Married, With Infidelities


 
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SAUSALITO, CA (ASRN.ORG) -- Last month, when the New York congressman Anthony Weiner finally admitted that he had lied, that his Twitter account had not been hacked, that he in fact had sent a picture of his thinly clad undercarriage to a stranger in Seattle, I asked my wife of six years, mother of our three children, what she thought. More specifically, I asked which would upset her more: to learn that I was sending racy self-portraits to random women, Weiner-style, or to discover I was having an actual affair. She paused, scrunched up her mouth as if she had just bitten a particularly sour lemon and said: “An affair is at least a normal human thing. But tweeting a picture of your crotch is just weird.

How do we account for that revulsion, which many shared with my wife, a revulsion that makes it hard to imagine a second act for Weiner, like Eliot Spitzer’s television career or pretty much every day in the life of Bill Clinton? One explanation is that the Weiner scandal was especially sordid: drawn out, compounded daily with new revelations, covered up with embarrassing lies that made us want to look away. But another possibility is that there was something not weird, but too familiar about Weiner. His style might not be for everyone (to put it politely), but the impulse to be something other than what we are in our daily, monogamous lives, the thrill that comes from the illicit rather than the predictable, is something many couples can identify with. With his online flirtations and soft-porn photos, he did what a lot of us might do if we were lonely and determined to not really cheat.

That is one reason it was a relief when Weiner was drummed from office. In addition to giving us some good laughs, he forced us to ask particularly uncomfortable questions, like “what am I capable of doing?” and “what have my neighbors or friends done?” His visage was insisting, night after night, that we think about how hard monogamy is, how hard marriage is and about whether we make unrealistic demands on the institution and on ourselves.

That, anyway, is what Dan Savage, America’s leading sex-advice columnist, would say. Although best known for his It Gets Better project, an archive of hopeful videos aimed at troubled gay youth, Savage has for 20 years been saying monogamy is harder than we admit and articulating a sexual ethic that he thinks honors the reality, rather than the romantic ideal, of marriage. In Savage Love, his weekly column, he inveighs against the American obsession with strict fidelity. In its place he proposes a sensibility that we might call American Gay Male, after that community’s tolerance for pornography, fetishes and a variety of partnered arrangements, from strict monogamy to wide openness.

Savage believes monogamy is right for many couples. But he believes that our discourse about it, and about sexuality more generally, is dishonest. Some people need more than one partner, he writes, just as some people need flirting, others need to be whipped, others need lovers of both sexes. We can’t help our urges, and we should not lie to our partners about them. In some marriages, talking honestly about our needs will forestall or obviate affairs; in other marriages, the conversation may lead to an affair, but with permission. In both cases, honesty is the best policy.

“I acknowledge the advantages of monogamy,” Savage said “when it comes to sexual safety, infections, emotional safety, paternity assurances. But people in monogamous relationships have to be willing to meet me a quarter of the way and acknowledge the drawbacks of monogamy around boredom, despair, lack of variety, sexual death and being taken for granted.”

The view that we need a little less fidelity in marriages is dangerous for a gay-marriage advocate to hold. It feeds into the stereotype of gay men as compulsively promiscuous, and it gives ammunition to all the forces, religious and otherwise, who say that gay families will never be real families and that we had better stop them before they ruin what is left of marriage. But Savage says a more flexible attitude within marriage may be just what the straight community needs. Treating monogamy, rather than honesty or joy or humor, as the main indicator of a successful marriage gives people unrealistic expectations of themselves and their partners. And that, Savage says, destroys more families than it saves.

Savage is old-fashioned, as bitterly hilarious as that might sound to gay-marriage opponents. After the news of the Arnold Schwarzenegger love child broke, Savage expressed concern as he wrote:  “Failed marriages, devastated children, scandal!’ But Arnold wasn’t in a nonmonogamous relationship. He was in a monogamous relationship. He failed at monogamy; he didn’t succeed at nonmonogamy.”

Savage does not believe people should live in toxic, miserable marriages. The Schwarzenegger family is surely beyond repair. But they are an extreme case: not all adultery produces secret families. Most of it is minor by comparison, and Savage believes that adultery can be one of those trials, like financial woes or ill health, that marriages can be expected to survive.

“Given the rates of infidelity, people who get married should have to swear a blood oath that if it’s violated, as traumatic as that would be, the greater good is the relationship,” Savage told me. “The greater good is the home created for children. If there are children present, they’ll get past it. The cultural expectation should be if there’s infidelity, the marriage is more important than fidelity.”

It gets better? It does. But it also gets very complicated. Savage is not arguing “let Arnold be Arnold.” He is imploring us to know the people we marry and to know ourselves and to plan accordingly. He believes that our actions mark us as a compassionate people, that in truth we are always ready to forgive an adulterer, except the one we are married to. He points out that the Louisiana senator, and prominent john, David Vitter is still in office, and that “Bill Clinton is a beloved elder statesman, and Eliot Spitzer is back on television.” We are already a nation of forgivers, even when it comes to marriage. Dan Savage thinks we should take some pride in that.



Copyright 2011- American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved


 
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Articles in this issue:

Masthead

  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Kirsten Nicole

    Editorial Staff:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Robyn Bowman
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Contributors:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Liz Di Bernardo
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

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