At that point, Jason, who is 40 and from a conservative southern background, and Adrian, 32 and from a non-ritzy L.A. neighborhood, had been together for nine years. They had property and savings together, as well as a permissive sexual relationship. Benny’s affiliations were precisely the opposite. He was squatting in an abandoned building, had no clear ambitions, no career, and no serious relationships, past or present. He was unmoored—and, being 21 years old, happily so.
A week after their first date, Benny and Jason hung out again, and this time Adrian joined in. “I’ve had three-ways where there are limbs everywhere and it’s really awkward,” Benny remembers. “You come out of it like, ‘God, that was stressful.’ But not with them.” A sexual relationship began, and continued, and although none of the men can isolate a specific moment when the couple turned into a throuple, there was a point, they all agree, at which everyone became sufficiently in love with each other to give it a name.
For several months after the three met, a cloudy sense of shame about porn-brokering kept Jason from telling Benny exactly what he did for a living. When he eventually sat Benny down to admit his sins, the younger man just blinked and shrugged. He’d figured it out weeks earlier. You don’t care? Jason asked, anguished. Of course not, Benny replied. He thought it was cool.
Benny was not the first to say I love you. “I’ve always been selective about who I let into my emotional reality,” he says. “I don’t talk a lot. I rely on myself; I’m pragmatic, and I don’t romanticize things.” A dynamic developed among the men where, as Benny recalls, “I was their precious ward.”
Jason had hired Benny as Adrian’s personal assistant so the youngest could have a job while he figured out what he was going to do next. As Jason explains it, the throuple’s power structure began along the lines of Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Little Bear: “I ran the business, Adrian made sure the pups were fed, and Ben had his chores.”
Over the months that followed, the original boyfriends watched as their new lodger went about teaching himself how to code. The dynamic shifted again as Benny osmosed into Jason’s business, training himself as a developer and designer. “He took over one of our sites, which was a DVD retail site,” Jason recalls, “and then, from the ground up, he turned that business around in a matter of months. Everything he couldn’t do, he taught himself. There was nothing that he wouldn’t learn.” In the last couple years, Benny has taught himself how to play violin, make pottery, design lamps, build furniture, and appreciate cigars.
These days, the balance of power changes every day. One of them will be the older brother, one the middle child, and someone else a younger sibling. “At some point I became an equal partner,” Benny says. “With some families, you have the mother, the father, and the child. This is our own version of a family—three boyfriends.”
It is important, perhaps, that each pair within the throuple has a private bond: Jason and Adrian have their history, Jason and Benny work together, and Benny and Adrian are close in age. Benny tells me there is zero jealousy among the three. “That’s probably the thing that leaves people the most incredulous,” he says. “It just doesn’t exist with us. If it did, then our relationship sure as hell would not have lasted as long as it has.” Sometimes there are pangs of jealousy over guys outside of the relationship. But that, Benny says, is rare.
Most of the men’s parents are not aware of the arrangement (and so I have agreed not to include Jason’s and Adrian’s full names). In a way, they’ve eloped.
The throuple’s house upstate is a rambling place with rooms for every mood and plenty of lawn for the dogs to run around on. There’s a pool, a formal garden, a sunroom, a balcony, and a veranda—throwbacks to a genteel era of differentiated leisure zones. The place is capacious enough to be spooky in winter and guest-friendly in summer. When I show up for a weekend visit, Benny pours bourbons and takes me on a tour of the throuple’s art collection, of which Jason is head curator. We start with a pair of photographs beneath a Warhol print in Jason’s office.
“Here are some photographs by Annie Leibovitz,” Benny says.
“Diane Arbus!” Jason calls out from the living room.
“I mean Diane Arbus,” Benny corrects himself, visibly uploading the correction to his absorbent self-taught mind. (Jason is careful not to use words for which he doesn’t know the exact dictionary definition, because he feels caught when Benny asks for the word’s meaning. “I used to be prideful—if I didn’t know the answer to something, I’d make it up,” he told me, laughing. “Now I can’t get away with that.”)