But such extreme positions seem to a hallmark of Savage’s thought. A few years ago the New York Times magazine did a cover story about Savage’s ideas of how infidelity just might save monogamy, the idea being that monogamy is tough and it’s about time we acknowledged it. Savage argued that couples should be far more understanding of infidelities and even discuss them before they happen so as to receive each other’s informed consent, should that prove appropriate to the relationship. Couples should trade in the straightjacket of strict monogamy, which essentially doesn’t work, and instead seek to be monogomish, that is, being essentially faithful but allowing for outside liaisons which just might prevent the dissolution of the primary relationship.
To be sure, the argument for open relationships goes back to the beginning of time, its most famous modern advocate being the celebrated British philosopher Bertrand Russell who wrote long letters to his wife about his consensual infidelities. But his open-mindedness could not surmount his jealousy when his own wife starting taking lovers. When Dora had a child by another man, he left her, later commenting, “My capacity for forgiveness, and what might be called Christian love, was not equal to the demands I was making on it . . . I was blinded by theory.” Their daughter Kathleen Tait pithily remarked about her parents’ strange marriage, “Calling jealousy deplorable had not freed them from it . . . both found it hard to admit that the ideal had been destroyed by the old-fashioned evils of jealousy and infidelity.”
The great British writer Iris Murdoch was the same. Her husband John Bayley wrote a memoir of their 40-year marriage called Elegy for Iris. He explains that his wife would not allow her marriage to curtail her freedom or her need for adventure. She insisted on being allowed to have lovers and pursued other men intermittently. Still, she wished to be married because she desired the comfort, companionship, and sense of safety that marriage offered. Bayley was not happy with the arrangement but felt he had no right to object. “In the early days, I always thought it would be vulgar – as well as not my place – to give any indications of jealousy…” So he buried the terrible pain it caused him all in the name of relationship enlightenment.
But convinced he has actually stumbled on something novel, Savage argued that we have crippled men by expecting them to be monogamous. “The mistake that straight people made was imposing the monogamous expectation on men. Men were never expected to be monogamous. Men had concubines, mistresses and access to prostitutes, until everybody decided marriage had to be egalitarian and fairsey.” The New York Times added Savage’s belief that “the feminist revolution,” rather than extending to women “the same latitude and license and pressure-release valve that men had always enjoyed,” extended to men the confines women had always endured. “And it’s been a disaster for marriage.”
Here is where we see how badly society needs the values of the Bible as opposed to the advice of Dan Savage. Has Savage discussed his theory with women? Does the average wife believe that her husband ought to have ‘a release valve’ (I love these plumbing metaphors) that is not her? I counsel thousands of people. I know the answer is an emphatic no.
Yes, monogamy may be challenging and does not come naturally. But neither does studying for an SAT, waking up at the crack of dawn to do a job, or even remaining hygienic, for that matter. I suppose that cave men probably did far more of what came naturally. No doubt bopping a woman over the head with a club and taking her by force came much more naturally than having to wine and dine her, slowly wooing the commitment from her. But the Bible’s introduction of the rules of relationships – like the need to marry and remain devoted, avoiding adultery – protected women from precisely this kind of abuse on the part of men. Today, because of the Bible’s insistence on the holiness of matrimony, we expect men to try and live honorably and live by their commitments. And the first commitment a man makes in marriage is to treat his wife like she is special, loved, and the one and only. And when a husband has sex with another woman, whatever Dan Savage thinks, it makes her feel discarded, secondary, and useless.
Dan Savage might say this is inevitable, that men are hard-wired to require lots of different women. I’ve heard these arguments ad nauseam from hard-core evolutionists who tell us that men are genetically wired to inseminate everything with a pulse.
I’m sorry. We men are human, not brutes. Our actions are under our control. And if we screw up we cannot blame our nature but rather our bad choices. Period.