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Savage Love 

Dan Savage on sex, porn and relationships

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Best known for his internationally syndicated sex and relationship advice column “Savage Love,” Dan Savage is an author, journalist and activist based in Seattle. In 2010, Savage and his partner founded the It Gets Better Project, a series of videos and a book to encourage LGBT youth who are facing harassment.

 


 

More than a thousand people showed up for a recent Savage Love Live event at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It goes without saying that the students at UW submitted more questions than I could answer in 90 minutes. Here are some bonus answers to questions that I didn’t get to...

Can an open relationship work if it’s this type: dating two people, separately, both serious, neither relationship is the “primary” one?

Define “work.”

Most people define “work” — in the context of a relationship — as “a loving, lasting, long-term relationship that ends only with the death of one or both parties.” But I define “work” as “a loving relationship that makes the people in it happy, whether that relationship lasts for the rest of their lives or whether both parties — or all parties, if we’re talking about a poly or open scenario — decide at some point to end the relationship amicably.” So, yes, I do think the relationship you’ve described can work. Whether you’ll be in this relationship — or these relationships — for the rest of your life remains to be seen. You may wind up getting more serious about one person, or you may move on from both and find someone else — or a couple of someone elses — but if you’re happy right now, and if they’re happy right now, then your relationship is working.

I have been treated badly in several past relationships. I am now in a great one, but I have a hard time believing/trusting that nothing bad will happen. How can I get over this dread?

Something bad is going to happen — believe it. Hopefully the bad that happens won’t be as bad as the bad you experienced in the past relationships — no physical or emotional violence, no unforgivable betrayals, nothing that requires you to end this relationship — but your new partner will behave badly toward you at some point. And you will behave badly toward your new partner. There’s some bad even in the best relationships. You’ll experience less dread if you can accept that.

I am a 30-year-old straight man who has always known that he is a poly. The woman I love is not a poly. She is a monogamous person. When we started being sexual, it was a strictly friends-with-benefits arrangement, although a sexually exclusive one, at her insistence, and I agreed to that because neither of us expected anything long-term to come of it. But we fell in love, and now I can’t imagine life without her. She is amazing, and I love her like I’ve never loved any other woman. But she has asked me to betray my sexual identity by remaining sexually exclusive. If I cannot commit to that, she does not want to be with me. I am not asking the same of her: She does not have to sleep with other people to keep me in her life. She is, however, insisting that I not sleep with other people to keep her in my life. Can someone who is poly be happy with someone who isn’t?

— Polyamorous Polymath

You are not “a poly.”

Poly is not a sexual identity, PP, it’s not a sexual orientation. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do. There’s no such thing as a person who is “a poly,” just as there’s no such thing as a person who is “a monogamous.” Polyamorous and monogamous are adjectives, not nouns. There are only people — gay, straight, bi — and some people are in monogamous relationships, some are in open relationships, some are in polyamorous relationships, some are in monogamish relationships, some are in four-star-general relationships. These are relationship models, PP, not sexual identities.

So the question isn’t “Can a poly be happy with a monogamous?” The question is can you, despite your clear preference for nonmonogamous relationship models, be happy in this relationship? Do you love your girlfriend so much that you’re willing to pay the price of admission that she’s demanding — you’re willing to behave monogamously (adverb!) — in order to be with her? Yes or no?

Since your girlfriend has already indicated that she’s not willing to have a nonmonogamous relationship with you (or anyone else), PP, the choice is yours to make. If you truly can’t live without her, you’ll have to be monogamous. If that’s not something you’re willing or able to do — and “willing” and “able” are two different criteria, and you’ll need to make an honest self-assessment on both counts — then end this relationship and go find someone whose romantic desires more closely align with your own.

How long should a person wait to “get back out there” when his wife has been eaten by a zombie? Asking for a friend.

— Sheriff Rick Grimes (via Twitter @RickGrimesATL)

Not too long — life is short, particularly during a zombie apocalypse, and your friend shouldn’t waste what little time he has left. And remember: During a zombie apocalypse, all relationships are rebound relationships. So your friend should get out there.

I recently caught my boyfriend watching porn. We have talked about it before, and he said he didn’t watch it while he was in a relationship. But when I caught him, I lost it. I have never felt so hurt or betrayed. This is my first serious relationship. I can’t get over how sick and sad I feel. It feels like he was cheating on me. Should I be as upset as I am? It was interactive porn — it was like he was cybersexing with one of his ex-girlfriends. What should I do?

— Sad And Deceived

Was your boyfriend having cybersex with an ex-girlfriend? Or did it only feel like he was? I would make a distinction, SAD, because while all porn constitutes a betrayal of the terms of your relationship, interacting with a stranger and, very likely, a professional online shouldn’t feel quite so threatening.

Backing way the hell up: Your boyfriend shouldn’t have lied to you, SAD, but you shouldn’t have been so naive as to believe him. If you can’t bring yourself to forgive him for lying — if you can’t put yourself in his shoes and try to understand why he might lie about this (shame, fear, a desire to spare your feelings) — then this relationship is doomed. End it and find a new boyfriend. But when your next boyfriend tells you he doesn’t watch porn, you’re going to look at him and say, “Suuuuuure, you don’t.”

Ask your new boyfriend to be discreet and limit his porn consumption to an extent where you’re unlikely to uncover any evidence of it, as porn upsets you. If your new boyfriend manages to do that for you, SAD, if he’s considerate enough to cover his tracks, you should be considerate enough to turn a blind eye on those rare occasions when you do stumble over evidence that your new boyfriend watches porn — just like your old boyfriend did and all your future boyfriends will. 

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