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To Unicorns, From an Ex-Unicorn

Hello, fellow bisexual woman! You may be brand new to the idea of a relationship with multiple people, or you may have been polyamorous for years now. Either way, I’m guessing that you’re here because you are interested in dating a couple. Maybe one particular couple has approached you, or you might have your eye on a couple yourself. Or maybe you just like the idea of a triad in the first place. Congratulations, in any case! Triads can be happy, healthy, caring relationships. However, there are a lot of pitfalls to watch out for on your way to making a happy, healthy triad. You’ve heard of Unicorns, now you’ll find out what dangers to avoid in order to not become prey.

First off, let’s start with the terms “Unicorn” and “Unicorn Hunting”. This is an interesting set of terms, because Unicorn Hunting is often a phrase used in a negative way, while many bi women happily self-identify as Unicorns. The problem with the latter, I personally believe, is that it is often used by women who are new to the polyamory community, and it makes them more visible to Unicorn Hunters who may prey on a lack of knowledge. This is basically like in the BDSM community, where anyone that says they think that 50 Shades of Grey portrays a healthy BDSM relationship, you know they are brand new to BDSM, or may be a dangerous predatory Dom that abuses people. Talking about 50 Shades is an entirely different post, so moving on…

Not all couples that want to date a bi woman are Unicorn Hunters. There is nothing wrong with just being a couple that doesn’t want to date separately, and wants to date only a bi woman. This severely limits their options, and it may be very hard to find that relationship, but that doesn’t mean it’s inherently bad. The term “Unicorn Hunters” is reserved for people that display the negative characteristics, habits, or rules that should be immediately seen as red flags. It’s also rare for these people to be malicious. Often, it’s simply a couple that is new to polyamory, and choose some very common – and unfortunate – rules and assumptions to start with.

Here are some things to look out for when you are starting a relationship with an established couple. Again, many times these are not malicious, and if you start a discussion with a couple that displays one or two of these, it can be fixed before it becomes a problem. However, if these are not addressed, they are extremely likely to cause a problem, sooner rather than later.

1) “We want to add a woman (or worse, “female”) to our relationship”

That seems like a simple phrase, and one that I see countless times in a day. It also seems very innocuous, but it could very well indicate an unhealthy point of view.

The problem with this phrase is that it assumes that a woman would be grafted on to the existing relationship. What actually happens when a healthy triad is formed, is that a brand new relationship is created, between three people. The third person is not just added as an afterthought, but rather each person in the relationship evaluates where they are and where they want to be in the relationship. Everyone has to have an equal say in how the relationship is formed, even if it is agreed that each relationship is “equal.” This could mean that the bi woman wants to remain in a “secondary” role and doesn’t want a level of commitment that the original (or “primary”) couple has. Alternately, the relationship could be completely renegotiated; for example, the two women may become “primaries” and the man the “secondary”, or all three decide to be each others’ “primaries”.

What to watch out for: Make sure that the couple is aware that you are not an addition or accessory to their relationship. You have thoughts, feelings, preferences, and boundaries of your own, and these must all be respected. You are not simply stumbling into a relationship where you must fit in a box they already created as an “addition” to their relationship.

Instead, look for an attitude that displays “We would like to have a relationship with another woman,” instead of “We want to add a woman.” The difference may simply be that they are unaware how they are phrasing it, but it’s something that should be clear before you start the relationship.

2) “Primary” and “Secondary”, and “Protecting the Relationship”

I deliberately used quotes around the terms “primary” and “secondary” in the previous section, because I feel as though that terminology is restrictive and confusing. While relationships where commitment, time, and emotions are not equally spent between any of the three people can work and be very rewarding, it should not be enforced without any say. There is nothing wrong with wanting that sort of relationship, and also nothing wrong with wanting a relationship with three “primaries”, but again, these are not things to be imposed on one person.

Related to this is the idea that if a couple opens their relationship, they can protect that relationship and keep everything the way it was. The fact of the matter is, opening a relationship will permanently change it. In many ways, this change is good, and can help strengthen the relationship. However, putting any rules in place to protect it in its original form will end up crippling both the original relationship, and any new ones that are made.

What to watch out for: When the existing couple makes it clear that they are the primaries, and the new partner can only ever hope to be a secondary, the power balance is off from the very beginning. This means the new partner doesn’t have an equal say in how her relationship evolves, and the other two partners make decisions for her. It is not healthy for one person’s relationships unilaterally decided by another person. Even if you want a casual relationship that doesn’t reach the same emotional level as that of the other two partners, you should be able to say that, instead of having it decided for you.

3) “If she doesn’t like the rules, she can leave!”

This is unfortunately a very common attitude, and one that should be avoided at all costs. This attitude means that the couple is very set on both of them having a say in how the relationship evolves, and you are only along for the ride. There is the very slight chance that you may agree with and want to follow all the rules they bring up, but even if that unlikely event is the case, you should still have a say in what you are agreeing to, and have the option to speak up if you decide that it isn’t working for you.

If a couple is adamant that their rules be followed or else, then you should go for the “or else.” Don’t waste your time getting attached in a situation where the rules could change on you at any moment, and you would have to agree or risk losing someone (or two someones) you have invested time and affection with.

What to watch out for: When you start dating a couple, make sure that there are no rules imposed on you without you having any say in the matter. All rules should be open to discussion, even if you agree with them. The point is not that you shouldn’t make any agreements, but rather that none should be imposed on you without your input. Negotiation and communication are absolutely essential in polyamory, and you should have a voice in your relationship.

4) You’re supposed to love them both equally

Love isn’t something that can be forced. You can’t make yourself love someone, and you can’t force yourself not to love someone. It is simply impossible to will emotions in and out of existence. Not only that, but no two people are identical, and it is impossible to have identical relationships with two different people. Because of this, any rule that demands that you love (or refrain from loving) two people equally is absolutely absurd.

Many Unicorn Hunters start out with this rule in the hopes that it will curb jealousy, but in the long run it only helps the jealousy grow. If you’re keeping a tally of who gets what, it will build resentment. Not only that, but as the third person in the relationship, it can be utterly exhausting. If you love one person more than the other, it means that you would have to either hide that growing affection, or fake feeling that affection for both people.

What to watch out for: Any indication that affection must be displayed or felt equally is a warning sign. Sometimes this is simply jealousy or insecurity, and if the person is willing to work through it, it doesn’t signal the end of the world. However, if rules are in place to keep things “equal” or if either partner demands an action, feeling, or statement in response to feeling like they are more or less loved than the other person, that is a red flag.

Instead, make sure that each relationship with each individual person is free to grow at its own pace.

5) You can’t have sex with only one of them (but they can have sex without you)

This is a red flag that I will be adding a lot of maybe and might to. This is because there are some situations and relationships where this arrangement is explicitly negotiated and agreed to by everyone. That would fall under point #3 – if you want the relationship to go this way, that is fine. But generally, this rule can show up as a red flag, and that’s what I am referring to here. If you agree to and enjoy this situation, this point may not apply to you. That part out of the way, here is why it can be a red flag.

This is an extremely common rule to impose, in the hopes that it will hide jealousy in the original couple. Hiding and working around jealousy rarely works, and it brings us right back to point #4. However, there are some specifics in this rule that are worth pointing out besides that.

I’m going to be honest here: Threesomes can be a lot of fun. But they can also get boring after a while! Talk to anyone who has had regular threesomes, and almost all of them will say that the novelty eventually wears off, and you just want time to be intimate with one person. It’s also extremely exhausting to have to take care of two people’s sexual needs all the time, every time. It’s like chocolate: Great to have on occasion, but a horrible idea for every meal.

With that in mind, this rule is extremely problematic in the context of a polyfidelitous triad (meaning a relationship with three people that cannot date anyone outside of the group). It means two people in the relationship get the best of both worlds, threesomes as well as twosomes, while the third person is restricted to only having threesomes. Even if they are not polyfidelitous and the third person does date other people one-on-one, they are still missing out on the connection that can be made having one-on-one contact with each person in the triad. This counts for sex as well as alone time – some couples demand not only having sex as a threesome, but also all dates and time spent must be with the original couple there together for all of it.

What to watch out for: Basically what’s in the title. Unless that is explicitly the type of relationship you want, don’t agree to only having sex (or dates) with both of them at once.

Are there ANY benefits to being in a triad?!

This may all sound like a lot to watch out for, but there are truly happy, successful, and loving triads out there. These can and do range from casual relationships where the third will visit the couple on occasion, to live-in polyfidelitous relationships where the three raise children, to anywhere in between. Triads can be exceptionally rewarding if you find three people that click well physically, emotionally, and overall. As long as you watch out for the very common pitfalls, you are much more likely to become part of one of those happy triad success stories.

You can see my previous post on the topic here, directed at the Unicorn Hunters themselves.

Chelsey Dagger

Chelsey is solo polyamorous, with multiple wonderful partners across the United States. They are in IT during the day, and at night they are currently in school for their Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, and on their way to being a therapist, with focus on polyamorous and LGBTQ individuals and families.

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. We are in a very happy triad. There’s my wife and I, and our GF. Our GF’s hubby isn’t romantically involved, but very strongly loved by all. We currently live apart but are discussing moving in together to help raise the children and further strengthen our relationship. We’ve been together nearly 4 years.

  2. glad I found this site.. wife just began talking to a girl. The spend a lot of time chatting and she asked for my pictures and all.. I have no idea how to handle this. I knew my wife had history with women and was ashamed at first. I wanted her to be whole person not just a fraction of self so I encouraged her to talk and just get to know people. I don’t want to fall into normal pitfalls of jealousy and silly insecurities. .

  3. I just got out of a triad relationship wherein I was their unicorn. I had expressed that that’s not what I wanted multiple times throughout our 1.5y relationship, that I was dating the two of them individually and not their marriage. But this was all online (we’ve been friends for 6 years, or, were friends), and I finally met them in person a couple months ago. It became clear that they thought of me as a unicorn, even if subconsciously (it was their first poly relationship too). All of these red flags came up, and just last week I ended it with both of them. It went very ugly, very fast. I’ve lost two long-time friends. But I think going monogamous for the forseeable future is enough emotions for me, for now. I have a loving boyfriend and that’s all I want.
    So, tl;dr I guess: I’m in that post-breakup stage where I read dozens of articles about my particular situation to feel better. This one helped. Thank you.

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