(Here is the conclusion of my piece on Unicorn Hunters. This is both the most challenging... it's a little complicated... and the most useful, as I finally lay out some ways to maximize your odds of getting what you want. Part 3 was here,Part 2 was here, or you could start at the beginning here.)
The Primary Fallacy underlying Unicorn Hunting
Do you remember that part at the end of “Honesty/Fairness” where I left that awkwardly worded teaser at the end? You don't? Okay, no worries. This is where I'm going to lay it out for you. The primary fallacy of Unicorn Hunting is the illusion that it has a plausible chance of success. The central concept of the narrative that I've laid out here is statistically nearly impossible. Here's why. Remember that you love P very much and you just want to find something that P is missing. For the sake of this example I'm going to revert to something that looks sort of mathy, but it's really not (don't run away, it's super easy, trust me!).
You are looking for someone with a few traits that P doesn't have that might look like this:
U = (A, B, D, E, H)
U is our Unicorn, and B, D, and H are arbitrary letters which are symbolic for a few traits. These are things that you would like to have more of in your life (rock climber, emotionally available, likes kinky sex, whatever) that P doesn't have. Well, here is what P is looking for:
U = (A, E, F, G, I)
What? How do I know this? Remember, you and P are each looking for things that the other doesn't have, so I chose different letters, again, arbitrarily. A & E are similar because presumably you each have common traits that you simply need in people to find them attractive. You found each other, right? Well, let's look at you and P:
You = (A, B, C, D, E)
P = (A, C, E, F, G)
Do you see yet? Think about it a moment before reading on. You are constructing a VERY specific picture of a VERY specific person (I told you we were coming back to that concept of specificity, remember?), who has more to offer than either of you. You and P each have things that you share, that you really enjoy, and you have other interests that you want to share with someone, AND you want a new person to bring something unique to the relationship. Well, I hope you do. If you don't want that (hint: they will) then you're going to be in for a bit of a disappointment. Here is a profile of the Unicorn that the two of you are looking for:
U = (A, B, D, E, F, G, H, I)
Wow, this person is not only better than either of you, with a richer, fuller, more varied life, but they are also really, really specific. Remember our Interconnected Poly Fi people who were looking for a very specific person? This is their challenge. If you are new to Poly, posting a casually written ad on a Poly forum, how are you going to find THIS EXACT person? Is that a likely outcome? No, it isn't. You have constructed, like some Frankenstein's monster, this super-person and built a small, rigid, confining box for them to live in. What makes you think that someone with all of that going on in their life is likely to say, “Hmm, your highly restrictive model of relationship wherein I am inherently and persistently disadvantaged sounds good, sign me up”? They most likely won't. So, who DO you end up finding? You end up finding someone who looks a lot like this:
U = (A, B, G, I, J)
That is very realistic. You find someone who has the #1 non-shared trait that you are looking for (B), but they don't have the #1 trait that P is looking for... they do have the #2 and #3 non-shared traits from P's list (G & I)... and that might seem okay at first. Note that they are missing (E), that could be a problem down the road. There may be uneasy feelings about these issues, but you are SO RELIEVED to finally find someone who is in the ballpark, who responded to your e-mail, who is local, who is available, who is interested... that each of you build up enthusiasm to make this work. This can remain an ongoing point of tension. You may resent that U gives P more of what P wants, and P may resent that you got the most important piece while P didn't. Also, notice that this, realistic U has J, which wasn't on either of your lists. This item can have significant consequences. What if J is a child from a previous marriage (or U is currently married! Hey, I thought she was just for us?!)? What if J is a drug habit? Unless you specifically want one of those things, this could be a deal-breaker.
It's hopeless? You're saying we just give up?
Some people have happy, fulfilling Poly relationships. Some people are in a rewarding, successful Triad. It does happen. Thing is, there is a right way to go about getting it and a wrong way. I have written this including lots of examples showing how to do it wrong.
How do you do it right? Well, here is a starter, read this article and don't make any of these mistakes. If you avoid every mistake in this article, you've got a real shot at it. But wait, no guarantees? Nope. But that means risk! Yep. My current partner won't be my Primary? Well, maybe. If they are your Primary, they are your Primary. You can do hierarchical Poly if you want, that's fine. Just be aware of the consequences, talk about them, and be open to the fact that it will work well for some and will disqualify others.
If things change, then you need to be willing to allow and even embrace that change. There are situations that people refer to as “Game-Changers” in Poly, just like in the rest of life. Sometimes an individual comes along and shakes up the status quo in your relationships. Don't fear it, be excited by it. My definition of love includes the concept that I have a desire for and a commitment to allow or even facilitate their individual growth, their continued health, and their pursuit of happiness. I love each of my partners very much, I don't want them to go away. I don't want them to tire of me. I don't want to lose them. But ultimately, I do not want to cling to them in a way that stifles their opportunities for growth, finding happiness, and achieving their fullest potential. If someone else is an amazing match for them, and I lose a percentage of the time/attention/energy they had been giving me, certainly I will feel a loss, but if I actually love them, I will feel a lot of happiness as I get to see them receiving wonderful benefits.
What is a true loss is when someone says that I will get less of their time/attention/energy because I'm not really “doing it” for them any longer. This is an unpleasant thing that you should try to protect against, but you don't protect a relationship against this by creating external rules, you protect it by being attentive and focusing on the relationship that you have with each of your partners, and keeping an updated understanding of who they really are. When this happens it is often due to neglect. Either you're not investing in them, or you're not paying attention to the shifts and changes that are happening over time as they grow as people. You're still interacting with them as somebody they used to be, rather than who they've become.
I invest my love and energy and time into my partners, I ask them what they want and need, regularly, and then I try to accommodate as many of those wants and needs as feels comfortable and appealing. In some situations, I will leave my personal comfort bubble and take some risks. These can be great opportunities for personal growth. In critical situations it doesn't need to be appealing or comfortable. These are the “All hands on deck” moments in life where you set aside your personal desires and help the ones you love.
An exception, one that is nearly universal, is worth mentioning here. I don't attend to my current relationships by making rules about things external to them, with the sole exception being the topic of fluid bonding and safer sexual practices. That is due to the medical risk of infection from STI's, which is not emotional security, it's biological safety.
Okay, how do you do this right?
Here is a list of things that if you can do right, you should have a good shot at this. Focus on these points, and you will be set up to avoid the most common pitfalls. Certainly, no matter how well you do your stuff, you are only a part of the equation. The other people involved are uncontrollable variables that are complex and unpredictable. I could likely find examples of exceptions to everything I've written about in this article, somewhere or somehow. Very little in life is truly simple or absolute.
- No Rules. State desires and needs. Make requests. Don't dictate, discuss.
- Security through Investment. You don't remain secure or "Protect the Preexisting Relationship" by limiting what happens with others, you do it by continually investing in your preexisting relationship.
- Minimize “The Box”. Don't put restrictions on people who don't exist, much less ones who do. Allow each relationship to grow into it's own, natural expression.
- Specificity. Use specific criteria to search for what you want, but remain open to what you might find.
- Share “Deal-Breakers” early. When something truly is non-negotiable, it needs to be first date material. Don't over-dramatize this, a simple, clear statement should suffice.
- Communicate expectations repeatedly. When you find expectations cropping up, say them out loud. Often people assume that everyone is on the same page and are shocked when later they find that it is not the case. Allow expectations to shift as situations change.
- Be out! Do this as much as possible. Your entire life will reap benefits as you are able to be more and more open, honest, and congruent. The biggest benefits you will experience will be internal. It is truly transformative.
- Fairness does not mean Equality. Treat people with kindness and understanding. Try to avoid quid pro quo negotiation, these situations are frequently indicative of underlying problems.
- Every person involved is equally important as a human being, even if they don't have equal significance in your life. Don't act as if you are entitled to a privileged position, or one relationship is entitled to privilege over another.
- Complete disclosure. With every interaction bring your entire person. Be congruent, open, and honest with each person you are in relationship with. If you ever feel you can't do this, you have gone off the tracks badly. The relationship is broken and needs to be repaired or discarded.
- Don't start out by dating together. Yes, I'm saying, “Don't be Unicorn Hunters”. Each of you will have an astronomically higher chance of finding what you are looking for if you stop trying to have 1 magical person fulfill 2 distinct and ofttimes contradictory roles. You just might find someone who likes your partner and you will have found your natural fit while effectively sidestepping many of the pitfalls and traps listed herein.
You can't build strong relationships by skirting around or avoiding issues like insecurity and jealousy, which is exactly what “Rules” attempt to do, you have to go directly through these issues. Address them head on, find effective skills to manage the underlying causes and root them out at their source.
- Trust bravely.
- Love boldly.
- Risk with calculation.
- Be open to new experiences.
- Be strong in the face of your insecurity.
- Dare to grab for the life you want.
- Meet exciting people.
- BE an exciting person.
- Build valuable relationships.
- Share intimacy.
Ask people what they see in you, why they love you, and then trust that. Expend consistent effort to remind them why they love you. Don't fall into complacency. Seek a partner that delights you and don't worry about whether they are a fit for your other partners. If they are, wonderful! If they aren't, that's fine, your partner is out there looking for other possibilities (or they aren't, as they wish). Understand that there are no certainties and rather than withdrawing, use that as your motivation to be the best you that you can be.
I hope that this article was helpful to you. I wish you the best as you explore the relationship model that is best for you.