Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Join A Relationship As Their Unicorn?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: About two years ago, I started the process of getting divorced from my partner of a decade that I have a kid with. Around that time I started reading your column and I want to say how helpful and insightful it is.

I’m a woman in my 30s and I have been enjoying dating, a lot! (Although also sometimes, not a lot – that’s how it goes, right?) I’ve known for a long time that I am not 100% straight, and I have had a lot of fantasies about threesomes but I don’t think I really expected it to happen.

Very recently I met a couple, a man and a woman, who are looking for a third, let’s call them Q and T (because they are adorable). They have been looking for a few years, sounds like they wanted a real true third but now they’re not sure if that’s going to happen. I think it’s hard to know hypothetically and these things need time to develop, but it’s potentially on the table.

I have been quite honestly taken by complete surprise, but in a great way.

It feels so natural. It’s obviously very new, but I really like both of them. Physically and more than physically. Also, I like their relationship that they have. So far, we are all very open with our communication. I feel genuinely excited but I want to know what questions I should be asking myself and what I should be asking them. I know I should read The Ethical Slut, but I wondered if you in particular have any insight. I initially had a conception that my relationship would just be with them as a couple, but I think I would also want relationships with both of them individually. Obviously this is something I have to talk to them about, but I was wondering if there is anything in particular I should ask myself before broaching that, or the situation in general.


Unexpected Unicorn 

DEAR UNEXPECTED UNICORN: There’s a lot to consider here UU. The first is whether you’re ready for this sort of relationship. Polyamory, in some ways, is dating squared. You’re not just managing one relationship, you’re managing multiple ones… and that can be a tricky balancing act, especially if you try treat each relationship as equal to one another. That’s one level of complication.

Another is the style of polyamory and relationships you want to have. There’re almost as many forms of non-monogamous relationships as there are people. Some folks prefer a v-shaped poly relationship, where two people are dating the same person, but don’t have much of a connection aside from that shared partner. Some prefer what folks call “kitchen table” polyamory, where the polycule is like one big happy family. And then there’re poly relationships like the one you’re considering, where you’re joining a pre-existing couple and dating both of them individually and together.

That last one? That can be difficult to manage. There can be a sense of hierarchy, where the pre-existing couple feels that they’re primary in the relationship. There’s the potential for jealousy, especially if folks get caught up in the rush of that New Relationship Energy and end up neglecting their original partner. It can be hard to balance the thrill of the new with the comfort and familiarity of the old, which creates the potential for imbalances in time and emotional connections.

And that’s even assuming they want that sort of relationship. The fact that they’re looking for a sexy guest star doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re ready for a long-term addition to their relationship. Similarly, the fact that they may be interested in some sexy adventures together doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re interested in — or ready for — playing separately. Something that works as a group activity doesn’t always translate into something that works on the individual level. What often makes a threesome works is that it involves the couple as a couple; as two individuals, it could lead to jealousy and insecurity.

(Hell, that could happen during the threesome. There’s always a point where a threesome ends up temporarily becoming a two-some, and that can often stir up unexpected and uncomfortable feelings in the person who’s not currently involved.)

So right now what I would suggest is that you start by doing your research. The Ethical Slut is a good starting point. I also suggest Opening Up by Tristan Taormino and Building Open Relationships by Dr. Liz Powell (Dr. Powell is, incidentally, a friend of mine) for more about the dynamics of various non-monogamous relationships. Just as importantly though, I suggest that you talk with Q and T about what they want and expect out of this encounter — and this encounter specifically. I think it’s probably a better idea to focus on the immediate future, rather than potential relationships. If you can stick the landing on the threesome, then maybe you can talk about future plans.

And speaking of the threesome: you’re going to want to discuss that in detail. Figure out what you’re ok with as well as what they’re ok with. It may be worth putting some limits on your first encounter together — leaving penetration off the table entirely, for example, or leaving it exclusively for Q and T. Even the swinging-est of swingers can find themselves having complicated and incredibly inconvenient emotions when they see their long-term partner going to town on someone else; keeping some things for the pre-existing couple can help avoid ruffling any feathers unnecessarily.

Similarly, if — and that’s a mighty big if — they are interested in exploring the possibility of seeing you separately, then that’s something that you may need to ease into. Again, taking things slowly and keeping certain activities off the table (at first) might be the wiser course of action; this way, everybody gets a chance to see how they feel without being tossed head-first into the deep end of the pool.

And also discovering that the pool is full of sharks.

That’re also on fire.

This is the sort of thing that requires a delicate hand, because one of them feeling uncomfortable, feeling neglected or otherwise not being cool with the situation could end your relationship with both or either of them. So if you’re considering dating them both individually, you should make sure whether you’re actually interested in both of them to the same degree. Not because you have to have perfectly equal feelings for them both, but because the potential for jealousy or hurt feelings is magnified and can have an outsized effect on everyone.

Now with that all being said: it sounds like all of you are putting serious thought into this, which is great. And as a general rule, I’m all in favor of new sexy adventures. Some best practices with the initial threesome can help make sure that it’s a positive experience for everyone involved. And if that ends up working out… well, who knows. You very well may be finding yourself on the verge of a new and exciting time in your life.

Good luck.

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