Of Unicorns and Other Beasties

This month’s episode, our fourth, will be out early next week and is very much aimed at building on our overview of consensual non monogamy from episodes one and two. Those first two episodes looked at the ‘what’ while episode four starts to delve into the ‘how’.

We’ve called it ‘the pleasures and the pitfalls of CNM’, though it mainly focuses on the latter and the most lively part of an already animated discussion is about unicorns.

If you’re already familiar with CNM you’ll almost certainly know what a unicorn is. But if you’re here doing research, and putting out feelers before exploring more open forms of relationships, you may not.

Unicorns are so called because they’re often sought but far more rarely found – in poly terms it refers to that person who a couple in an existing relationship seek to add to the mix as a third.

Overwhelmingly, not least because male bisexuality remains far more taboo than female bisexuality, this tends to be what is generally referred to as a ‘hot bi- babe’, a bisexual woman who will be able to add a little spice to an existing relationship between an ostensibly cis-het dude and his bi- or bi-curious female partner.

“Unicorn Bicycle” by queercatkitten is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Let me be clear: there is nothing innately wrong with being two people in a relationship and wanting to draw a third person into your bubble as a lover or partner. Nor is the only configuration ‘straight guy plus female partner who is open to playing with another woman plus third person who likes the idea of dating two people, one male and one female’. 

You can be a gay or a bi- couple and be looking for a third to complete an MMM, FFF or  MFM, as well as the common-or-garden FMF. You can be doing this where all three of you fully consent,  are switched on, informed, know exactly what you each want, you’ve all spent years working on your stuff and know yourselves well, things have been completely negotiated, everyone knows that feelings can take over and some relationships can grow will others wither and everyone is good with it going where it will go. Yay. Then, whether it ends up as a triad or a sort of a T, and if everyone involved is happy, then you’ve scored the achievement that many poly people aspire to but haven’t ever unlocked.

The reason that couples looking for a third are dubbed unicorn hunters is partly because successful triads or Ts in polyamory are relatively uncommon and are often less stable than other  relationship forms (there are at least three relationships that can go wrong in a triad versus just one in a dyad – and we know how often those blow up, right?), and partly because it’s often the first thing that people new to CNM try.

WTAF! “Unicorns!” by heathervescent is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

This is why when couples pop up in poly groups, sometimes in person, more often on social media and announce ‘hey, we’re here, we’re so damn broad minded, we’ve opened our relationship – bring us our unicorn, we’re ready for you’, there is a collective face-palm / head-desk moment from the older hands in the group. The newcomers think they’re being really out there and end up feeling dissed and bruised while the poly veterans have seen it all before. Multiple times. And multiple times they have seen things go horribly wrong in very similar ways. Think the petunia in The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

This is part of what we unpick in episode 4. You’ll hear the sceptical voices of three poly community organisers, Charlotte, Eunice and Morgan, three members of the team behind London’s annual (well not in 2020, plague and all that wot?) Polyday event. 

But you’ll also hear from Dr. Lori Beth Bisbey; psychologist, therapist and relationship coach. Lori Beth is from the US but lives in the Weald of Kent. She’s very sympathetic to unicorn hunters not least because she’s someone who enjoys dating coupes and she’s been doing it for a long time. She very much leavens Charlotte, Eunice and Morgan’s scepticism with a dose of ‘well if that’s what you want and you’re prepared then why not?’ 

Because here’s the thing – unicorn hunting can absolutely work. But if you insist on repeating the mistakes of all those who’ve been before you and who have ended up in the tangled wreckage of heartbreak and human clusterfuck then it almost certainly won’t. 

What we have at the end is a meeting of hearts and minds after a very spirited discussion. If you want the wise advice of four super-cool people – plus smart observations from the equally super-cool Zayna (I’m just ringmaster butsadly without a suitably  magnificent moustache) – then listen in.

And no, this won’t be our final word on triads, unicorns or their hunters, nor are those all the episode covers – we also talk about couples’ privilege and the skills you need to make CNM work. We’ll come back to these topics again and again, but its’ still an excellent discussion and a terrific opening for the great unicorn debate.

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