Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

March 4, 2009

Savage Love on poly denial

Many alternative newspapers

It happens so often. You explain to a new romantic interest that you're poly, and what it means, and the philosophy behind it, and that this means you'll be dating other people no matter how serious your relationship becomes. Or, that you'll be staying happily married to your spouse, who approves.

"You need to understand this about me before we go any further. Are you okay with this?"

And your NRE-besotted date nods and says "Oh, yes, I'm cool with that" and smiles wonderfully at you, and you thank the Goddess that your date gets it — and on both sides, DeNile flows down to the sea.

The denial bursts into view months (or years) later when New Person breaks into sobs and demands "How could you do this to me?" when you talk about another wonderful new person who has come into your life.

Or when it gets through your thick skull that the reason New Person never has the time to accept your family dinner invitations at home, and says catty things about your wife, is because she is hoping/expecting to cowboy you away from your wife.1

Who is at fault here? The world will says it's your fault for being a commitment-phobic horndog/slut who wants to have his cake and eat it too. Never mind how clearly and explicitly you explained the situation (or thought you did) on that early date.

Now comes an advice columnist who takes your side with fists and vengeance. Dan Savage writes "Savage Love," a gay sex-and-relationships column that's based at The Stranger in Seattle and is syndicated to many other alternative newspapers. It is not for the easily offended.

Free Spirit, My Ass

Q: Recently, I celebrated my first year of marriage to the most amazing man. When we first began dating, he told me that he enjoys open sexuality and wants swinging to be part of any partnership he's in. I regard myself as free-spirited and agreed to explore this with him. We delayed experimentation because I had a stressful job and I wanted to spend my limited free time with him instead of exploring our sexuality with multiple partners....

...Recently, we had a civil discussion wherein we discussed the possibility of him having these sexual experiences without me, since I do not find them compelling. This idea appealed to him. He proposed going to a sex party alone that very night.

Ever since then, I have been crushed by the prospect of my husband having a sex life outside of our relationship.... Having a healthy sexual relationship with him is enough for me. He makes a good point that he has been straight about his desire for this lifestyle since day one, but I am still frustrated and horrified that my husband needs to have sex outside of our marriage....

—Sex Best One On One

A: Straight, honest feedback: You are an idiot.

...You knew going in that your husband could never be satisfied in a marriage that didn't involve "open sexuality" and swinging. Don't come crying to me now because the man you married wants to actually have sex with other people. You knew that before you married him, SBOOO, because he fucking told you so.

You're unlikely to encounter a marriage counselor who'll take your husband's side (nonmonogamy? boo!) over yours (monogamy? yay!), SBOOO, so I'm going to aggressively come to his defense: You're never going to convince your husband that one-on-one ought to be enough for him. Sorry. You're also going to have a hard time convincing him that you didn't deceive him in the run-up to this marriage. When he told you that monogamy was a deal breaker, SBOOO, you replied that you were "free-spirited" and willing to "explore." But, alas, circumstances beyond your control prevented you from embarking on any explorations until after the wedding, and only then — only after he married you — did you discover that your husband's sexual interests both frustrated and horrified you.

How convenient.

...Sorry, SBOOO, you picked the wrong columnist. You want and always wanted a monogamous commitment. Free spirit, my ass. You are — surprise! — sexually incompatible. Divorce. Get it over with.

He says a lot more; read the whole column (Feb. 12, 2009).

Two weeks later, Savage continued with a followup:

Q: I am a polyamorist. I am always upfront with my partners about this, especially if I want to get serious with them. So many people seem to say that they are fine with it out of some kind of misguided assumption that they can eventually change my mind. You know, "Polyamory isn't real; it's just a phase!" You know, like being gay.

I just wanted to say thank you for your reply to SBOOO!... While I'm sure you enjoy positive feedback, saying thank you is cheap. A lot of times you plug various charities and causes in your column — is there any group you'd like me to donate to as a more concrete symbol of my appreciation?

—Longtime Fan

A: Some folks think I was too hard on SBOOO, some think I was just hard enough.... For the record: I am not biased toward nonmonogamy. But I do think monogamous people should be with each other and refrain from marrying folks who are self-aware enough to inform them in advance that they don't think they're capable of being monogamous.

...Some folks who wrote in about my advice for SBOOO raised a good point: I should have come down on the husband as well. If nonmonogamy was a deal breaker for him, then he was a fool to marry SBOOO before verifying her ability to be nonmonogamous. Agreed. So, for the record: SBOOO's husband? You're an idiot, too.

Finally, LF, I'm always happy to see money go to Planned Parenthood.

Read the whole column; scroll to the bottom (Feb. 26, 2009).

As for donations? To help educate the world about the need to make conscious poly or mono relationship choices, donations are especially needed by the Loving More nonprofit poly-awareness organization. I've donated to it heavily, so I'm not shy about saying you should too.

In this regard: I just got home from the Poly Living Conference in Philadelphia, put on by Loving More, and the 2nd National Polyamory Leadership Summit held in the same hotel in the two days that followed. The 60 or so people at the summit planned out more than a dozen task forces to get ambitious new projects under way. (And to convene the third leadership summit at a date and city to be decided, probably on the West Coast.) If you are a poly-awareness activist with accomplishments to show, and if you work well in committees, you really should get yourself invited into this. We hope to change the world.


[1] Cowboy (verb, transitive): To ride up alongside a herd of polys and try to rope one away all for yourself.



Blogger Alan said...

P.S.: I often dislike Dan Savage, but you've gotta tip your hat to the guy who put the words santorum and saddlebacking into the English language.


March 04, 2009 4:48 PM  
Blogger Alan said...

P.P.S.: So, when you do that crucial I'm-poly explanation, how do you make sure New Person really gets it?

Simple trick: Ask them to repeat back what you just said.

"When I said that I will be having other relationships, and that my wife and I are never breaking up, I'd like to check, how did you hear that? Could you repeat back how you understood it?"

It's amazing how often people hear something for the first time only when they hear it coming out of their own mouths. Watch whether the person begins to stutter and look horrified when he or she repeats back your words.

Also: Keep the discussion going pretty regularly. It's amazing how people will totally forget something they found difficult if it goes unmentioned for a while.

March 04, 2009 11:38 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...


You're so right about how to have that talk. Thank you for this post--I don't usually like Savage either so I'd have missed this.

March 05, 2009 2:59 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I think I love you, Alan. And that was an awesome column you wrote (in presenting Savage's columns), and an excellent suggestion in your PPS, too. Tell your wife she's a darn lucky gal, and give each other a hug from me.

It was great to work "with" you on Sun/Mon, and I look forward to seeing the results of everyone's collective efforts!

March 05, 2009 4:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tend to avoid Dan Savage since even when I agree with him, I think he lays on the snark a bit more heavy than is useful. Still, I have to say that he's got this one right on target.

March 05, 2009 7:42 AM  
Blogger Anita Wagner Illig said...

I can't agree that Savage got this one right. Of course, his blaming style rubs me very much the wrong way. What he fails to recognize is that lots of people think rationally that polyamory sounds like something they'd be willing to try but are unprepared for how difficult it can be emotionally at first. I can easily see how this lady acted in good faith, only later to find that she didn't understand what she was getting herself into. Savage assumes that her actions have all been fully informed. She's human, and they weren't.

I firmly believe that until a person has actually experienced open relationships and sexuality, everything is untried theory, and that until everyone has had some solid experience with it, the outcome is difficult to predict.

Savage has a valid (though unnecessarily snarky) point that it was unwise for this guy to marry his partner before finding out whether their relationship would eventually thrive or wither on openness. Still, I imagine he, too, made a very human mistake by assuming that his lady's open mindedness and initial willingness was enough to know.

It's true that the grief her partner may get for being considerd the bad guy by her mono family and friends is highly regretable. That's just part of the impact on him of her not being able to fulfill their relationship agreement. We stilal have lots of work to do to raise awareness within our society. There is hope, especially in younger generations that seem to be less judgmental about such things.

March 07, 2009 8:54 AM  
Blogger Bree said...

Thanks for the post, Alan. I would just add re: Dan Savage's assumption about therapists that he's mostly right, but that there are indeed psychotherapists out there who are poly-friendly, so if partners (or individuals) are dealing with these sorts of incompatibility issues and want counseling, they can check out

Poly-Friendly Professionals:


March 08, 2009 7:24 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This is great! But one correction. You describe Savage Love as "a gay sex-and-relationships column". Dan Savage is gay, but his sex-and-relationships column is pretty general-purpose.

April 03, 2009 8:45 AM  

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