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!