Aki, Max, and Audrey formed a throuple in 'Gossip Girl'

How To Start A Throuple Relationship That Actually Lasts

Gossip Girl’s triad made some key mistakes along the way.

Barbara Nitke/HBO Max

When longtime couple Audrey and Aki of the HBO Gossip Girl reboot first caught feelings for their mutual friend Max, polyamorous viewers held their breath. Was this going to be another thoughtless “throuple” trope, using Max’s promiscuity to teach Audrey and Aki a lesson about the value of monogamy? Then, the unthinkable happened: The teens built a functional romantic triad. At the end of Season 1, they made that relationship official. But if Season 2 taught viewers anything, it’s that starting a relationship like theirs is one thing, and actually sustaining it is another.

As they explored the boundaries of their polyamory — “coming out” as partners, voicing their jealousy, establishing rules around sex and dating — Audrey, Max, and Aki looked like they might be embracing the challenges as a unit. But by the Season 2 finale, the threesome had wound up right where it started: with Audrey and Aki together, and Max on the outs. RIP.

Throughout their relationship, polyamory experts say the GG throuple had several distressing but realistic missteps around communication and expectations, which might explain why things didn’t work out. But the thing they got right (at least some of the time) was their interest in each other’s feelings — not just their sheer lust. “[Non-monogamous people] spend a lot of time processing our emotions,” Laura Boyle, sexuality educator and founder of Ready For Polyamory, tells Elite Daily. “And I feel like this is actually a reasonable representation of that.”

While mastering the throuple can be tricky — and make the whole “couple name” thing a bit more complicated (Max + Aki + Audrey = Maxidrey?) — polyamorous relationships are, at their core, an invitation for more love, more support, and greater self-expression. And if three gorgeous and spoiled teens on the Upper East Side can attempt it, why shouldn’t you?

What Is A Throuple, Exactly?

The term “throuple” — a portmanteau of the words “three” and “couple” — gives some poly folks the ick because of its proximity to normative relationship structures, which they feel perpetuates the hetero-monogamous gaze. Leanne Yau, founder of polyamorous education platform Poly Philia, says terms like “triad” and “trio,” which don’t connote hierarchy, privilege, or coupledom, are commonly used instead, but they all mean the same thing.

The defining characteristic of a triad is that it’s a romantic relationship shared by three people. What distinguishes it from other forms of non-monogamy is that there will actually be four relationships in a triad, not three. To use GG as an example, there’s the relationship between Audrey and Aki, between Max and Audrey, between Aki and Max, and the group relationship between all three partners.

Cara Howe/HBO Max

How Are Throuples Established?

The triad on GG formed organically, when Audrey and Aki developed separate but parallel feelings for their shared BFF Max — and then each acted on those feelings without telling the other person. Both Audrey and Aki experienced confusion and shame around their trysts with Max, but for Aki, there was the added stress of his own budding bisexuality. In real life, Yau says sexual curiosity is a pretty typical reason for people to open up a relationship.

“Many people discover new aspects to their sexuality while in a monogamous relationship, and want to have the freedom to discover themselves without sacrificing a relationship with someone they love,” she says. Aki still loved Audrey, but had all these new feelings that he knew he needed to explore. Bienvenue, Maxi.

Even though some non-monogamous relationships do begin with infidelity, plenty don’t — especially those that work long-term. For anyone thinking of opening up a partnership, Boyle suggests a healthier approach: “Read about it a little, talk to your partner about it in theory, think about what you might want, and then after talking to each other, start trying things and talk about what does and doesn't feel good at every step.”

As you start to involve others — whether it's going on first dates or swiping on dating apps — remember that you’re dealing with real people on the other side. “Don't do anything too extreme that you're going to immediately retract,” she says. Near the end of GG Season 1, Audrey and Aki decided they’d gotten what they needed from Max, so they didn’t want him involved in their romance anymore. In polyamorous circles, it might be said that Audrey and Aki were treating Max like a “unicorn,” or a bi- or pansexual person who can fulfill everyone else’s needs and whose feelings ultimately aren’t considered.

Early in Season 1, Max seemed OK with being the unicorn, until he later realized he wanted more, hence the convo in the Season 1 finale about making the triad official. But in real life, “unicorn hunting” (best encapsulated by those couples on Tinder who are “looking for a third” *unicorn emoji*) can be harmful if not approached with care, says polyamory expert Gabriella Alexa Noel.

That care was missing at the beginning of Season 2, when Audrey and Aki “iced out” Max to keep from having to come out as polyamorous. “That was hard to watch,” Noel says, especially because it appeared to break with the agreement they had made at the end of Season 1. “The way that [Audrey and Aki] dipped in and out isn’t even courteous to a casual partner,” she says. “Security is a human need, and people want that in all their relationships.”

To avoid being *that couple* on your dating app when attempting to open up your relationship to a romantic triad, Yau recommends dating separately and establishing independent bonds. Whether you’re starting out in a dyadic (two-person) relationship, you’re single, or anything in between, Feeld is a good option for finding folks who might be interested in a throuple.

Are There Different Types Of Throuples Or Triads?

Like all polyamorous relationships, triads can look any number of ways. Janie Frank, a 27-year-old writer and marketing specialist based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, met her two partners, Maggie, 29, and Cody, 33, six years ago, while she was in a different non-monogamous relationship with another man. Maggie and Cody had been together for several months already when they formed an open triad with Janie. In 2018, Maggie and Cody got married. Today, all three live together, and they’re all engaged.

“There are four different relationships in our relationship, and those all grow differently,” Janie tells Elite Daily. Janie, Maggie, and Cody are life partners, but theirs is an open triad, meaning they date other people, too. “But we're building our life together with the three of us,” she says. Their wedding, she adds, will be symbolic since they can’t legally marry each other.

In GG, the teens tried out different dynamics to see what worked for them, which is an important part of the process of building a poly relationship. But some of the rules they established for themselves — like that if one of them breaks up, then they all break up, or that they should only have sex as a group — didn’t prove super sustainable. Noel says it’s unreasonable to have the expectation that partners will only have sex all together and never two at a time.

“That makes absolutely no sense for three people's libidos to be on the same schedule every single time they have sex,” she says. “I don't know triads that actually do that.”

Barbara Nitke/HBO Max

How To Deal With Jealousy & Make A Throuple Last

Jealousy is not only normal, it’s information, Noel explains. Take the moment in Season 2, Episode 5, when Audrey got insecure about Max and Aki going off on a boys’ weekend in the Hamptons with Obie. Audrey’s jealousy was telling her something she should have listened to. Maybe she was sensing an upcoming loss or was worried that she’d feel irrelevant. Jealousy, Noel says, can act as “a protective barrier” against those fears.

It’s important to talk about situations as they arise instead of pretending to feel OK. Once Max and Aki announced they were leaving, the group should have talked extensively about what their situation would look like, giving Audrey the space to ask if they planned to have sex together while they were away. Then they could have built boundaries together around the group’s needs.

Throughout the six years that Janie and her partners have been together, they’ve spent a lot of time in therapy figuring out how to communicate and prioritize all four of their relationships equally. Early on, they kept to a strict date schedule on Friday nights: One week Maggie and Janie would go on a date, the next Cody and Janie, then Cody and Maggie, and finally all three of them together. “If I had never hung out with Maggie one-on-one or Cody one-on-one, our relationship would not be what it is now,” Janie says.

If the GG triad were to have worked, the three partners would have needed to find a way to do the same, Noel says. “I think equity [for Audrey, Aki, and Max] would look like strengthening their individual relationships and not just having to do everything together."

Nurturing a healthy triad is hard for a lot of reasons, but with the right mix of commitment and curiosity, triads can thrive anywhere — high-drama prep schools included.