Unicorn Hunting in the Poly Community
What is the difference between unicorn triad and a poly-fi triad?
Before we go any further, let’s make sure we’re talking the same “poly language”. In the polyamory community, a unicorn is considered by many as a negative term. Though it is usually used to describe a woman, the HBB (the hot, bi babe), there are male versions of the unicorn who can face the same challenges. For the sake of this article, we will focus on the female version of the unicorn. 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.
In the poly community, unicorn hunters are considered to be couples (dyads) that are looking for the HBB. They tend to be new poly couples (not always but usually). Such dyads may have specific rules that allow them toend the poly relationship, send the unicorn away, and stay together.
A “unicorn triad” is a triad consisting of a dyad and a third partner (the unicorn). The unicorn will be the girlfriend to the couple. The couple is usually considered a primary relationship, while the girlfriend will be a secondary partner to both. If the girlfriend has any other partners, she would be expected to end those relationships in favor of the unicorn triad. She isn’t allowed to do anything with one member of the triad, always with both. The dyad, on the other hand, are allowed to date each other without the girlfriend. If the U-Triad doesn’t work, then the dyad will stay together, and the girlfriend will leave. Though the dyad may choose to incorporate elements of the girlfriend’s life into the triad, it is not uncommon for the girlfriend to incorporate more of the dyad’s life into her own. A unicorn triad is considered unequal and unfair to the girlfriend in the poly community and looked upon very negatively.
A poly-fi triad is a closed triad relationship. They consider each other equal partners in an egalitariantriad relationship and will not have any other partners but each other. The partners will all be sexual together, as a group or in any pairing, and no pair has more power or control in the relationship than the other partner. All are equal. A poly-fi triad may decide to add other partners later.
Why is unicorn hunting frowned upon in the poly community? One reason is that some people choose to ignore basic poly etiquette. Different communities have their own vocabularies that are specific to that community. Some words have a positive connotation, while others have negative ones. Unicorn and unicorn hunting are considered negative. When a couple comes in and starts stating they are unicorn hunting, they are stating (in poly vocabulary), that they want to find a woman that is disposable. Some people insist that they can redefine the word anyway they want, and it doesn’t have to mean what it does. While this may be true, until the new “definition” is generally accepted by the poly community, people should not be surprised when they upset people by using the word. No matter how much you insist it means something else, it takes time and majority acceptance to redefine the word. Unfortunately, the poly community can be harsh in its correction of such word usage, and this would only cause people to continue to be antagonistic on both sides.
Another reason unicorn hunting is frowned upon is because of the inequality of the relationship created. A unicorn triad creates a dynamic where a couple can come in with a set of expectations and “couple privilege,” and place the new partner in an unequal relationship. Louisa Leontiades shares a great article about this topic by Natja (the original is located here). The girlfriend can be discarded if the dyad decides she’s not “the one”. The dyad has all the power, and their girlfriend has none. She is at their mercy. She has to accept their rules and has no say.
“She knew what she was getting into.”
“She agreed to it.”
“They’re our rules. If she can’t accept them, she can just leave.”
These statements and other similar ones are all ones we’ve heard unicorn hunters use as excuses for the unequal relationship dynamic. No matter how you look at it, these statements show an unequal balance of power. This is a key reason why poly people do not like unicornhunting.
When a woman enters into a pre-existing relationship, she creates a new relationship dynamic. It is not fair to her or the relationship to be forced into the couples pre-defined relationship mold. The people involved should sit down and communicate. This communication is important. It allows the partners in the new “triad” to start together on equal footing. It is NOT another chance for the couple to say, “These are our rules and you must accept them.” Instead, it is where the partners come together and create an equal relationship. The old dynamic that the dyad or the single woman had cannot continue because the relationship status is no longer a dyad or a single woman.
Some people in the “unicorn hunt” treat the search for a woman like shopping. They meet an available poly woman and immediately she is the “one.” They may barely know her. When it doesn’t work out, they meet another woman, and she is now the “one”. In some cases, marriage is proposed before they ever meet. The women are treated as replaceable. They are not.
Please remember, some people spend their whole lives trying to find one person to love. If you are part of a dyad, you already found that person. Now, you want to find another person who not only loves you but your partner as well. In addition, if you are seeking a unicorn triad, you are asking them to give up a lot of personal autonomy and submit to the will and dictates of you. I wonder why it takes so long to find a woman willing to do that? People want to be treated as equals. A unicorn triad is not the way to go. An egalitarian poly-fi triad is what you should seek.
There are women who want to be part of a triad. Don’t antagonize them by treating them as objects. Triads are normal in polyamory. Let it happen naturally. Meet people, make friends. Fall in love. Let it happen naturally. It may take a year. It may take 5 years. Rush it, force it, and it may never happen.
A unicorn triad and a poly-fi triad are not the same thing. If you are new to poly and want a egalitarian poly-fi triad, “seeking a unicorn” is not what you should be doing. Seeking an equal partner and friend is what you should be doing.
On the definition of unicorn –
It doesn’t really matter if the word unicorn is redefined.
All that will happen is that another term will crop up meaning “an HBB who will love us both equally, become part of our lives, leave her life behind, hide her status when our friends and family are around, and have no other lovers or obligations” and then the newbies will get pissed about *that* word.
I so agree with you on this. I see this a lot and it’s something I really hate in the kink community. Couples are often looking for a third, normally a woman. It’s selfish and unlikely and unfair to the woman entering that relationship. I have seen far too many submissive females get hurt because it didn’t work out with one of the partners, even though it was fine with the other. To think you’d give your heart and soul to someone, and just because it didn’t work out with one of them, they’d toss you to the side like trash. I absolutely hate this.
Thank you for posting this. I will be posting and referring to your blog in my entry on Fetlife soon. It’s something that bugs me and I feel like you hit it right on the head and with good information, so thank you.
I really don’t see the issue here. There only 2 possibilities. All 3 are a match. Or not. If not then again 2 possibilities:
– the one that matches you choose you
– the one that matches you chooses to stay with him/her primary
In the first case he/she loved you more, in the second she/he loved the primary more.
Seriously where is the basis for name calling or any other sh#t like that going on here?
These are terms that have been in the poly community for a number of years. They are associated with the actions mentioned in the article. We didn’t create them. The problem is that relationship dynamic, as you pointed out, has a high a chance of faliure (assuming the goal is to be part of a polyamorous triad). 1 in 3 chance of ending in a triad? Why would anyone support or endorse such a dysfunctional relationship dynamic? If the point is to be part of a triad, why promote a relationship dynamic that has a 66% chance of faliure or ending your current relationship? That’s not what polyamory is about.
Sure, but something that won’t last is something that will just simply won’t last. Imagine your new primary has a dog that just simply hates you and you find that dog is just disgusting and the situation simply won’t improve for months on end. What will happen then? Do you expect your primary to put down the dog? Are you really going to be offended if he/she says to you, thank you very much but I keep the dog and I can’t see you anymore? It is the exact same thing, yet you don’t call them names, like Katrina seems to prefer to.
I agree that people will break up. That happens. But the problem here is that it is a setup that lends itself to breaking up. I don’t like using “dogs” as an example. It’s more like you wife picking an activity to do together that she knows you have issues with. Maybe you have done it in the past to please her but she knows you don’t really like doing it. Then she gets upset when you get upset, not understanding why you are angry. She set herself up for conflict by picking an activity that she knew could cause conflict. In the same way, the actions associated with “Unicorn Hunting” have a high probability of failure but people still act surprised they are having issues or having a hard time finding anyone. They are surprised people get upset when they talk about how things went wrong…in fact they may lash out at the people telling them what they did wrong. They may want support and understanding for following a course of action that others are telling them is flawed and get upset when they don’t get it. Granted, I’ve seen a lot of experienced poly people smack down these individuals instead of offering caring and compassionate advice to help them. But I’ve seen a lot of Unicorn Hunters lash out at people who do try to kindly redirect them or show them what they did wrong. .I’ve seen people come to a poly board and say,”I don’t know what the deal is. It’s been two years and we haven’t found anyone.” Then they explain what they did and instead of seriously considering what is being shared, they immediately dismiss it, claiming there is nothing wrong with Unicorn Hunting! The point of the article is to inform, make people aware. If a person sees themselves in it, then maybe they need to consider what is being said instead of becoming defensive and rejecting it. I know this much–most people don’t complain to being treated equally but many will raise hell if they are treated unfairly.
It really makes me mad that Poly people get so angry about this. Why does my relationship have to answer to your narrow minded rules?
I so agree! Equality and respect is sooooo narrow minded. What is this world coming to? Dysfunctional relationship dynamics exist in monogamy. Do you think that stops when people become poly? No dysfunctional relationship dynamics exit poly? Of course they do. But people are free to do what ever they want. Just don’t be surprised if it fails.
I agree that singles (of either sex) should not be hunted and should not be expected to jettison everything but this is not just an issue exclusive to the couple seeking singles dynamic. This is an issue in all relationships in our culture. The Disney princess, fairytale, patriarchal stories we use encourage the thought that there is a “one” for me or us. Management and hiring theory for a long time encouraged looking for that perfect employee.
At 52, I certainly fall prey to this, despite considering myself poly because I do not believe anyone person can fill all the nooks and crannies in my soul. No person is perfect.
I think the key was in a previous post – don’t come into “poly” or any community expect a “perfect” or “normal” relationship. Expect extra-ordinary and work to create perfection….
Not to blow my own trumpet or anything, but I am the author of the article about Couple Privilege and Unicorn Hunting, not Louisa Leontiades, in fact it is a cross post originally posted on Apolyglot in March 2012. However, Louisa is a writer and author of many Poly and feminist articles and she is getting plenty of positive exposure at the moment, Go Louisa!!!!
Thanks for the letting us know! We updated the article.
I’m amazed, I have to admit. Rarely do I come across
a blog that’s both equally educative and amusing, and without a
doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The issue is something which too few men and women
are speaking intelligently about. Now i’m very happy I found this during my hunt for something relating to this.
Thank you for the clarification, we were under the impression that all MF couples looking for a woman for a triad are “unicorn hunters”. We have been looking for a 3rd for a while but are most certainly not looking for someone that is disposable or that is just going to conform to our relationship. That just seems like a glorified sex toy and if that was what we wanted we’d just stick with 3somes.
Thanks for this post. My wife and I have met a woman we both like a lot, and we are all considering joining our lives together. I’ve been reading everything I can about the Unicorn Hunters anti-pattern, along with many other poly topics, to try to spot and prepare for as many pitfalls as we can. We didn’t get into the notion of polyamory and then go looking for a third, but rather all three of us were taken by surprise by the power and depth of these new connections between us that have built so quickly, so we’ve been exploring the online poly community for wisdom and advice. Thanks again.
Hello! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate!
He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this write-up to
him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!
I am glad I got enough information from Poly community on the subject before establishing such a lifestyle for me and my wife.
there is such an Amazing amount of double standards on this issue.
I suppose you might say my wife and I fit the description of unicorn hunters and we certainly aren’t ashamed to admit it.
however we are ashamed to admit that it’s a little disgusting people make up our minds and other couples minds for us and for them as far as our intentions go with our marriages and relationships that we allow other people into.
every good thing that is natural that is married couple with take their marriage into consideration before somebody else that being said you would think the person that they’re looking for with take extra care to be sure that that’s the type of relationship she wants. If she can’t respect other people’s marriage boundaries perhaps she shouldn’t involve herself since some of us put it all out on the table and will happily walk away if there can’t be an agreement.
My wife and I have had many triads before and it was never something much girlfriends couldn’t do without me or me without them. We all loved each other when we wanted and how we wanted.
If there were issues we spoke up about it openly and honestly. In the end, I found that most triads don’t last because the girlfriend wants more from her poly life. Which is fine!
But why are couples like my wife and I under fire for being honest about what we want from a community of people who claim to be sexually open and progressive is beyond me. Unless we’re dealing with radical feminists.
I suppose all in all I’m glad we gave it up.
If we can’t have what we want in our lives with Someone who wants what we have to offer then we’re fine keeping it all to ourselves. ^_^
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What you are forgetting is that there are some people who like this arrangement. Some of those unicorns (male or female) WANT to be…. hmmm I think the word is ‘kept’. Almost like a toy. There are other opinions and it’s sad to see another one of society’s minority groups already bashing beliefs and feelings it doesn’t approve of.
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I am a bi/pan romantic ace and have frequently encountered so called unicorn hunters who harass me. I have found myself to be monoromantic, and thus always decline but have found that couples who seek to add a single to their relationship make quite a few assumptions about me based merely on the fact that I am bi/pan. They instantly assume I am poly, and when I explain that this is not the case, they seem shocked based on my bi/pan status. If they find out my trans status, phrases like “best of both worlds” creep in which absolutely disgust me.
The phrase unicorn hunter is rather apt as every time I have been approached by the female partner.
So I have a question. If you are a dyad seeking a single female you are a unicorn hunter, but what if you are a dyad just seeking a female is that any different? Does it change if you don’t care if she is in a poly relationship or not?
We never labelled what we did. My wife invited her very close and longtime girlfriend to join our life. She was already treated as family and was coming off a bad divorce. The only thing that changed for us is that we got sexual either together or separately. 45 years ago there was no internet so we did not know what to call what we have or how we should do it.
Was she disposable? No more than any lifelong friend that you love. Our marriage always came first and she knew that without having to discuss it. After the first 13 years she solved her desire for a security net and went online to find a guy who would be OK with her splitting her time between their marriage and our relationship. She found a doctor and we were only told that they had an arrangement and please do no ask any questions as she wanted to keep the two relationship separate, which she did to a large extent for the next 23 years.
Technically if it came down to her or our marriage, we would choose our marriage and eventually had to. We always thought that we would move and retire to grow old together. We went first and bought a retirement home. Our girlfriend followed and found a nice home a few blocks away from ours. Then one day she called to tell us that her husband had invested all of their funds, even the proceeds from the sale of his practice, in one of those highly publicized ponzi schemes that were exposed during the lat recession.
We already had moved and could not afford to move back. She wanted to come and live with us, leaving her husband behind as it was pretty much a marriage of convenience and we suspected he was bi but mostly gay. The problem was that she had a 35 year old son that had no mental or physical handicaps but was still supported and raised by her. She enabled him so that even if he got a job, he would quit the first time he was criticized or it got too hard. She provided him with everything. It may have to do with the fact that she was secondary in our life and married to someone she was fond of but did not love. Her son was the only thing she had all to herself but she ruined his life and did not see that. The guy never learned all the social and business skills that most of us learn over the years.
We refused to have a 35 year old man who is still reliant on his mommy, living in our home so we had to tell her no. Her husband was insisting that she give him her own nest egg from her inheritance to invest and she did not want to. In the end she gave in to her hubby because no one wanted her with her old son; not even her family. So we were willing to grow old and die together as we had always envisioned but when it came down to it, we chose our marriage and cut her loose. We would have gladly had her live with us without her son but she was not even willing to have him live in a nearby apartment. Weird relationship going on there.
So we had a great 40 years but are enjoying monogamy too. We did not realize how much our girlfriend fulfilled for each of us that we could not fulfill for each other. Her departure forced us to tell each other the hard stuff that we never said for fear of hurting each other’s feelings. Now we had to communicate and by doing that we adjusted our behavior and are finally “enough” for each other. We still would like another women to join us in bed since that was our normal sex for so long, but we would not want her in our life.
But if I for instance were looking for a dyad to join, I would accept that their relationship at the beginning is a lot more established than them and myself. I can accept that and obviously they have to be willing to be open. Over time this may naturally shift to the point where I feel more equal in terms of love. I do seek a couple, but I don’t expect everything at once.