Christopher Ryan, co-author of Sex at Dawn, is stepping in for Dan Savage, who is on vacation. Chris will be writing the “Savage Love Letter of the Day” all this week. You can read more from Chris at his blog at Psychology Today, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Sex at Dawn has just been released in paperback.
I just read your letter to the soccer mom who is oinking the dudes with unknowing wives, and I have to say, as a long time reader of your column I can't help but find myself, a naive monogamist, somewhat confused by your stance on sexual normalcy and deviance. You've never said it outright, but I get the impression that you think people like me just don't know what we're missing, while those engaged in less traditional modes of sexual engagement are somehow a bit more progressive, or enlightened. I personally am surrounded by such people, and have tried a couple of 'open' relationships myself- all ending in hurt feelings and/or lost love. I consider myself and the people I've tried this with great communicators, generally un-jealous people who seem ripe for the lush offerings of such an undertaking, and yet they never seem to work. I'm not saying that I doubt that they can work for somebody else, because it obviously does work for a lot of people, but shit, when I really like somebody the thought of them arfing some other oint is totally nauseating. The last open relationship I had was with one of the best, most sensitive and communicative dudes I've ever met, but as soon as we started oinking other people, the interest and particular focus on one another just sorta dissipated.
Read the rest of the question, and my response, after the jump...
I've been with the same person for forevs, and I remember initially thinking about it when we were getting 'serious', like 'hmmm, I wonder if this is the last person I'll ever sleep with', which scared me, but then I thought of all the jollies I've had over the years, and how fun it was, and how it doesn't give me what I have now, and the thought of just staying started to seem cool, like a different sort of sexual chapter in my life. Not saying that that won't change in the future, because it might, but I am saying that advocating for open relationships just because republicans think they suck isn't necessarily a good message. I mean I feel like I get shit for being monogamous now- like I'm some idiot sexually immature prude bitch- but isn't it just as valid and self affirming to realize you are at your best when you're monogamous? Is monogamy passe now? Is it, perhaps, even deviant?
Before I get to my response, I’d like to thank you all for hanging in with me as I tried my best to offer advice that wouldn’t get anybody hurt or embarrass Dan. They say free advice is worth what you paid for it, but I hope someone somewhere may have benefitted at least a little from these conversations. Here’s hoping Dan, Terry, and DJ are enjoying their vacation at least as much as I’ve enjoyed filling in this past week.
Now on to BM and the perplexing arfing of oints.
I have to admit it; my first thought upon reading this one was: Am I that old? I have no idea what an “oint” is, much less how one goes about “arfing” one. But upon second (and third) readings, I think I’ve got the idea.
I’m hesitant to speak for anyone, much less someone whose thoughts and opinions are as finely crafted and clearly stated as Dan’s, but I suspect he’d agree with these basic points:
— Monogamy is not passé.
— You are not an “idiot sexually immature prude bitch” for having concluded that you’re more comfortable and self-actualized in a monogamous relationship.
— And yes, monogamy can be every bit as valid as any other relationship style.
Many people seem eager to misunderstand the point Dan’s been making about monogamy. Everyone from Stephen Colbert (in character) to Ross Douthat (Dan Savage versus Monogamy) steamroll right over his actual message, leaving behind a two-dimensional simplification that’s easier for them to dismiss. I know, because it’s the same message Cacilda and I tried to convey in Sex at Dawn, and we often face the same steamroller of willful misunderstanding.
Dan isn’t “advocating for open relationships just because Republicans think they suck” or for any other reason. In fact, he isn’t advocating for open relationships at all. Neither are we. We’re advocating for honesty in our sexual relationships—be they open or closed—and an informed, realistic approach to whatever arrangements we make with our partners.
Why? Because informed, realistic, bullshit-free relationships are richer, more intimate, sexier, and ultimately far more durable than relationships built on Disney-fed fantasies of virginal princesses, eternal bodice-ripping passion, and eyes that never wander.
Look at it this way: sexual monogamy is like vegetarianism. Nobody’s denying that an all-veggie diet can be an excellent approach to life for many reasons, ranging from ethics to health to the environment. But all the evidence (our teeth, digestive system, diets of pre-agricultural hunter-gatherers, similarities to closely-related primates, anatomical comparisons with carnivores and herbivores, etc.) strongly indicates that Homo sapiens is an animal that evolved as an omnivore. That doesn’t mean living as an omnivore in today’s world is inherently better than living as a vegetarian or that choosing to avoid meat makes you inferior or foolish.
But it would be foolish to commit to a lifetime of vegetarianism thinking it’s gonna be easy. It won’t. Furthermore, it’s cruel and deceitful to teach people that our ancestors evolved as happy vegetarians, so any rumblings in your stomach as you walk by the barbecue are due to “original sin,” your weak character, poor cognitive development, or any other bullshit reason. No, you have that craving because you are a human being—an animal that evolved eating meat whenever possible.
Simple as that.
The German philosopher, Schopenhauer wrote, “People can do what they want but they cannot want what they want.” [“Der Mensch kann tun was er will; er kann aber nicht wollen was er will.”] In other words, you can choose whether or not to arf those oints, but you cannot choose whether or not you’ll want to arf those oints. You will.
As I often say in interviews, just because you’ve chosen to live as a vegetarian doesn’t mean bacon suddenly stops smelling good. Vegetarians (and Jews and Muslims) who understand why bacon still smells good—despite cultural protestations that it shouldn’t—will be better at sticking to their chosen dietary restrictions than people who beat themselves up over what is a perfectly natural human response to the smell of bacon. Choosing vegetarianism doesn’t make you an herbivore; it makes you an omnivore who’s decided not to eat meat. That’s a different animal entirely.
This is more than just a metaphor for me. I was a vegetarian for most of the Reagan administration. Or maybe I wasn’t—it depends on whether or not you think an occasional pepperoni pizza disqualifies me. Maybe I was just vegetarian-ish. I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that without the flexibility to get pepperoni on my pizza every once in a while, I’d have abandoned vegetarianism long before the Berlin Wall came down, probably even before Reagan’s first State of the Union address.
Maybe that’s just me, but I really don’t think so.