How to Find A Third And Avoid Being a Unicorn Hunter
by #open staff writer, Oonagh O’Sullivan
Multiple Reddit feeds are filled with horror stories and the exhausted pleas of people who have been on the wrong end of ‘unicorn hunting’. If you are one of them, we known unicorn hunters are frustrating and we are so sorry that this has been your experience! In fact, it’s probably happened more than once. And if you are a couple looking to #open your relationship to a third person, whether that’s sexually or romantically, listen up!
As we know, there are endless possibilities in the way that non-monogamy can be expressed. This style of relating shifts and changes over time according to who is involved and their needs and wants. The glossary of terms relating to ethical non-monogamy (ENM) is also ever-expanding and just as colorful as the dynamics and people it describes. Terms pertaining to ENM can have slightly different meanings depending on who is using them or hearing them. Have no fear, #open is here to break down this complex topic.
What is a Unicorn?
The term “unicorn” typically refers to a woman who is open to joining a couple for sexual encounters or a more long-term commitment. These women are described as unicorns as they are supposedly just as rare and hard to find as the mythical creatures themselves. It can be difficult for a couple to find someone who’s willing to join them on their terms, agree to love them both equally (but no one else), and happily go along with any rules and boundaries that the primary couple decide upon.
The men’s equivalent to a unicorn is a “dragon”. Dragons are often considered to be rarer than a unicorn as couples are not often looking for a bisexual man to join them. Culturally, it is more desirable to have a threesome with two women and one man, due to the limitations of patriarchy, biphobia, and homophobia. The fact that less people are open to having a man join their heterosexual couple subtly reinforces heteronormativity, fetishizes bisexual women, and stigmatizes bisexual men.
Note: Although we are using gendered language to define unicorns and dragons, the term unicorn is often used to describe any person who is willing to join a couple regardless of their gender. Non-binary, genderfluid, and agender individuals, for example, might use either term (or none). As we said earlier, all words have different meanings based upon who is speaking/hearing them.
What is Unicorn Hunting?
According to Urban Dictionary, ‘unicorn hunters’ is a derogatory term used to describe a heterosexual couple seeking out a (usually) bisexual woman to join them. If you don’t know much about non-monogamy, this might seem like a “normal” and harmless practice. In reality, bisexual people are often assumed to be available and indiscriminate, regardless of their interest in non-monogamy. And those who are interested in couples must labor to find couples that won’t overlook their boundaries or fetishize them.
The inequality associated with unicorn hunting stems from couple privilege, which is defined by Polyam For Us as “the advantage that an established couple has, which is especially pronounced when a new person is added to a relationship, whether the new person is dating one or both of them.” There is an inherent power imbalance when a couple is looking for another person to join them –– it’s literally two against one! –– which can result in the prioritization of the couple’s joint needs and wants over all others. In fact, unicorn hunters (especially those coming from a heteronormative, monogamous perspective) might be manipulative in pursuit of sexual fantasies they’ve built up in their heads, rather than collaborative.
In these instances, the unicorn that they are hunting is being seen as an object—reduced to gender, sexuality, and availability—and not a multidimensional human who comes with her own layered wants and needs that deserve to be folded into the group dynamic. After all, the use of the term ‘hunting’ implies that they are predators seeking out prey, not allies. Unicorns are often expected to be self-sacrificing, accepting a couple’s pre-existing dynamics, boundaries, and rules without making any requests of their own. (They’re getting more mythical by the minute, right!?)
Understanding the hypersexualization that bi+ people already navigate, and a culture that questions the validity of their sexual orientation, it’s important for couples not to treat them as mere sexual commodities. And often, the reasons people look for a third person to join their relationship can determine whether a couple is “hunting” or actually looking for a mutually beneficial experience.
Why Unicorn Hunting?
There are a number of really great reasons why couples seek threesomes or triadic (3-way) relationships. Unfortunately, a lot of couples do it to “spice up” their sex lives, positioning the unicorn more as a sex educator than a partner. Or they might do it to save a rocky relationship, without considering how that unexpressed intention might affect the person joining them; this is known as triangulation.
Triangulation allows a couple to diffuse some of the tension in their dynamic, create new conflict to subsume any past conflicts, or to have a third person operate as a referee. By leaning on someone else to pick a ‘winner’ in their disputes, they avoid actual reconciliation and repair. In fact, they further complicate it by introducing a third set of feelings and opinions.
It goes without saying but: using someone to try and ‘save’ a relationship, or for any other reason for that matter, is NOT OK!
The Difference Between Unicorn Hunting and Establishing A 3-Way Connection
You can think of a triad like an equilateral triangle, where every person (person A, person B, and person C) in the relationship is equal. They can all spend time with each other separately, but are committed to the group. All members in the relationship have an equal say in how the relationship works and what agreements they might have in place at any given time.
When a couple is unicorn hunting, often the resulting dynamic may look like a “T”, where the pre-existing dyadic relationship (A and B) share power and person C is marginalized. A and B, as a unit, decide how and when person C gets to interact with them, often ensuring that person C never develops an individual bond with anyone. There can also be fluctuating hierarchies, with A and/or B seeking control by manipulating person C. Either way, the newly triangulated partner doesn’t have an equal say in how the relationship works or what boundaries and rules might apply, and they end up feeling used.
A lot of people do not regard unicorn hunting as polyamory or ENM, as all members are not afforded equal power. They argue that a 3-way connection calls everyone involved to co-create a brand new dynamic, based in mutual respect. On the other hand, no dynamic is ethical just because of its label; people have to intentionally share power and communicate without triangulation to make it so. In that context, perhaps we don’t need to isolate unicorn hunting from other forms of non-monogamy to make a point about its potential pitfalls.
How Traditional Dating Apps Can Promote Unicorn Hunting
When an app isn’t specifically designed for non-monogamy, it can create more space for harmful multi-partner encounters. Some couples, for example, use solo profiles to disguise their true intentions and then attempt to coerce potential unicorns into a non-monogamous dynamic.
On a Reddit thread used as research for an article on Unicorn Hunting in Vogue India, one person wrote: “I have my Tinder set to women only, and at least 50% of the profiles I see are couple profiles looking for threesomes. I barely even swipe right on anyone anymore, and of the few matches I get, some of them are STILL women hiding that they have boyfriends. Honestly, it used to be frustrating, but now I’m just exhausted.”
This is a tiresome reality for so many bisexual women using dating apps. They’re understandably frustrated by the assumption that they are always open to having threesomes on other people’s terms. Yawn!
We can do better! When dating apps empower couples to be as transparent as possible, and to swipe exclusively through profiles of people doing the same, more meaningful connections are allowed to emerge.
How to Spot Unicorn Hunters
Classic lines that unicorn hunters use in their dating app bios include but are not limited to:
- “Seeking a beautiful bisexual woman for my husband – absolutely no men!”
- “Young and fun discrete couple looking for a woman to join them”
- “Unicorns only” (gotta love the ignorant transparency with this one!)
Unicorn Hunting and Transphobia
Unicorn hunting can also be rooted in transphobia, which is yet another reason why it is frowned upon within the notably inclusive polyamorous community. Most of the time couples are looking for a cis woman (assigned female at birth) or on rarer occasions, a cis man (assigned male at birth). Often they don’t even state this because their hunt is based upon the assumption that all women have vaginas and all men have penises.
A couple that limits themselves to only welcoming a cis woman to join their relationship is grounded in a One Penis Policy, or an agreement where a man only allows his cis woman partner to have sex with other cis women. It often reflects the belief that a man can only be replaced by another man, and it can create a gender imbalance, allowing him to escape many of the emotional challenges and the (often uncomfortable) inner work that come with non-monogamy. It also erases trans women and a whole cohort of non-binary people.
(*cough* masculine fragility *cough*)
How #open Can be Used for Ethical Three-Way Play
The light at the end of the multi-partner tunnel is that there are ways to instigate and participate in a three-way relationship responsibly, consensually and equitably. #open was created for you to be transparent and clear in sharing your needs, wants and desires with others seeking ethically non-monogamous relationships.
Here are some do’s and don’ts when using #open to search for another partner as a couple:
- Do Fully Unpack what Opening your Relationship Means
Before you even dream about creating a couple profile on #open, make sure that you and your partner have discussed in depth what it means for you to open your relationship. Make sure you know how to respect each other’s attachment styles, boundaries, and rules. Jealousy needs to be unpacked and actively worked on before ethically adding another person to the dynamic.
- Do Date Separately
Treat this new third person as you would treat anybody else you would like to date. Get to know them individually first, and then organize group hang outs as friends to see how you all get along. When you all have the patience and authentic desire to get to know each other before adding sex into the equation, it creates a sense of safety and trust that will definitely create more heat if, and when, you all choose to become sexually intimate.
- Do Be Clear and Transparent in Communication
If you are only looking for someone to join your couple for a hookup, be open and transparent about that. If you are wanting to welcome a third and equal partner, but want the triad to remain closed, state that in the first few exchanges. Be clear about your intentions, wants and needs so that you don’t waste your, or anybody else’s, time.
- Don’t Create Rules that Only Benefit the Primary Relationship
If you truly wish to welcome another person into your relationship, don’t create rules and boundaries as a couple without being willing for them to change based upon the needs and desires of the person who is joining you.
- Don’t Make Assumptions
Don’t assume that every bi woman that you come across wants to date both members of a couple or would be willing to have a threesome with you and your partner. Educate yourself and be open to being rejected.
- Don’t Perpetuate Misogyny or Transphobia
Need we say more? Any form of misogyny, transphobia or biphobia is absolutely not tolerated within the #open community. We are fiercely committed to protecting our community. Period.
Public Service Announcement: Unicorns do NOT want to be hunted! They want to roam their magical lands in peace and be left the F@&# alone. If they want to engage with you, commit to building trust and empowering them to feel safe, seen and equal.
We are by no means saying that all three person relationships are terrible and unethical and we will discuss this in more depth next week in our upcoming #openEd.
If you’re interested in learning more about Unicorn Hunting, join Gabby and Maile next Wednesday (August 31st) when they will be chatting with Dr. Eisabeth Sheff, one of a handful of global academic experts on polyamory, and author of “The Polyamorists Next Door,” about the pleasures and pitfalls of 3-way play.
We would love to hear from you!
Hey, Unicorns! Are we missing anything? We want to hear what you have to say. What are some of the unicorn hunting experiences that you have been through, and how have you navigated them? Do you have any tips for fellow unicorns or couples? Our community values your input.