10 November 2023

Unicorns may be mythical, but their relationship rights are real

By Mickey Bourne

Content note: Description of consensual sexual acts. Mention of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Mention of alcohol and drugs and overdose. 


The first time I was called a unicorn, I was spit-roasting a dirty blonde, glancing between his boyfriend and his back dimples and back again. “On your knees, unicorn,” the blonde commanded. I made a sound that was something between a laugh and a moan and clamoured to the floor. We spent the next 2 hours performing a trigonometry of possibilities, a body arithmetic I’d never known. It was hot; fun and carefree.    


Two weeks later, we were out having drinks, the Unicorn and the Couple. I’d had a stressful week, and wasn’t feeling particularly sexy, but I’d been the one to propose the date, so I didn’t feel like I could cancel. We’d had sex more than 10 times but knew nothing about each other beyond our erogenous zones. For them, perhaps this was the point, but I found myself wanting more. I didn’t want a “R-E-L-A-T-I-O-N-S-H-I-P” per se- I was young, full of fun, and at the age where train rides and particularly gusty wind blows could still give me an erection- but I knew enough to know that dinner could be a great aphrodisiac, and that, despite the soft-hard binary of what masculinity may have us believe, male sexuality, or, at least, my sexuality was conditional: my emotional chemistry influenced my physical connection, and I wanted better connection, and better sex.  


In the street-facing smoker’s section over our vodka cranberries, I was more in the mood to talk about anatomy than study it (I was studying a medical science degree at the time), but it was difficult to talk about the fascinating physiology of the dorsal ramus with 4 groping hands on my crotch. Was I allowed to tell them I wasn’t into it? That this wasn’t working? I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t have the words. I let them play with my cock for 20 minutes longer than I should’ve, then got up to leave, blaming it on bad sushi. “Aww, come on, unicorn!”  one of the men yelled after me.  




Unicorns, someone joining a pre-existing relationship, whether for a night or for the long-term, are real people entangled in fantasies. It’s a projection, a performativity (not unlike gender). If I’m the newcomer, it can be challenging to negotiate my rights, because I’m entering an already established power dynamic. Often, there is less safety and support for me within the relationship. I’ve had unicorn friends be invited to stay the night, then told they can’t, in fact, stay, left homeless at 3am in foreign cities; OD’d and abandoned at parties that the couple invited them to; coerced into sexual activities they didn’t want to do; sexually assaulted; physically and/or emotionally abused. That’s not to say the others aren’t also  at risk: the exact same scenarios could happen to them, too. Yet usually, the power dynamic is in the couple’s favour.  

A unicorn is not powerless, though. The unspoken arrangement is that we have more autonomy, can freely come and go. Less responsibilities, though this is often over-stated: it doesn’t mean we have no responsibilities. Even if we’re not having sex as a 3, or 4, or 5, and I’m only seeing one person in an open relationship, all parties are still affected. For me, I would prefer someone’s partners putting us in a taxi than having to sneak around them. A lover’s unwillingness to talk about them is a red flag: I don’t need or want to know their favourite colour- privacy is also hot- just that they have been considered.  


In the following days and weeks, I ignored the couple’s calls and messages, playing what I thought was my unicorn power: I ghosted them. Being called a unicorn in the bedroom was one thing, but I’d never wanted it to replace my actual name. It defined me only in relation to the couple, and de-legitimised me within the relationship, even if we were only having sex. All relationships in all forms warrant basic safety, respect and responsibility; all relationships are dynamic, their structures can and do change, and peoples’ desires and boundaries are contextual, and may change too. I wish I’d had words back then.  


I have many friends who’ve successfully navigated relationship transitions and gone on to have great loves, but it required care, empathy, vulnerability, honesty, patience, open-mindedness, forgiveness, and a willingness to have challenging, messy conversations. It’s not always possible for everyone to get their needs met simultaneously, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have tried. Love might be unconditional, but relationships are conditional: they’re about people trying to love each other, while living with conditions- values, lifestyles, expectations, limitations, triggers and boundaries. Often, it’s easier to define what our mutual values are than what love is. If I find myself amidst a strained relationship, and I’m safe, and available, physically and emotionally, to do so, I’ve found talking about it to be far more helpful than ghosting.   


In writing this piece, I felt compelled to message that couple after 10 years of silence (hi boys!). They’re no longer together, and there was no desire to rekindle anything. That said, it was nice to know we could have a conversation. But the question remains…is great sex and great conversation possible at the same time? Yes, just perhaps not with cis men.  


Kidding! OK, OK, it’s a joke. It mightn’t be the end of this story, but it’s part of many other relationships I have been involved in and adjacent to. So yes. Yes, it is! Unicorns are endangered because, on one hand, relationships are complex. On the other, it’s feeling like we need to continue playing a certain kind of role and that’s the hard part. Like any identity category, there’s a distinction between the label and the person. I want more love and more spit roasting; sometimes it’s OK to call me unicorn, just don’t forget that my name is Mickey, though that may change again too.  




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