The Trouble with Triads

I just got a question posted on my Ask.fm:

Hey, dude. I was a unicorn once in college, and while I’m pretty wary of that particular poly formation, I just started dating a married couple I know and I really, really like them. What are some of the pitfalls we should be aware of, and how can we avoid them?

There are few members of the non-monogamous community viewed with as much enmity as unicorn hunters.  Many polyamorists imagine these couples struggling to stay above water in their failing relationship by snatching up hapless bisexuals to try and use as a flotation device.  Unicorn hunters are thought to be lurking in the shadows of the polyamory community, polishing their Feeldoes and targeting every cute bisexual girl to for them to ‘complete’ their ‘family’.

While I don’t find that caricature painfully inaccurate, it certainly doesn’t describe every couple looking for a third.  If you are the elusive unicorn, there’s a chance you may find a couple that rubs you just the right way.  While definitely not common, there are a handful of couples I’ve seen who incorporate a third without falling into the negative stereotype of the unicorn hunters.

Truth be known, I have safaried a few times hunting this slippery prey.  There are a handful of roadblocks that I’ve always encountered.  Speaking with my friends who have also tried being the unicorn, we’ve collaborated on this list of potential red flags:

  1. Don’t be a Band-aid
    Sometimes, a couple’s romance fails and the only real answer is a new relationship.  Unfortunately, many couples don’t break up before they pursue this new relationship.  Commonly, they end up cheating on each other and the relationship blows up in a storm of burned bridges and Gotye songs.  Less commonly though, the couple will attempt to have a new relationship to supplement their failed one by persuing a girl together.  They end up dating a third which just delays their inevitable split.
    Even if you wanted to, you won’t fix their relationship by joining it.  So before you sign up for a triad, make sure it’s a working dyad.  Ask yourself how well the two of them get along?  Do they have healthy communication?  Regular dates?  Good chemistry?  You wouldn’t want to date a person who is inherently unhappy, so beware of dating couples who are inherently unhappy.
  2. Don’t be a Sex Toy
    Unless that’s what you want.  If so, stop reading.  Start banging.
    If not, be wary of couples who will make your place in their life primarily as a supplement to their sexual escapades.  Many couples are just looking to spice up their bedroom antics.  So even if you feel like you’re building a meaningful connection with both of them, they might view you solely as an accent to their relationship instead of an integral part of a bigger three.
    Like any relationship, it never hurts to vocalize your limits from the start.  Let them know that you want more than a part in their sex life.
  3. Don’t be their First
    Because this relationship configuration is wildly different from conventional dating, everyone might as well be a teenagers going on their first dates again.  First timers are going to make a lot of mistakes.  So be ready for some failure if it’s anybody’s first time.  Or better yet, let them make their beginner hiccups with someone else.
  4. Have Separate Relationships
    I know I’ve said “dating a couple” several times in this article, but you are still separately dating two people.  Each of them is separately dating two people too.  The unit of all three of you is incidental to the three separate relationships that already exist.  Trying to do everything in threes is complicated and unnecessary.
    In these three separate relationships that exist in your triad, you should have individual dates, individual arguments, and individual expectations.  Let these connections mature independently of each other.  Theoretically, if one of the relationships in the triad ends civilly enough, the other two should be able to carry on just fine.
  5. Clarify Polify
    Just like dolphins are technically mammals, but morally fish.  Polyfidelity is technically polyamory, but morally monogamy.  Check and see what their thinking for their future.  Unless they are Mormons, there’s only one way to know they really want polyfi- you gotta ask.
    Many unicorn hunters plan long-game exclusivity.  If you’re not interested in that, fess up early before they start planning.
  6. Clarify Everything Else too
    It doesn’t need to be cast in adamantium.  But sharing your long term goals will spare everyone a lot of heartache down the road.  Find out how long they want this triad to last; do they want it just until they move to Portland, or are they in it till death do us and you part?  Is anyone having kids?  If so, how many?  Where’s everyone living?  What do we do on holidays?  Are we out to our families?  Friends? Facebooks?
    Marriage plans?  Going to begin fighting for group marriage legalization?  In the state of Illinois, you’re technically allowed to have a civil union as long as your unmarried, but you can be married if you have a previous civil union.  So maybe arrange something with these laws?
    Discuss these early and everyone will hopefully remain flexible.  A relationship between two people changes constantly, a relationship with three is certainly bound to change as much, if not exponentially more.
  7. No Man’s Land
    My mother once gave me an entirely sexist, but still quite accurate bit of advice that I’ve kept for dealing with metamours:
    Men are more possessive.  Women are more territorial.
    That being said, 90 percent of the working triads I have ever encountered are two men, one woman.  The FMF traids that fail commonly do so when it comes time to decide the ownership of space, not emotions.  So be respectful of the existing woman’s territory, be it in the home or the schedule.
  8. Abandon Equality
    There are three separate relationships.  So just like any polyamorous engagement, don’t go comparing and don’t let yourself be compared.  You will all like each other with different and varying levels of intensity.  Be careful of one of them trying to force equal intimacy by pushing for you to be closer with their partner.  This is especially dangerous for unicorns.
    Because unicorns are in such high demand, couples might compromise a lot just to make it work.  If a couple finds one to start a relationship, even if the new girl isn’t a really good match for both people, they’ll ignore that to achieve an ideal.

That last warning is where I get drawn back to my severe hesitations about triads.  Like I said before, I’ve had triads in the past that have lasted well over a year.  They can work and be a lot of fun.  You really have to look at things realistically, though.

It’s real tough to find one person with whom you can spend the rest of your life.  If you can find two, you’ve struck gold.  Finding two partners who you love who also love each other is astronomically improbable.  But just because the odds aren’t in your favor, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

Also, get a big bed.  Queen at least.

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