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An open letter to Dan Savage

Dear Dan,

I’ve always been a big fan of yours. Coining the acronym for Dump the Motherfucker Already (DTMFA)? Brilliant. Creating the “It Gets Better” campaign to end the bullying of gay children? Heroic. Renaming Rick Santorum as a frothy byproduct of anal sex? — a grateful nation thanks you.

But Dan, I want to bitch slap you into next week when it comes to “monogamish.”

You wrote:

This state of affairs—couples who experimented with nonmonogamy and wound up divorced won’t shut up; couples who experimented with nonmonogamy and are still together won’t speak up—allows smug and insecure monogamists to run around insisting that there’s no such thing as happy, stable monogamish couples.

“You know lots of couples who have had three-ways and flings who aren’t divorced,” I told the skeptics a few weeks ago, “you just don’t know you know them.” In an effort to introduce the skeptics to some happily monogamish couples, I invited coupled people who’d had successful flings, affairs, three-ways, and swinging experiences to write in and share their stories.

Three-ways and swinging experiences? Break out the Barry White tunes and go for it. No judgement from me. But when it comes to flings and affairs? You are NOT on the side of the angels here.

Three-ways and swinging require a partner’s consent and participation. Flings and affairs are based upon deceit. To happen, they require duping your partner.

I fail to understand how Dan Savage, hater of all hypocrisy, is totally down with cheating.

If I’m in a relationship or marriage with someone, I damn well expect them to inform me that they want it to be OPEN so I can make an informed decision about my sex life and my health and if I want to stay in that relationship. I don’t want a “loving” partner making unilateral decisions about my life, courting STDs, and bringing them home. I don’t want  to be someone’s fool. Does that make me smug?

You know what’s smug? Not having empathy for people who’ve been shattered by betrayal.

Why would you support people having affairs? Aren’t you about openness and honest communication about sex? Don’t you hate hypocritical assholes? I can’t think of anything more hypocritical than taking a vow to be faithful, presenting a false self to your spouse, and fucking other people on the side.

Rethink this one, Dan.

Ask Chump Lady

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  • I love Dan Savage, but can’t stand his take on monogamy. I’m not religious and am fine if people want open marriages. The thing that pisses me off the most is the lying. Dan does not seem to have a problem with lying to cover cheating.

  • You know, I have read Dan’s blog and listened to his podcast for years and I have never heard him take the stance you guys claim he does unless the circumstances are odd. Generally, Dan is always on the side of openness and if you are cheating on your spouse, without the spouse’s consent, Dan is not on your side. He has always said that if you are in a relationship where the participants are suppose to only be with each other, you must honor the terms of that relationship. There have been circumstances where, for what ever reason, the relationship couldn’t be disolved and one partner was not making an effort in fulfilling the other and he has believed cheating would be appropriate (or rather acceptable) but overall, far and above, Dan would not be ok with “flings or affairs” behind the back of a partner that did not know or want a relationship like that. At least, that has been my interpretation of him.

    • Ashley, I was quoting directly from his column. He wrote Monogam-ish, not me. He said “smug.”

      Look, I’ve been a big Dan fan. I part ways with him though on cheating. I think he talks out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand DTMFA, on the other “monogam-ish.”

      You wrote: “one partner was not making an effort in fulfilling the other and he has believed cheating would be appropriate”

      Yeah, that’s all it takes — one person unilaterally deciding that they are not “fulfilled” and it’s okay to cheat? Also, there are no circumstances by which a relationship cannot be dissolved. At least in the US. Contested divorce is legal (if lengthy).

      If someone is “not fulfilling,” let’s say they withhold sex — that’s a good reason to ask for counseling, a divorce, or an open marriage. But it’s OUT THERE. It’s NEVER okay IMO to deceive someone to get what you want (or need, like sex).

      Cheating is not about openness. So I think on this issue, he is a hypocrite. Which is sad, because generally I think he rocks.

      • There’s only one situation I can think of that’s arguably defensible- one partner has dementia (and how could they consent to sex anyway?) and other partner truly loves that person but really misses having sex. I’m all in on monogamy but I can see these facts possibly supporting an affair. Note that I’m saying “possibly” and “arguably”. Sadly, life isn’t always black and white.
        PS – CL’s comments on open marriages, ménages a trois are spot on.

  • Sounds like Dan did not really do a decent job of analyzing this time. Clearly, one cannot advocate cheating and still claim to be in favor of honesty and respect for a partner.
    I wonder if he really took the time to think about what he was saying.

  • I can’t stand Dan Savage and I am gay man. I’ve been with my partner for almost 25 years and we never cheated on each other. We are always together! The problem with people like Dan Savage is that they only see a relationship as having a permanent fuck buddy. My relationship with my partner goes beyond that. I always found people like him to be S&M (Standing and Modeling) guys in Gay bars. My partner and myself were good looking, but we were looking for something more. We never and I mean never participate in gay activities. We have 2 gays friends and the rest of our friends are straight. Prior to meeting we had relationships within the gay community and we paid the price. You always had the jealous and envious queers that could not stand seeing a happy gay couple. They did everything possible and they would not stop until they destroyed relationships. I would not be surprise if it is still like that. I am happy to be gay, but I have no need to be associated with the community and I can honestly say I am better for it.

  • I think these criticisms of Dan Savage are way off the mark.

    I’ve been reading, and listening to, him for years. I listened to him when I was a cheating piece of shit, and nothing he ever said was remotely tolerant of, or justifying of, my cheating and deception. Now, I’m in a monogamish marriage, and he helped me see my way toward creating it, and my wife and I both are happier than we’ve ever been.

    What I’ve always understood Dan to say is something nuanced and complex: he doesn’t say what you want him to – that cheating and deception always are wrong in every instance. What he says is that a) an honest and open relationship surely is the best one, but that b) there are circumstances in which dishonesty and cheating may be the least bad option.

    Both “flings” and “affairs” aren’t defined by secrecy. I’ve had both in the context of my open, honest relationship with my wife. I don’t know how you know/why you think that what Dan was talking about in the passage you quote was secretive, betraying flings and affairs, but I’ve never understood Dan to take this stuff lightly. Rather, he offers the complex view that relationships rarely are simple, and rarely are their “correct” answers to questions involving long-term sexual or marital challenges.

    I am grateful that I don’t cheat any longer. I’m grateful that my wife doesn’t cheat. But I’ll tell you something: I know more than one couple that have found cheating to be an essential, facilitating part of their staying together in relatively happy partnerships. So who am I to judge?

    • This. I’ve been a savagelove reader for decades now, and Savage’s view is that cheating can be justified if a) your reasonable needs aren’t being met and you have taken reasonable care to ask for what you want and solve whatever problem is standing in the way and b) there are barriers to you leaving the relationship such as children, money, being a caretaker of your spouse….

      • I don’t think the barriers to leaving a relationship are as big as we make them out to be. Many people who get divorced do so because of infidelity. Plenty of faithful spouses see divorce as a better option than tolerating infidelity, despite kids and money. So, why do their partners not see leaving as the least bad option as well?

  • May 2012 Chump Lady:

    There are so many good people in the Chump Lady archives. To anyone reading this email, Chump Nation needs you.

    Could you spare a few minutes to help drum up support for Tracy’s new book? Go to this post and see if you have anything to add.

    If nothing else, could you come over to the forum, start a thread, and give us new Chumps an update on your Gain a Life goings-on?

  • I’m so glad “Ethical Non-Monogamy” is now a common phrase. There is a way for consenting couples or polycules to have ‘love affairs’ or ‘flings’ within boundaries they agree upon. The non ethical standard is awful. But a casual, open, honest arrangement is possible and has been in practice at least for half my life. Honesty is key.

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