Dan Savage on why you don’t hear about successful open relationships


June 14, 2013 by aggiesez

It’s Pride Month — and this weekend in particular, many cities are holding large Pride Parades and other celebrations of LGBT identity and rights. Here in Colorado, I’ll be attending Denver Pridefest tomorrow — where there will be at least one booth to inform people about polyamory and the local poly community.

Hey, you’ve gotta start somewhere.

Dan Savage has a brand new book out. American Savage was just published this week. Get it on Amazon.

Dan Savage has a brand new book out. American Savage was just published this week. Get it on Amazon.

Anyway, I’m an avid fan of the Savage Lovecast, a weekly podcast by noted advice columnist, author, and gay rights advocate Dan Savage. He’s got a knack for saying what’s what. Even though he really doesn’t seem to give poly people the same respect and understanding he accords other sexual minorities, most of the time he’s on the ball.

I want to highlight Savage’s remarks from the introduction to his June 11 podcast episode — as an example of why it’s so damn important for more people to be publicly out about their poly/open relationships.

In episode 346, here’s what Savage said:

Most people will tell you that all open/monogamish relationships are doomed to failure. Because all the couples — every single couple that they have known who were in an open relationship, even couples who had a three way just once — they all wind up getting divorced or breaking up.

Here’s the thing: Almost everyone knows a couple who is in a successful open or monogamish relationship — but they don’t know they know them! Because most couples in successful open/monogamish relationships, particularly the straight ones — they’re not out about this fact.

People typically find out that a couple was open, monogamish or had the occasional three-way only if and when that couple eventually breaks up. But if being open/monogamish contributes to the stability of a couple’s relationship and makes them happier in their marriage, they don’t break up and no one ever finds out that they were open/monogamish.

So yeah: people do know couples who are in successful open/monogamish relationships. They just don’t know they know them, because those couples are not out.

And that couple could be your parents. Or it could be your pastor!

Slate this week had a really great letter. They actually asked their readers to write in with solutions to the problem of monogamy (nice to see it referred to as a “problem” every once in awhile). Experiments that you’ve tried, and perhaps a defense of sexual fidelity itself. (Oh, the prompting, leading the witness there…)

The very first response Slate ran is from a married pastor in a mainline traditional church in the American Midwest. He preaches weekly, leads Bible study, and his church is not liberal (nor is it fundamentalist or decidedly conservative). He says he and his wife are happy, they have one child, they live a “clean, community-oriented lifestyle.”

…And “About once a year we get together with friends, who are also pastors, and have group sex.”

And on this letter goes. My favorite part of the letter is this: “As a pastor, I have had members of my church confess to me that they have been involved in group sex. They come to me with a sense of remorse. This puts me in a bit of a theological conundrum. But, at the end of the day, my wife and I are happy.”

He doesn’t then say what he tells these people. He doesn’t come out to them, certainly — he’s totally closeted about this — but he doesn’t say what he tells them I wonder if he just toes the line and says “Ooooooh… group sex: very very bad. Jesus crying!” Knowing that once a year he travels to see pastors and their wives and they all swap pastor wives!

There is a reality show in this somewhere.

But this proves what I’m always ranting about, because I get this all the time. Anytime I tell somebody that maybe openness would be good for them, or that maybe a little allowance or accommodation for outside sexual contact might be the thing that makes their marriage last, it might be the thing that saves their marriage, I get a million letters from people saying “Oh no, no, no, no… All open relationships fail because every one I’ve ever heard about failed.”

Invariably, people hear about them after they fail. Which means while it worked you didn’t hear about it. Or if it’s always going to work, if it’s what’s going to keep this couple together forever, you’re never gonna know.

You do know people — we all know people — in successful open relationships. We just don’t know it, because they’re not out about it.

There is social monogamy, which many people are very successful at. They appear to be socially monogamous. They look monogamous, they act monogamous, they are pair bonded. And then there is sexual monogamy. These are two different things.

This pastor and his wife are successfully socially monogamous, but they are not sexually monogamous. I don’t want to say they are not successfully monogamous. Rather, they are successfully non-monogamous. It works for them, makes them happy, makes their marriage stronger.

Too bad the pastor can’t be out about it. Too bad when his congregants come to him and say “Oooooh, we had group sex and we feel like Baby Jesus is never going to stop throwing up,” he can’t tell them that Baby Jesus doesn’t give a shit. Because if Baby Jesus really gave a shit, God would have sent a tornado to his church years ago and wiped that fucker out.

OK, Savage does make it sound like open relationships are all about couples, and as a solo poly person I’ve got a problem with that. Also, sure, it’s possible that the letter to Slate was a fake. (Speaking as a journalist, I believe Slate probably would try to verify a letter like that before running it — but so far I don’t know that for a fact.)

But otherwise: Yeah, what he said.

6 thoughts on “Dan Savage on why you don’t hear about successful open relationships

  1. Effi says:

    “He’s got a knack for saying what’s what. Even though he really doesn’t seem to give poly people the same respect and understanding he accords other sexual minorities, most of the time he’s on the ball.”
    Umm, if we’re talking about sexual minorities, he’s been pretty terrible to asexuals and bisexuals. If we expand a bit to talk about queer people, he’s used slurs in referring to transgendered people, both individually and as a group. And that’s just the tip of the Dan Savage Iceberg. For a compilation of some sourced quotes, check out http://yourfaveisproblematic.tumblr.com/post/49284037149/dan-savage .
    If you’re an avid fan of his podcast, you’re probably aware of this sort of thing already- but some of your readers might not be aware, and some could find his podcast very triggering.

    • aggiesez says:

      Agreed, I’ve heard Dan Savage say some things about poly folks and other sexual/gender/relationship minorities that makes me cringe. He’s definitely controversial and imperfect, and could be triggering for some people. Still, I think he’s mostly worth listening to, despite the cringeworthy parts. We all learn from examining discomfort, after all — even though doing this is never comfortable.

  2. Harper Eliot says:

    I also love Dan Savage; he’s not right all the time, but generally speaking, his got a good angle on things. Plus, listening to him be reasonable and sensible makes me saner.

  3. kantstopdaphunk says:

    nobody ever says husband swapping. it’s hetero cis and couple centric, also buys into sexist ideas regarding agency and authority. ie, a wife is something one can trade, a husband isn’t. it might seem nit picky but it actually kinda bugged me that he decided to use a term that is so steeped in so much oppressive bs. otherwise, yes, what he said.

  4. […] Recently, I read a couple of posts from Solopoly: Dan Savage: Being out is doing the heavy lifting Dan Savage on why you don’t hear about successful open relationships […]

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