Category: Slideshow

Three In Love:Menages a Trois from Ancient to Modern

The writing below is by published author Barbara Foster. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Her book Three in Love can be found on Amazon at:

My Life in Three Acts: a Peep Show

Barbara Foster

Characters: Wife, Barbara:  Husband, Michael : Significant Other, Letha

Settings: New York City, Paris, Provincetown, New Orleans, Saratoga

Act I, Christmas Eve 1984 New York:

A heavy snow storm does not deter our newly formed menage a trois from a brisk stroll around Abingdon Square, gateway to reasonable French restaurants reminiscent of cute ones dotting the Left Bank of Paris–host to earlier tetes a trois that lasted till dawn. Mike, Letha and I joined hands. We like to walk this way despite the stares of passer-bys. That night, we rounded the corner headed west in anticipation of a tasty meal. Not many restaurants were open on this familial holiday so we sped along not to miss our reservation. About to cross at a green light a man in a tweed coat suddenly appeared beside me. I gulped:

“Clay, these are my . . .my . . . cousins?” Clay looked astonished. “You said you’d be out of town, huh? What’s going on?”

The cold air coupled with the hurt on Clay’s face froze my tongue. I sputtered a response that made things worse. How could I explain my loving relationship to my husband and our significant other, that they were the beloved family I preferred to spend holidays with. Clay caught me red handed like a criminal with the loot. He vanished never to reappear. New to menaging, I wondered if I could handle a “three life?” Would it be a comedy of errors, or devolve into a bloody murder? Or, would such emotional fragmentation land me on the shrink’s couch?

By necessity, I developed a shadow life: tweedy librarian by day, habitue  of Greenwich Village dives by night. Belladonna, the nom de plume I used to cavort and write erotic poetry, fit the naughty persona known only to trusted friends. A practical problem arose: where to entertain “gentleman callers?” Michael was home a lot, thus hanky panky chez nous was a no no. Four lines from a poem I wrote are relevant: “Don’t give me an argument/ Do you have an apartment?/ Don’t bother to phone/ If you don’t live alone” (Greenwich Village preferred).

Generally my lovers were long term and aware–as much as they cared to be–of my trois status. No one felt exploited, for our menage thrived on honesty–the opposite of backstairs adultery. I practiced diplomacy at the Henry Kissinger level to avoid a love life from Hell. Thoughtless behavior could have destroyed the delicate balance of egos. An existence both independent and familial touched two bases at once. My three life evolved into a support system that goaded me to become a world traveler, a writer of ambitious poetry and prose and, as important, a mensch.

Scene 2, Paris, 1982:

In the early 80’s Letha and her husband had joined other Expats to indulge in nouvelle version of the Movable Feast Hemingway’s classic made so appetizing. Mike and I, at the start of our career as joint authors, were in Paris to research the convoluted life of Alexandra David-Neel, the French explorer of Tibet. An apocalyptic event in our marital karma transpired when we met Letha in the Bibliotheque Nacionale reading David-Neel’s Magic and Mystery in Tibet.

Alas our esoteric conversation ceased abruptly. Frowning, Letha regarded her watch. Her husband, waiting at home, would become petulant if she arrived late to fix his dinner. Visit me another night, she insisted.  A week later we showed up, prelude to a connection no less magical than the  “City of Light” herself.

Entering la maison Letha, dilapidated in the venerable Left Bank tradition , we knew that this exceptional person would transform our lives.  Her husband was drawn by our three way brush fire and slipped into the role of “inevitable inconsequential fourth,” a frequent occurrence whereby a fourth jumps onto the bandwagon but can’t keep the pace. This extraneous fellow did his best to break the rhythm of our conversations, which ranged from Structuralism to Wonder Woman, from Existentialism to which cafes served the crunchiest croissants.  Frequently the  “colossal bore” (Letha’s description) tossed in pedantic asides in between boasting of his scholarship on Baudelaire, the decadent French poet.

Research accomplished, we said au revoir to Letha and Paris. Letter and phone—no email in those days–kept us in touch .It took a couple of years for Letha to divest herself of her childhood sweetheart turned curmudgeon.

Later, divorced, Letha joined us in New York where we set about constructing a non-exploitative trois designed d to insure that our separate identities would not be subsumed by a collective. Such negotiations and re-negotiations, were essential for such an unorthodox construct to endure. Our drama played out on both coasts; summers we rented a house in New England.

At first our interaction had loose threads; it took years to stitch three lives  together into a durable quilt. We were innocent then of the hoary history of menages a trois, that our own love story would evolve into Three in Love –a book that places our personal experience in a context as old as the Garden of Eden, yet today being given a new spin by active groups devoted to the practice of Polyamory (plural loves).  A trinity is a source of power, for the I Ching ordains that three brings “light into darkness.”

Act II, Scene 1 Provincetown:

Electricity shot from Michael’s crew cut as I stumbled over his blanket–stretched out on the beach in Provincetown. On a lark, I’d hitchhiked to the Cape from Phila. with a  college friend. I yearned for a summer romance and took a waitress job to hang out in this resort popular with artists whose radical morals intrigued me. Nightly, I elbowed my way into the Ale House to plop down among types dressed in Provincetown casual. Conversation ranged from abstract expressionism to Timothy Leary’s trips.

Weed passed around enhanced sounds of waves crashing against seaweed splattered rocks. Mother had objected to my departure that weekend, an affront to a first cousin whose big wedding demanded our family show up in force. Little did my conservative mom suspect that I was going to meet my fate {eg mate); had she looked into her crystal ball, she might have locked me in the bedroom closet.

The energy in Michael’s slanted eyes made me reel. Reading Karl Marx, he reminded me of a fiery character in one of the Dostoevski novels I doted on. Other suitors–a lawyer, doctor and restaurant owner back home–ceased to exist. Michael’s decision to drop out of Harvard Law School and become a writer thrilled me. Idealistically, I wanted to live for art, to give myself to a man talented enough to write books that would make a difference.

Salt air and strolls among the dunes were heady aphrodisiacs. One night we were on the beach, part of a raucous crowd chugging beer and singing  raunchy songs.  A large, brawny fellow everyone called “beardy” because of his enormous beard, as a joke, tried to throw me in the ocean. Much shorter Michael leaped up to dissuade this wise guy. My very own Lochinvar, a modern knight to care for and defend me.

Other times, inspired, he recited love poetry from memory.  One line in particular by E. E, Cummings, “Nobody, not even the rain has such small hands,” swept away any residual resistance. We made love, decided to marry and planned a life the opposite of our staid parents. Marriage to Mike brought me truly alive in every sense. Meanwhile, I’d kissed goodbye a comfortable suburban life with “a professional” expected of Jewish girls of my class.

Scene 2, New Orleans Pre-Katrina:

After I graduated from Columbia Library School, Tulane University offered me a job as a Rare Book Cataloger.  Although the precision cataloging required hardly suited my bohemian disposition, I seized the opportunity to explore the land of “dreamy dreams.” Indeed, our entire stay seemed like a dream. Decades later, this wine besotted interlude still haunts my memory.

Arriving in mid-summer to paralyzing heat exacerbated by flying roaches, I longed for a breath of fresh air. In the library, because of relentless air conditioning, the climate resembled a refrigerator turned up to max At first it puzzled me that no rare books were assigned to me. Then I found out that the Chief Librarian had decided not to entrust valuable property to a dazed Yankee, literally a sleepwalker from partying most of the nigh in the French Quarter.

Furthermore, the job began at eight am., a problem since we lived a distance from Tulane in the Garden District,  Added to the obstacles, the bus driver briefly ducked into  an open bar  for a snort while the passengers twiddled their thumbs. At first I complained, but f the natives found nothing amiss, other than the loudmouthed northerner unfamiliar with manners and mores in the “Big Easy.”

No matter! Happily, we joined a cast of characters who belonged in a Tennessee Williams drama. Seductive Queen of the Night scented the air as we migrated among favorite bars that never closed, even on Xmas. Incidentally, we may have rubbed shoulders with Lee Harvey Oswald, the Kennedy assassin—an habitue of the same French Quarter dives. Strangers became instant, hospitable friends apt to extend invitations to dinner parties—Creole and Cajun treats as spicy as the conversations that never lagged.

Every Friday Michael and I wended our way to Royal street, plunged into an unlit courtyard dotted with stunted palm and banana trees to a discussion group fondly termed the “disgusting group.” This disorderly version of a Parisian salon mixed Elan vital with funk in a gumbo spiced differently each week, dependent on the participants. Ivan, the host, shared his pad with swarms of cockroaches as avid as the guests to guzzle wine that flowed non-stop.

Any subject, the crazier the better, came under examination by a varied crew: from hitmen two steps ahead of the law, to owners of the Lykes shipping lines, to Beatniks hitching cross country. These bacchanalian revels ran so late that guests fell asleep, sometimes stayed the weekend. We’d thought of ourselves as sophisticated New Yorkers. Compared to the decadent French Quarterites–all of whom have now passed on to party in heaven–we were toddlers.

Women came on to Mike while men did the same to me. Both of us were ready for outside sexual experiences. We found them within the confines of what drifted into a “tolerant marriage.” Coping with jealousy and problems of scheduling resulted in some Byzantine situations that tested our resolve to move our marriage forward. Eventually, in L, our partner, we found a third whose desire to enlarge her romantic sphere coincided with our own.

Act III Saratoga 2009:

We’ve left the track before the last race to avoid crowds pouring out of the Travers sweepstakes. Saratoga is an annual summer must menage event. From Vermont every year we drive over and bet paltry sums compared to high rollers with stuffed wallets. Our purses may not be loaded with cash, but our hearts are full. So far we have not descended into bitterness, or regrets for more traditional paths not taken. Against heavy odds, we have established a long-term connection that we wager will endure till the finish line.

Today our horse came in big time. L’s luck descends from a noble Hungarian ancestor so she has an inherited aptitude for picking winners. We feel as flush as Diamond Jim Brady, keen to celebrate at the Adelphi hotel–a Saratoga grande dame restored to full Victorian splendor. Camera buffs, in the Adelphi’s plush parlor we take turns snapping each other posed as our favorite outlandish characters. L strikes a Mae West “come see me sometime” attitude which makes us giggle like fools. A passing tourist is prevailed upon to use his camera to immortalize our trois cuddled on a divan for three.

No need for champagne to enhance our bubbly mood.  We adjourn to a garden tearoom, throw our diets in the hopper and order a full plate of whipped cream chocolate tarts. Our menage has stomached bitter moments along with the sweet–not surprising considering the versatility of our palette.  Alas, this summer has raced by; future falls, winters and springs promise new opportunities to expand our horizons a trois. We stuff ourselves, loosen our belts and anticipate lots more love and bestsellers.