Couples traditionally vow to stay together for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Rarely do they mention for 24 hours a day, for seven days a week, for every single meal, for so much streaming, for two blasted, interminable years.
So imagine what the pandemic has been like for a throuple, three individuals in a loving, committed relationship. Also one that’s moved seven times since early 2020, including driving nearly 1,300 miles from Denver to Chattanooga in one car with three cats.
Cody Coppola, 31, and Maggie Odell, 28, have been together for six years, and married for four. Janie Frank, 26, is Cody’s girlfriend of more than five years. She is also Maggie’s. They all work in the construction and design.
Throuple is a new word, younger than the century and sounding oddly like a board game, but it reflects an ancient tradition. Polyamory was practiced in ancient Greece and Mesopotamia, among European nobility and in communes. It is salted throughout the Bible and depicted in great art, the movie “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” and Netflix catnip “Tiger King.” The difference is that now the practice is publicly shared, as is so much of contemporary life, through the wonders of social media. Which Janie and Maggie and Cody do on TikTok.
Being a throuple, or triad, can be simultaneously easier and more challenging, in the way that anything can be altered by an additional element. There are two people to cherish, but also two to cause aggravation.
Within their partnership, “there are four separate relationships,” Janie says in a phone interview. “The three of us together. Me and Maggie. Me and Cody. Cody and Maggie. All of those relationships need to be cared for and nourished.”
Janie, Cody and Maggie dwell in a couple-centric world. They understand that people are intrigued by their otherness. Few of their friends are throuples, though they recently became acquainted with a foursome, or quad. They hope to enlighten people about their relationship and convey that, rather than some orgiastic outtake from “Fellini Satyricon,” it involves laundry and utility bills. As Maggie says, “it’s actually kind of boring.”
Cody cites two primary advantages to being a throuple, a word he dislikes, though they use it regularly. “When I am completely overwhelmed and need a partner to be supportive and loving, I now have two. It doesn’t fall on one person,” he says. Conversely, “when I’m not in a good place, and I don’t want to be around anyone, I’m not the everything for one person. They get a night to themselves, and there’s no guilt on my end about basically abandoning someone.”
They are all vaccinated and boosted. No one has gotten sick. But in the past two years while living through the pandemic, Maggie says, they have “experienced every single stressor that you can put on a relationship”: loss of employment, money issues, change of jobs, moving, home renovation, moving and moving again.
They nursed big dreams to relocate to Prague and, in preparation, shed most of their belongings. But this was the spring of 2020. The coronavirus had other plans.
During the pandemic’s first six months, Maggie and Cody were furloughed while Janie worked from home — home, for that stretch, being Maggie’s parents’ house in Denver.
Instead of Eastern Europe, they opted for southern Tennessee, a new region for all of them, but Cody had a couple of friends there from bouldering. Despite the challenge of meeting new people during the pandemic, the threesome committed quickly to the area and purchased their first house on an acre of land. The building needed, well, everything. Says Cody, “Basically, all we’re keeping is the roof.”
The renovation doubled the cost of the house. Scheduled to take six months, the project is well into 10. The threesome budgeted accordingly, though paying the rent for their ever-changing temporary residences, plus the mortgage, has been a challenge during a time of job and economic instability.
Maggie has joined Janie in working from home. Which means they are together all the time.
“We definitely bicker,” Maggie says, referring to all three of them. “The biggest bickering is how we individually deal with stress. I need to talk it through. Cody bottles it up. Janie needs her alone time.”
They rarely argue about money, the San Andreas Fault of many relationships. There is an additional person to trifurcate bills. Separate checking accounts are key. They are all pretty tidy. Maggie cooks. Cody’s big on laundry. Janie tends to floors. No one likes cleaning the cat boxes.
For them, three people in one bed does not make for a sound night of rest. Cody and Janie snore. Maggie talks in her sleep. “I’m a very, very light and anxious sleeper,” she says. Consequently, two bedrooms are essential. One is furnished with a king-size bed, the other with a queen. Each night they decide who sleeps where.
“When those two are annoying the heck out of you, they can annoy each other and you can be alone,” Maggie says. Contrary to what people may believe about the intimate lives of a millennial throuple, she says, “we fight over who gets to sleep alone.”
The new house has three bedrooms — one will be Janie’s office — affording all three partners privacy when needed, plus the luxury of two bathrooms.
The two women live more adamantly online. “I was raised to keep more to yourself,” Cody says, but he has embraced sharing their story. “People are going to be malicious whether we’re on or not on social media,” he says. Their TikTok account @3.mountains, documenting “just your average throuple in the south,” with more than 263,000 followers, tends toward goofiness, hugs, cats and “Newlywed Game” videos, plus Maggie-designed merchandise and sponsorship from an invisible teeth aligner.
“We’re helping other people see what this kind of relationship looks like,” Maggie says. “It’s not that different from a couple. We’re sort of normalizing it.”
Cody says, “A lot of times when the topic is polyamory, the first thing that comes up is sex.” (Verified. Initial throuple searches revealed posts that veered quickly into NSFW territory, with considerable exhibitionism and Gene Simmons-level displays of extended tongues.)
“If three people are together for more than a month, sex is a very small part of the relationship,” he says. “Day in and day out, it’s how you live together.”
Every Sunday, they find time to air their grievances, in a half-hour or a matter of minutes. “When there are three people, the communication is so important,” Janie says. “We just meet and talk about if anything is bothering us, like ‘I feel like I’m the only person who did the dishes’ or ‘When you said this, it hurt me.’ That way no one is going to hold a grudge.”
Cody and Maggie met through a dating app. “I was spreading my oats. I was not planning in getting into a relationship,” Maggie says. “Then I happened to meet Cody, and he was it.”
Maggie is bisexual, and suggested that they temporarily try involving another woman. “It was to have something fun without a relationship and not a big deal,” she says. “It took Cody more convincing. He was worried about jealousy issues and stuff.” They used the app Feeld, which promotes “dating beyond the norm,” including polyamory.
“All of a sudden Janie happened,” Maggie says, “and she never left.”
In January 2018, Maggie and Cody married. “We’re together because we love each other,” Maggie says. “We got married for health insurance.” Janie served as maid of honor and wrote their vows. “There’s no hard feelings. I love that they love each other,” she says.
Janie has no legal rights within their union — they purchased the house through a limited liability company — and polygamy has been illegal in this country since the late 19th century.
When Maggie and Cody finally receive their 2020 tax refund, they plan to buy Janie a ring, an engagement ring of sorts. She has picked one out, aquamarine to complement Maggie’s lapis lazuli. “The ring is a symbol, a celebration of our love and commitment,” Janie says.
They hope to hold a ceremony of their throupledom in autumn 2023. Meanwhile, they await the completion of the house, possibly in March. Then they will move again. With any luck, it will be their last for a good long while.