Log in

No account? Create an account


Maxine's Journal

Adventures of the Polka-Dotted One

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Polyamory and Statistics, or “Why haven't we found our third yet?”
Find out why we call them 'unicorns'.

Edit, 1st October 2014 (Because I realised I hadn't properly defined my terms!):

In the poly community, a 'unicorn' is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek term for a single, bisexual poly woman (or man) willing to date both members of a couple, usually in an exclusive triad.

If that's what you're looking for, you may have already heard people tell you that what you're looking for is incredibly rare, and that it's going to be a long hard journey. Most folks just shrug their shoulders at this and say 'that's okay, I'll just keep on looking til I find it.'

So I took a look at just *how* rare finding a unicorn actually is, how many you're likely to find in your own social circle, and how long it might realistically take to find someone, as a couple, to fit you both.

Full disclosure: I am technically a 'unicorn' myself. As a poly bi woman with no formal primary partnership, I am hypothetically open to dating a couple (though the 'exclusive' part isn't for me). But how many times in my 20 years of dating have I actually met and fallen for two people who were also into each other at exactly the same time? Well, I'll let you know at the end of the essay!

As many folks who read my blog know, it is mostly used as a repository for essays on topics that I encounter repeatedly. I've been writing this essay over about three years, adding a tiny little bit every time I see some new person ask the same question, and if you scroll down you'll see it's a pretty long essay. Stick with me. It's worth it.

Everywhere poly and interested folk gather, I hear the refrain “Why is it so hard for us to find the perfect woman to date us both?” often followed up with some sort of comment to the effect of “There's two of us, so that should make it easier, right?”

Sorry, folks! The computer says no!

Finding one single woman (or man*) to date as a couple is many many many times harder than finding a different partner for each of you. And if we look at the finding-a-date process step by step, the numbers will tell you why.

Let's begin our step by step starting with the straight male member of a male/female couple (just for example), and throw some numbers in for illustrative purposes.

So, wannabe poly triad-building guy, let's say that most of your dating experience has been as a single person. That's great! You know how that works. You go out, go online, mingle with folks, you check women out and you see who you find attractive. Let's assume that's about one in ten, or ten percent of the women out there. Hey, you've got some taste, right? But you've already knocked out 90% of the dating population as possibilities. But let's carry on. Ten percent of the available dating population just happens to be your personal version of 'hot'.

Now, you already know how if you are single only a certain percent of the hot women in your dating pool are going to be interested in you. So let's say that maybe ten percent of those women that you find attractive are willing to consider dating you (obviously your mileage may vary, but 10% is a nice easy number to use to demonstrate). Seems like you're off to a great start, right? Right. One in 100 isn't bad odds. You've still got a pretty good chance of finding a date for yourself here. But you're already down to 1% of the total dating pool (that's ten percent of ten percent), and you haven't asked any of the difficult questions yet.

Chance of finding a partner if you're single: 10% of 10% = 1% or 1 in 100

Now, if you are *not* single, you are limiting yourself to only the people within your dating pool who are open to nonmonogamy. Since the vast majority of the population are still not open to poly, we'll take a guess at that again being about ten percent, so now you're looking at ten percent of ten percent of ten percent, that's only 0.1% of everyone who's available for dating. You have already cut your chances of finding compatible people down to one in 1000, simply by being poly. So if you're dating as an individual, your chances of finding someone who's interested in just you are roughly one in every thousand women you check out. If you're surfing dating sites as an individual, or going out and meeting people in public, that's not too bad. Your female partner will probably have about the same odds if she wants to date other guys.

Chance of finding a poly-friendly partner for just one of you: 10% of 10% of 10% = 0.1% or 1 in 1000

But then you want a partner who will also date your female partner. So it gets more complicated.

Assuming you are an m/f couple both looking for a partner in common, you are also looking for a woman who is bisexual. But don't forget, you're still limiting yourself to being inside that group of 'people who are open to nonmonogamy AND attracted to you'.
Across the board of sexuality studies, the highest estimated percentage of the population who are interested in same sex relationships is approximately ten percent (usually it's less, but we're rounding it up to make things look more hopeful here!). If your female partner is looking independently for another female partner who doesn't need to be attracted to you, her odds will be about here: ten percent of ten percent of ten percent of ten percent, or in other words, about one in 10,000. Out of the general population, only one woman in 10,000 is likely to be hot, poly and as attracted to your female parter as she is to them.

Chance of finding a poly-friendly same sex partner for just one of you: 10% of 10% of 10% of 10% = 0.01% or 1 in 10,000

BUT you're still looking for a partner who will date BOTH of you, not just one of you, so it gets more complicated again.

Specifically bisexual people account for probably about half of that 'interested in same sex relationships' population (maybe a bit less). So again, you're cutting your odds down, this time to about 5% of your already limited group of 'hot women who are open to nonmonogamy AND already attracted to you'.
So that's five percent of ten percent of ten percent of ten percent. You're down to 0.005% of the dating population... That's one in 20,000, and we haven't even accounted for whether or not those women are attracted to your female partner yet – after all, we were so far just looking at women who were attracted to *you*.
So assuming your female partner is about as attractive as you are, and sexily compatible with about ten percent of the people she meets, that adds another zero in front of your chances.

(I'm also assuming here that you and your partner have *exactly* the same tastes, and exactly the same definition of what is 'hot' in a potential partner. If your tastes differ, that's going to reduce your options still further, but lets not, because that's just going to get depressing!).

Still following the maths? Right now, the percentage of hot bisexual women in the dating pool who are open to nonmonogamy AND likely to be interested in dating you AND interested in dating your partner as well is ten percent of five percent of ten percent of ten percent of ten percent. Out of all the potential women in the dating pool, you're now down to 0.0005%, or roughly one in 200,000 women. At this point you have probably run out of women in your dating pool. Hell, you've probably run out of women in your entire state, but hey, if you cast your net wide enough...

Chance of finding a poly-friendly partner interested in both of you: 10% of 5% of 10% of 10% of 10% = 0.005% or 1 in 200,000

And that isn't even taking into account whether or not those women are open to being in a *closed* triad with you, just whether they might be interested in dating you in the first place. The number of poly women who will be open to creating a closed triad with you will be even smaller. Oh what? About ten percent, we figure? That's one in two million women, folks.

Chance of finding a poly-friendly partner interested in both of you AND in exclusivity: 10% of 10% of 5% of 10% of 10% of 10% = 0.0005% or 1 in 2,000,000

You probably call your existing partner 'one in a million', but to actually find ONE woman interested in setting up a FIRST date with both of you, are you really prepared to make contact with two million women?

And folks wonder why they're still looking years later...

*These numbers work equally well if you're an m/f couple looking for a male 'unicorn', just flip the gender of the 'partner' bits of the workings out, I just went with the most common scenario I see for illustration purposes. It's a little different, numerically speaking, if you're already a same sex couple, but not very.

So how long would it take you to sift through two million women, anyway?

How about I throw in some more numbers in for you?

Let's say you're trying to do most of your dating organically, in person or through forums, poly groups and other social mingling. Let's also wildly exaggerate and say that you can meet one woman every minute of your day. If you could do that non-stop without eating, sleeping, going to work or anything else, that alone adds up to nearly four years.

More realistically, you'll probably only be able to devote an hour a day to meeting brand new people. After all, you have lives to lead. At one hour a day, that initial sift alone will take you something like ninety years (actually, I make it 91.32 years ).

Now let's say you spend ten minutes chatting to all the women you find attractive (another 91.32 years), and another ten minutes chatting with the women who seem to be attracted to you. That's only an extra nine years at this point.

Oh hey, you've found out some these women are poly! And bi! You've got to chat with them a little longer, maybe research their background a bit. You're going to have to introduce them to your female partner, see if they get on. You've made great progress though! That's such a short list of women it's not even going to take you a month to sift through and figure out who's into who. You're so nearly there, after a mere 192.74 years of searching, why it's enough to make you drop your walking stick and click your heels together. It's time to actually go on some dates!

So let's say you and your partner finally have a shortlist of women who are hot, bisexual, poly, and even better, attracted to the both of you. Let's say out of your initial two million women, you've managed to narrow it down to ten. You take each one of those women out on a couple of dates to see how you get along, and then you pop the question: “Would you like to be in a closed triad with the two of us?” It's only going to take you twenty days or so. Barely even three weeks worth of dating. Of course, most of the hot bi babes say no. Perhaps they can't see themselves cutting off their options that way. Perhaps they already have existing partners they don't want to dump just for the privilege of being with you. Perhaps it's just not their style (It's not you, it's them). It doesn't matter though. Out of those ten women you spent nearly three weeks dating, miracle of miracles, one of them has said YES!

And it only took you 192.79 years to find someone who wants to start to date both of you. Assuming you're still alive, you'll all be over two hundred years old by now, so I figure you'll all have the maturity to build a successful relationship from this point, plus be too tired to look for anyone else if it doesn't work out. Congratulations! You've found your unicorn! Well done!

...in other words, unicorn hunting is the relationship equivalent of spending every day sitting at home imagining what you will do 'when you win the lottery', rather than going out to work and building yourself a viable business.

That doesn't mean you need to stop buying lottery tickets, but in the meantime why not go out, build solid relationships, build friendships, build family even, with people who fit *you*, and maybe in doing so you'll happen across people who also fit your other partner or partners.

Yes, it sounds like more work and less 'romantic', but on the other hand it's a whole lot more reliable.

Check my maths!

You can see my workings as a spreadsheet here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1sm5YD8WASdDDs3RcIKUzaLaqF2yMuJe9TBE8tW8tl9U/edit?usp=sharing

Some further reading for couples who are seeking to date a 'unicorn', or for bisexual folks considering dating both or part of a couple:

About bisexuality:
Bisexuality & Statistics: Twice as many dates? (2010-07-16)


More about unicorn hunting, and some advice from experienced poly folk:




About dating a couple:

So, as a 'unicorn', how many times have I actually met and fallen for two people who were also into each other at exactly the same time? --- 0.

That would be big fat zero. I have, however, been dating a wonderful couple for the last several years.
Because they were confident and independent enough to date separately, I was dating him for at least a year when a surprise 'spark' developed with her too. If I'd had to choose between both or neither right at the start though? I'd have had to choose neither, and that would have been a sad loss for all of us.

Featured Posts from This Journal

  • 1
This post is awesome. I have encountered a woman or two who have called themselves "unicorns", though one person's unicorn is another's ogre.

Without disagreeing with your general conclusion ("Unicorns perfect for you both are rare"), the pedant in me wants to protest that you're treating as independent variables things which probably aren't independent, and that you appear to be assuming a naive ("brute force") search process.

If, eg, you're a fan of Discworld fantasy, and you absolutely must have a partner who is a fan of Discworld, then you'd probably spend your time hanging out amongst Discworld fandom. And people you find there will probably also be more likely (than the general population) to secretly (or otherwise) want a partner that shares their Discworld fanship. So not only is "you like them" and "they like you" not independent, but it also simplifies the search/selection process ("I wouldn't want to date anyone who didn't go to $CONVENTION anyway"). Also, if you have very precise mechanically-matchable requirements then The Power of Computers (ie, online dating) would probably speed up your search time considerably.

All of which is to say that a more realistic search time might be as little as a single human lifetime... which still leaves plenty of time for In the Meantime.


Edited at 2014-09-09 08:13 pm (UTC)

Hi Ewen,

I'd argue that what you're doing here is actually adding another layer of complexity and difficulty into the equation. Unless for you Discworld Fandom alone is sufficient to choose someone as a partner, you then have to divide up the group of people who are discworld fans, which is a significantly smaller number than the general dating population, out of whom only a percentage will be attractive to you, and only a percentage will be attracted to you. If you're then looking for someone to set up an equilateral poly triad within that cultural subgroup, you're also cutting the portion out of the herd who aren't poly, aren't bisexual, or aren't interested in exclusive relationships within poly.

Let's say the size of your social group of discworld fans is 100 people (about the size of most peoples' monkeysphere). And let's say that 50 of them are women, and by some utterly unrealistic coincidence all of them are also single and available for dating. Even if you fancy 100% of the women in your social circle, and 100% of those women find you attractive back, only about 10% of them (five women) will be poly or otherwise nonmonogamous. Of those women, about five percent will be bisexual. We're down to 0.5 women already. We then have to divide down further to find someone who's interested in setting up an exclusive triad situation... now obviously it isn't possible to date one twentieth of a woman. That is to say your social circle may not be large enough to encompass even one woman who is both compatible with you and your existing partner, and interested in a relationship of this sort.

Same goes, even if your social circle is *entirely* made up of poly people, the chances of finding someone who ticks all the boxes still diminish rapidly with every additional box that person is expected to tick.

I do agree that online dating could make the search a bit more effective, and I was being a little cheeky focusing only on the in-person search technique. But I really wanted to ram home that no social circle is big enough to guarantee finding that 'perfect third' in it.

Edited at 2014-09-10 02:50 pm (UTC)

Still without disagreeing with the overall conclusion...

... yes, if a person insists it is mandatory that all partners have one specific trait (eg, "Discworld fan") then that will significantly narrow the possible candidates. In practice most people have several interests/passions/beliefs and desire partners that share some subset of those. So if, eg, Discworld fandom is too small, some combination of those other interests/passions might work. I was trying to keep my illustration of (a) shared interest leading to common attraction and (b) improved search strategy somewhat simple.

As I said, I don't disagree with the main conclusion. But the "mathematical proof" combined with somewhat mathematically inappropriate assumptions (eg, independence of factors, random search) did remind me of a net-famous post of a mathematical proof of "Why I will Never Have a Girlfriend" (which I'm surprised to discover was from 1999; it seemed more recent).


I'm going to go so far as to openly question statistics in the absence of substantiated fact, i.e., surveys representative of the community that exists in toto, something more than conjecture based upon shared experiences of people with obviously similar values, pure, unadulterated fantasy masquerading as science.

This is OPINION not demonstrable FACT, and I challenge it, because I have either been in or have known of or know several relationships that conform to the broad and pejorative definitions of "unicorn/unicorn hunters."

It is not my contention that such arrangements necessarily last forever, but of those I have known or been involved in, most were secure and stable.

Fact. My former wife and I met and became involved with a lady who was involved with both of us, an arrangement that lasted two years.

Fact. We met another partner, who also conformed to the above definition, an arrangement that lasted seven years.

Fact. We met yet another partner, who also conformed to the above, an arrangement that lasted six years.

Fact. My current wife and I met a lady, who was interested in the same kind of relationship, but we mutually chose to move on before it became too complicated. Just didn't quite mesh.

I'm one guy, not anybody's Adonis or special ray of sunshine, but have had MULTIPLE relationships of this type. Somehow, when these kinds of supposed statistics are put together to demonstrate a particular point of view, such inconvenient facts are ignored.

Out of interest, why are you assuming a *closed* triad?

On the whole, it's the most common thing folks new to poly go looking for (and probably the biggest part of why they don't find it). The logic seems to go 'We're new to poly, so we're going to be prone to jealousy. We will minimise jealousy by finding one partner who loves both of us in exactly the same way, and who will only date the two of us, so nobody will feel left out.' Other folks have addressed various psychological and social aspects of this, but I realised nobody had specifically addressed the numerical side, which I feel is at least relevant!


... what a strange approach. Maybe I'm just unusual as a programmer; my three kinds of number are zero, one, and many. Two is merely a kind of many.

Nothing like a few Mathis to clarify a situation!

Thanks so much, this is awesome and should be added to every poly discussion on the topic of unicorn hunting as a reference!

I did observe that you made no mention of STI status and wonder if that aspect might change the results somewhat? Or are we assuming that in 190 years we'll have solutions for that? ;-)

Thanks again!

One possible solution...

Fantastic post. I would note, though, that OkCupid reduces your 9-192 years down to about 9 seconds. You can simply do a keyword search for Unicorn to immediately bring up all the people who identify as unicorns. Moreover, you can set all your filters to exactly what you and your partner both want. In cities where the OkCupid population is dense enough (Seattle, NYC, Boston, DC, SF, among others), it shouldn't take more than 5 minutes of effort to find a proper unicorn :)

Getting the unicorns to reply to you, though, is a different task entirely, and may require that you understand the ins and outs of online dating (good profile, good photos, good first message, etc.).

Re: One possible solution...


I'll grant you that online dating does make the process of finding bisexual+poly+attractive women in your area a lot faster. It still doesn't guarantee you that any particular woman is going to fancy either you or your partner, though, and you are still massively reducing your chances of finding a partner for either of you, if you are still looking for one person to suit both.

Let's say you live in a city with a population over four million, so that at least half of those are women. Bi, poly and attractive-to-you women will make up (probably) around 0.01% of the population - okay, so in a city that huge that's 20000 women, but don't forget that the vast majority of those women will already be dating or married and not available. Let's say 10% of those women are actually looking for someone to date... of those 2000 women, maybe 10% (200) will fancy you, and maybe 10% (20 women) will also fancy your partner. And maybe two of them will be interested in trying out an exclusive triad situation. None of which guarantees that a relationship with either of those two potential women will actually work out, but sure. You found them pretty quickly, and only had to message 2000 women to do it.

OkCupid, or whatever dating site you happen to use, might well make your disappointment happen faster. What it doesn't do is change the odds of what you're looking for actually being available.

At least that's my take, as a 'unicorn'. ;)

  • 1