The internet is currently abuzz with rumours of a new celebrity romance — but not a couple. On Sunday, The Daily Mail published a series of paparazzi shots of Taika Waititi, Rita Ora, and Tessa Thompson enjoying some serious PDA outside Waititi’s Sydney, Australia, home. The photos feature several configurations of Ora, Thompson, and Waititi kissing, cuddling, and leaning on one another. In several, all three are kissing each other.
After the photos made their way to Twitter, users were at turns jealous, confused, and shocked, with people speculating that the three appeared to be in a throuple. To be clear, we have no idea what's going on between these three celebrities. Although The Sun first reported that Waititi and Ora were dating in April, neither has said whether or not they are seeing each other, let alone whether Thompson is also involved. And making matters all the more complex, Thompson was photographed kissing and smiling alongside model Zac Stenmark the next day. There's a lot going on here, but the biggest question is: Should the idea of a throuple still be all that shocking?
Throuples — relationships between three individuals — fall under the broader polyamorous umbrella. And as many as one out of every nine Americans say they have been polyamorous at some point in their lives, according to a March study published in Frontiers in Psychology. Polyamory can take on many forms: Some people are in triads, which typically means two people are dating the same person but uninvolved with each other romantically and sexually. Others have larger networks, called polycules.
Different forms of non-monogamy work for different people, but throuples are unique in that they typically include three people who are all dating each other. A throuple itself can be either an open or monogamous relationship. In recent years, we’ve seen these kinds of relationships enter the mainstream, with a throuple appearing on a 2020 episode of House Hunters and Bella Thorne opening up about dating two people at once in a 2019 interview with Cosmopolitan. They’ve even made their way to Netflix via shows like Elite and The Politician. Just this year, a throuple in California made history as the first set of parents to have three names listed on their child’s birth certificate. And, of course, there are people who may not be in an established throuple or poly relationship, but may have enjoyed a fling or a single night with an additional partner.
There's evidence of the existence of triads, throuples, and other poly relationships in ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, and even the Bible. In the late 1840s, a group of people living in the Oneida commune in upstate New York practiced something called “complex marriage,” in which everyone was considered married to one another. Around a century later, William M. Marston, who created Wonder Woman under a pen name in the 1940s, was in a triad with his wife Elizabeth and a woman named Olive Byrne. (His granddaughter, however, recently said that Elizabeth’s close relationship with Olive was strictly platonic.)
So this isn't a super-new phenomenon, and today, it isn't a rare one. Several studies from 2019 show that around 4 or 5% of the U.S. population is involved in some sort of consensually non-monogamous relationship at any given time. Still, the fascination around these photos makes sense: We aren't used to seeing many public relationships between more than two people, especially more than two celebrities. (And especially a trio as seemingly random as the British "Let You Love Me" singer and the director and star of Thor 4.)
There are many reasons someone might choose to enter a throuple. Sometimes, they might simply be attracted to two people. Or maybe, they find joy and excitement in watching a partner receive affection from someone else. (This emotion is known as compersion, and it’s often described as the opposite of jealousy.) Some people prefer the dynamic between three people.
“If it works, you can spend a weekend with two people and you’re all hanging out and having fun and smoking, and like, sharing stories up late at night,” Thorne told Cosmopolitan. “It’s a really fun experience, and I have been able to capture that a couple times, and I just love that idea. I love loving two people at once.”
There are a lot of other benefits to three-way relationships, too. “Most poly relationships tend to be extremely honest and transparent about their feelings and desires, both emotionally and sexually,” says Malika S. O’Neill, LPC, a sexologist and founder of The Pleasure Collective, LLC. In her experience, she’s noticed that people in triads and throuples put a lot of work into setting boundaries and ground rules, which leaves less room for miscommunication. “Concerns are processed at a considerably faster rate, and a plan of action is curated rather than allowing things to fester unresolved.”
Throuples, like other kinds of poly relationships, aren’t for everyone — jealousy and lack of communication can be concerns. (Although, to be fair, these problems can exist among couples and within monogamous relationships, too.) And again, it's possible that nothing at all is going on between Waititi, Ora, and Thompson.
But polyamorous relationships do happen; Willow Smith even recently shared about her own polyamory on Red Table Talk. So if there's anything remarkable about these celebrity relationships, it's that they tend to involve beautiful people — and that's perhaps why we are so intrigued by them. But as long as everyone's consenting, maybe it's time to let go of the shock around how many beautiful people are taking part in a relationship — even if they are celebrities.