First, let’s get one thing straight. I call this The Dumbass Trifecta because I’m very hard on myself. If I engage in this behavior – in any element of it – I’m being a dumbass. I don’t care what you call it. Call it whatever you like. Call it “The Unfortunate Triangle.” Whatever it takes. Just read and see it and take note of it and please do your best to not let it ruin precious things for you. Don’t let the name of my container interfere with the message. Or, go ahead and use the name. After all, it helps me, so maybe it’ll help you.


There is a sequence of events I’ve seen in relationships. I’ve seen it in multi-partner relationships, I’ve seen it in business relationships, and I’ve seen it in friendships. I’ve seen it pretty much everywhere. I think it’s one of the most destructive forces to hit a relationship. That is to say, I haven’t seen anything more destructive, at least not yet, and I hope I never do, because this is about as insidious and fucked up as it gets.

It’s also ubiquitous and if you don’t know what that word means, now is the time to look it up, because you need to know that I’m not talking about some rare thing like a reasonable discussion of the pros and cons of nuclear power. I’m talking about something that I’ve seen a lot, in almost every relationship, and that causes tremendous damage.

I call it The Dumbass Trifecta.

Let’s start with the dumbass part of this, because I figure most people are going to be defensive immediately when they hear or think of the word.

I understand that and I sympathize with it. I use it for myself for a specific reason. I want to be the best partner I can be and that means that I have to hold myself to a standard that seems very unreasonable at times. I’m imperfect and I recognize that, but I’m not going to whitewash it when I’m being a dumbass. When I do the things and think the way I describe here, then I absolutely think I am being a dumbass. A destructive, selfish dumbass. I tell myself that so that I don’t do it again. If I try bullshitting myself about what’s going on, then I might do it again, and that’s just not something I want to do. So I’m harsh about it.

You can call it whatever you like. I recommend this, but if it bothers you, pick something else. Don’t let the name get in the way of the concept. Call it whatever you need to call it to keep yourself from doing it.

Now for the trifecta part.

Trifecta means that there are three elements needed to complete it.

Those three elements are usually people. Not always, but usually. An element can be a family or a group of people or a business or any number of other things. Usually, however, it’s a person. This will make more sense later. For my purposes here, I’ll generally refer to each element as a person (he, she, they, etc.), but for examples, I’ll include some non-person elements.

The trifecta is a dynamic that includes three people. Call them the Savior, the Victim, and the Dragon.

Loaded words, I know, but again, if they’re a hassle, feel free to use your own. Remember, the goal is to not be these things, and thus not be a member of the Dumbass Trifecta, so it’s okay to give them loaded words for names.

Here’s how they all work together to fuck things up:

The Savior thinks that the Victim wants to be saved from the Dragon, and so will act accordingly to do so.

The Victim wants to feel worth saving, and constructs elaborate scenarios pitting the Savior against the Dragon.

The Dragon thinks things will be great if the Victim could just get under some sort of control. Assuming the Dragon even knows about the Savior, the Savior might be blamed for some of this (in which instance the Dragon and the Savior might switch places).

They’re all dumbasses.

In the spirit of glasnost, I will be up-front and admit that I have been – in various situations and times – in the role of each of the three people in the Dumbass Trifecta (to my shame, yes, I admit). I can assure you that in each and every case, I was, in fact, being a dumbass. You don’t have to admit anything, of course, and I won’t go into my own details, because this isn’t a public flogging, but believe me when I tell you I’ve been in all three positions, so I speak from each one. It sucks. Moving on…

Why is the Savior being a dumbass?

The Savior thinks they are helping someone. We all want to help people (and helping people is a good thing!), so this is a natural thing to think. In the case of multi-partner relationships, that person (the Victim) is usually under the horrible thumb of an oppressive partner (the Dragon) who we’re convinced is insecure or afraid or otherwise troubled. We do our best to help. Sometimes we offer the Victim literature, sometimes respites, sometimes “breaks” via coffee shops, dates, or even the occasional secret rendezvous.

The help can be more subtle. In the case of multiple partners, maybe rather than rocking the boat, we accept the Victim’s version of the environment as the truth. Sure, we probably could seek data elsewhere, but it’s just simpler if we don’t. The emotional outbursts slow down if we don’t. So we don’t.

It’s natural to want to help people, I understand that, but this isn’t one of those cases, and it becomes apparent very quickly, to those who aren’t actually in it.

The specific reason the Savior is a dumbass isn’t because they’re trying to help someone, but because they’re throwing effort into a system that is a perpetual cycle. They see all the signs that this isn’t actually saving someone, but they ignore it. Usually they increase their efforts. The eventual result is a ton of frustration, lots of lost resources (money, food, time, etc.), and a mountain of resentment so high you couldn’t climb it without Maker Hooks. That’s dumbass.

Why is the Victim being a dumbass?

The Victim loves feeling worth something. That makes sense – we all thrive from feelings of strong worthiness. Sure, in a perfect world, our feelings of self-worth are 100% from within us, a shiny core of unbreakable awesomeness that no one can tarnish, but in practice, the fact is that we glow a little bit more when we’re loved and valued, and we dim a little bit when we’re treated like shit.

In the case of the Victim, however, this gets short-circuited.

As a Victim, we have a lot of trouble with that sense of self-worth. In fact, we have so much trouble with it that we let our glasses be filled up by whichever pitcher’s closest. It might not always be the nicest beverage, but that doesn’t matter to us. When we’re near the Dragon, our cup gets filled with that. When we’re near the Savior, our cup gets filled with that. We don’t care who fills it, we just want it filled.

We also exacerbate things because we experience a conflict – we say that whoever’s filling our cup at the moment is the best, but we feel as if we’re still missing something, so we look elsewhere, too. So, as the Savior is filling our cup, we are effusive with gratitude, but there’s a dark part wishing the Dragon was doing that. When the Dragon fills our cup, we are also thrilled to make happy noises, but we still think the Savior somehow would do that better.

The result is that we end up playing them against each other in our minds. We set up scenarios and situations to keep them apart, and yet to keep each of them in our lives. We are addicted to that cycle of filling our cup of self-worth at as many different pitchers as we can safely maintain, and if need be, we dump our cups so that we appear as empty as possible for the next source.

It’s reasonable and okay to want to feel wanted by a partner. That makes sense.

It might even be more subtle than that. In the case of multiple partners, we might simply feel as if it’s important to “modify” the data stream a little, just to keep things happy, to keep someone from being upset. We think we’re doing a good thing. Just tweaking the language, or delaying bad news, or whatever. It seems to make sense at the time.

But once we realize we’re in that cycle, that we’re dumping and refilling our cups, that we’re constructing scenarios to assure a steady supply of attempted rescuing while preventing any actual action, then we’ve crossed the line. At that point, we’ve become dumbasses.

Why is the Dragon being a dumbass?

This is a toughie, because a lot of people tend to think of the Dragon as a basically passive element (an innocent victim), and in some respects, the Dragon is passive. I’ve met people who have been in the Dragon role and at first, they claimed they had no idea what was going on. Then, later, they confessed that they saw some of the signs, but just didn’t want to put it together. This matches my own observations as well, but I’m not planning to force any one of us out in the open. The Dragon’s in a tough place typically, because they aren’t always aware they are the foil, but they are also socially the most powerful, because they are usually the “wronged” party and the way we look at relationships is that the wronged party often gets a free pass to respond poorly.

As a Dragon, we find ourselves sometimes involved with someone who needs more assurances than normal. Maybe they’ve had a particularly rough week or a rough month or whatever.

Having a rough patch is normal. It happens to everyone. As good partners, we want to be supportive of a partner struggling with those rough patches. We want them to be able to have the resources they need to come back to a place where they are flying level and good. This is all understandable, even commendable.

But then we go too far. We start getting the sense that there’s something afoot, something not cricket. Maybe we ask about it. Maybe we don’t. But we ignore it.

Or, instead of ignoring it, we start playing passive-aggressive and indirectly addressing it. Maybe we’re wondering if our partner is spending too much time out, so we start calling them on occasion. Just to say hi.

But not really.

Not really because we’re now in the process of building a case. We’re paying out more line knowing that the Victim is being courted by someone else. We’re paying out more line because when the whole house of cards comes tumbling down, that line we’re paying out becomes a line of relationship credit, and we will call that chit in.

That’s when we start being dumbasses.

Any one of these elements causes trouble. All three in the same social pot is a disaster.

Please note that I’m sympathetic to each of them. Having been in each role, I know how sincere one can feel in each role. Discovering one is in a Dumbass Trifecta does not make one unworthy. Staying in it, though, that’s a different story.

I think if you do whatever you reasonably can to extract yourself from, or avoid ever being a part of a Dumbass Trifecta, you’ll be about ninety-seven gajillion times happier than you are now. So happy you might plotz.

How can you tell if you’re in the middle of one?

The simplest way is to review the roles and ask yourself if any of it seems reasonable.

My favorite and best tool for multiple partner relationships is to make the assumption that I am free to communicate with any and all members of my circle. It’s not that I hunt down and verify each and every little thing someone says, but I always remember that I can do so if need be. If something becomes an issue, then I have that option.

More importantly, I watch for signs. How do I feel about what’s going on? Do I feel as if I’m a Savior, helping someone out of a fix that seems endless? Do I feel like a Victim, thriving on the feeling of being wanted, but also feeling held back? Do I feel like a Dragon, as strong as I can be while trying to not see – yet?

How can you avoid this?

If I find myself a part of a Dumbass Trifecta, I get out as quickly as I can. There’s no other solution. There may be dependencies, and I suppose I’ll have to handle those on an ad-hoc basis, but the bottom line is that I have to extract myself from the dynamic immediately. Or sooner.

The more I’ve done this, the more I’ve discovered that I can spot them before I get involved.

This is worth – to me – more than a Ride All Buses pass for the entire world. This is pure gold.

What’s a good example?

In the world of multiple partner relationships, there are countless examples of the Dumbass Trifecta, but the most glaring one involves a Savior who seems to have done it all before, and a Victim, who falls madly in love with the Savior, but who can’t express that fully because the Victim’s partner, the Dragon, isn’t “advanced enough” to “get” multiple partner relationships.

The “advanced enough” part is the icing on the cake because in its flattery (we all like being flattered) lies an illusory excuse to dismiss the Dragon as being “primitive.”

If I had a nickel for every person I’ve known who talks about how they’re struggling with a new partner whose other partner didn’t “get” multiple partners, I could have enough nickels to build Slimy Joe’s Huge-Ass Nickelnasium, with a few left over to drop on unsuspecting passersby from the top of the Empire State Building. That dynamic is nothing but trouble.

Sometimes in multiple partner relationships, the people involved are more aware of each other, but the Victim still runs a sort of “translation game” between the Dragon and the Savior. This can take a million different forms, but it’s the same game. The Dragon and the Savior each play their parts on the Victim’s stage (assuming they are doing so knowingly and/or willingly), and once again, a hideous amount of heartache typically results. The indicator for this is simple enough: references to third parties controlling things. For example “I really want this to be an overnight date, but I have to call it short because my other partner wants that.” Subscribing to that is signing up to be a part of a Dumbass Trifecta.

Lest you think it’s a static thing, think again. I’ve been in situations where I came in as a Savior (again, I’m willing to hold myself up as an example, because I’m willing to admit I’ve been a dumbass on occasion), but over time, the Victim shifted me into the position of a Dragon, allowing a new Savior to come in and protect the Victim from me. You might think that sounds crazy, but maybe you need to see it to know what I mean.

Maybe you’ve never seen this before. If so, count yourself lucky. You’ll see it eventually.

If you have, if any of these words or ideas make sense to you, then I hope that you extricated yourself from it in due time, and I also hope that it helps you avoid such a crazy thing in the future.

No one wants to be a part of the Dumbass Trifecta, no matter how sweet it tastes initially.

Be careful out there!

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