One Man. Two fiancees. One prenup-nup?

goudie_alexander-three_judges~OM1a3300~10437_20090818_263_680In this morning:

Hi John,

We are three professionals, myself and two women that are talking about living together. There are no children in the picture and not sure if there will be or not. I have given a lot of thought of how to structure an agreement so it is fair to us all and respects each of us.

Can you recommend a book or article that gives an outline or specifics of the theory of how to create the formal structure between the three of us? We want to create this together so that there is open and honest dialog where no one would feel threatened and can express any ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc. Thanks.

My thoughts, exactly as they occurred to me as I read the above, bracketed below in bracingly bold but basically benign blue:

We are three professionals [read: people with hip eyeglasses who speed-type on their iPhones while drinking craft beers and martinis made with flavored vodka. oh, crap: I’m in a mood], myself and two women that are talking about living together. [Wow! This polyamorous thing is really becoming a thing! Are high school kids these days worrying about what two people they’ll go to the prom with?] There are no children in the picture [whoa. okay. well, score one for you guys, for sure.] and not sure if there will be or not. [Score one against you guys, for sure. I’m going to vote for clearing that point right the freak up before you jump into any three-way snuggle fests.] I have given a lot of thought of how to structure an agreement so it is fair to us all and respects each of us. [I sooo want to see the notes he took while doing this deep thinking. They’ll be, like, “What are my needs?: 1. Sex. Lots and lots of sex.  2. A peaceful, non-confrontational home life.  3. Pancakes for breakfast at least twice a week.  4. Partners who get along great together.  5. Partners who don’t get along so great together they keep leaving me out on the couch.]

Can you recommend a book or article that gives an outline or specifics of the theory of how to create the formal structure between the three of us? [I wonder if he’s read 1 Man, Two Women in a Polyamorous Relationship or (much less likely) Christian Polyamory? But more importantly, what’s he mean by a “formal structure”? Is he talking about some kind of … prenup-nup? Man but that’d be one dense document. Look for lawyers to start lobbying in support of polyamorous marriage.] We want to create this together so that there is open and honest dialog where no one would feel threatened and can express any ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc. [Ding-ding-ding!If I were this guy’s therapist I’d become very interested in that little tagged-on “etc.”]

I’ve recently been surprised at how many of my readers seem to know so much about polyamorous relationships. I, on the other hand, have been married to the same woman for some thirty years. What do I know about having two wives, or a … brother-husband? It’s all I can do to keep one person from leaving me. I can’t imagine two.

Wait. I just did imagine two. Plus me.

Now I can’t stop imagining that.

And now I’m smelling sulfur. How weird.

Anyway, you guys know about this stuff. Any advice for our friend here?

"You have the floor Pastor he said it as we all faced that product of ..."

The fundamentally toxic Christianity
"Save souls, nourish them as the devil roars for opportunity to steal, kill and destroy. ..."

My mom died late last night; ..."
"Sorry for your loss."

My mom died late last night; ..."
"We will see our loved ones but only those who had a relationship with jesus ..."

My mom died late last night; ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Anne

    Seriously. What I know about polyamorous relationships is from watching Big Love. And reading your column. Please tell me this is not becoming a trend. I’d rather complain about someone’s pants hanging below their drawers.

  • Barbara Rice

    I smell more of the same from the same party or parties as wrote the previous letter about poly.

    There is either a whole lotta naivete or a whole lotta insincerity going on here. I suspect the latter.

  • *LOL* John, you’re funny.

    In the few successful polyamorous relationships I’ve seen, communication is key. Before, after, and most especially during. It’s healthy to lay out what everyone wants out of this arrangement, and more importantly, what they don’t. Cos it’s the ‘don’t’s’ that kill the relationships the fastest.

    But just like in any relationship, if you can keep the lines of communication open, occasionally have a family meeting, then it can work. Doesn’t have to be too detailed and should always be open-ended with “If I find this part doesn’t work for me, we’ll have to revisit it.”

    Hope that helps.

  • brad

    opening up by tristan taormino

  • Ruby

    Haha, I promise I will never write letters to you about my polyamorous relationship. I’ve been with my husband for about 8 years and my boyfriend/brother-husband? (hah) for over 3 (we’re not all involved with each other though; we’re all hetero) and we make it work out pretty well. This person really ought to find a message board or some other online community that concerns polyamory if he wants some good answers. has a pretty big forum, for one. Another suggestion might be to form an LLC. I’ve heard of quite a few poly families doing that to protect their assets. But if it’s just ground rules, I’d suggest sitting down and writing a contract together.

  • James

    you know the question I want answered from the letter writer? what do his prospective “mates” think of his writing to you for guidance, John? that’s one element we haven’t heard from this guy or the previous one (and why is it the guys writing to ask for guidance while the ladies who’ve written are telling you and us about how they’ve made it work for them?). by leaving out any input or feedback from the women in these prospective poly situations, the guys are leaving us feeling that it’s awfully one-sided. they’re giving the impression that they want to get their macho on and that the ladies’ opinions aren’t all that important to them.

  • mike moore

    The sulfur you smell is from the flames of hell licking at your feet. But you knew that already.

    Unless this guy (?) is talking about a legal arrangement for assets (finances, asset division, estate planning, etc.) and health care (powers of attorney for health care decisions and such) then I’m really concerned for all parties.

    I’d check in with Dan Savage, but it seems if you need to make a written “agreement” (read: contract) to define the practical implications, expectations, and obligations of your relationship, you’ve already missed the point.

    Example: if I bring 5 or 6 guys home for sex without giving my husband at least 30 minute’s notice, I know – without having a written agreement – he’s going to be pretty ticked-off at me. Same is true if I mix colors and whites in the laundry.

  • Jonathan Vitale

    Until I see some evidence that this can work with two men and a woman, this strikes me as polygamy.

  • Lymis

    A google search for “polyamory resources” turns up over 400,000 hits in under a few seconds. What’s he asking you for?

    I mean, gee, John, you’re awesome and all, but sheesh.

  • Denise

    You nailed it, John–polyamorous marriage amounts to a full-employment act for lawyers. It also strikes me as too much like work to have more than one spousal-equivalent…

  • “John Shore: more awesome than Google.” That works for me.

  • Jill

    Best. comment. ever.

  • Jill

    Nice to see my bat signal worked. Starting to go through withdrawal…

  • mike moore

    I’d buy that Tee-shirt. (seriously)

  • Matt

    I am extremely wary of these (apparently) straight cisgender men writing to you, John. Speaking from experience, any kind of non-monogamy takes a certain amount of making-it-up-as-you-go-along, with a healthy dash of flexibility and compromise. Discretion and self-policing are part of the deal. This isn’t going to come easily to someone who may be used to things being easily spelled out, where they are used to having the power, where they are accustomed to outside oversight, direction, and support.

    Letter writer, are you prepared for the uncrossable distance you may need to place between your professional and personal life? Between your partners and your immediate family? Are you prepared to question just about everything you’ve been taught about relationships? About women? About jealousy? Are you ready to set your ego aside regularly for the safety and well-being of your partners?

    My point is: No one can tell you how to do this. No one will make sure you do it right, either.

  • Matt


  • Lymis

    Au contraire.

    There will be at least two other people making sure he does.

    But your point is very well taken.

  • Lymis

    Gosh, and here I was thinking more along the line of “ease of use.” Somehow that mixes the metaphor in ways I don’t think I want to pursue….

  • Matt

    That remains to be seen, if he comes off as aware of his own importance as he does in his letter.

  • Matt

    Whoa, apparently John isn’t the only one in a mood tonight. Sorry if I come off as horrifically bitter tonight, guys.

  • Liar. You know you do.

  • You’re so sweet.

  • Scott Amundsen

    This may sound awful, but every time I read one of these all I can think is “this person is just interested in increasing his/her chances of getting laid whenever (s)he wants it.”

    Quality is more important than quantity; access to more sex does not necessarily translate to access to better sex.

  • Jill

    You’re forgiven. 😉

  • Bryan

    Troll at worst. Insincere at best. Or just John having fun. Take yer pick.

    If the writer has gotten so far in this poly relationship to be having serious discussions about co-cohabiting, then they would be knowledgeable enough to search the net for some good info. It already exists. And they’ve already been utilizing a certain amount of it to get to this point in their relationship.


  • Jill

    “bracketed below in bracingly bold but basically benign blue”

    Wow John. If you love alliteration so much, then why don’t you just go and marry it?

  • I did. My wife has a severe stutter. Do you have a problem with that?

  • *snerk*

    she doesn’t

  • Jill

    I would just love, even for a moment, to hear what Cat thinks of some of your comments out here. That would make my freaking day/night/week!

  • Caitlin ‘Caketin’ Kitchener

    I think if I ever need advice about polyamorous relationships, I’ll go to you since everyone else seems to and I like it when you respond with your blue letters, so that’d be a grand treat for myself and my possible partners. Of course, I would need the current girlfriend to approve of this, do you have any advice about how I can increase hubba hubba time with another person and get away with it please? With bonus waffles and massages too if possible.

  • Mark Bay

    Good God! I can’t deal with ONE woman. How does this even seem like a good idea?

  • Juliet Lester Neary

    This appears to be a troll to show the “slippery slope” of marriage equality. Don’t feed trolls.

  • Kristi Outler Byrd

    John, you are so funny!

  • Christina Scroggins-Shipley

    This is cracking me and my fiance up! If our 21 year old son ever wanted to enter into such a relationship I would highly discourage it.. as I think it would be horribly difficult to maintain..

  • Your reader / writer should get in touch with polyamory groups in his state. There are a lot of us out there. Modern Poly has a good listing:

    People in his area can recommend lawyers who are polyfriendly. Check out or the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom’s web listing:

    Also, there is a growing twitter community. Just use the #polyamory and there is a whole group of people who actively pay attention and respond.

    I have also discussed being Christian and Poly on my podcast: Episode 2 is exclusively a conversation on faith, but my faith is also unavoidable in a lot of the episodes.

    Best of luck!

  • Sander

    It sounds awfull indeed 🙂

    Not sure why you would automaticly think about the sex. Why not think about the double friendship and support?

  • mike moore

    “sweet” is pretty much the first word that comes to people’s mind when they think of me. (as in, “sweet Lod Jesus, please smite this heathen.”)

  • Stella

    The extra sex is great. But the extra love and support and friendship is even better. It really is.

  • Love these shoreified polyletters. Have you thought about writing a fictional one ala adult forum style? What post was that one?

  • vj

    This is just TOO funny! 🙂

  • vj


  • Scott Amundsen

    Sorry but I ain’t buying it. Someone is looking to have his cake and eat it too and it is my personal opinion that sooner or later someone is going to get hurt.

  • Lymis

    Well, if it helps, I tried three or four ways to come up with some way of saying “If he does decide to move in with these two women, he’d better be used to asking their opinions on everything, because he’s going to be getting them whether he wants or not” that didn’t seems horrendously sexist, and settled on what I posted. I don’t think my comment really worked, either.

  • Lymis


  • Lymis

    So, we’re really going with “John Shore, easier than Google?”

  • Jill

    Easier??? Woah. That’s a whole new side to the conversation.

  • Lymis

    I think most people who fantasize about polyamory are thinking about how cool it would be to have multiple sex partners.

    I don’t think enough of them really give enough thought to the fact that most of us expect that the person we choose as a life partner is, among other things, the person we expect to always take our side in a fight, and the person we will defend against all others (even if we then give them hell in private later). That’s not always easy when there are just “two of you against the world” but what happens when the person they’re having the fight with is also in the relationship?

    You’re expected to choose sides, but if you do, you’ll always be choosing against someone, and if you don’t, you’ll always not be supporting someone. And, if you choose sides now, once they make up, they’ll both see you as the one who took sides against one of them.

    And that’s A refereeing between B and C, and B refereeing between A and C, and C refereeing between A and B, often on different grievances at the same time.

    I think it’s safe to say that the majority of people aren’t prepared to navigate that on a regular basis inside their own home. Most people talk as if the biggest challenge in a poly relationship is sexual satisfaction. I don’t think they’ve really thought it through.

  • Oh, man. I so should have asked the woman I interviewed in 1 Man, Two Women about how the three-way fighting works. That really is an interesting point. How does that not destroy such relationships? Yet it seems to often enough not. Maybe that’s part of the prenup-nup thing: “I promise, when the other two of us are fighting, to dumbly watch TV and pretend I have no idea what’s going on. And if I and one of you is fighting, the other one of us promises to do the same. And neither two of the parties fighting gets to go stand in front of the TV, and yell at the person trying to watch it, “What the fuck is the matter with you!? Can’t you see what a [insert horrible word here] X is being? Why don’t you say something, you useless sack of phlegm?!” Also, no eating food you know you have no right to. And only one person can fart under the bed blankets at the same time.”

    I dunno, though. Seems like a tough document to get notarized.

  • Lymis

    No doubt!

    And even that assumes you don’t actually agree with one person or the other. Staying out of it when it’s between them is one thing; staying out of it when “one of them is clearly wrong” is even harder.

  • Lymis

    I know, right?

  • textjunkie

    I’ve seen that. Most of the polyamorous triads I know are one woman, two guys. I’m not sure why John is getting all the one man, two women side of things.

  • Missy

    As one of the F’s in a MFF closed triad (jeesh that sounds dry and dusty — we all are involved with each other, and none of us dates anyone else, OK?) … I am indeed interested in what legal protections we can give each other. We’ve been together almost three years and it’d be nice to have an official way to include everyone in the financial, medical, and all-kinds-of-logistical stuff. We figure we’ll get a lawyer to help us out with that one of these days. But yeah, in the meanwhile, we communicate everything to within an inch of its life!! Sometimes it feels like that’s all we do. (But, then the non-verbal connections re-surface and we get all swoony and sweet.) It ain’t for the faint of heart, or the very young. But I’m a fan. 🙂

  • Scott Amundsen

    “I’ve recently been surprised at how many of my readers seem to know so much about polyamorous relationships. I, on the other hand, have been married to the same woman for some thirty years. What do I know about having two wives, or a … brother-husband? It’s all I can do to keep one person from leaving me. I can’t imagine two.”

    I guess that makes two of us. Probably I am just an old poop but my first marriage lasted fifteen years despite the fact that it was made somewhere other than in heaven (and no, I am not speaking of hell, but a David Mamet play would be a good metaphor). How and why we managed to survive THAT long I don’t know, but as I have said before, while I can be quite the slut when I am single, monogamy appears to be my default setting. At any rate he and I hung in their longer than ANY of my high school friends, mostly straight, did in their first marriages; most of them were in the divorce court at the five-year mark.

    As for my marriage today, well, we just celebrated ten years in December, and we are still the tight little unit that we were the day we met. I never thought love at first sight was real until something very much like it happened to me when I looked into his baby blues for the first time. We went from “Nice to meet you” to “Let’s go out together” to “I love you” to “Will you marry me?” in a month (sending the mutual friend who had introduced us into an unaccountable panic, but eye digress). And I cannot imagine trying to shoehorn someone else into what we are.

    And to those who have taken me to task for zeroing in on the sex, well, I am fifty years old and my husband is fifty-six and while we are neither of us monks, when you get to our age, the bedroom becomes more and more a SLEEPING room. Which if you think about it is even more intimate than the sex act; stripping naked and allowing yourself to fall asleep next to your partner is in my opinion an act of ultimate trust. As for “support and friendship,” we have friends. Quite a few of them. But here’s the thing: the friends to whom I feel the closest are the ones with whom I would be least likely to have sex. It would be like getting busy with my brother (which is a topic for another thread so I’ll STFU now).

  • Jos Reyn

    One guy, two women, sure this doesn’t qualify as suicide? I get into enough trouble with one women so the idea of coming home to two women who are ticked just scares me!

  • Sarah Richards

    Dan Savage would be an excellent person to contact.

    My question is: has anyone ever considered that these women might be bisexual? Maybe it’s not just about one guy getting extra sex. Maybe the women are involved in that part as well.

  • Missy

    That I do sympathize with. Our man’s reply to “how the F*%@ do you manage that?” is … “I’m a good listener”. Understatement of the year. 🙂

  • W. Lotus

    As an aside, polyamory, like homosexuality, has always been “a thing”. It’s just that more people feel free to be open about it.

  • Hannah Grace

    Oh man. Does he mean, how to navigate the emotional aspects, or how to navigate the legal aspects? I’d recommend The Ethical Slut for the emotional stuff, but for the legal, I recommend a lawyer.

  • Cat Rennolds

    paralyzed by sheer number of simultaneous inappropriate responses…..

  • “Dear Penthouse Letters,

    “I never thought I would be writing to you, but…”

    (Christianity sure has gotten either weirder or better in the 21st century. Maybe both.)

  • Ruby

    It can work. I’ve been with my husband about 8 years and my boyfriend for over 3 years. And I know another woman with a husband and boyfriend who have been together for quite a long time, too. They exist. 🙂 I think John is just attracting these men who want to be poly but their woman doesn’t. And if one partner isn’t willing, it’s a disaster. The people involved don’t necessarily all have to be involved with each other either. They can be a “V” which is the woman or man being the bottom point of the V and then the other two partners are the two top points. 🙂

  • FROM THE ARTICLE: Any advice for our friend here?

    MY RESPONSE: Yeah. Stop thinking with the LITTLE head.

    Gregg L. DesElms

    Napa, California USA

    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

  • anakin mcfly

    I still don’t get how this is different from the cases of polyamory that John supported; I wasn’t sure about the previous letter either until people pointed out that the guy’s wife didn’t seem interested in having the other woman join in, but in this case all three of them seem willing and consensual. The whole thing kind of skeeved me out, but discussions of polyamory usually have that effect on me anyway because I’m bigoted like that; unlike being LGBT, pursuing polyamorous relationships seem a lot like a choice to me, and people being greedy and wanting more than their fair share (be it for sex or love).

    (Then again, I’m speaking from a place of intense and bitter loneliness, and am a little upset that people are managing to find *multiple* people who love them and want to have sex with them and be in a relationship, while at 24 I’ve still not managed to find a single one and don’t know if I ever will. Then again, I’ve only been out for two years, so maybe there’s still time. Apparently most people think I’m straight though.)

  • Little? Speak for yourself.


  • Taryn

    To the poly LW: This can work. It takes communication and thinking ahead, but so does every relationship. I’ve known lots of polyamorous people who’ve maintained longer relationships with their triads or quads than I’ve managed to do with just one person. When non-Judeo-Christian people do it, it doesn’t look much at all like Big Love or Sister Wives or whatever; the women I’ve known in it were vibrant, affirmed, self-possessed, and sex-positive, hardly subjugated! So live and let live, I say; if it was good enough for the ancient Hebrews it ought to be good enough for anybody (/joke). To the excellent advice given by those actually involved in the lifestyle, I’d add this: please make sure everybody’s got provisions for healthcare, especially if one partner is planning to quit work at some point or loses his/her job, since most plans don’t automatically cover *one* domestic partner much less two or more–the one big drama I ever saw a stable poly group run into was when one member had a catastrophic health crisis and nobody’d thought to insure her; it caused a lot of bad blood on all sides as the financial havoc played out. Notarization isn’t a magic bullet–you can notarize anything, but that doesn’t mean the courts will care about it. There are hundreds of protections married people get that polyamorous folks, like any cohabiting couple, don’t automatically get that can cause serious trouble if not hammered out ahead of time, from health insurance to inheritance laws to DNRs and powers of attorney. A family practice lawyer can help walk you through cohabitation laws in your state to make sure everybody’s got what they need.

    Since a book request was made, one book my poly ex-boyfriend thought was useful as he structured his own grouping (after we broke up after many years together; BTW, his inclinations had nothing to do with the breakup–he was a wonderfully faithful and devoted partner and we remain on very friendly terms) was “The Ethical Slut.” I can’t speak for it personally, but that’s what he said a while ago, and he’s maintained his main two or three relationships for about the last ten years, so I’ll take his word for it.

  • Sara

    Well, what the hell else are you supposed to do with your cake?

    Not everybody who has more than one partner is in it for the sex – or, at least, not strictly for the sex. An open relationship would accomplish that just as well, preserving the emotional connection but leaving each person free to seek as many encounters as (s)he wanted.

    The level of snark in this article troubles me a bit, as does the repeated assumption that the letter-writer is, ahem, “thinking with the little head”. If he is, or if he’s doing this for self-important reasons, then somebody might get hurt . . . but it’s also legitimately possible to recognize that monogamy is a socially constructed default position and not an outright requirement. It’s not harder than monogamy because it’s bad; it’s harder because society is set up to support monogamy and to view non-monogamy as cheating, even if all parties involved are enthusiastic supporters.

    To the letter-writer: The Ethical Slut has some great practical tips as well as philosophical ideas. There are some polyamorous communities online, and if you’re approaching this from a selfish point of view, they’ll set you straight pretty quickly.

    But the number one resource you can possibly have? Your partners. Listen to what they want, tell them what you want, and figure out a way to make sure everyone’s needs get met. The Internet can give you ideas of how others have done it, but only you can tailor it to your individual specs.

  • Anne


  • Taryn

    Well said.

    People get into monogamous relationships for less than perfect reasons all the time. Monogamy doesn’t guarantee ethical behavior or motivations any more than polyamory guarantees the opposite. I’m not wired to be happy with such an arrangement so it’s just very foreign to me. Most people aren’t thus wired for it. But some people are. Wiring doesn’t make someone better or worse than anybody else. If the LW is trying to find love and connection with other consensual adults in a way that honors and respects everybody involved, I can get behind that. Love and connection’s so vanishingly rare in this world. To me, that’s more important than adherence to cultural norms. This life might be the only one we get–I personally want to try every ride that looks fun before it’s over.

  • Robert

    Didn’t they make a reality TV show on this…

  • LN

    John, Cat & Alli (teration) – sounds poly to me! Yep.

  • Trawl Dan Savage’s archives in Savage Love. He’s given advice to trilateral relationships before, and there should be a ton of resources available in his history.

    Be aware that the language is salty in places, and the advice is … sometimes pretty explicit.