Gabriela Wiener finds romantic safety in numbers.
I never got the knack of fidelity. Ever since I first experienced pleasure outside the four walls of our tacky bathroom, I’ve continually violated the most sacred pacts of love. At first I put this down to my lack of character or inability to assert my desires in relation to an Other, to have some coherence in my life. How could I enjoy properly transgressive sex without sacrificing Sunday movie nights and breakfasts in bed? How could I keep the excitement of a secret rendezvous but still sleep cuddled up to someone who loved and protected me? How could I live without a trick up my sleeve? For years a wicked, ancient voice has whispered to me: “You can’t have it all. You have to choose.” But I’ve never been able to choose. I wanted it all. And instead of laying the blame for my contradictions on “society” or “my Catholic upbringing,” I decided to subvert love, that imperfect model, the deadly trap that had hopelessly condemned me to the miseries of a double life. So I started a guerrilla war. If the groundwork wasn’t yet laid for a true revolution, I figured it was my job to work for change: to participate in clandestine meetings with my occasional lovers, write them coded letters, and perpetrate indiscriminate attacks against reactionary targets; in other words, against my partners. I saw myself as an unfaithful avenger battling for freedom on the fringes of the law. I went out at night, wearing my mask and patched-up latex suit, to place small charges of dynamite against the wall of monogamy. I returned at dawn, more alone than ever. And happier. I’ve been unfaithful to everyone, on a single night and over many years. I’ve been unfaithful in a stairway, on several buses, in dozens of zero-star hotels and under a starry sky, on a beach, in a car park, in a museum, in a gaping chasm, under their noses. I’ve been unfaithful on Good Friday, Mother’s Day, Christmas, and even during a coup d’état. Drunk, sober, first thing in the morning, and last thing at night. I’ve been unfaithful with my neighbors, my classmates, my workmates, my exes, my male friends, my female friends, their best friends, their other selves, with fascinating strangers and with, simply, strangers. With six people the same day, two the same night, three in the same bed. I’ve been unfaithful, first and foremost, to my infidelities. And, of course, I married one of them.
Jaime once told me that the first book he remembers holding, even before he could read, was a copy of Othello he still owns. I can safely say, however, that for him, the jealous beast, the “green-ey’d monster, which doth mock / The meat it feeds on” had never taken on a concrete form or seemed half as threatening until he met me.
Jaime is a poet and, although he tries desperately hard to act like a rational being, he tends to behave like a superhero whose powers have been stolen by an unknown villain: he’s inward-looking, impenetrable, you never know what he’s really thinking; you could say he’s a great big bag of complexes but, and I’m in no doubt about this, there’s not a selfish bone in him. He’s noble and true. He corresponds more or less to the idea we both share of what a man should be. I suppose that’s why we’re together.
Around the time I met Jaime, I was stuck in a dying relationship and he became my lover. For him, though, I was nothing more than an occasional fling: he never showed any romantic interest until I broke up with his rival once and for all. Moreover, Jaime was innocent. I was the one who’d decided to lie, I was the one doing the cheating. At least that was what he wanted to believe. Jaime saw himself as nothing more than a spare part in my story and felt pretty comfortable with that. But then something unexpected happened: we fell in love.
One of my favorite authors, Philip Roth, wrote: “If you don’t go crazy because of your husband’s vices, you go crazy because of his virtues.” A year into our relationship, Jaime and I were living together. We were very different, but we’d decided to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into our new family setup. I thought this meant the end of an era and my initiation into the paradise of monogamy, which thus far had proved incomprehensible and elusive. Jaime loved it. It hadn’t taken long for him to go from cynical lover to protective companion. It was like meeting one of those actors who swear they’ve been waiting all their lives to play that exact role. But our differences soon became clear. Jaime was repulsed by my fantasies, my excesses, the whole framework around which I’d built my sexual identity up to then. He couldn’t stand the thought of anyone else invading our bed, not even as part of a simple fantasy. It wasn’t like I was free from jealousy myself; in fact, the mere thought of Jaime falling for another woman or feeling emotionally attached to someone other than me filled me with anxiety. But in Jaime’s case those feelings revolved almost exclusively around sex. What’s more, his jealousy was like most men’s: retroactive. That’s something I’ll never understand. For me, asking Jaime (basically forcing him) to tell me the details of his sexual encounters was a way of sharing them, a way for me to appropriate them. Why did he find it so painful to even imagine me with somebody else? When it came to my past, Jaime felt like the biblical Lot: if he looked back, he ran the risk of turning into a pillar of salt.
I once read in an encyclopedia that a jealous man has far more powerful orgasms and ejaculates more sperm than a man who feels confident in the love promised to him (so, really, they ought to be thanking me for those painful orgasms). Their spermatozoids are like little soldiers from Star Wars ready to tear the competition to shreds. It’s not just the desire for absolute possession or the concept of exclusivity. It’s not just an ego problem. I don’t believe there’s an intrinsic conservation mechanism driven by the “wisdom of the species,” like that cretin Schopenhauer said, either. Jealousy is clearly an irrational, instinctive reaction, but it’s based on the social construction we’ve built like a concrete bunker around a flower. Someone like me who’s unfaithful by nature (anyway, who cares!) ends up getting lost once and for all in the labyrinth of jealousy and feels her cheating heart crack with each roar from the minotaur, that jealous beast that hurls his bloody horns against the walls of a prison he himself has built.
In the feverish labyrinth of monogamy we survived by sheltering under a roof full of holes until, just when we least expected it, things changed.
I don’t know exactly when the idea of having a threesome went from being a bedroom joke to a family project. I don’t know how it happened: maybe we felt too alone with the number two. In part, the suggestion to have a threesome was one of my dubious contributions to our relationship because when I met Jaime I already had the jealousy thing perfectly under control. I mean that I’d drunk the bittersweet potion of seeing my guy with another woman for the first time: it’s as unpleasant as letting a stranger use your toothbrush. Watching the person you love make love to someone other than you gives you a feeling that concentrates around your middle (as if you’d done fifty sit-ups); it’s one of those productive pains you know will do you good sooner or later.
I’ve always been a firm believer in not having limits, especially when it comes to sex. I don’t remember how I started taking part in threesomes and later suggesting them; they weren’t in fashion yet, there weren’t television programs or films about threesomes or famous people talking about theirs. I was sixteen years old. I was sleeping with a guy who was older than me. He was the one who first showed me a porn film in which two blonde women moved their tongues up and down the same cock. Grateful for his pedagogical efforts, I tried to impress him or turn him on with my schoolgirl stories. I liked telling him about my masturbatory rituals in the bathroom at home. It made me feel powerful to describe the celibate games I played with my girlfriends, especially when it was my turn to be the man. It was our innocent way to practice kissing with tongues for the first time. As far as I can remember there was nothing more exciting at the age of ten than when a girlfriend stayed over and we played at touching each other in the dark, in silence, almost by accident. I think that letting third parties into my first relationship, which I’d so longed for and only recently won, was due to those pieces of news from afar, those fairy stories about kissing under the covers.
It wasn’t about pleasing anyone or trying new things, or maybe I did want to try new things and do a bit of pleasing, I don’t know. But what I do know is that that first boyfriend and I let one of my friends into our bed. Or rather, we got into hers, her parents’ bed to be precise. We didn’t have a bed yet and weren’t old enough for hotels. The morning I watched aghast as someone else manhandled the man I thought was my property, my inalienable right, something inside me shattered forever. My old beliefs, perhaps. Suddenly, the pleasure of exclusivity was replaced by the pleasure of being one more. I’m not sure if what I’m saying is quite true because I wasn’t in fact one more, I was the official girlfriend, a Countess Báthory overseeing the sacrifice of virgins. I learned that, whenever possible, it’s best to avoid being the third person. From my bureaucratic fiefdom in the Palace of Love I could decide who I shared a bed with, who I lent my boyfriend to, for how long, to what degree. Controlling what happened between our bodies was my prerogative and my get-out-of-jail-free card.
You’re always afraid. That’s why I’ve been simultaneously bad and incredibly good. I was a sadist and a masochist; I couldn’t give a name to that new anger, that new energy. The confusion of that day has stayed with me through all my subsequent threesomes. That unsettling feeling arises because, at the moment of tripartite lovemaking, jealousy and desire compete with equal ferocity. Sometimes jealousy wins and devours everything in its path, other times it’s desire that overcomes. After my first threesome with another woman I demanded one with two men. I took it very seriously. My boyfriend owed it to me. We started looking and one night, when we were both very drunk, we found two guys who seemed nice and they followed us to the beach without a word. That night I did it with the two of them while my boyfriend closely supervised the action. When you’ve got the hang of threesomes you start to feel like the gonzo director of a porn film (genre: threesome) trying to make the cast better and better.
According to Wikipedia, a threesome is a ménage à trois (Fr.), group sex which involves three participants and isn’t an orgy. As director of films in that genre, I had to be very careful. I didn’t want my attempts to stage Jules et Jim to end up as The Three Little Pigs. For a while I tried to carry out strange assessments of the threesomes around me. I tried to find the perfect formula of three beings brought together with more or less decorous ends, like Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If sex is a question of numerology then three is surely my lucky number. Three is speculative, it evokes the cosmos and the infinite. Because a threesome isn’t a triangle, of course. It doesn’t have a hypotenuse or a right angle, and it goes without saying that none of the parts is out of harmony. There are no relevant statistics but there could well be more threesomes than couples in the world, even though, in most cases, one of the parts is unaware that there are three instead of two. When they finally find out, many women and men who aren’t liberal by nature or by choice decide to share their partners in order to escape impending abandonment.
When I met Jaime, I felt an increasing desire to reproduce the tenuous experiences I’d had with more than two people as a teenager, in a way that would finally be mature and systematic. I had to press the issue, but not that much. Once the details had been negotiated (in other words, when Jaime felt reassured we’d only do it with women), we set to work. As you can tell, it didn’t look like a fair deal from the outside. In fact, a hardened feminist might stone me for it. But watch it, it’s important to remember that I was coming from an impressive, shameful spell of cheating that had to be purged in some way. Allowing my new love tons of glamorous freedom, albeit within the limits I set, was my passport to heaven. What’s more, and this is something to bear in mind, I, like so many other women, like women. I’ve heard it said that nobody knows a woman’s body better than another woman. I don’t believe that. With due attention, a man can be just as skillful. That’s not why women get together. It’s not because women know where to touch. Sometimes I like to destroy the myth of the original couple and reunite with my own substance. I believe in this antinatural magic. But, more precisely, I like to feel in another woman what a man feels in me. When a woman kisses me on the lips I perceive all the softness, smoothness, suppleness that I intuit in my own body, which others can joyfully possess but which I would only be able to know through an act of doubling or some other sci-fi procedure.
All told, we were both looking for a woman for almost exactly the same reasons. We didn’t know where to find our soul mate, but we sensed she was very close by. If one lives in a “state of three,” fully at home in the third dimension, as it were, it can happen. Why not imagine that just as there are people in the world seeking their other halves, there are some looking for their other wholes?
To cut a long story short, we did find someone. She was a friend of mine, one of those friends who’ve always been there. She wasn’t a very sociable person; in fact, when she wasn’t being shy she had a fairly hysterical temper and was permanently sarcastic. I knew her well but was still always surprised by the strange aggression she could unleash when least expected. I think she’d always hated people but hadn’t come to terms with that, so it gave her panic attacks and made her withdrawn in public. She was also a loner but seemed trapped rather than helpless. Another detail: she didn’t have a partner. She wasn’t Anaïs Nin, but neither were we Henry and June. That winter we started seeing a lot of each other. We met up every afternoon. We talked about sex and sex.
The first triple kiss happened in a terrible bar in the center of Lima. First, she told Jaime to kiss her. He glanced at me to check I was OK with it, then kissed her. Then he kissed me, then her, then I kissed her, then we both kissed him. A triple kiss is something strange until it happens. Three mouths come together like three chicks fighting for the same worm. We realized, however, that the worm of death was the fourth character in our story. And it started to eat our tongues.
Three-way relationships don’t tend to last long. They defy the mathematics of the heart. Sudden death hovers over them and their fretful sleep. It’s one thing to have a tripartite adventure for a night, something quite different to formalize it. A threesome in real life isn’t a porn film twenty-four hours a day. I, however, like the porn actresses who suffer the damage of double penetration in a boy-girl-boy threesome, have come to prefer the less exhausting girl-boy-girl configuration; in other words, two women becoming one and a man who counts for two.
Sudden death hovers over any threesome. For example: Jaime drives sixty miles an hour while she and I lavish damp caresses on one another in the back seat. We’re naked, we kiss so hard we bite each other. She comes on Calle X. Me, on the corner of Calle Y. This is a scene from real life, it happened the same night as that first triple kiss, but it could also work metaphorically. Simultaneity is the utopia of a threesome. She might be driving with Jaime and me rolling around in the back. Then she’d decide to get out of the car and leave us with no gas. Or it might be me driving while they stain the upholstery and steam up the windows. In that case, I wouldn’t be able to see and would accelerate until the car got smashed to smithereens.
The outcome of a threesome is as hazardous as any car accident (and seatbelts aren’t enough). After a three-way collision there’s almost always one person dead and two left seriously wounded. Soon enough, she was completely in love with Jaime. Her inexperience and obstinate heterosexuality had made her tip toward that side of the scales.
First came the abortion. A fatal error on all of our parts. She knew what she had to do and that morning we went with her to the clinic. To keep from feeling sad we played with the idea of having it, a child with Jaime’s nose, her Asian eyes, and something of my overconfident personality. We’d live under the same roof and take him or her to see Harry Potter at the cinema. I’ve been on the other side of it, too, but I was now experiencing the despair of an abortion from the waiting room, like a guy, albeit reading girly magazines and biting my nails.
When it was all over we went out for dinner, drank a lot of wine, and promised not to sleep together again. We really did love each other. When Jaime and I got married the three of us spent our wedding night together.
Three-way relationships don’t tend to last long but nor do they die the day you decide to kill them, however dramatic you make the supposed final scene. One night in our gorgeous triple bed, she started crying inconsolably while we made love as only three people can. Jaime was behind her so that when he rocked up and down the echoes of their shared movements reached my pubis. Finally, Jaime lowered himself onto me. And that was when our girl started crying. We hugged her, but it was no use. I think by then we’d talked too much. It was as if all the damage we’d caused her had been hidden just beneath her skin and suddenly came to the surface before our eyes.
“I want to go,” she said.
Jaime took her home. It was an especially cold night. I stayed in bed with the stupid and grateful sensation of not (for once) being the one going to shit. I had the same feeling as when I’m in a car and I see a couple fighting in an empty street: relief that I’m not the girl. I was grateful that we were three and not two. That I wasn’t the girlfriend in distress, somebody else was, and one person was enough to deal with it. Someone other than me. I was grateful to be alone with the whole bed for me and my sadness.
If she was the victim, didn’t that make us torturers? We’d never told anything even resembling a lie, but at that moment Jaime realized sincerity wasn’t enough. When they arrived at her building, she didn’t move to get out of the car.
“You bastard!” she shouted at Jaime while trying to hit him.
Until Jaime, the politest, most friendly guy I know, pushed her out of the car and drove home.
When she left for good the two of us were alone and heartbroken. Our bed became huge, unimaginably huge. That was when we decided to explore the incredibly limited market of prostitutes for couples.
In a threesome there are always two exhibitionists and a voyeur. I’m not exactly sure why I like watching Jaime make love to another woman. Each voyeur has their own highly developed reasoning. Since we gave up on prostitutes for good we’ve organized various threesomes, always in neutral territory, far from friendship and even further from love. With acquaintances or curious strangers. Sometimes I watch Jaime and our special guest from a corner of the room, hidden in the darkness, and with a timid hand I follow the rocking of their bodies, like stroking the back of a raging animal. They know I’m there, but I’m not. I make myself invisible. I don’t masturbate, I just watch, I lust in solitude. I watch them because, in some way, at that same moment I become flesh, I take over their bodies. For someone who doesn’t particularly like being who she is, it’s incredible to have the possibility of being someone else. I’m like a ghost looking for an organism to inhabit. Once we’re alone after a threesome with another girl, Jaime and I relive what happened. I play at being those women, with their names and shapes, with the sound of their moans; I copy their movements in bed, their ways of pressing themselves against Jaime and quivering. I become them, I find a space to inhabit. I ask Jaime to call me by their names. As is often the case, one person’s illness is another’s cure. Sometimes, in the middle of the game, Jaime takes my head, looks me in the eyes, and says my name: “Gabriela.” And I start to cry without knowing why.
Tres © 2015 by Gabriela Wiener. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2016 by Lucy Greaves. All rights reserved.