The XX Factor

Dan Savage Makes Nonmonogamy Sound So Darn Sensible

Jessica, I have had a platonic crush on Dan Savage for many many years, dating back to the earlier days of the Internet when he supplemented his Stranger column with (much tamer) online chats with his on  So he could probably talk me into just about anything. And so I, too, was greatly interested in what he had to say in Mark Oppenheimer’s NYT Magazine piece.

Oppenheimer’s piece is indeed wonderful, and I agree that Savage’s attitude is sensible in theory but far more complicated in practice.  The average spouse—man or woman—who, when confronted with charges of adultery, would not do well to wave Oppenheimer’s article and say, “But see, Dan Savage thinks it’s OK.”

You conclude that in “civilian relationships,” as compared to political marriages, you’re not sure it’s worth talking about a nonmonogamous arrangement. I agree it probably wouldn’t work for most couples—and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be down with it, but I still think Savage has a point.

For me, the most telling quote comes near the end: “The greater good is the home created for children,” Savage writes. “If there are children present, they’ll get past it. The cultural expectation should be if there’s infidelity, the marriage is more important than fidelity.”

Having children shouldn’t give anyone the right to cheat just because staying together for the kids is more important—Savage stresses repeatedly that the time to talk about “nonmonagmy” is before either partner in a relationship has a fling.

But whenever I find out that a friend or acquaintance with children is getting divorced, I can’t help but imagine myself in their situation and picture what it would be like, to see my kids only half the time, to have to split up Christmases and birthdays, to spend time worrying about pickups and drop-offs that should be spent on lazy Sunday mornings with pancakes and cartoons.  Even if you’re the victim in the situation, you pay a pretty high price when you end a marriage.

In another segment, Oppenheimer writes that “I don’t mind if my wife tells me another man is hot, but it took me a long time to accept her criticism of my writing.” There is so much to a marriage besides sex, and even besides children. We expect our partners to support our careers, share our interests, and at least tolerate our friends and family.  If sex is put alongside those other expectations, rather than looming large over everything, it’s possible to take a Savage-like approach to fidelity.