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Whew, it’s been a while since I had an advice question from a lovely reader. This one, I must confess, has been sitting in my inbox for a while. Thanks to the person who sent it in, both for the excellent question and for waiting so patiently for an answer.
NOTE: For those who don’t know, a “unicorn” is a person (usually a woman or AFAB person, though not always) who gets into some kind of relationship with an existing couple. So called because this type of person is almost as rare, precious and highly sought-after as the mythical horned horse. “Unicorn hunter” couples get a bad rep because so many of them approach this type of relationship from a fantasy-fulfillment perspective without due regard for the third person’s feelings, needs or, well, humanity.
Let’s dive in…
So my primary and I have suddenly and quite unexpectedly acquired a unicorn! We love them so much (we’ve been friends with them for years). So far we are all three having a delightful time. We are, as much as possible, using our polyamory skills to continue this state of affairs.
But I am nervous. Obviously being a unicorn is a terribly vulnerable position and so many unicorns end up really hurt. So: can you give me some tips from your own experience on making sure we keep our unicorn as gloriously happy and safe and secure as they deserve, while also making sure that we look after our own needs too? Because, my goodness, they deserve all that is good and wonderful.
Dear Nervous Unicorn Handler,
Okay, first of all, I LOVE this one. Not only because you say you are all having a wonderful time in your newfound triad, but because you are obviously as invested in your new partner’s happiness as you are in your own and your Primary’s. So, yay for you! You’re already way ahead of the curve here.
You’re also doing the right thing in realising that being a unicorn is a vulnerable position. Your unicorn has a certain level of advantage in that they’ve been your friend for a long time, but you and your Primary will still have tonnes of shared history, intimacy and knowledge that your unicorn has not been privy to.
I find myself wondering if you’ve talked to them explicitly about this? Even something as simple as “hey, we understand that being a unicorn can be a really vulnerable position, and we want you to know that we love and value you so much and are really invested in your happiness in this relationship. Please don’t be afraid to tell us what you need and let us know if something doesn’t work for you” can go a really long way. Then, obviously, follow through on that with actions such as listening actively, consulting them on things that affect them, and not getting upset with them for expressing needs or emotions.
Balancing multiple people’s needs is tricky in any relationship. It does, of course, become somewhat more difficult the more people are involved. However, there’s no reason you can’t keep all of you safe, secure and happy for a long time to come!
Communication, as ever, is key. It sounds like you’re well aware of that and all making efforts to communicate well. Keep doing that!
I also advise, in so far as it’s possible, each of you having one-on-one time with your third partner sometimes as well. Just as the two of you need alone time together in order for your relationship to flourish, your relationship with your unicorn and your partner’s relationship with them needs the same to a certain extent. But, of course, lots of lovely all-three time is also really important to schedule and prioritise.
Looking after your own needs is vital in any relationship. So, try to keep a good handle on where you’re at internally. Ask your partners to look out for themselves similarly. Have you considered a periodic check-in meeting for all three of you? This can be by Skype or phone if you live far apart, or around the kitchen table over coffee, or even snuggled up in bed together. It doesn’t have to be serious. It can just be, “how are we all doing? Anyone got any issues they want to raise?” Then if anything comes up, you talk about it. If it doesn’t, you carry on doing the snuggling/coffee drinking/kinky fuckery. Obviously, you can react to things as they arise. But don’t underestimate how useful it is to have a designated time to check in with everyone and focus on your three-way relationship.
Beyond this, the things that spring to mind seem obvious and I’m sure you’re doing them/not doing them already:
- Don’t try to control/limit who your unicorn can date. Having a secondary relationship with them while being in a primary relationship with your existing partner is A-okay, but don’t try to make them be exclusive to you or make it difficult/impossible for them to date others.
- Discuss, with your Primary AND all three of you together, what will happen if someone feels jealous or left out. “We’ll close down the relationship and kick the unicorn out” is not a valid answer to this.
- Keep your promises and honour your commitments. Emergencies happen, of course, and a degree of flexibility is important. But your partner should feel that the two of you are reliable and will do what you say you’ll do.
- Related to the above, don’t make promises you may not be able to keep.
- Never, ever, for the love of all that is sexy and good in the world, throw your unicorn in the middle when you and your Primary have a disagreement.
- Try not to set rules on who is supposed to feel what for whom. This is a recipe for disaster because the heart doesn’t obey rules. Expecting your new partner to feel exactly the same way about each of you, for example, is unrealistic at best and straight-up coercive at worst.
I just want to finish by saying this seems like a really positive, healthy relationship. I’m not getting any of the red flags I so often see in a couple+unicorn situation. You’re doing everything write, Letter Writer, and I wish you all the best for a long, loving and wonderful relationship.