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“The chains of marriage are so heavy that it takes two to carry them, and sometimes three,” said Alexandre Dumas. Jo Page, essayist and fiction writer, has been thinking about monogomy and infidelity as understood by Don Savage, a writer with a view rather like that noted by Dumas. Here’s Jo’s reflection on these tangled subjects:
Mark Oppenheimer’s piece, “Married, with Infidelities,” in the July 25 edition of The New York Times Magazine, was a timely and thoughtful exploration of Dan Savage’s take on how marriages can be strengthened and extended through an honest—key word—judicious practice of non-monogamy. Put simply, Dan Savage, though ceding the advantages monogamy provides to couples—sexual and emotional safety, paternity assurances—advocates what he believes is a more realistic sexual ethic that prizes honesty, flexibility and forgiveness over absolute monogamy.
Paraphrasing Savage, Oppenheimer writes, “We can’t help our urges, and we should not lie to our partners about them. In some marriages, talking honestly about our needs will forestall or obviate affairs; in other marriages, the conversation may lead to an affair, but with permission. In both cases, honesty is the best policy. . . . Such straight talk about the difficulty of monogamy, Savage argues, is simply good sense. People who are eager to cheat need to be honest with their partners, but people who think they would never cheat need honesty even more.”
Oppenheimer’s piece goes on to explore the marital arrangement that Savage and his husband, Terry Miller, have, which Savage describes as “monogamish,” meaning that there have been occasional, but openly discussed infidelities (which strikes me as a wrong and value-laden word if these are not to be perceived as lapses in faithfulness).
As logically insightful as Savage’s views may be, such consensual openness may not involve genuine consent at all. Oppenheimer cites Janis Abrahms Spring, a psychologist and whose book, After The Affair, is about couples badly damaged by infidelity.
“The problem is that with many of these couples, one partner wants it, and the other says yes because she’s afraid that he will leave her,” says Spring.
And indeed, Savage concedes that monogamy is the right choice for many couples. Oppenheimer describes himself as a “straight, monogamous, married male,” but he also appears to support a fluid, honest, open-ness in marriage if that’s what couples negotiate.
It’s hard not to admire Dan Savage for his work, both as a columnist, author and brainchild of the It Gets Better series. But in a much less publicized, though I think more thoughtful piece that appeared in The Washington Monthly in the March/April issue, Benjamin J. Dueholm, finds some of Savage’s logic troubling. (more…)