One of the hottest and most longstanding topics in polyamorous communities is Unicorn Hunting. Go into almost any poly chat room in any corner of the internet and you will, without fail, find at least one post that sounds something like this:
Nelson Newbie: Hey folks! We are a solid and secure married couple in seek of a third to complete our triad! Any women in *insert city/state/etc. here*?
If you’re reading that and it sounds like something you’ve written in the last six-to-nine months, you, my friend, are Unicorn Hunting.
I get it. Your heart is probably in a really good place. I don’t want to make any assumptions about you, dear reader, since we haven’t met, so instead I’ll tell you a story about my own journey into polyamory.
When I first discovered poly, I was married. I was watching a reality show that featured more than one polyamorous triad, much like what our friend Nelson Newbie was describing in his personal ad, and I was dazzled. I immediately showed it to my husband. We both thought it looked reaaaalllllyyyy hot! (Pro-tip: Expert lighting, camera angles, and highly-edited-20-minute segments will do that.) We talked about this new polyamory concept a LOT. We wanted to learn more but definitely didn’t know where to start. We were also nervous that it might be a big step to take and we were concerned about damaging our marriage. One thing we talked about was finding someone who would date us both. It seemed safe. It seemed like it might cut down on jealousy – how can I be jealous of something we are sharing. It seemed like the best way to dip our toes in, with minimal long-term risk. That didn’t turn out to be the case, but I want you to know that I can totally relate to the allure of wanting to open up and not knowing how and thinking it might just be an easy first step to get a “third”… like a tricycle is easier to ride than a bike. Unfortunately, this approach is widely regarded by more experience poly folks as a common mistake for a number of reasons. Reasons I’d wished I’d had someone to share with me way back then. Reasons I’m going to try and discuss with you now.
Before we go any further, let’s back up and lay a little groundwork for this conversation. What is a unicorn and why do we call it Unicorn Hunting?
A “unicorn” is the community term for a bisexual woman who is non-monogamous and open to a sexual or romantic relationship with a couple/throuple/etc. Why are we (yes, I’m one of these women) called unicorns? Besides the fact that we are magical, the term unicorn has become a bit of a running joke in the poly community and it mostly refers to the unrealistic expectations that people seeking women like this out can have. Just like unicorns, what these couples want just isn’t real. This practice is called Unicorn Hunting because it often comes across as (and actually is) incredibly dehumanizing and predatory.
As someone who has been on both sides of the unicorn divide, I have my own thoughts on the matter, but I also have some very wonderful colleagues who share my views (and experience) that this is problematic. So, to help reinforce the message, I asked a friend of mine, fellow educator and longtime leader in the poly community, Joreth Inkeeper, for her input on some of this unicorn stuff. Joreth has written and educated extensively on polyamory, so I sent her the same (semi)hypothetical ad from Nelson Newbie and asked her how she might respond if she saw it on a forum. She started off by saying this, “You will probably not have much luck finding what you’re looking for, and you should also expect to get a lot of backlash for your ad. The reason is because the language that you’re using is classic Unicorn Hunting, which is off-putting to exactly that demographic you’re looking for. If you truly want to find a romantic partner for a polyamorous relationship, you would be more successful if you changed a few things about the language that you’re using.”
I agree. This ad is way more likely to get backlash than sincere, interested responses. If I’m being honest, I tend to feel pretty prone to provide that backlash when I see this, only because it just seems to be so rampant in our communities. But I know that anger and backlash, while sometimes cathartic, is not productive. So, I asked Joreth what she’d recommend people do instead. Joreth has five points she makes about why this approach isn’t necessarily the most ethical or successful way to meet new people in poly communities. Let’s talk about them.