Savage Love

Success stories from nonmonogamous relationships.


By Dan Savage

Why do most people assume that all nonmonogamous relationships are destined to fail? Because we only hear about the ones that do. If a three-way or an affair was a factor in a divorce or breakup, we hear all about it. But we rarely hear from happy couples who aren’t monogamous, because they don’t want to be perceived as dangerous sex maniacs who are destined to divorce.

This state of affairs — couples who experimented with nonmonogamy and wound up divorced won’t shut up; couples who experimented with nonmonogamy and are still together won’t speak up — allows smug and insecure monogamists to run around insisting that there’s no such thing as happy, stable monogamish couples.

“You know lots of couples who have had three-ways and flings who aren’t divorced,” I told the skeptics a few weeks ago, “you just don’t know you know them.” In an effort to introduce the skeptics to some happily monogamish couples, I invited coupled people who’d had successful flings, affairs, three-ways, and swinging experiences to write in and share their stories. The response was overwhelming — I may do a book — and I’m turning over the rest of this week’s column to their stories.

 

My husband and I have issues like any couple, but I still smile when I see him walk into a room, and he still takes my hand when we’re walking down the street. For the past seven years, we have been “monogamish.” It started off with a discussion of “If you ever cheat on me and it’s a one-time thing, I wouldn’t want to know.” Then, when he turned forty, we had a threesome with a female friend. When I actually saw him “in the moment,” I didn’t have the jealous feelings I had always feared. There is no question that our relationship is our first priority, but just the possibility of a little strange now and then makes him feel like a stud. (And I reap the benefits!) I don’t much care for sex without emotion and affection, so my flings have been rather limited. We haven’t told our families or more than a couple of friends. I don’t want to deal with the judgment of others.

 

For the first five years of my marriage, everything was great: lots of sex, both GGG, lots of love. Then my wife’s libido failed. Whatever the problem was, she couldn’t articulate it. After a year where we’d had sex twice, I reached out to someone else. I used Craigslist and I was honest: I explained that I had no intention of leaving my wife and that I was looking for someone in a situation similar to mine. It took months to find the right person. We struck up a years-long affair. At the same time, I had a wonderful-yet-sexless marriage. Then, after nearly four years, a strange thing happened: my wife’s libido came back strong. To this day, she cannot explain why it left or why it came back. With the reason for my affair gone, I ended things with my fuck buddy. And you know what? Years of honest talk made this easy. She understood; we went our separate ways.

So I had a four-year affair without getting caught. Here’s how I pulled it off: I never told anyone about it ever, I chose a partner who wanted exactly what I wanted, we didn’t film ourselves (as hot as that sounded), we used condoms, I kept my computer clear of any evidence, and we never called or texted each other.

 

My husband and I are monogamish but also LMGs — legally married gays. We feel tremendous pressure to be perfect. The thing is, we are perfect. We love each other, we support each other, and we have amazing sex with each other — and the occasional cameo performer, who is always treated with respect. (We have a rule about not inviting someone into our bedroom who we wouldn’t be friends with outside the bedroom.) That said, the fact that Ron and Nancy down the street are swingers will raise eyebrows, but it won’t impact the perceived legitimacy of mixed-gender marriage. But if Ed and Ted happen to invite a third into their bedroom, that would prove the gays are destroying marriage/the country/the fabric of the universe. Even other gays get judgmental. So, at least for now, our monogamishness is on a strictly need-to-know basis. And who needs to know? Just our sex-positive doctor and the occasional hot third who gets a golden ticket into our bedroom.

Commentarium (26 Comments)

Jan 04 12 - 1:11am
owen

this is really sweet and endearing. I'm glad that we're seeing another side. 26 years of happily swingin' marriage. That's pretty cool. Thanks Dan Savage.

Jan 04 12 - 5:09am
Rj

I feel as though you only see certain people as "smug and insecure monogamists," when in reality, they just choose a different lifestyle than you generally support here. Why so aggressive? I'm in a monogamous relationship. I don't care if other people aren't and I don't think they are destined to fail. Try having an open mind.

Jan 05 12 - 11:52am
imp

Rj, why so defensive? He's not talking about you. He's talking about the smug and insecure monogamists.

Jan 04 12 - 6:37am
jenBut

I'm in a monogamous relationship, and I have the same attitude as Rj. I don't care how others swing their relationships, but that's not the lifestyle I want., because I don't enjoy casual sex & relations. I know some people Dan would probably call "smug monogamists", who equate love to exclusivity. But the argument there isn't that non-exclusive relationships never work out or the people involved aren't happy; their argument is that real love merits total focus of emotional and physical affection on one person. I think Dan, if he wants to defend his stance to monogamists (why?), needs to address that stance instead.

Jan 04 12 - 9:36am
CJT

Sorry Jen but even your use of the term 'real love' makes it clear why people have to make the case for alternative ways to approach relationships. 'Real Love' is not how you or I define it but is defined by the two people in that relationship. Even more than that, I think there is a message here to help mongamists as well, which is that the over the course of a long term relationships two people can lose that 'focus' at times (or even just once) and still love each other and stay together.

Jan 04 12 - 2:48pm
aa

"real love merits total focus of emotional and physical affection" - who sets up these social constructions-definitions. if people want to extend emotional and physical love with friends and lovers in addition to their partners, how do you define what that looks like. I 've been dating this lady for 1.5 years and we have had dates with friends who are willing to extend their friendship into the bedroom. we are sweet with people who we respect and wanna build friendships with. who made it only acceptable for two people to get naked in the confines of their bedroom?

Jan 04 12 - 11:29am
anz

I thing the key term was "smug" monogamists. The concept is not that *all* monogamists are smug, and thus the tone of weary annoyance is directed only towards those smug ones. If I say, "I can't stand dishonest c0-workers" no one is going to get all in a huff that I am implying that all co-workers everywhere are dishonest. Er . . . are they?

The vast majority of my monogamous friends have attitudes ranging from total acceptance (as in, it's not even an issue worth discussing, except maybe to ask whether I'm bringing my husband or my boyfriend, or both, to the party so they know how many plates to lay on), to mild amusement (at one point when I had a secondary and an FWB, a friend said something along the lines of, "God, I can barely stand to have one man around. How can you tolerate three?"). Do I have smug monogamist friends? Not that I know of. If I do, they keep their smugness to themselves. Yes, I have friends who say, "That wouldn't work for me." And that's just logical. Being monogamous wouldn't work for me, so we can agree that it's super neat that humans are different, and go on to talking about something more interesting, like whether The Pale King is a great work of existentialist literature or a cry for help.

Jan 04 12 - 11:49am
S

Just make sure your husband isn't an emotionally/verbally abusive POS before opening the door to this sort of thing. An explosive divorce and a year of therapy later I'm OK... I totally recognize that this could work - just make sure your self esteem is through the roof and your partner actually loves you first. Tell at least a few close friends about it - isolation is a hallmark of emotional abuse and a good friend won't make you feel ashamed and provides a valuable dose of reality. If your partner finds someone and you don't eventually you'll realize that they have 2 people to love them and now you're only getting 1/2 the original amount of attention... it hurts. Honestly I think it would work best if 2 couples dated each other which is probably why swinging is so common.

Jan 04 12 - 3:59pm
Me

Damn, I came here hoping for Santorum bashing. Maybe next week.

Jan 04 12 - 5:52pm
KS

Hahah, what will happen to poor Dan when Santorum gets elected! Okay, just kidding.. but imagine.

Jan 04 12 - 7:25pm
DH

I kind of secretly hope ol Ricky boy does get elected president, just so I can giggle to myself every time I hear "President Santorum" on the news. Of course I'm Canadian.

Jan 06 12 - 12:51pm
Banana Sam

What will happen to Savage if Santorum is elected? Most likely he will be destined to a life of mediocrity and anonymity. So, no change really.

Bad news, DH. When Santorum is elected, the teenage dork definition of "santorum" will be shifted to "canadian." Sorry.

Jan 04 12 - 7:45pm
Sydney

More please!

Jan 05 12 - 8:26pm
Ditto

Yes, more more! These stories are refreshing to hear...so open and honest, if you will. ;)

Jan 05 12 - 12:00am
Cynthia's name

The second commentor is not an example of "successful monogamish" relationships ... he's an example of a POS who cheated on his wife. Apparently it was more important to be honest with the women he was meeting in order to arrange an affair than it was to be honest with his wife.

Oh, and I'm not a "smug monogamous person"; I'm in an open relationship. But we're honest.

Jan 05 12 - 1:51am
Rj

You are so right. For some reason when I read it, all the mentionings of "honesty" made me think his wife knew all about it but it was definitely worth a re-read. That's flat-out cheating.

Jan 05 12 - 3:33pm
Dea

Totally agreed. I don't think there's anything wrong with dating or sleeping with more than one person at a time, provided that everyone involved is being honest with one another, all agree on what they want and what is acceptable, sex is safe, and the balance of power is roughly equal (i.e. not a situation where Person A is desperately in love with and only wants Person B and is hoping Person B will come to feel the same way, while Person B sleeps with Persons C, D, and E without regard to Person A's feelings).

I admit that the whole "monogamish" thing isn't for me at least in cases where I'm serious about someone, but if a couple agrees on it and is honest with each other, then that's their business and right to construct a relationship in ways that make both parties happy.

Jan 06 12 - 12:53pm
Dan Scavage

Oh, you're just a couple of smug moralists. People should get away with anything I determine is OK. Just so you know, anyone who doesn't agree with my perverted view of the world is smug and can go eat canadian as far as I'm concerned.

Jan 06 12 - 2:33pm
heyyy

But you can't deny that the man's technique for cheating is good.

Jan 11 12 - 3:47am
Caitlyn

Yeah, the second guy is a scumbag. Sorry, but if your needs aren't being met, you tell your partner. If your partner agrees to an arrangement that enables your needs to be met, fantastic. If not, perhaps it's time to consider separation. The author of this letter not only betrayed his wife with his dishonesty but exposed her to infections she didn't know she was exposed to. How often does a condom break? The affair went on for years. Not only that, but the many strains of HPV and herpes are frequently spread through the skin surrounding the area covered by a condom. This man's behaviour is disgusting.

On a lighter note, I would like to say that eating Canadians can be a very pleasurable experience!

Jan 05 12 - 1:23am
MC

Im also in a monogam-ish relationship (with a fairly large age difference) and damnit it is SO great to read other people's success stories, shows me that we are not so alone. These are truly beautiful Dan, I hope you do make a book and show everyone that its really not so uncommon.

Jan 05 12 - 11:27am
Ap

Agreeing with the comments about the second letter. It's great that he protected his wife from his affair, and was willing to hang in there until her libido cycled back- but this is not "monogomish", this is cheating. It would have been a more applicable example had the husband & had a conversation about ways that they could work TOGETHER through that down time. Relationships have ebbs & flows, it takes real strength to work through those.

Jan 05 12 - 1:34pm
JustAQuestion

While I agree in principle, it seems as though there may have been several conversations about "working together through the down time." The down time was five years, and he says she was unable to articulate what she thought the problem was. It seems as though throughout their relationship (and his outside activity), his focus was keeping the marriage intact. Perhaps he knew (or honestly believed) that explicitly telling her he needed to go outside the marriage would end it? There's no mention of children, but I'd imagine that if there were, that factor could weigh heavily as well. I'm just wondering if there's a more generous interpetation of "working together" that might allow for a situation where one partner does what he/she needs to in order to keep sane, even if that means protecting the other from information that there's generally an entitltement to?

Jan 11 12 - 3:52am
Caitlyn

"Perhaps he knew (or honestly believed) that explicitly telling her he needed to go outside the marriage would end it?"

Yeah, that's why people cheat. And that's why cheating is wrong. You're depriving your "partner" of their choice.

Jan 06 12 - 2:00am
Kay-dub

Happily monogamish here- over ten years married, my husband has a girlfriend, I have a boyfriend, and the four of us often have dinner together. We're what's called a "W" in poly terms: my huz and I are primary partners, and our secondaries don't see anyone but us. There's respect, careful scheduling, and courtesy all round. Also a lot of hotness. It's not always a bed of roses (running just one successful relationship can take plenty of work: this can be double the fun but also double the potential headaches) but so far it's been pretty damn great for all concerned.

Jan 06 12 - 4:09pm
melbot

I'm in a poly relationship after being in monogamous relationships since I started dating 15 years ago.
I never thought I could ever let go of the jealousy thing, but so far having 2 people that love me to pieces has been amazing. I thank Dan for expanding my mind on that :D