Originally Published in the Pittsburgh City Paper.
Can single women trust couples looking for a third on online dating apps?
There’s a lot of stigma around couples who are looking for a third partner for either a casual threesome, or for a more serious dating situation. They are often derogatorily referred to as “unicorn hunters.” Bisexual women attracted to both members of a couple are assumed to be so rare that they are likened to a mythical creature — a unicorn.
The negativity toward unicorn hunting reflects the fact that many women have, in fact, had negative experiences with threesomes. Often these sorts of triad relationships are entered into without a clear discussion of boundaries and expectation. Conflicts and mistakes in these situations tend to more negatively impact the third, who is seen as secondary to the couple’s preexisting relationship.
And yet, you are curious about being a third — and you are not alone! Often, critiques of these relationships ignore women’s unique personal reasons for pursuing them. In the right scenario, and with reasonable expectation, dating a couple can be a rewarding, worthwhile experience. To better understand when these kinds of relationships make sense, I reached out to single women who have had positive experiences dating couples.
Multiple women responded by drawing a distinction between bad unicorn hunters and couples that wanted a deeper connection. For example, Anonymous said, “I think unicorn hunting is gross, typically because those are the couples that just want a girl to be their sex object.” She goes on, “Couples that genuinely like a third person don’t usually have that vibe.”
Jenna Jones told me “It is really nice to be more than just a fantasy wishlist.” Specifically, “I think the most positive for me was that the couples actually wanted to know ME in addition to looking for a third … We dined and hung out even outside the bedroom … They liked me as a friend/human and not the elusive unicorn.”
Both women also describe a unique kind of sexual satisfaction specific to this dynamic. Jones says, “One person liking you is awesome. But TWO people?! I found having an extra person to talk to, laugh with, play with, just made it more interesting and fun! More insights and voices and thoughts and places to touch.” And Anonymous says, “It’s been positive because I can absorb the essence of the romance without having to be an active player.”
One of the positive things about moving into a sexual and/or romantic relationship with an established couple is that there is a built-in comfort and intimacy that you, as a third, can tap into without having to create. While that level of intimacy is desirable to many people, the work that one has to do to create it may not be feasible for any number of reasons: major life transition, transience, career conflict, family responsibilities etc.
What I learned from these conversations is that many good things can come from dating a couple: friendship, twice the attention, group sex, intimacy. If these things are appealing to you and you find a couple that you are attracted to, I say go for it. However, be realistic about the boundaries and don’t assume that this can fulfill all the same needs as non-hierarchical relationships.
In regards to meeting couples, take the safety precautions that you would in any online dating situation: meet them for the first time in a public place, talk to both of them to make sure that there isn’t weirdness or conflict going into the date, speak directly about everyone’s interests and expectations, and have fun.
On Episode 39 of the Peepshow Podcast we bring on freelance writer and lawyer Madeline Holden. She is based between Berlin and New Zealand, and covers gender, sex, relationships and power as her main beats.
We asked her to come on to talk about a recent piece she wrote for MEL Magazine on the male gaze. In the piece, she traces the history of the male gaze from its inception as a film studies concept in the 1970s, to now. She asks important questions about whether the male gaze is intelligible in 2019, if there is something like a female gaze, and how any of this speaks to a plurality of desires and identities. She also tells us about her own NSFW Tumblr page, “Critique My Dick Pic.”
We also talk to Kate Doyle Griffiths, an anthropologist finishing a doctorate at the CUNY Graduate Center, and queer Marxist organizer. They talk to us about the upcoming Women’s March on Jan. 19, as well as the anti-capitalism organizing they are doing with for the International Women’s Strike, which takes place in March.
For more on the male gaze and feminist/Marxist organizing, list to www.peepshowpodcast.com/peepshow-podcast-episode-39