Ever heard of “unicorns” or “unicorn hunters”? No, we’re not talking about a kids’ TV show, but rather the ubiquitous phenomenon of a (usually male/female) couple looking for a (usually female) third partner to share. The practice has invited much debate within the poly community, with many people considering it predatory and insulting to the third partner, who runs the risk of being sexually and often emotionally bound to a couple with an established bond and falling to the bottom of the pecking order. However, others argue that – done correctly – the formula can work. A “unicorn” needn’t be treated as a toy and can expect to find themselves on an equal footing in the right relationship. Having been part of a triad with an established couple myself, I can safely say that I never felt like an afterthought – our break-up was more to do with the fact that polyamory wasn’t for me, at least at the time.
“So my female partner and I have been polyamorous since we met more or less, and before we met I was also in a polyamorous relationship, so although we don’t advertise ourselves as poly (and many of our friends don’t know) I think we have a fairly good series of observations from over the years,” says Joe, 34. “If you count ‘unicorn hunting’ as a couple looking for a third in a closed relationship, I think most polyamorous people start their journey in that way, although most will vehemently deny that they did. Polyamory is about a lot of love, yes, but it’s also a lot of risk and a lot of hurt. Looking while in a secure relationship is a safety net, even if people don’t see it that way. There’s an imbalance of power from the start. Not always, but for many people who are new to the lifestyle there definitely is.”
Joe believes that gender plays an important part in the role of the unicorn, as they are generally (but not always) female. “Unicorn hunting also commodifies cis-women,” Joe continues. “A lot of people are made aware of polyam through media, shows like You, Me, Her and or TikTok polyam accounts, most of which involve triads with two women and a man. That’s because the media is selling the titillation of it all. It’s rooted in multiple layers of misogyny. Men being OK with their girlfriends seeing another girl but not a man? Check. Women being ‘bi in the bedroom’? Check. And so on. Being in a relationship with one with two cis women and a cis man isn’t automatically always like this, of course.” Joe ended up falling into such a liaison unexpectedly himself. “I was in a relationship like that before I met my partner,” he explains. “We didn’t look for it to turn out that way. I had a nesting partner and a girlfriend who ended up spending more and more time with us, and at some point they chose to start going out independently. For a short while, the three of us lived together and that was that. It didn’t last, but then we’d never gone out as a couple to achieve that goal.”
For some people, triads branch out into a bigger network, and this evens out the hierarchy. “I began a relationship with a couple, and then my partner became involved with them too,” reveals Tini, 30. “When I brought him in I felt there were equal ‘energies’ and everyone’s needs were being met – nobody felt left out. It was like a missing piece of the puzzle. That said, fast forward three years and I’m still with the couple although my ex-lover is no longer in the picture – I see them both together and individually and they have their own partners too. I think when you add the ‘amour’ instead of the casual adventure, dynamics also change and you do what’s best for you. We now have what’s called a ‘Kitchen Table Setup’ with all our partners.”
James, 28, is a male ‘unicorn’. “I know we’re not always considered to be ‘unicorns’, because a lot of people think that it’s harder to attract an HBB (Hot Bi Babe) than a randy man,” he laughs. “However, I personally don’t consider the term gender-specific. I’m lucky in that, although my lovers are married, we all cohabit happily and nobody seems to feel left out. Our main source of annoyance is other people’s attitudes, especially as our female lover started out as a unicorn herself before marrying the male member of the couple she was seeing!” James has a good network of poly friends – male, female and non-binary – and he tells OutNewsGlobal “I’m not unusual at all in having found a comfortable set-up with an established couple. There are plenty of happy unicorns out there!”
Sex experts Celeste and Danielle (www.SomaticaInstitute.com) have worked with thousands of clients, helping them realise their full sexual and emotional potential. They are the authors of Making Love Real: The Intelligent Couple’s Guide to Lasting Intimacy and Passion. They are also the creators of the experiential and cutting edge Somatica Method of sex and relationship coaching. “The terms ‘unicorn’ and ‘unicorn hunter’ are often considered derogatory because they refer to heterosexual couples searching for another women to have sex with and many people think that these heterosexual couples are just “using” bisexual women without regards to their needs and feelings,” says Celeste.
She continues, “While this might occasionally be the case, the whole truth is much more complex. For example, a single women may seek out a couple to explore her bisexuality or because she herself is interested in some no-strings-attached sex. It is also possible that the three of them may form lasting sexual or emotional connections that work well for everyone involved. In some cases the ‘unicorn’ will be secondary, in others they might all eventually become equal partners in a triad. There can be some advantages to staying secondary, like having less responsibility in the relationship and having to do less emotional work. There can also be disadvantages, like less security – as a secondary your needs and feelings and even your relationship might be sacrificed for the good of the couple.”
Celeste has some basic advice for unicorns wary of entering a relationship that does not fulfil their needs. “If you are a single woman interested in dating a couple, there are a few things you’ll want to keep an eye out for beyond physical attraction,” she says. “First, are they emotionally intelligent – can they communicate about feelings and are they good at listening and empathising with yours? Second, are they good lovers – are they sensual and able to talk about sex? Are they interested in your desires and pleasure and good at giving you what you want? Third, are you all on the same page – do you all want the same level of relationship, whether that be casual sex or short or long-term relationship?”
Make a profile on pretty much any dating site as a bisexual woman and you’re guaranteed to get pestered for threesomes. Sometimes, people ask if you want something a bit more, well, ongoing. The problem is, many people still send these messages without checking to see what kind of relationship you’re looking for on your profile. Presuming they know the meaning of the word “monogamous” (and a good number of them sound as if they probably don’t), these people are probably what gives “unicorn hunters” their title and the bad reputation that often accompanies it. Finding someone whose needs chime with yours is hard in any relationship set-up, and even more so for “unicorns”. No wonder they’re considered so elusive…
Read Mario Forgione’s brilliant column on Chemsex, Covid and Christmas.