Dan Savage Says Cheating Happens. And That's OK.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Dan Savage (LaRae Lobdell)

Occasional infidelity adds excitement to Dan Savage's marriage. He's not afraid of talking about that, he told me. What he doesn’t like discussing is money. Namely, how his husband Terry likes spending it: on shoes, clothes, and records he may never listen to. It’s what they fight about most.

Dan and Terry have been together for nearly twenty years. They married in 2005 in Canada. Dan told me that if you’re in a committed relationship, you should consider this: cheating happens. Studies differ on the rate of cheating, but after writing a sex advice column for decades, he wants us to confront the fact that infidelity touches more monogamous relationships than we like to admit. And sometimes, he says, being with other people is what keeps couples together. It's worked for his marriage.

So that’s part of what he and I talk about in this episode, plus building honest boundaries with your partner, fighting about money, being a gay activist with a conservative father, and missing his mother.


Keeping sex fun after 40:

One of the things that’s kept our sexual connection really intense has been the non-monogamy. We have these adventures together. People have come into our lives as lovers and enriched and enhanced our lives. Taken us into new worlds. And exposed us to new communities. New groups of people, new groups of friends. And that’s been very rewarding, and very rich.

Experiencing the AIDS epidemic as a teenager:

Something that makes straight people sometimes uncomfortable when you talk about gay life, particularly then, is that I came out at 15, 16, 17 years old. And most of my gay friends were older. My first boyfriends were older. Because my peers weren’t out. I didn’t have 15, 16, 17-year-old gay people, lesbians, bi and trans folks to hang out with. Because nobody was out except for me. So I lost people — mentors. I lost first boyfriends.

gay pride parade 2011 New York City
Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller at the 2011 NYC Gay Pride Parade. (Amy Pearl)

How the Supreme Court gave Dan and Terry financial security:

One of the things that was so wonderful about the DOMA decision from the Supreme Court was the Sword of Damocles that had been hanging over our heads — it disappeared in an instant. Because I’ve been the sole bread-winner and Terry’s been a stay-at-home parent. If I had died, if somebody killed me, Terry wouldn’t get my Social Security survivor benefits because he has the wrong genitals. He couldn’t inherit my property or keep our house without paying onerous, crushing taxes. So, in addition to losing me, he would’ve been pauperized, and he and D.J. would’ve both been turned out of the house.

The challenge of relating to his father:

We’re in a much better place than we were 20 years ago. We have a difficult relationship, or a relationship complicated by politics. He’s one of those guys, 70-year-old guys who sits in front of his television set in Arizona in retirement watching Fox News. But he’s a good guy, and a fun guy, and I enjoy talking to him when we talk. We’re not the closest, but that’s life, I guess. I don’t even know how to talk about it. I don’t want to disrespect my dad. But we never really clicked.

Here’s a full transcript of the interview.

Dan Savage talked about the death of his mother onstage at This American Life in 2009:




Dan Savage

Hosted by:

Anna Sale

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Comments [7]

Aliya from Hoboken

In response to N from Seattle:

I didn't feel as if he was proselytizing at all. He's the subject of the interview; of course he's going to tell us what he thinks! Rather than insinuating that everyone ought to be like him, as you say, I think he was addressing a real issue--people DO cheat, regardless of the stats--and offering an alternative way to look at it, to help people deal with it.

I found the bullet analogy at the end of this interview to be fabulous and relevant. I am in a monogamous relationship, and I often imagine the lengths I would go for my partner; the hurt I would endure to keep them safe and happy. I think Savage offers up a very astute way to view the emotional trauma that can follow an act of betrayal such as cheating, especially if both partners are committed to the relationship, and want it to endure. If commitment is paramount (and commitment seems to be an underlying theme of his approach to relationships), the ability to sincerely reevaluate the inevitable terminality that an act of betrayal typically invokes... seems incredibly valuable.

More, I felt like he was encouraging us to avoid such situations by reevaluating the inherent 'betrayal' of cheating, by communicating with our partners, and telling them how we feel and what we want. Maybe it isn't inherently negative, cowardly, or noncommittal to yearn for variation in sexual encounters, especially if that's what a person needs. Regardless, I think he's saying that it's important just to TALK about it, to feel safe sharing these secrets with our partners. Perhaps to even try to get to a point in which both people feel comfortable exploring such things with one another. It seemed to me, from hearing about his marriage, that he and his partner have reached this point, and are very satisfied by it... exploring the depths of their own needs and desires together, as a mutual endeavor, and remaining accepting of whatever they find. That sounds like a sustainable relationship model to me, whether or not I would (be able to) make the same choices.

Jul. 22 2014 10:08 AM
Wendy Shell from Columbia, Missouri

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Jul. 21 2014 03:48 PM
N from seattle

I found this podcast really tiresome. I'm happy that dan is happy in his marital arrangement but insuating at if everyone was more like him is insulting and idiotic. I also wondered where he is getting his numbers from? 50% of men and women who are married cheat? Really? says who? Oh, Dan savage says it so it must be true!

It's a shame because I used to love Dan's column and thought he was smart and funny. I'm not sure why but lately I just find him irksome and preachy, and evangelical in his tone.

Jul. 17 2014 02:13 PM
David from New York, NY

Hence the downfall of the family and society. Having an unethical an immoral marriage will only result in more bad behavior especially when others talk about how it's almost an expected way of being in a relationship. Our therapists will blame in on our pasts when it's simply wrong behavior.

Jul. 16 2014 03:53 PM
Random Commenter

Please note that "infidelity" is not what adds excitement to Dan's marriage. Consensual non-monogamy is not the same as infidelity.

Jul. 16 2014 03:09 PM
tyle marbin from NYC

Dan Savage is as eloquent and down-to-earth as always. It's very hard to understand why there's an opposing side when Savage explains his so simply.

Jul. 16 2014 10:48 AM
profwilliams from Montclair

Great Show. Honest and adult. Hearing real language, and real discussion-- including Ms. Sale's, eh, uncomfortableness-- was refreshing.

Jul. 16 2014 10:24 AM

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