“I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or Life in the Woods
As a teenager one summer, I took an architecture class at Oakland’s California College of the Arts. We sketched façades, built models, took walking tours, visited Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The overall effect was to disabuse me of my desire to enter the profession — an expertise in electrical-outlet placement was a more probable outcome than a career in experimental museum–design. But one particular, sprawling lecture by Jay Baldwin sparked two long-lasting fascinations: first, in the works of Buckminster Fuller; and second, in triangles.
With each vertex connected to the two others, triangles are the most stable shape, we learned. Bridges, butresses, and bicycles all rely upon this fact, we learned.
Architectural principles don’t map perfectly, or even logically, to interactions between people. Yet I think there’s still something useful here. Just as three vertices are the bare minimum required to draw a two-dimensional shape — all you can draw with two vertices is a line — three people are the bare minumum required to draw a group.1 Or, depending whom you ask, company or a crowd. Or, as Thoreau puts it in the Walden quotation above, society.
If there’s something especially strong about architectural triangles, perhaps that’s also the case with social triangles.2 In their minimalism, three-person groups possess ineffable properties that I’ve come to enjoy. For much of childhood, my closest-knit group of friends was a group of three. Dan, Nick, and I fed off each other’s hobbies, idiosyncracies, and kitchen tables. These days, one of my favorite get-togethers in New York is with two newish acquaintences. None of us knows either of the other two well enough to spend much time one-on-one. But when all three of us meet for dinner we have wide-ranging, surprisingly intimate, oddly thoughtful conversations that last hours before anyone thinks to ask for the check.
Which speaks to this draft’s title. For years now, I’ve wished there were a restaurant that catered to groups of three. Instead of rectangular tables, which always leave somebody facing nobody, this resturant would have round tables like you see in Bryant Park or at an outdoor café. Seating priority would, of course, go to trios above dyads and quartets. It would serve larger-than-usual appetizers, which at other resturants are just a bit too tiny to share three ways. The drinks menu would focus on bottles of wine — often too generous to split between two diners but too small to split among four. Among the world’s hundreds of thousands (or is it millions?) of restaurants, a place like this surely must exist. But where?
Expanding on this analogy: An internal monologue is a single point in space; a conversation between two people is a line; meeting of three minds is the first possible shape. ↩
In socio-political institutions, too. The Founding Fathers were on to something with their three checking-and-balancing branches of federal government. But I can think of few other institutions encourage three-ing; most the rest prefer pairs or much larger groups. (Marriage, for example and for plenty of good reasons.) ↩