Two into three won't go

A man, two women, one hell of a mess. A menage-a-trois is an experience , but not one Virginia Leigh would care to repeat

A soft whisper: "I live in a... menage-a-trois!" Despite sounding a shade pretentious, the phrase, being French, has a throaty, seductive quality which makes it seem incredibly sexy. This, we assume, is a way of life for sophisticated, amoral libertines, characters, very probably, straight from Les Liaisons Dangereuses and all that. We imagine that a sexual relationship involving three people must be restricted to suspiciously decadent artists and intellectuals, publishers such as Harry and Caresse Crosby, or bohemians such as Eleanor Marx, E Nesbit, Robert Graves, Augustus John, Rodin, Stanley Spencer, Jack Kerouac, Lytton Strachey. The Bloomsbury Group especially, including Strachey, just adored triangular relationships and went in for them in every possible combination.

The traditional menage-a-trois does not usually involve three in the bed (roll over, roll over) or homosexual and/or lesbian contact between the participants. The conventional version concerns three adults, usually living together or in close proximity. Almost always - no surprises here - there is one man who is having sex (separately, in private) with each of his two women lovers. It is usually supposed to be an adult, consensual and happy arrangement: "We're just not into being jealous and possessive here." None of this is ever true.

Far from being restricted to corrupt eggheads, the threesome is incredibly common and almost anyone can drift unwittingly, as I did, into such a situation. It is then very hard to get out without leaving someone you love, including children. It all ends in tears before bedtime.

Some years ago, I moved in with Felix, an older, trust fund blond with a pony-tail, like the Devil in Angel Heart. He played at an auction house and worked at watching TV while listening to deafening reggae, surrounded by encrusted cognac bottles, spliffs and all the impedimenta of pleasure. His west London pied-a-terre was large and design conscious with interior landscaping, like a Seventies fern bar. He was sexually inventive, very funny and apparently single. Little did I know. His friends were oddly cool in my presence and some of them seemed to think I was invisible. One of them even chucked a bowl of garlic croutons over me. Was the blizzard of airmail that poured in - Felix was exceptionally quick at grabbing postcards - really from his "relatives"? Of course not.

His wife, Abbie, who retailed jewellery and ludicrously expensive ethnic faux-antiques was on an extended buying tour of the Far East. The efficient tribal drums of the English middle-classes enlightened both Abbie and myself. There were tears and tantrums in London. Felix insisted it was "all over" between them. He made long-distance phone-calls at night. Abbie flew into Paris and imperiously announced that she was coming to London to meet me. She had the acumen to scope out the opposition first.

I waited outside McDonald's on Shaftesbury Avenue for Felix to produce the spouse who had slipped his mind. As I saw them in the distance, my heart sank. They looked so... involved, so... married. Two tall blonds, their heads close together, in earnest conversation. Felix sidled off so that we could have our "discussion".

Abbie was a strong-minded woman with a huge, dazzling corona of dark- blonde hair. She wore permanent RayBans, had wonderful cheek-bones, beautiful delicate hands, endless legs and worryingly chic foreign clothes. We didn't get on. She flew back.

Felix and I had descended to fisticuffs, when, a few weeks later, Abbie came home. She stalked in, her demeanour suggesting that numberless native bearers were staggering along behind her with all the luggage, and plonked herself on a red velvet sofa. She began to drink immoderately and refused to budge. I'd had enough. Okay, okay, I'd go. Just give me a few days to pack up and get used to the thought of (sob) losing Felix. Abbie shrugged and passed out. Felix and I went to bed.

So, there we were. Felix didn't want me to go. He just loved it all - two women, blonde and brunette, having cat-fights about him! Bliss! Abbie tried everything, wandering around with nothing on below the waist, rearranging all the furniture, tacking up huge photographs of herself, constantly threatening suicide, importing new boyfriends, blocking all my phone-calls, banning me from the kitchen. I hit her over the head with a stiletto boot. Felix said the same things to both of us (separately): "You're the only one" etc, etc. Although he and I shared The Bed, it was quite obvious he was shagging Abby furiously (probably in the kitchen) every time I was out of sight.

I got depressed. Abbie got pregnant and triumphantly named Felix as the putative Dad. Panicked, Felix fled for LA where he joined a minor post- punk/reggae band. As soon as he'd gone, Abbie threw me out. Plastic bags scattered my camisoles, rhinestone mules, leather wristbands, single earrings, broken dildos, diaries, empty scent bottles and amber beads all over the street. Actually she was quite nice about making me suddenly homeless. She went in and called a cab and gave me some Valium when it arrived.

Abbie and Felix never got back together. Their child was another sharp, blond heart-breaker. Now teenage, he is kissing the girls and making them cry in his turn. His parents both married new partners and produced some more, surprisingly nice children. Now that romantic love has fled, I am extremely fond of them all and almost-best friends with Felix.

This, in my experience, was a fairly typical menage-a-trois. Many women friends have, either unwittingly or through ideological commitment ("We're just not jealous or possessive here...") found themselves in similar situations. During the Seventies, it was almost de rigueur. But I've only known two women with the power to reverse the alpha-male dominated harem.

One, Chloe, was a tough Northern feminist who insisted that her new toy- boy, the hunky Rufus, move in with her and her long-term squeeze, David. It all proved too much for Rufus's fragile male ego - they had a bedding rota pinned to the fridge with nights off for Marxist meetings and menstruation. Rufus soon added Dee-Dee, a cute girl with dreadlocks, making it a menage- a-quatre. The rota was re-done and became very complicated. Eventually, Chloe and Dee-Dee, both hugely pregnant, fell in love, renounced men and went off to found a feminist commune. They both had baby boys.

The other was a sweet ghoul - the horror writer Poppy Z Brite, who lived, very publicly, in the old French Quarter of New Orleans with her two male lovers. One was a Chinese chef. But I hear that even their long-running menage has broken up now. So it goes. And so they all went.

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