,” Benny explains.
When the tour is complete, we have delivery pizza in the sunroom, and afterward Jason sets up an ice-cream bar with all the trimmings: whipped cream, pecans, pints of Baskin-Robbins. The throuple’s four dogs whiz around underfoot while we eat sundaes in the kitchen, and after a while Benny passes around perfectly prepared hot toddies and I go upstairs to bed.
The guest room, it turns out, is a bedroom that Benny keeps separately for himself. Jason and Adrian share a master bedroom with a king-size bed big enough to contain both men plus three dogs and (occasionally) Benny. Benny’s bed is a queen, and it is scaled to fit Benny plus one dog and (occasionally) Adrian, who likes to cuddle. Jason has a tougher time getting a good night’s rest if he’s not sleeping on his side of the bed.
When the relationship started, the three would have sex several times a week. The arrangement offered a titillating enhancement of sexual permutations. These days, as with most long-term relationships, the lovemaking has slowed. “Sex is somewhat sporadic,” says Benny. The throuple rarely has sex as a threesome any more. Instead, “it’s evolved into more individual relationships between the three of us,” he says. “We all go through our sexual phases, and appetites change.” Now, when the three men pile into a car and one of them sits in the back, the choreography feels less erotic than familial: Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Little Bear, with Little Bear commandeering the iPod.
As I fall asleep, I can hear the men laughing at a TV show downstairs and playing with the dogs. It feels like a celebratory night (pizza, ice cream, bourbon) but also, internally, a destabilizing one. Does throuplehood raise or lower the stakes of being in a relationship? If one of the men defects, do they all break up? What’s it like to inhabit a category of relationship that is entirely different from that of everyone you know?
Still, the impression I have from spending time with Benny, Jason, and Adrian over the past months is that the men are glisteningly, boringly happy. This seems to be the consensus. “No matter how hard I try, I can’t wrap my head around it,” says Paper’s Elliott. “It’s amazing. It’s modern. There’s nothing sensational about them—the relationship isn’t theater. It just works.” Maybe the best way to understand how a throuple functions—or at least how this throuple functions—is to imagine a healthy couple, then factor in the sexual variety of a third partner, and then factor in the stability of a third partner. It’s strange but true: In tripod manner, a third leg appears to be a good method of favorably distributing tension.
A great deal of their success, I am sure, rests upon the fact that traditional biological parenthood is off the table. (The only other throuple I’ve known was a trio of lesbians who walked their dogs together on the beach.) It may also owe thanks to their immersion in a business where unconventional sex is exempt from moralization. But another part surely has to do with how unpolitical—how unremarkable—they take their situation to be. As with his upstate bedroom, Benny keeps an apartment of his own in Williamsburg, apart from Jason and Adrian, where a tiny lofted room serves as an analog of his brain. (“I have my mind, and my mind is private to me,” he explains. “It’s where my thoughts exist.”) For his part, Jason describes the whole arrangement as feeling perfectly normal. “We rarely all three fight at the same time,” he says.
The morning after our pizza party, an auction of the late Valentino Liberace’s belongings is scheduled to take place at a venue in nearby New Windsor. “We get obsessed with people,” Adrian tells me. “Jason’s a history buff, so he researches and researches, and then we all go through the same phase together.” Past obsessions have ranged from the Tudor family to Holly Woodlawn; the current fixation is Liberace. Everyone hops into the car to check out the goods.
The event has been set up at a venue called the Continental Room, which is located between a sports bar and a storefront labeled REPUBLICAN HEADQUARTERS. Inside, arranged on tables atop one of those floral carpets designed for maximal stain concealment, are hundreds of pieces of Liberace memorabilia. Benny and his boyfriends scatter to examine customized goblets, crèches, a lorgnette, and crystal biscuit jars. They take notes. At the center of the room, two old ladies weep before a clip of Liberace playing “Send in the Clowns.” Jason finds a gold brocade vest and calls Benny over. “Want to try this on, Little One?”