Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

What Do I Do About Post-Threesome Drama?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I am a gay 31 year-old guy, and was propositioned by a married couple (whom I've been friends with for years) to have a threesome. I had never engaged in a threesome, and told them I had heard horror stories about it ruining friendships, and that I valued our friendship more than any fleeting sexual experience.

The mastermind of the whole plan, let's call him Beta, assured me that after 18 years of being together with his partner they were both comfortable and looking forward to expanding their sexual horizons. He said, “After 18 years we want you to be the first person we let into our bedroom.” Flattering as that was, I still had my reservations.

I've always had a little bit of a crush on Beta's partner, let's call him Sigma, and that's probably the only reason why I considered it in the first place… Sigma was excited about it too, and one night after dinner and drinks, it happened. I tried to pay equal attention to both of them, as to not make anyone feel left out. We had a great time, and it went on for 3.5 hours until Beta said, okay, I’ve had enough, haven’t you guys? We agreed to wrap things up, and then I slept in the guest bedroom. Next morning they made me breakfast, I hugged them both goodbye, and drove home.

Over the next few days I still chatted with Sigma about how great the experience was, but immediately got radio silence from Beta. He was busy, or stressed at work, or had something important he had to do. He then stopped inviting me to events, and was rude to me at the ones where we happened to cross paths. Sigma came up to me and kissed me on the neck at a bar a few weeks later, but I told him, “I’m pretty sure your husband has an issue with me now, so we should probably interact with different people over the course of the night.”

I’m annoyed that it was all Beta’s idea, and now he’s the one with the problem. I would have never initiated anything like that with either of them, and I feel like Beta used me for what he wanted and then kicked me to the curb. I don’t know how he can just throw away our friendship like that after so many years…

While I’m super angry with Beta, not sure how I can salvage my relationship with Sigma. I’ve been keeping my distance as to not pour gas on the bridge we seemed to have burned. What would you recommend? How can I re-enter the friend-zone after Beta decided to shut me out? Why do you think he shut me out? They are both still experimenting with other people in their bedroom, so I don’t think being the third was the issue.

Thanks for any advice you have to give. I should have gone with my gut and known it was a bad idea to mix sex and friendship. It take three to menage, so I’m just as guilty as Beta...

- Man In The Middle

DEAR MAN IN THE MIDDLE: First things first, MITM: it's not always a bad idea to mix sex and friendship. Friendship isn't inherently inimical to sex; plenty of friendships can have a sexual side to them - whether it's a one-off, or a friends-with-benefits situation. The problem, more often than not, are misaligned expectations and poor communication.

Of course, part of the problem is that hindsight is 20/20; it's much easier to backfill why something was a bad idea after the fact than it is to game out every possible scenario.

But sometimes the benefit of hindsight is that you can see just where those mistakes were and how you could've avoided them. Such as in the case of your threeesome gone awry.

I get a lot of questions where I'm asked to functionally read someone's mind and adjudicate on what, precisely, went down that caused things to go sour. The problem with this is that most of the time, it's a question involving limited information and a whole lot of supposition. So without having actually been in the room where it happened, I can't really tell you exactly what went wrong, MITM... but I've got a couple of pretty strong guesses.

The first is that I think that the three of you - like a lot of folks who were eager to expand their sexual horizons - leapt before you looked. I get it; threesomes can be hot, drinks were involved and you kinda have a thing for Sigma. The  problem is that drinks were involved and you kinda have a thing for Sigma. This... is a pretty good recipe for making mistakes, crossing boundaries and the very high potential for hurt feelings, especially if this is a couple's first rodeo. Threesomes, like a lot of fantasies, can be crazy hot in theory, but in practice, you're no longer in control. For example, you don't know how you're going to feel watching your partner kissing, fondling or getting down with somebody else until you actually see it happen. And once you're in the middle of it, it's a little difficult to say "hey, I'm having some issues here".

This is why one of the generally accepted rules of threesomes is to set some boundaries at first, especially for the first time. It could be that there won't be any penetration the first time and sticking to making out and rolling around at first while everyone sorts out how they feel. It could easily be "penetration is reserved for me and my partner" but oral for everybody. It could be that most of the attention is going to be focused on one person - whether it's one partner or the special guest. And of course one of the most important rules of a threesome is "no changing the rules in the middle of it all".

So it's entirely possible that this experience triggered some issues with Beta that, in fairness, he may not have been expecting to experience. After all, this was the first time in 18 years that they decided to dip their toes into monogamish waters and Beta discovered that nope, he's not cool with it.

It's also possible that he felt left out. One of the issues with threesomes is... well, there's three of you. In any threesome, there's going to come a point where it's basically just a twosome, with one partner functionally sitting on the sidelines. For some folks, that's cool; they get a break, they may get off watching their partner with someone else, it's a chance to stretch or deal with a really inconvenient cramp that's developing. But for a lot of people, they feel left excluded. This can really sandpaper a person's self-esteem, especially if they have any anxieties surrounding their self-worth or attractiveness. It can be especially bad if it seems like their partner's having a better time with the guest star than with them. This is another reason why it's good to have a lower-level session or two before having those porn-worthy three-ways; it helps people feel like they're in a place to say "hey, can I get some attention too," without feeling like a funwrecker or selfish asshole.

But I think the biggest issue here is something that you mentioned here: "I've always had a little bit of a crush on Beta's partner [...] and that's probably the only reason why I considered it in the first place." While you say that you did your best to provide equal attention to both people, something tells me that the attention Sigma got was a little more enthusiastic. Or that the attention you got from Sigma was. That right there is a great way to chuck a bomb directly into the fault lines of an otherwise stable relationship.

One of the hints that this is the problem is the fact that Beta had to be the one to pull the plug on things, rather than the three of you collapsing into a satiated (and sweaty) puddle. "I've had enough, haven't you guys?" doesn't sound like a man who's having the time of his life.  Similarly, the fact that Sigma was coming up to you and being openly affectionate and flirty with you - while Beta is giving you the cold shoulder - is a fairly sizable hint that the two of them had very different experiences with that threesome.

I don't think that Beta got what he wanted and kicked you to the curb like last week's leftover meatloaf. I think Beta got the exact opposite of what he wanted. He wanted sexy funtimes and what he got was the experience of having something go wrong and he's really not happy about it. Now I'm not a mind-reader, so I can't tell you exactly what he's feeling. I can't tell you that, for example, whether it's something that you or Sigma did wrong. Nor can I tell you that this is all in his head, or that that seeing you and Sigma together triggered an emotional landmine. For that matter, I can't tell you if the issue is that he's pissed at you, or he's actually pissed at Sigma but can't bring it up so you're getting bank-shot by the blame.

But it's pretty clear that he did not have the positive experience you (and evidently Sigma) had. And since you were the special guest star, I think it's safe to say that you're getting the lion's share of the blame. Even if it isn't actually your fault.

Unfortunately, there's not much that you can do here without more information. Sigma might be able to fill in some blanks for you, assuming that Beta is willing to talk about it. But without knowing the underlying reasons for your getting ghosted, there's not much you can do that doesn't run the risk of making things worse.

You can make it clear, via Sigma, that you're still willing to be friends and that you would be open to talking things out. But, ultimately, the ball's in their court. The only thing you can do is see if they're willing to talk so that everyone can clear the air.

And next time, hopefully you (and/or they) will have a less fraught sexual adventure.

Good luck.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, doc@doctornerdlove.com)