Unicorn Hunting™

Looking for a Third: A Discussion About Unicorn Hunting™

By on December 15, 2017

One of the hottest and most longstanding topics in polyamorous communities is Unicorn Hunting. Go into almost any poly chat room in any corner of the internet and you will, without fail, find at least one post that sounds something like this:

Nelson Newbie: Hey folks! We are a solid and secure married couple in seek of a third to complete our triad! Any women in *insert city/state/etc. here*?

If you’re reading that and it sounds like something you’ve written in the last six-to-nine months, you, my friend, are Unicorn Hunting.

I get it. Your heart is probably in a really good place. I don’t want to make any assumptions about you, dear reader, since we haven’t met, so instead I’ll tell you a story about my own journey into polyamory.

When I first discovered poly, I was married. I was watching a reality show that featured more than one polyamorous triad, much like what our friend Nelson Newbie was describing in his personal ad, and I was dazzled. I immediately showed it to my husband. We both thought it looked reaaaalllllyyyy hot! (Pro-tip: Expert lighting, camera angles, and highly-edited-20-minute segments will do that.) We talked about this new polyamory concept a LOT. We wanted to learn more but definitely didn’t know where to start. We were also nervous that it might be a big step to take and we were concerned about damaging our marriage. One thing we talked about was finding someone who would date us both. It seemed safe. It seemed like it might cut down on jealousy – how can I be jealous of something we are sharing. It seemed like the best way to dip our toes in, with minimal long-term risk. That didn’t turn out to be the case, but I want you to know that I can totally relate to the allure of wanting to open up and not knowing how and thinking it might just be an easy first step to get a “third”… like a tricycle is easier to ride than a bike. Unfortunately, this approach is widely regarded by more experience poly folks as a common mistake for a number of reasons. Reasons I’d wished I’d had someone to share with me way back then. Reasons I’m going to try and discuss with you now.

Before we go any further, let’s back up and lay a little groundwork for this conversation. What is a unicorn and why do we call it Unicorn Hunting?

A “unicorn” is the community term for a bisexual woman[1] who is non-monogamous and open to a sexual or romantic relationship with a couple/throuple/etc. Why are we (yes, I’m one of these women) called unicorns? Besides the fact that we are magical, the term unicorn has become a bit of a running joke in the poly community and it mostly refers to the unrealistic expectations that people seeking women like this out can have. Just like unicorns, what these couples want just isn’t real. This practice is called Unicorn Hunting because it often comes across as (and actually is) incredibly dehumanizing and predatory.

As someone who has been on both sides of the unicorn divide, I have my own thoughts on the matter, but I also have some very wonderful colleagues who share my views (and experience) that this is problematic. So, to help reinforce the message, I asked a friend of mine, fellow educator and longtime leader in the poly community, Joreth Inkeeper, for her input on some of this unicorn stuff. Joreth has written and educated extensively on polyamory, so I sent her the same (semi)hypothetical ad from Nelson Newbie and asked her how she might respond if she saw it on a forum[2]. She started off by saying this, “You will probably not have much luck finding what you’re looking for, and you should also expect to get a lot of backlash for your ad. The reason is because the language that you’re using is classic Unicorn Hunting, which is off-putting to exactly that demographic you’re looking for. If you truly want to find a romantic partner for a polyamorous relationship, you would be more successful if you changed a few things about the language that you’re using.”

I agree. This ad is way more likely to get backlash than sincere, interested responses. If I’m being honest, I tend to feel pretty prone to provide that backlash when I see this, only because it just seems to be so rampant in our communities. But I know that anger and backlash, while sometimes cathartic, is not productive. So, I asked Joreth what she’d recommend people do instead. Joreth has five points she makes about why this approach isn’t necessarily the most ethical or successful way to meet new people in poly communities. Let’s talk about them.

One: Bisexual women are humans, not unicorns.

“First of all,” says Joreth, “bisexual women are human beings, not puzzle pieces to a relationship. They are whole and complete people all by themselves. They are similarly looking for whole and complete people to have full relationships with, not other partial people who are not complete. If you want to attract a woman, treat her like a complete person with her own desires, needs, and limitations, not like the final collectible in your glass unicorn collection.”

BINGO! What an excellent starting point! In Nelson’s ad, he doesn’t talk about the wonderful qualities of the human he and his wife are seeking. He simply wants a third to “complete their triad.” Remember when I said that Unicorn Hunting™ can feel really dehumanizing to the “unicorn”? This is part of what I’m talking about. When a couple is trying so hard to preserve their relationship that all they’re doing is shopping for a bedroom accessory, it’s obvious. While I, personally, don’t mind occasionally joining a couple for a little roll in the hay (and I know many “unicorn” women who feel the same), this doesn’t mean I want to become a toy waiting on someone’s nightstand while they build a real relationship with someone else. And, ultimately, I still want to be treated like a person who has her own needs, thoughts, and feelings

Two: You, and your partner, are also human beings.

Joreth continues, “Second, as already mentioned, people like to engage with other whole people. You will have better luck finding someone who is interested in you if you present yourself as a whole and complete person, not someone who needs another to be whole. That’s a lot of pressure, and, frankly, it’s an unattractive job duty.”

In Nelson’s ad, he also doesn’t talk about the wonderful qualities he and/or his wife are bringing to the table. Poly relationship skills aren’t unlike other relationship skills. If you’re a single, monogamous person on a dating site and you’re looking for someone to go out with, which sounds better, and ad telling you want that person wants or an ad where the person tells you more about themselves?

Three: Relationships don’t date. People do.

Poly dating is also not totally unlike mono dating in that it’s really about what you’re doing as an individual, not what you’re doing as a “couple”. Joreth expands upon this as well.

“Third,” she says, “polyamory is not something that ‘couples’ do, it’s something that people do. Spend some time finding your own identities as individual people. Your ‘third’ is dating two people, not one relationship. So become people – the women you’re looking for deserve to date actual human beings, not a relationship construct.”

“Remember,” Joreth adds, “your marriage is intimidating. You come with a history and a legal contract that leaves anyone interested in dating either of you at a disadvantage right from the start. If you want someone to be willing to overcome that hurdle, you have to make it worth her time and her heart. For that, she needs you to be complete people all by yourselves and she needs to be able to relate to you individually, not be treated like an add-on rumpus room to a house you already built.”

This is something that folks in the poly community often refer to as an aspect of “couple’s privilege”. Being one half of a couple can be a lot for a new person to take on. It’s going to be important that you’re committed to making new people feel valued, and to respecting their agency and autonomy. It’s totally fine to be in a coupled up situation, but it’s important to try and think about the challenges someone dating either one of you (much less both of you) might face. If you have already built the relationship box you want that person to fit it, before you even meet them, they didn’t get any say so in building it with you! I’m going to paraphrase something I saw on the internet recently: As any cat owner will tell you, putting people into a box is much different than leaving it open and letting them get in there on their own. Much the same way you and your current partner want to build something great (and deserve to), so, too do the women you are hoping to date.

Four: The odds are not in your favor.

Another reason that this “looking for a third” approach doesn’t always go well is simple math. As Joreth explains, “The odds of finding a single bisexual woman who will love you both equally and not want anyone else but you has the lowest odds of all the options.” For further reading on this, Joreth suggests: http://emanix.livejournal.com/28752.html.

Five: Force only works in Star Wars.

Remember before when I said that poly skills aren’t that much different than any other type of relationship skills? That’s still true even down here at the end of this article. Just like in your other relationships, cramming people into a predetermined-relationship-shaped box you’ve made is not going to end well for anyone. Joreth’s fifth point was this:

The most successful (in terms of happiness & longevity) poly relationships are those that developed organically, not those that were designed ahead of time. People, in general, are terrible at predicting what will make them happy. Poly people, in particular, are often surprised to find that the relationship configuration that brought them the most happiness is a configuration they never considered. But they met someone, and things just clicked, against all their planning and designing. Instead of ordering up a single bisexual woman as your “third” to “complete” your family, just go out and meet people and be open to what develops. Maybe you will find happiness with a single bisexual woman who loves you both equally and you form a new family together. FMF triads do happen, after all. But they happen naturally, not because they were sought. You are more likely to find happiness in some other configuration. Don’t turn away from happiness just because it comes in a package that you weren’t expecting.

Dear reader, I hope to leave you feeling encouraged and empowered to go back into the poly dating world and find community and love. If you are a unicorn, and you’d like to share your experience, please comment on this piece or email me at angel@professorsex.com. If you’re reading this (maybe someone shared it with you as a link under a comment you’ve posted on a poly thread *cough cough*) and you’ve discovered that you might just be Unicorn Hunting, it’s not too late to take this information and make adjustments. If you’d like some one-on-one help crafting your new dating profile, I encourage you to hire a poly-aware sex and relationship coach (like me! Shameless plug). For more information email me or visit professorsex.com/consultations.

For more of Joreth’s thoughts on Unicorn Hunting™ and other things, please visit her at https://joreth.dreamwidth.org/369047.html.

[1] Sometimes unicorns are men or non-binary folx, but often this phenomenon is directed at women so I am going to use that language for ease throughout the rest of the article. I’m also going to specifically talk about bi-femme unicorns because the experience can be different when the unicorn is not a woman and that would be a different discussion entirely.

[2] If she were operating under the assumption that the people who posted it were well-meaning, but new and clueless, and open to being educated. People like you, dear reader.

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About Author


Professor Sex, aka Angel Kalafatis (they/them; she/her) is a queer, kinky, polyamorous, sex-positive educator, research scientist, academic, and activist. They are currently an MSPS (Master of Science in Psychological Science) graduate student and sexologist at the University of North Florida. Angel is deeply passionate about sex-positive, inclusive, medically accurate, scientifically informed, pleasure based sex education. Angel is a certified yoga instructor, avid coffee drinker, and uber-geek (Slytherin). They can be found in a number of places online, so it's best to start at www.ProfessorSex.com and go from there.

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