If you’re not familiar with Dan Savage, then… actually, just get your hands on his column and/or podcast, both of which are called Savage Love. It’s the smartest, sharpest, funniest and least-bullshit sex and advice source on the planet and if you’ve had anything to do with humans before, or any plans to in the future, you should acquaint yourself with it right now. Off you go. We’ll wait.
OK: since you’re now a fan of Dan Savage’s work, you’ll feel very sympathetic toward his insane globe-trotting schedule of late.
“I’m in Seattle, and I’m struggling with jetlag,” he sighs. “I went to Berlin and back, then London and back, and now Sydney. I expect to be dead by November.”
The reason he’s coming to Sydney is to appear at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, where he’ll be holding forth on the concept of “monogamish relationships”: the idea that being in a committed relationship can involved outside sexual contact, and that infidelity per se is not something worth destroying a relationship over.
“I’m not against monogamy,” he insists. “I don’t go to monogamous couples and say ‘oh my god, you’re doing it wrong!’ Yet those of us who are not monogamous hear that every day from people: you don’t really love each other, it’s not really a commitment unless you’re strictly monogamous.”
Savage married his long-time boyfriend Terry Miller in Canada in 2005 (until Washington ratified same-sex marriage last year he referred to him as “my husband in Canada, my boyfriend in America”) and the pair have an adopted son, DJ. For someone so often accused of being anti-marriage, he insists he’s a huge supporter of the institution.
“It’s a shame when marriage is constantly framed as this fucking nightmare, like it’s this scorched-earth long slog to the grave. Marriage, when it works, should mean it’s more pleasure to be together than not.”
In fact, Savage argues, if you want to have a successful, long-term monogamous relationship, you first need to acknowledge that it’s genuinely difficult.
“The culture says that if you’re in love, then monogamy is easy and that if you’re in love you won’t want to fuck anybody else. And what’s absolutely and blatantly and blaringly true is that you can be crazy in love with someone, and you’re still going to want to fuck other people – and so is the person who’s in love with you. And if you can just be honest about that, it might be easier not to fuck other people.”
Savage fears that confusing love and desire leads people to throw away a great relationship because they figure that if they find someone else attractive, they mustn’t be in love.
“They’ll interpret the desire to fuck someone else as proof that they’re not in love with their partner anymore, that it’s mutually exclusive: feelings for someone else and for my partner cannot occur concurrently in the same universe. So you’ll see people end relationships, when all they are is horny for something new, or a sexual adventure.”
And that, in essence, is what Savage means by “monogamish”. “If we could define our marriages in such a way that we could still have that adventure – hopefully and preferably together and consensually – without having to drag the marriage out behind the barn and shoot it first, more marriages would survive.”