Greetings. Are you a member of an opposite sex couple who has seen the increasing number of articles in the media depicting happy couples who have added a third partner to their relationship and think that’s something you want to get in on? Are you eager to get out there and find that special bisexual woman to join with you to form a triad (the classic relationship configuration in which three people are all intimately linked to the others in the relationship)? Well, as someone who has been involved in multiple loving triads I can assure you that triads certainly have the potential to be amazing.
However, I have both some bad news for you, and some advice on how to mitigate the problems I’m about to warn you about.
Unicorns Are Hard To Find
First off, if you’re really new to polyamory you might not realize that the third partner you seek to “complete” your triad is popularly referred to in the polyamory community as a “unicorn” and they’re called that because it is notoriously difficult to find. Those who are specifically looking for such a third partner are often called Unicorn Hunters, often with derogatory implications for reasons I’ll get into later.
For now, let’s consider the filters that a woman has to pass through to meet the most basic qualifications of becoming the third partner in a triad. She has to be a bisexual woman open to a non-monogamous relationship dynamic that is both attractive to and attracted to two both members of the established couple.
It’s hard to know exactly how many women that that the requirement for bisexuality eliminates from the running, as I’ve seens studies that place the percent of women who are bisexual as low as 2.8% and as high as 60%. Not only that, if she’s to be romantically and sexually involved with both members of a couple fairly equally she probably needs to be more towards the middle of the Kinsey scale. I’ve seen dozens of new triads crash and burn a few months in because one of the female partners wasn’t able to sustain a sexual interest in the other woman. My best guess based on various studies would be to say at best only a quarter of all women will have the basic orientation needed to form long term sexual and romantic relationships with both women and men. My anecdotal experience would suggest I’m being very generous by saying that this only eliminates 3/4ths of the adult female population from eligibility but it hardly matters because this is the least limiting factor in the endeavor of unicorn hunting.
The biggest challenge is going to be finding someone open to that form of non-monogamy. While non-monogamy is rampant in our culture, the most common form of non-monogamy is cheating. The movement of people who are openly and ethically non-monogamous is growing rapidly but still account for a fraction of the overall population and even in the polyamory community there is not a large number of single women keen on joining an established couple. The majority of people in the polyamory dating pool are only interested in developing multiple independent relationships formed on a one on one basis, not be absorbed into an established relationship where they have to form intimate relationships with two people at the same time, and that’s not even getting into the high number of those who once were open to dating couples but aren’t anymore because of things going badly yet.
Too often new Unicorn Hunters seem oblivious to the fact that established couples are the very definition of a high availability, high risk, low demand commodity in the polyamorous dating pool. This leads to them being taken aback by how reactions to them excitedly charging into the scene tend to range from tepid to hostile, and then becoming defensive and hostile themselves. This does not endear anyone to the Unicorn Hunters, I assure you.
My advice is to recognize that finding someone to join your established relationship is not something that is going to happen quickly and the more aggressive and impatient you are the more you’re going to look like predators and scare off what unicorns there are. If you enter polyamorous circles as a couple and over time people see how strong and healthy your established relationship is, those who are open to couples are going to start gravitating towards you and opportunities to form intimate connections will start to arise.
Of course, this strategy is dependent on you having a strong and healthy relationship. If you don’t have that, you really should be working on that problem before bringing anyone else on board.
Unicorns Have Their Own Needs
One thing that Unicorn Hunters often lose sight of when they do finally find a unicorn and start building a connection with them is that their unicorn is also a fully realized human being whose needs in a relationship aren’t any different than their needs would be if they were entering a one on one relationship. The members of the established couple give each other the lion’s share of time, attention, and emotional labor while expecting the newcomer to subsist off the scraps left over.
Time and time again, I see people looking for a “third” talk the talk of love and family to get a new partner to emotionally invest in the triad, but when it comes time to walk the walk they treat her more like an accessory to their relationship rather than a partner. Sometimes you get the impression that they think so little of the wants and needs of their “third” that they’d stow her away in the closet when they aren’t having sex with her or using her to babysit their kids.
A lot of times this just comes down to the established couple being in the habit of heavily prioritizing each others needs over those of people outside the relationship. Everyone knows that even long time friendships often fall to the wayside when people couple up into a long-term partnership. However, if they’re going to invite someone else into the relationship as what they claim to be a full partner they’re going to have to pull their heads out of each other’s asses and back that claim up. Otherwise, intentionally or not, the relationship is liable to turn toxic and lead to a lot of drama and heartbreak. If they’re not prepared to embrace their new partner as fully into their lives as they originally embraced each other then they need to reconsider if a romantic relationship is really what they’re looking for.
While we’re on this subject, remember what we talked about earlier about the Unicorn needing to be close enough to the middle of the Kinsey scale to sustain roughly equal long term sexually intimate romantic relationships with both the male and female members of the established couple? It also bears noting that needs to go both ways. The female partner in the established couple should honestly examine whether their own attraction to women is strong enough to sustain a long term relationship or if they’re going to lose interest after a few months because to them sex with other women is fun for a bit but they’re not into it enough that they’d have an ongoing sexual relationship with another woman outside of the triad fantasy. It’s always heartbreaking when a woman enters a relationship with a couple falls in love with the woman in the couple only to end up shut out of her affections when the sexual novelty wears off.
I cannot emphasize enough that if what you mainly want is a woman in your life you can have sex with as a couple now and then, making promises you won’t keep about being a loving and equal partnership is not just unethical…it’s actually self-defeating. I know this is may seem counter-intuitive to those used to the standards of monogamous culture where sex and love are treated like commodities to be exchanged for each other, but among the ethically non-monogamous you’re actually more likely to find someone down for a sex only casual relationship than someone who wants to go all in on the whole sex/love/commitment package. Don’t try to force a romantic relationship to happen because the traditional narratives of love and sex dictate that sex without romantic love is bad. That narrative also says that loving more than one person is bad, so if you’re going to break the narrative it makes sense to break it all the way to make your own rules about who you share your hearts and bodies with.
Unicorns Are Often Mistreated
Because Unicorns need the same things all people do, while Unicorn Hunters often see only how Unicorns can serve their wants, it is incredibly common for triads to end up being harmful to the Unicorn. So common, in fact, that the polyamory community at large is filled with hostility towards Unicorn Hunters. Catch certain forums on a grumpy day by announcing the desire to find a third for a triad and you’ll get the kind of reception usually reserved for oil tycoons looking for a Native American burial ground to run a pipeline through.
While I don’t share the knee-jerk hatred a lot of people in the ethically non-monogamous community have towards Unicorn Hunters, I certainly understand it. It is not wrong to say that more often than not Unicorn Hunters looking to start a triad are at best going to give their Unicorn the shitty end of the stick in the relationship and at worst (as is all too often the case) outright abuse their Unicorn in an effort to keep them from complaining about getting a shitty deal or leaving.
It should go without saying that all partners should be treated with basic decency and respect for their autonomy, but a lot of Unicorn Hunters treat their Unicorn like beasts of burden rather than magical companions. There only to fulfill a role and punished when they try to step outside that role. Because Unicorns aren’t actually magic animals that can be reliably bound by mystic rules but in fact actual human beings with the same rights as anyone else, this is not a sustainable situation. Even if it were possible, doing so would shift one’s alignment towards Evil. Don’t be Evil. It attracts paladins and nobody wants paladins.
How can one be a Good Unicorn Hunter? Firstly, don’t treat your Unicorn in a manner that you wouldn’t treat your previously established partner. Don’t use your previously established partner as an excuse to short change your Unicorn in terms of time, attention, and emotional labor. Don’t expect your Unicorn to invest more into the relationship than she gets out of it. Don’t misrepresent what you’re offering the Unicorn in terms of the relationship and don’t try to compel her to stay if the relationship isn’t meeting her needs, especially if you’re unwilling to make an effort to meet those needs. Do not isolate your Unicorn or try to create a state of dependency that would prevent her from leaving. If you’re afraid of her leaving, figure out what you can do to make staying more desirable for her rather than trying to harm her for looking out for her own needs.
It’s often forgotten and overlooked with how frequently such relationships take a turn for the worse, but a genuinely healthy and loving couple can have a lot to offer a Unicorn if they sincerely respect and value her as a true partner. This isn’t less true because so many toxic situations wear the same clothes. Just be careful not to end up someone’s regret.