As if online dating isn’t difficult enough, with time wasted swiping, pesky algorithms that make your chances of meeting anyone worthy of your time slim, the superficiality of judging someone by their profile pictures/bios, and the literal statistics that show discrimination based on ethnicity, size, age, and gender identity, we don’t need anything making it more difficult. But, too bad, because if you’re a part of the bi community, you probably know all too well that you are a unicorn on these apps who will be hunted, whether you like it . . . or not.
“Unicorn hunting” is a phenomenon where individuals who identify as bi or pan are propositioned for a threesome by couples on online dating apps. Often, these couples are "looking for a third" for experimentation or to reinvigorate their own love lives.
It’s something that many of us have experienced, at least once or twice, often to our annoyance.
At least, in speaking for myself, I’ve been on the receiving end of it too many times. And it’s not something that I’m interested in. It has made me feel uncomfortable, and I have often been led on by individuals who then later ambush me as a couple or are sneaky and deceptive in their intentions.
So, I figured that this couldn’t only be my experience. Sure enough, when I asked around or scrolled through Facebook, I saw that others in the bi community have also been exposed to this, which inspired me to do a survey.
With the responses of 50 individuals within the amBi Los Angeles social Facebook group, as well as friends within the community, I collected the following data:
86% of respondents said they had experienced unicorn hunting while online dating.
46% said it’d happened once or twice.
26% said it’d happened 3-5 times.
28% said it’d happened several times or more often.
Only 6% said it never happened to them.
64% said that it made them feel uncomfortable and/or annoyed.
With 30% indicating slightly uncomfortable and/or annoyed, and 34% highly. Only 15% said they felt interested or intrigued (14% slightly, 1% highly) 12% felt neutral, though some indicated that they still felt annoyed, depending on the situation, especially if they mentioned on their profile that they were not looking to meet couples.
64% reported that couples were honest and upfront about their intentions.
But that still meant 36% felt that couples were vague, deceptive, or coercive in their true intentions.
Some respondents were generous enough to share remarks or stories about their experiences:
As a person who identifies as bi who had previously only been with men, I was a little nervous about dating women. More so on dating apps. I came across a girl on tinder who I had seen come into my work a lot, who I started to develop a little crush on. I felt it would be inappropriate for me to try and make any moves to get closer to her while I was working, so I saw this as my chance unless I saw her outside of work, which seemed just as unlikely. We matched and I was so excited. After talking to her I got even more excited because she was even cooler than I thought. I felt hope for a little something more.
We went on a date and we had continued talking nearly every day until one day we went out dancing and she brings a guy over and says that it's her boyfriend. I immediately understood what was happening. They both were trying to buy me drinks all night and both were dancing on me. But after a certain point, I just had to leave and go home. I felt very hurt and small. Like I wasn't wanted for me, but for some experiment between the two of them. Dating is difficult on its own when you're looking for a partner without weird double wrenches thrown into the middle of it. — Miranda M.
Even pre-pandemic, I pretty much swore off online dating — and one of the biggest reasons was because, no matter how upfront about it I was that I didn't want it, I would continually get unicorn hunted. Even if it was the first thing on my profile, I'd still get asked. Made me want to change my picture to a blinking marquee screaming "NO I DON'T WANT TO BE YOUR THIRD."
I hated getting fetishized. While even now I respect ethical non-monogamy as a valid relationship model and can see the appeal of threesomes and seeking a third, not being heard when I was being explicitly clear about what I wanted was something that made me want to shrink and quit the dating scene rather than explore. — Anonymous
The amount of nerve people get from behind a screen is unreal. Things you would never say to a person even in a swing club sometimes becomes normal conversation, and it is painfully awkward. If you rebuff them, they get incredibly rude, like they were doing you some sort of favor, and how dare you be uninterested. — Bryn M.
I've not experienced unicorn hunting with online dating so far, but I was offered a threesome by a male friend with him and his girlfriend who knew about my pan/demisexuality and that I was looking into polyamory with my partner. I was flattered to be invited at first because I thought it was very trusting of them to choose me to open up their relationship with, but after talking through several reasons why I wouldn't accept (including the fact that my partner and I had not yet agreed upon being poly), I felt very upset and that my demisexuality especially had been completely ignored.
They basically wanted a third, purely sexual partner, and I didn't want that at all — I can't sleep with people I don't have a deep bond with. I felt they purely wanted to use me as a sexual object, and only considered meeting their own sexual needs, rather than thinking about how my emotional needs were going to be met if I had agreed. It made me feel very upset, irritated, and kind of like the only thing valuable about me is my body and sexual desirability, which was horrible. — Anonymous
There was this one time on an app that a person led me on by saying they were single. They came out that they have a bf/gf after feeling guilty because according to them, I was “nice and respectful.”. — Kris G
My experiences being unicorn hunted were primarily from my life pre-transition when I identified as a bisexual woman. They’ve made me wary of online dating in general now as a trans-masc nonbinary person. — Anonymous
Aside from unicorn hunting, I thought I’d also ask about having online dating experiences that caused one to feel uncomfortable, pressured, or led on. An overwhelming 70% answered yes.
And on a darker note, I asked about sexual harassment and/or sexual assault specifically. Almost half (44%) answered that they had been, while a clear 50% said no, and 6% were unsure.
It’s pretty jarring and unnerving to learn that such a high amount of individuals who have used online dating services had experienced sexual harassment or assault. This is a notable threat that our community faces and something to be aware of for one’s own safety. And again, I can’t say that I’m surprised when I would fall within the 44% of respondents to who this has happened to.
One respondent made an astute observation:
Although there are plenty of unicorn hunters and plenty of people attracted to androgyny, I don't find the two often coexist in singular people or couples on dating apps/sites. I've thought most unicorns hunted were women and femmes. — Anonymous
For the purposes of this survey, this idea is, in fact, correct. Of the 50 respondents, 62% identified as women (58% cisgender, 4% transgender), 24% identified as non-binary, and 16% identified as gender fluid. Only 10% identified as cisgender men and some minor representation, roughly 2%, across other categories, including intersex, agender, bigender, and genderqueer.
So it is possible that unicorn hunting happens to women more often, and this can also explain why such a high percentage of individuals had experiences that made them feel uncomfortable or put them in harm’s way. However, that’s not to exclude men from this conversation, as they can also have uncomfortable experiences and be subjected to sexual harassment/assault.
One of the reasons why unicorn hunting could have been viewed so unfavorably by respondents could be attributed to the fact that 86% were using online dating in hopes of finding a long-term, committed romantic relationship. And 62% indicated that they were looking for friends. Only 14% of respondents suggested that they were interested in casual sex or hookups.
It seems that one of the factors that makes unicorn hunting so undesirable is when couples don’t respect the wishes of the individual they are pursuing. If you are a couple and are using online dating to find a third, please be upfront and completely honest about your intentions.
One respondent mentioned that they don’t mind being “unicorn hunted” as long as they’re seen as human first. Another respondent made a great suggestion that perhaps apps should have a separate feature just for couples and/or polycules. I hope more apps develop this in the near future.
Regardless of everyone’s experiences and perspectives here, online dating is here to stay, for better or worse. And with the current pandemic, 58% of respondents indicated that they have been using apps during quarantine.
So if you are within the bi community and you’re exploring dating apps, be as careful as you possibly can. Explicitly state what you’re looking for in your profile, vet people well before planning to meet, and if you receive unwanted advances, simply decline politely. Definitely use some of this information to your advantage in knowing what to expect, and if you are unicorn hunted, understand that you are within the majority! (Which, if anything, is validating, at least for me!)
And I want to give a huge thank you to everyone who submitted responses to this survey. Wishing you all a safe and Happy Valentine’s season!