He was sweet and inquisitive, and she was funny and a little shy. They each asked me questions, while he held her hand between their beers. I immediately liked that he was openly affectionate toward her, while at the same time trying to learn more about me. I was hoping to be their unicorn.
“Unicorn” describes a person who joins a couple as their third partner, for sex or even for something more committed. It earned its mythical name because willing participants tend to be rare and difficult to find, though online dating has helped connect unicorns with couples more easily than ever (there’s even an app for seeking out a unicorn relationship, Feeld).
It was never really a title I thought I’d be interested in trying out, but after years of singledom I found myself more sexually curious than I’d been before. It’s not like I was questioning my sexual identity, but I was deeply interested in exploring its nuances. Simple adjustments to my online dating profiles opened the gate for messages from couples—and a rush of options. Even in conversation, it felt good to be someone who could fulfill not just one person’s fantasy, but two at once.
But I quickly discovered that, like any type of dating, this arrangement can sometimes be complicated and confusing. For the unicorn, there are two people to impress, two people to be impressed by, and three sets of wants, needs, and desires that you have to contend with if you’re going to have an enjoyable, comfortable time.
The couple I met for drinks was also new to three-person dating. We settled into conversation that felt natural and flirtatious, and ended the night with hugs and promises to make plans in the future. We never quite made it to the bedroom, though. A solo date with the husband led to hurt feelings for the wife, despite our agreement that I’d hang out with both of them separately. It’s always tricky to navigate other people’s emotions, and even sometimes our own.
Think you might be a good fit for a unicorn relationship? I found it helpful to ask myself these questions and answer them as honestly as I possibly could before I put myself out there:
When Sarah, 40, a unicorn I spoke with on the phone, got divorced, she wasn’t immediately ready for more commitment.
“I needed some time to work on myself,” she told me. “But I’m also a sexual person.”
She was familiar with the term “unicorn,” thanks to her involvement in the swinging community with her previous partner, but now was her chance to be that person for another couple.
“In the past, I was always looking for a boyfriend or a husband, and my heart was always involved. I wanted to know what it was like to have sex without those strings — and it was a very freeing experience.”
Sarah was looking for commitment-free sex with the possibility of friendship. She was also looking to expand her sexual boundaries. And she understood these things about herself prior to entering any three-person scenarios. Take a cue from Sarah, and ask yourself what you’re looking to get out of this experience. Are you looking for a connection or just some no-strings-attached sex? Outside of the sexual experience, how do you hope this makes you feel? What type of physical experiences, specifically, are you looking to have?
Prodding your own emotional and physical needs will help you better communicate with the couples you meet up with and help push back against any potential misunderstandings. Clarity is crucial when three people are involved.
When you join a couple in the bedroom, you’re joining two people who are (at least, hopefully) honest and open with each other about sex. They know what they want and they know what their partner wants. But your needs, your desires, and most importantly, your boundaries have not yet been a part of that conversation, and it’s up to you to make them clear. You might be fulfilling a fantasy of theirs, but you’re not just there to serve, or to act as an accessory. (Unless, of course, that’s the specific dynamic you want and even then, you have to make that clear too!)
Sure, it can be intimidating to share intimate information with people you’ve recently met. Take it slow, and give yourself the time to feel comfortable in communicating clearly. There’s no rush to jump into bed, and if there is, you might want to ask yourself why—it could be that you’re having second-thoughts, and you should take those feelings seriously.
It’s also important to consider that everything can change in the heat of the moment. Jealousies can flare unexpectedly and people can change their minds. Hopefully, you’ll have communicated enough prior to avoid that, but check in with each other periodically to make sure everyone is still on the same page.
Ask yourself, If something happens that I don’t like, will I speak up? The answer should be a resounding, “Hell yes.”
Regardless of how adventurous or open-minded you might feel about sex, feeling pressure from societal stigmas or traditional expectations can be a total buzzkill. Even though this isn’t an experience that you have to run and tell all of your friends and family about and there’s nothing wrong with having secrets, you still need to figure out if you, personally, will feel any shame or guilt around it.
Sarah encourages prospective unicorns to tell a close friend whenever they’re going on any dates with couples. It’s a safety precaution that’s important in any type of dating — so don’t let embarrassment keep you from taking that precaution as a unicorn. You don’t need to go into specifics, but do what you need to do to feel safe.
Ultimately, communication and honesty are the two most important ingredients to a successful unicorn experience; both with the couple, and with yourself. The good news? Once you’ve sorted those things out, you can focus on how crazy hot this will be. Exploring our sexual fantasies allows us to develop self-awareness that makes us all better, healthier, and sexier partners.
With that in mind, go break down some sexual barriers—for yourself and for the greater good, you magical creature, you.