Sometimes in polyamory, “equal” isn’t actually what’s best

If you’re involved in a polyamorous community  you might have heard the term “unicorn hunter” before.

It’s used to describe a man/woman couple seeking a bisexual (usually woman) partner who happens to want them both equally in every way.

In places where people discuss polyamory, we talk a lot about how that expectation of equal feelings can be really suffocating and unfair–that there is no way to guarantee you’ll feel the same exact way for two people for exactly the same period of time–so knowing you’ll be dumped by someone you love if your feelings change for someone you aren’t interested in more, that’s not a risk most are willing to take.

This is why the term “unicorn”. So rare as to be assumed imaginary.

Today I was thinking about a different way that “equal” doesn’t always mean “actually fair and leading to happiness.”

The other day I met a guy who fit the unicorn hunter stereotype–pretty intensely actually. He and his partner didn’t just have the vague plan of meeting the perfect woman for them both, they had the plan of spending exactly equal time, equal intimacy & sex, and equal everything else (even planned into the future with how many kids each woman would bear!)

All of this was decided by two people, a whole life plan, for someone who they hadn’t met yet. To this dude’s credit, he did keep an open mind when I pulled some reality-check questions out.

But the thing I forgot to ask (among “what if she stops wanting to be with one of you? what if she can’t have or doesn’t want biological children? what if she has other life plans?”) was “What if she doesn’t want equal?”

The way people plan their future polyamorous relationships is often very unrealistic but understandable (not always to anyone’s detriment–I and others I know are definitely doing polyamory different than we planned, because life doesn’t like neat boxes).

We’re taught that sharing equally is what is fair, what makes people happy. Give your friend one half of the cookie, and you get the other. You’ll both be happy.

But real life gets complicated. What if your friend just wanted a bite’s worth? What if your friend is allergic to the cookie?

What this guy wasn’t considering was: What if this woman doesn’t share our exact established needs?

Because the idea that “exactly equal” is best comes from an assumption that everyone’s relationship needs are the same.

Say there are three people all dating each other: A, B, and C:

A is happy spending time alone or with others, pretty much in any configuration.

B needs a lot of attention

C likes their alone time.

Why should A make a point of spending the exact same amount of time with B and C when C would probably enjoy having some time to themself while A + B spend some extra time together?

A really likes sex, would have it at least once a day if available but can be happy with less.

B’s sex drive is pretty variable, overall compatible with A and C but is happy with infrequent sex, sometimes gets bored with it.

C has a high sex drive and isn’t really happy without very frequent sexual contact.

Why should A + C refrain from having lots of sex to make sure things are equal with B? When B is happy to be having a platonic date with a friend during that time and would then enjoy sex more later?

This doesn’t even go into how this can turn into pressuring one person or another to spend extra time or have more sex or do things they don’t want–for the sake of argument, I’m assuming everyone’s not going to be an asshole, and that people would be holding themselves back from what they want rather than pressuring the third person.

While at least not predatory, that route is still harmful. It leads to resentment and discomfort and frustration and being overwhelmed.

I think instead of trying to plot out your life and partnerships into little neat sections with neat expectations, it makes more sense to continually reevaluate and negotiate and only make plans with, uh, people who currently know you.

There are a lot of reasons seeking out a person to fill a perfect slot in your life is an unrealistic idea–but I think this, “is literally equal really equal?”, is something not discussed much because we don’t discuss relationship needs much in general. Often one person asserts that their needs are normal and the other person’s aren’t and the other person just doesn’t have their needs met. Or you feel out each other’s needs and it works out. Or sometimes, you do actually discuss needs.

But I think a lot of times people assume that everyone’s needs are just like theirs. Or that no one’s are and so they have to do whatever the other person or people want. All of this hurts us.

I used to think “well a beautiful thing about polyamory is that you can get your needs met by other people if you are incompatible in one way with one partner!”

Sometimes that’s true, but I’ve found it isn’t always. I’ve come to realize a lot of my needs in relationships are person-specific. I can’t imagine trying to plan that out with a currently imaginary person. I couldn’t imagine planning that out ahead of time at all–People find dynamics and routines that work for each individual pair and group. Sometimes the relationship has to be discussed and experienced before you know how you’re going to spend your time with someone long term.

And sometimes equal is too simplistic.

Sometimes we need unequal in the details but equal in respect and love–by meeting people’s actual needs, the ones they ask to be met.




2 thoughts on “Sometimes in polyamory, “equal” isn’t actually what’s best

  1. Love this!
    This core message can also extend to all interpersonal relationships. People tend to have a hierarchy of relationships, with romantic/sexual relationships on top, and it just doesn’t work like that.
    Or when they think an asexual romantic relationship is equal to a platonic relationship (it doesn’t need to be more or less important than a friendship mind, but the implication is that it’s lesser than a sexual one).


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