The Curious Case of the Unicorn Exchange Program

a picture of a seagull in flight who that is carrying a french fry in its mouth
Image by Neha Singh / CC BY

“I’m sorry. I fucked up,” I say. And in the next breath I’m sobbing. “I really fucked up,” I say, once I catch my breath.

“Yeah, you really did,” Skyspook says in the darkness. I can’t see his face, but I know he’s frowning.

He pauses for what seems like forever.

“You fucked up,” he says.

Another unbearable pause.

“But so have I,” he continues. “And I forgive you.”

*

“How did we get here?” I ask him the next day in the zoo food court.

Beside us, a bird steals french fries from a toddler. Brazenly. I think about how my mom and I used to throw french fries to the seagulls at McDonald’s. It was fun when I was little. But now? I know better. It encourages aggressive behavior, like the junk food mugging currently underway at the next table.

The toddler squeals, as if in agreement.

“You forced a connection that wasn’t there,” Skyspook says.

I nod. He’s right. “I just thought… if I could get the chemistry with him right…” But I stop because my voice is on the verge of breaking up.

“That I’d form a stronger bond with his wife,” he finishes.

“It’s fucked up, I know. I didn’t even fully realize I was doing it until it was too late.”

Skyspook sighs. “You have to trust me, Page. Trust that I don’t need your help to solidify anything. You don’t need to screw a girl’s husband to make her like me. Especially if you’re not attracted to him. It’s wrong for you to do that. It’s just… not healthy.”

I hate the way it sounds. But I just nod. Because he’s right. I hate what I’ve done. And I’ve gone so far afield that I’ll take any direction I can get. Any way to get back on the path.

I do. And once I’m back on the path, I don’t make that mistake again.

*

Over the ensuing weeks and months, I often wonder about my behaviors. What was I thinking?

It would be easy to write myself off as crazy. And sure, I’m crazy enough to qualify for a cursory write-off.

But I know full well that I learned that behavior — and the values underlying it — somewhere. Even if it’s not clear at first where.

Because that’s how people work. They learn things from places they’ve been. People they’ve known.

The question was: Where did I learn to diplomacy fuck?

The Unicorn Exchange Program, a Kind of Square Dance

Bisexual women are in hot demand in polyamorous circles. So much so that they’re often called “unicorns.” Especially when they’re unattached. And willing to sleep with a couple.

Looking back at my myriad polyamorous adventures and misadventures, I can see many times when demand for single bisexual women so outpaced supply that the dating market was flooded with married couples. And as time went on, many that originally set their sights on adding a single bisexual woman to form a triad would instead start to date other married couples.  And form a square. Most frequently the married couples were made up of a straight man and a bisexual woman. Although the occasional hetflex or bi guy would emerge, I never did date in a square where both guys were and struck up a relationship.

More commonly these squares would form a kind of Unicorn Exchange Program. Where the square could be sliced into 2 triads, 2 triangles really:

Triad 1: Wife 1, Husband 1, Wife 2.

And Triad 2: Wife 2, Husband 2, Wife 1.

Not that anybody talked about this. Either in the relationships or even online, anywhere I could find.

But time and time again, it would happen.

It was like there was an unspoken agreement.

In one square, when chemistry just wasn’t happening with my girlfriend’s husband? She immediately broke up with my husband. Without explanation.

And as time went on, I’d see these same kinds of patterns emerging again and again.

I was mystified. This wasn’t at all what I’d envisioned when I first thought of polyamory. It irked me. It seemed kinda ridiculous.

Which made it all the more painful when I realized that I was falling into those same patterns.

Breaking Free of the Exchange

It took me far too long to figure it out the next time I ran into the unicorn exchange program, after that day at the zoo. But once I did, there was no un-learning it.

I had discovered the girl we were seeing was, at least in part, diplomacy fucking us.

The sex was good — great even.

But there was too much insistence to her sales pitch. When she assured me how good her husband was in bed. What a capable lover.

The way she kept revisiting the topic well after I’d gently but firmly indicated I wasn’t interested in him like that.

Inviting him on dates where it would be awkward to excuse ourselves, ask him to leave.

I don’t know why it took me so long to get the picture. Maybe it’s because I wanted to take her at her word, that it really was okay. Maybe it’s because the sex was so damn good.

And maybe? Maybe it was arrogance. Overconfidence. The delusion that I’m some kind of mindreader and that such things would be obvious to me.

But once I learned, I was faced with a choice:

A. Continue on as before, ignoring the sales pitch, and hoping the attempts to exact an exchange would die down or at least not escalate further.

B. Emphasize that I did not want to sleep with her husband again, hoping it would do some good, perhaps pointing out how her behaviors didn’t quite square with her assertion that she really was fine with my not being attracted to him.

C. Try sleeping with her husband.

D. End the relationship with her.

 

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