To Unicorns, From an Ex-Unicorn

Hello, this article is for other bisexual women who are interested in dating a couple! You may be brand new to the idea of a relationship with multiple people, or you may have been polyamorous for years now. 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.

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 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.


Originally published on polyfor.us. Republished WITH PERMISSION MOTHERF*CKERS.


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Profile gravatar of Chelsey Dagger

Chelsey is married and poly, with multiple wonderful partners across the United States. They are a website developer by day, and are currently in school for psychology, and on their way to being a therapist, with focus on polyamorous individuals, couples, and families. They also run a polyamory education site.

Chelsey has written 2 articles for us.

45 Comments

  1. Is “Unicorn” a title exclusively used to label bisexuals? Are other groups allowed to use it? I’m genuinely curious. Bisexuals make up the largest percentage of the LGBTQ+ population- in that case, how apt is the name choice?

    • Unicorn specifically refers to bi women in the context of polyamorous relationships. It’s not meant to imply that bi women are special or unique–as far as I know, it’s meant to imply the rarity of the bi woman who will enter this kind of relationship and happily go along with all the “red flag” rules that couples try to impose in these situations.

    • Typically, in the poly community “unicorn” applies only to bi women, but it could be any woman a “couple” is hoping to find. In some cases that’s to achieve a dynamic where that woman is a lover to both people, the woman of the couple being bisexual (or bicurious, more often than not), OR it could be applied to a straight woman who will be a “sister-wife” and have the “husband” as their only other lover. From http://polyliving.net/2013/10/unicorn-unicorn-hunting-unicorn-triad/ : “Such a woman would love both the man and woman in a pre-existing dyad equally and would be sexual with both of them. She would not want any other partners except them and would be willing to change her life in order to be with them. It’s understood that if things don’t work out that she will willingly leave with no issues. There are others points to it, but this covers major aspects.”

  2. Thank you so much for this! I recently left a casual triad situation where I was the “secondary” – and where almost all of these red flags were present. I felt uneasy and disrespected a lot of the time, but couldn’t quite articulate why. You’ve given voice to my displeasure! Thanks again.

  3. i really appreciate this post! my very very first relationship with a woman was a triad situation that was very imbalanced, and we all went into it very naively. i’m not sure i would have taken any of this advice to heart at the time (i was young and very, very dumb), but these are for sure all lessons i learned the hard way.

  4. I don’t remember where I read it (and I’m sure I didn’t come up with it), but one of the guiding axioms I found most helpful in my own triad experience is the concept that there are four relationships in a triad, and all of them need care and nurturing. The relationships are person a and b, person b and c, person a and c, and the triad as a whole. I feel like going in with this mindset may help people see red flags. It certainly helped me examine a lot in my triad.

    • Absolutely the case. I’ve covered that in other articles on my site, but I’m glad you brought it up here.

      To make it more complex, you should also consider the combinations like “Person C’s relationship with the relationship between B and A” – because after all, how B and A interact can effect C.

    • You Know, that is probably the most important and most often forgotten thing about poly relationships.

      A poly triad is three people who love each other. Love doesn’t divide; you each either love both partners or you don’t.

      Monogamy seems foreign to a poly person,because it’s based on the idea that we can only ever fully love one person at a time; and yet, how many times do even monogamous people say “I love you” to a dear friend who is outside of their sexual relationship sphere? Do we really mean we love them or do we mean something else?

      If we agree or at least accept a partners perception that love is indivisible then it doesn’t matter if all partners form into a single relationship such as a triad or quad or not.

      If there is a basis to enter this type of relationship though, it’s no different than an intimate monogamous relationship in that it’s absolutely vital that love between all partners is mutual,freely,and openly expressed at all times, no matter what the underlying legal commitments might be. There is no surviving life’s inevitable rocky patches without that in any form of relationship.

      A triad or a quad etc are not your ordinary every day poly relationships. They form because three or more people decide they want to share a fully intimate loving relationship, to be part of one another’s lives. That is a serious commitment every bit as deserving of respect as a monogamous relationship, and not taken on without deep consideration of what it means. You can always just enjoy the occasional three or more some, but, something like a triad is a beautiful and complicated thing in itself.

  5. Ah, man. I spent a year and a bit in a triad and it was some of the best times but also just atrociously emotionally abusive at other times and it fell apart in such a clusterfuck I ended up suicidal. When it worked, it really worked, but we were none of us stable or mature enough to negotiate the reality of three messed-up people trying to do a thing.

    I was an add-on to an already, in retrospect, doomed and unhealthy couple, and I both wish I had known to RUN RUN AWAY and also wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. I learned SO much.

  6. Something I have always found strange about the poly scene is the idea that a commuted primary relationship is required before adding a secondary.

    It’s like saying people need to get married before they can date. Some times people should enjoy more casual and independent relationships before settling down with some one.

    So people actually turn away some great “unicorns” because they are not the right one. Then turn around and wonder where the great unicorns are.

  7. I had a really great experience being a unicorn, I guess, even though I’m honestly mostly lesbian. I didn’t mind having threesomes with the husband on occasion because he and I were friends and it made my gf happy. But they never expected it and I was the one who initiated the threesomes. They were super respectful of my needs and there was no expectation for me to even talk to the husband if I didn’t want to. I think that’s the key.

    I’d like to add a red flag: way too many details or expectations. I’m talking about things like “must have red hair and be a size 2 with DD breasts” or “must be into this specific list of kinks” or “must be willing to babysit our kids when the two of us go out on couple dates.” Obviously most people won’t even meet the criteria, but if you do, avoid those people at all costs! It probably goes without saying, but at best they’re looking for a fantasy, not a relationship. They probably won’t give a damn about your needs or well-being.

  8. It’s odd reading such a heteronormative article on a site like this. Why is ‘the couple’ implicitly defined as heterosexual, with ‘the man’ and ‘the woman’ in it? Really quite odd and exclusionary.

    • It’s because that’s the way that the “Unicorn Hunting” situation comes out a vast majority of the time; in my time in the polyamorous community, I’ve only seen one non-heterosexual couple seeking a “third” with these same warning signs.

      The post is more a warning for the bi/pan/otherwise identifying women (and non-binary people) that are usually targeted by these vastly-heterosexual Unicorn Hunters.

      • I think maybe I didn’t explain myself very clearly … I understand you’re writing about mostly hetero couples, but don’t actually say that. You just talk about ‘the couple’ being ‘the man’ and ‘the woman’. I wonder if maybe you could reconsider the language another time?

        • Also, I think it is a bit offensive to talk (as you do in your reply here) about ‘heterosexual couples’ when what you mean is a heterosexual couple in which the man is heterosexual but the woman is not.

          I think it buys into the old myth that women’s sexuality doesn’t really ‘count’ and so can be ignored when you decide what terms to use.

          • I’m sorry that you feel this was offensive. As a pansexual, non-binary person myself, I certainly don’t feel as though women’s sexuality doesn’t count, and I’ve had my identity erased as well. I’m AFAB and can often “pass” as a heterosexual couple with my husband, but I try to be open and outspoken in order to break down those stereotypes.

            However, in my opinion and experience, if a woman is in a relationship with a man, it is in fact a heterosexual relationship, even if they’re both bi or pan. If a woman is in a relationship with a woman, that’s a lesbian relationship, whether one or both is bi/pan. That is all that was meant by my phrasing.

        • I see your point. I’ll definitely keep that in mind in the future. For this post, I felt it was easier to use shorthand such as “the couple” because in the context of the article it was clear what it was referring to. I certainly wasn’t saying that it is the only form of a couple there could be, especially considering I, personally, am in multiple different “couples” of different configurations.

          • Thanks for explaining (and apologizing).

            Personally, I do think it is a form of erasure to call something a ‘heterosexual’ relationship if it’s involving a woman seeking romantic/sexual attachment to another woman, even if it does also involve a man. But I respect you’re using terms a little differently from me here!

          • Another interesting point. In my conversations with others in the past (not on AS) we had discussed how whatever relationship you’re in is in fact a queer relationship regardless of hetero appearances. I can and will absolutely respect your opinion and experiences while also considering it as another viewpoint on the topic. Thanks for a great article and for sharing further 🙂

      • That’s really kind of you to say.

        I tend not to use the term ‘queer’ (I’m from the UK, where it is often used in some circles, but in others, it carries the same old derogatory connotations), so I don’t have that option open to me. But I do think it’s important for bisexual women (and men) to be able to label their sexuality and make it visible, no matter what the gender of the people they’re with. And I also have a friend who is genderqueer and in a relationship with a man, and I know they’d not like the idea that that relationship should be defined by his gender identity/sexuality, rather than their own.

        So, that’s also where I was coming from, I guess.

    • Because it’s in that kind of dynamic that the unicorn idea shows up. It’s all part of the unicorn syndrome…..and is a hetero-normative behavior. That’s part of the point.

  9. Whoa. I never thought I’d see an article like this here!

    I was in a triad relationship for 2 years, when my partner and I (both female) fell for the same girl (and she for us). None of us had any experience with polyamory, so we all had a lot to learn. She actually really liked the term “unicorn,” when we learned about it, because it made her feel like she wasn’t the only one – and for the record, she was gay, not bi. We broke up about 3 years ago, mostly because our feelings for each other became unbalanced in a way that made all of us uncomfortable, and some major communication failures certainly contributed to that.

    All of your points about watching out for rules are so true. Even from the perspective of the original couple, it doesn’t help to create the rules before you know what the relationship looks like! Honesty and clarity are just so important, especially with things that could be dealbreakers, but it’s hard to know what actually is a dealbreaker outside the context of that particular relationship.

    Despite having a generally positive experience with a triad/unicorn situation, I don’t think I’d ever want be a “unicorn hunter.” If it happens, though, awesome!

  10. So all of these flags came up when my friend was explaining the new thing her and her boyfriend wanted to do with their relationship. I didn’t have articulated reasons like you placed here, but all I could say is No, no, no. Thank you for reassuring me that I was right.

  11. well, Sherlock, it’s maths and logic.

    a two-component system is really difficult to maintain stable, unless you cheat and have explicitly enforced binding rules and provisions for breaking them, a command chain for resolution of contradictions or both.

    now a three-component system is EXPONENTIALLY more difficult to maintain stable, unless again, you have binding rules, a command chain or both. At which point it is STILL more difficult to keep in equilibrium than a two-component system running completely on freedom and feelings of the moment.

    which leads to exceptionality/rarity of those who are down with extremely restrictive and limiting command hierarchies and layer upon layer of arbitrary, skewed rules.

    which in turn is scary because that amount of powerlessness is known to be acceptable only in three instances:

    – true preference for being a follower and service mindset, as a peculiarity of one’s cognitive architecture (rare, more rare than enjoyment of swimming in icy water)
    – seriously high degree of power, freedom and independence within the larger society, inc emotional independence/stability… meaning that the moment you stop enjoying you can quit&uninstall the situation practically with no impact on your everyday life. (again exceptionally rare, because requires a combo of rare things and no real weak points)
    – being damaged, habitually disempowered, with low self esteem and emotionally desperate (all too common)

    this is why i, with my preference for fire&forget solutions and gamer grade downtime, would never subscribe to run an operation of that complexity. so all i will ever get is having to listen to gf’s fantasies to this effect, and shudder from the terrifying amount of residual class attitudes (impoverished UMC with a pretense of minor aristocracy), righteous vengefulness and trying to fit in a cruel world on her part. and veto it. because chain of command. and because unhealthy.

  12. Thanks for writing your experience but as one of those “unicorn” although I prefer the term independant woman that like to date couple for the last 17 years I have to disagree with a couple of your so called red flags.

    “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.”

    Not only is this not true but it assumes a lot of things. Like that I want to have the same relationship dynamics with the couple as they have with each other. Like everyone in a relationship is the same or “equal”, are BDSM relationship also a no-go because everyone is equal. When a couple can define what their relationship expectations are and what their boundaries are that’s hot, not just hot but helpful because I have my own expectations and needs. With some couple I’ve had a triad, some have been V’s, some have become family and some I am a happy present and special treat and all of those things are valid and good when we all are open about what we want and need from the relationship and interaction.

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

    Seriously?!? If that’s what works for them and me that’s it perfectly fine. There are couple I would never want to have sex with only one of them. The dynamics of a threesome and more important the emotional connection with two people if different with than one and often I have no chemistry with just one of them. But more importantly I respect and trust that a couple knows what works for them. If I didn’t I would do anything at all with them.

    What it sound more like with a lot of this article is someone who isn’t really poly and prefers a monogamous relationship with only a style of dynamic and interactions and that’s great for you but please don’t make assumptions for those of us who are still as you put it “unicorns”.

    • I addressed the first complaint in the sentence right after the one you quoted: “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.”

      “Equal” is not “same” – everyone should have a say in how the relationship goes, but that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to have the exact same role in the relationship. My point is that Unicorn Hunters often unilaterally decide and demand that. If you want that sort of relationship, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but you would have a say in that. I’m not saying that every unicorn should want a strong “primary-esque” relationship, simply that they should have the option to discuss it with the original couple without it being decided for them.

      The same thing goes with the “You can’t have sex with only one of them (but they can have sex without you)” – there’s a difference between a preference and a rule. If a woman wants to have the option to have sex with the people separately, that’s often not an option with Unicorn Hunters.

      I’m pretty far from monogamous; I run various polyamory groups and have multiple partners who also have their own partners. The purpose of this article is to warn against the very common demands that often newly-poly women feel pressured into agreeing with, whether they want to or not. If the three people happily agree to a relationship where the “unicorn” is in a secondary role and only has sex with the couple together, that’s great! The problem is when it’s not something actively decided by everyone involved.

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