Odd Conversations

My husband and I have very strange conversations quite often; conversations where we stop each other and wonder what a stranger would think about us if they happened to overhear.

I know that many people find Dan Savage – sex advice columnist and pod-caster, author, political commentator, amongst many other titles- problematic. Personally, I adore him. I don’t agree with everything he says and realize he can be insensitive in some areas, but the good he has done in the world far outweighs, to me, his failings. While there are many issues Mr. Savage has helped shine mainstream light on, not the least of which include his advocacy on LGBT bullying to marriage equality, my focus here is about his eye-opening (and often eye-popping) discussions about sex and relationships.

I discovered the Savage Love podcast about two years ago. At first, my mind was blown by how naive I had been. I don’t consider myself a prude in any respect and thought I was pretty experienced and well-versed on sexy-times. How wrong I was. Whether he is doling out advice on how to best indulge a partner’s cream pie fetish (Seriously. Who knew that was a thing?) or instructing his listeners about the “campsite rule” (always leave a partner in the same or better shape than they were before you, put very simply), Dan is open, honest and attempts to be non-judgmental about topics that most of society judges to the hilt. He gets a ton of flak about his positions on monogamy, but I think his views are about as rational as one can get. He doesn’t personally feel that monogamy is reasonable for many people and he encourages his audience to be honest about their abilities regarding it. He doesn’t say monogamy never works, rather it is really hard work, harder than many people are willing to acknowledge, and by putting such humongous societal pressure on people to be monogamous, we see people sneaking around and being deceitful in their affairs, as opposed to having honest conversations about their needs with their partners.

I realize that this is a very simplified summary of an extremely contentious and multi-layered issue, but it is the foundation for some discussions Jon and I have had that I feel are building the strength and trust in our relationship that wouldn’t be there without it. At this point in our lives, an open relationship is not something either of us would want to do. We are focused on building our lives together and bringing someone else in is not something we are interested in pursuing. However, we both listen to the podcast every week and often discuss the content. We have had long talks about the reality of spending the rest of our lives together, and part of that is acknowledging that there may come a time, however far down the road, that one or both of us may want some “strange,” someone outside the relationship that is new and different. We aren’t operating under the assumption that everything will always be perfect and wonderful, that our wedding bands have magically made all other people unattractive, and that we will never ever flirt or take pleasure in being flirted with.

We have talked about the fact that opening our relationship would probably be harder on me than on him. I have, historically, been able to have sex with people who I’m not in a relationship with without having or developing feelings or emotional attachments; Jon, not so much. My husband was a bartender for many years and had many, many chances for one-night stands, but that isn’t the type of person he is. He needs to feel a connection, emotionally and physically. The guy can’t even have meaningless sex in his dreams, for goodness’ sake. Seriously, it’s happened more than once that he can’t bone someone random in his dreams. In this way, we are the opposite of what society expects us to be, gender-wise, and also why an open relationship would be harder on me, knowing the person he would be with is someone he has feelings for, instead of just something different.

I can see where this article might make it seem like there are flaws or cracks in our early married life, and I’m not quite sure how to assure my dear readers that the exact opposite is the case without sounding like the “lady doth protest too much” gal. As I mentioned above, this is a hugely complex issue that can’t be boiled down to 1,000 words or less, and attempting to do so is going to leave some pretty glaring holes and questions unanswered. When we tell other people that we have talked about the possibility of opening our relationship up at some point down the road if we both agree to it, they are often shocked and taken aback. I think this is a perfectly normal response, based on what our society tells us every single day that we are supposed to feel. However, cheating is also so rampant in our world that I wonder if, perhaps, more people should be having these types of conversations early on in relationships so they wouldn’t find it necessary to sneak around. What is worse about being cheated on: knowing your partner has had sex with another person, or the betrayal and lies that surround the cheating, the sneaking around, the knowledge that while you were going about your life, your partner was leading a completely different one in secret? Wouldn’t putting it our there as a possibility early on be more effective, make it easier to discuss issues that arise because you had already built an open dialogue about the topic?

I believe that monogamy can work for people who really want it to. Jon and I have no intention of being in a non-monogamous relationship now and possibly ever. Even so, I am glad that through listening to Dan Savage, we have been giving an opening to discuss a potential issue before it becomes an issue, before there is any concrete reality of people or motivations to fuel and taint the discussion. The people who are shocked to discover our topics of conversation often also have a flash of understanding or something similar cross their faces at some point. I might be projecting, but I think that flash might have something to do with the fact that they have never thought to discuss this potentially relationship destroying topic in any abstract way with their partner, and maybe also the realization that just because they don’t talk about something doesn’t mean this issue ceases to exist. What do you all think, dear readers?  Have you ever talked to your partner about the possibility of opening up your relationship? Is non-monogamy a deal breaker for you? Are you in a successful non-monogamous relationship? Do you want to yell at me for loving Dan Savage? I’ll take it all!

7 replies on “Odd Conversations”

I must have read a truly huge amount of Dan Savage’s work, because this conversation does not seem odd to me at all haha.

I have been dating my boyfriend off and on for several years. About 9 months ago, we decided to make our relationship more open. However, strangely and amusingly, neither of us has taken advantage of this arrangement, except for one MMF threesome that included both of us. I’m very shy, and he already knows almost everone in his small town, so perhaps that explains why not much has happened.

I think it’s awesome that you and your husband are discussing this topic so early and openly. I think the worst case scenario is for one person in a relationship to suddenly be like, “So, there’s this person that I kindasortawanna hook up with…want to have an open relationship??!”

Also, I recommend the Polyamory Weekly podcast to everyone. I don’t identify as polyamorous, nor do many of the listeners, but it’s really interesting, well done, and the topics apply to all types of relationships.

First off, I’m with you on the Dan Savage love. I don’t really feel like going in to all the reasons I love him or address the issues a lot of people have with him, so I’ll just leave it at the fact that I love Dan Savage, and reading his columns (I went back and read all of them from about 1997 onward last year) has done a lot for me in terms of understanding my sexuality and helping me think about important issues in relationships. Including non-monogamy.

I’m very torn on non-monogamy (for myself – I’m very comfortable with it as a concept, and have a lot of friends who are in successful non-monogamous or polyamorous relationships.) I haven’t been in a relationship in almost five years, mostly because I really enjoy being single and non-committed, but at least in a very small part because I also really like having sex with lots of different people. The difficulty is that I also have a history in relationships of some insecurity and jealousy (including, many years ago, being somebody’s secondary SO when I really didn’t want to be,) so while in theory I love the idea of being in a non-monogamous (note: not polyamorous, because hell, I don’t have the energy right now for one relationship, much less multiple relationships) relationship, I’m not sure how I’d stand up to actually being in one and knowing somebody I really cared about and loved, rather than just somebody who I liked and was having sex with on a regular basis, was having sex with other people. But I think I’d like to try it someday, because I cannot see myself ever getting married and only having sex with one person for the rest of my life.

I like this post a lot, Kym! I used to think that an open relationship would never appeal to or interest me at all, but now that I’m in a stable relationship with really open communication and a lot of trust, I better understand why it appeals to and works for other couples. (I don’t know if that makes sense. I was mostly single with the occasional friend with benefits and heartbreak interspersed before Future Mr. and I got together, and I genuinely couldn’t wrap my head around it then.)

Dating and having a relationship with other people doesn’t interest me at all, but Future Mr. and I have known for a quite while that we’re interested in having sex with other people/couples together and have had many long talks about it. We’ve only just begun talking about the possibility of doing it alone, which was mostly prompted by me realizing that I’m queer and feeling interested in exploring that further. We’ll see what happens; what I know beyond a doubt is that I want to be with him and that I trust him completely.

As for Dan Savage, I have mixed feelings too, leaning towards disliking him. I love his “GGG” concept, and I really appreciate his efforts to mainstream and destigmatize non-monogamous relationships and kink/BDSM. But he’s also said some horrifyingly ignorant and insensitive things about asexuality, bisexuality, and sexual assault, and I lean towards not being able to get past that, despite also thinking he’s done a lot of good in other areas.

(Also, the part about your husband not being able to have casual sex in his dreams made me chuckle because that’s exactly how Future Mr. is – I have orgies and casual sex all over the place in my dreams, while for one reason or another he almost never has sex in his dreams.)

Re: Dan Savage. While there are a lot of legitimate reasons not to like him, including all of what you mentioned above, I will say this: having binged on about 12-13 years worth of his columns last year, I was very impressed by the way his views have changed over time. He actually seems to legitimately consider valid criticisms of him, and a lot of his viewpoints that I found really offensive early on have toned down considerably, and he has, on occasion, admitted outright that he was wrong. I think that’s part of why I can forgive some of this terrible things he’s said, even the ones that personally offend me (as a bisexual woman, I definitely have had issues with some of the stuff he’s said about bisexuality.)

Which is not to say you have to like him or forgive him, but if you were wondering why people who should/do realize that some of what he’s said is pretty terrible, that’s one possible reason (and mine.)

I’m not married, nor in a relationship, so the would/wouldn’t of an open relationship seems like something I wouldn’t be able to determine until I was faced with it. That being said, when I am in a relationship, I want it to be with someone who I can have the kinds of conversations you’re having with your husband. I think the key is to make sure that both parties understand that broaching the topic does not always mean you want to do X, you just want to talk about it.

I am somewhat prudish and my husband is very much so, so no for us. We’re “old fashioned” in our relationship, though I am the one with the secret radical ideas that I do not share in real life with family. I admire that you two have this level of communication. And yes 1,000 words cannot capture the depth and intricacies of your marriage. Kudos to you two for making it work this far.

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