Some people approach polyamory as 'having your cake and eating it too,' but this isn't always a success.
- Polyamory is when couples allow each other to have multiple romantic partners outside their primary relationship.
- There are several different approaches, such as triads which consist of three people.
- Sometimes couples try out polyamory naively, especially when a straight couple wants to find another bisexual woman to join them.
- This is called "unicorn hunting," and it's something of a cliché in the poly community.
To some people, the idea of polyamory — the term describing having more than one romantic partner — is exciting.
In polyamorous relationships, a couple decides they will give each other the freedom to meet, flirt, and hook up with other people. Sometimes they may invite another person into the relationship permanently, in what's known as a triad.
But it's not as simple as finding a third person you both fancy. In fact, according to Dr Elisabeth Sheff, expert witness, speaker, and coach of polyamory and author of "The Polyamorists Next Door," straight couples often come into the polyamorous community expecting to find a bi woman to join them. This, she said, is called "unicorn hunting."
Sheff's former husband introduced her to the idea of polyamory with exactly this intention. He wanted another woman to sleep with, but he didn't particularly want her to be able to meet other men. Apparently in the poly community, this is quite a cliché.
"She's known as 'the unicorn' because she's so rare, and almost mythical," Sheff told Business Insider. "He thought he was so edgy and out there, and we could have a wife the two of us together.
"As it turns out, it's every straight boy's fantasy. It doesn't fly well in the poly community. And when he didn't get what he wanted, he had a tantrum, and didn't want to do it anymore."
When couples can't find a unicorn, Sheff said it's common that the woman has actually started to quite enjoy the freedom of polyamory. She may have been reluctant to try it at first, but turns out to be the one who enjoys it more.
"The woman of the couple finds other people to socialise with, and the man realises he's not the centre of attention that he [thought he] would be, and thinks 'this isn't as much fun as I thought it would be,'" Sheff said. "These couples either blow up, [or] some of them return to monogamy… and she might have a little more clout than she used to. But if she really likes it, and he really can't stand it, they'll break up."
Remember — everyone has feelings
Alex* is in a polyamorous relationship with his wife. They were monogamous for a long time, but ended up making friends with many polyamorous people, and it turned into quite a normal thing in their social circle.
He told Business Insider he's not aware of a situation where a male-female couple actively seeking a bi woman has worked out well.
"I don't really feel like there is a consistent way of thinking about these things in the many varied ways people approach polyamory," he said. "But amongst my friends 'unicorn hunting' is usually considered with suspicion and scorn."
"The stereotype at least is that unicorn hunting couples are looking to treat a partner as an object in their relationship," he added. "They want someone — maybe anyone, reducible to their gender, sexuality, and availability — that fits into their lives and fits their relationship without thinking about the needs and human perspectives of the person they're looking for."
In other words, it can look a lot like people wanting to have their cake and eat it too, without actually taking into account anyone else's feelings. This is what Sheff felt when her ex-husband first came up with the idea.
"My instinct is to say that 'unicorn hunting' couples are likely not taking the considerate and compassionate approach which I associate with polyamory," Alex said. "But like I say, this is something of a stereotype, and folk are welcome to do whatever works for them, right?"
* Name changed for anonymity.