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Two’s Company, Three’s Allowed in New Dating Show ‘Couple to Throuple’

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A man in brightly colored clothes stands with his arms around two women. Both women are kissing him on the cheeks.
Above, Denyse, left, Wilder, and Corey in the ‘Communication’ episode of ‘Couple to Throuple.’. (Paul Castillero/ Peacock)

The only reasons people watch dating shows, really, are sex and mess.

Dating shows have been around for ages, swelling* when there’s a big success like The Bachelor or Joe Millionaire or Love Is Blind. But they take all kinds of different shapes — it’s a test to see if you’ll cheat, or there’s a chance the person is ugly, or you have to get married, or whatever. They certainly have wildly varying levels of sex. The Bachelor takes a kind of “and then the door closes and the music plays and you definitely do not even hear anybody making any noises,” while some other shows will give you considerably more than that.

They all have mess, too. Not just mess, but messy messy mess. As I was telling a friend this week, Peacock’s Couple to Throuple is really just more mess (and it’s on the high end for the amount of sex you’ll see), and in that sense it’s very conventional. But at least it’s a different kind of mess than most other shows offer, particularly on mainstream outlets.

The setup is this: Four couples arrive at a resort. A bunch of single people also show up. Each couple is interested in potentially exploring a throuple, which (for the uninitiated) is an awkward portman-ménage-à-teau for an ongoing relationship among three people. Three of the couples include a man and a woman: Brittne and Sean, Dylan and Lauren, and Wilder and Corey. The other is two men, Rehman and Ashmal. All of the couples have some experience with experimentation with other people, but not in this kind of throuple arrangement. The show brings in some single people, all of whom also have some relevant experience, and each couple gets to pick one to try out as a possible third for their relationship. (If you think this sounds kind of strange and possibly a little unfair to the single person, that does come up.)

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I want to make clear that there is nothing inherently salacious about polyamory. There are plenty of people who make it work. So when I say the show is joyfully trashy, that’s because of the show, not the relationship structure. After all, you can make joyfully trashy shows about couples, too. There’s also nothing particularly new about the throuple life if you happen to know people who do it or have tried it, which an increasing number of us do. But at least it’s new mess. Different mess. Mess that makes you go, “Oh, yikes, that’s tricky.”

The first thing that experienced polyamorous people will tell you, I have learned, is that it requires a lot of work and communication. There are people who go into it — or who just think about it — imagining, “Whee, this must be a no-strings-attached sex festival!” But my first thought after watching two episodes was, “This seems like a relationship structure perfect for people who like to attend a lot of meetings.”

Even on dating shows, I have rarely seen this much talking about the relationship. Does the third like both of the people in the couple equally? Do both people in the couple like the third equally? Do these people connect physically but those people emotionally? What are the reasonable expectations of the potential third?

Familiar dynamics take on new specifics, as when the couples do an exercise with their potential thirds where one partner engages in sexier and sexier contact with the third, and the other sees how long they’re comfortable before they say the safe word to put a stop to it. In one couple, an argument breaks out in which the partner who was watching later gets mad and basically says, “The question isn’t why I didn’t use the safe word if I was getting upset, the question is why you didn’t use the safe word when you should have known I was getting upset.” You gotta think that level of expected mind-reading is going to make a throuple arrangement very, very difficult — as it would a couple arrangement.

Two men stand in a tropical looking resort, both wearing white shirts and pants, both looking serious.
Ashmal, left, and Rehman in the ‘Boundaries’ episode of ‘Couple to Throuple.’ (Paul Castillero/ Peacock)

There are also some intriguing power shifts where at first, the thirds seem to be trying to put their best feet forward to be “chosen” by the couples, and then trying to impress them, but then before you know it, some of the thirds are sort of looking around saying, “Uh, it was nice knowing you guys.” Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug; sometimes you’re the pursuer, and sometimes you’re the pursued.

It’s a mess. I will watch it all.

*I apologize for using the word “swelling” in a discussion of dating shows.

This piece also appeared in NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss the next one, plus get weekly recommendations about what’s making us happy.

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