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Struggle Session: Are People Tolyamorous Under Duress? Whatever Happened to Ethical Non-Monogamy? Is That Lighter Fluid or Snake Oil? And More!

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Alright, let’s get to it…

I soft-launched tolyamory on Episode 901 of the Lovecast before hard-launching the word in last...

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...to it… I soft-launched tolyamory on Episode 901 of the Lovecast before hard-launching the word in last week’s Struggle Session. On the show and in Struggle Session, I argued that tolyamorouos relationships — where one person cheats and the other person puts up with it — may be the most common form of non-monogamy. Anklylosaurus disagrees… I say the very commonest form of non-monogamy is secret, often-one-sided non-monogamy, i.e. cheating. I suppose it comes down to whether or not you think people who cheat can still claim “monogamy” when their partners don’t know they’re being cheated on and haven’t choosen to be tolyamorous. You’re right, Anklylosaurus: “one-sided non-monogamy,” aka cheating, is probably the most common form of non-monogamy with tolyamory being a close second. As for whether someone who cheats can claim monogamy… Not only can someone practicing one-sided non-monogamy (a cheater) claim monogamy — not only can a cheater claim to be honoring the monogamous commitment they made — they pretty much have to make that claim. Failing to claim monogamy means admitting to cheating. The cheating may still be one-sided after the admission, but it’s no longer secret and the person being cheated on suddenly faces a choice between ending the relationship, forgiving the cheater on the condition that the cheating stops, or embracing tolyamory if the cheater refuses to stop cheating. And since there are two kinds of monogamy — social monogamy and sexual monogamy — cheaters can claim to be monogamous with a semi-straight face. While a cheater isn’t practicing sexual monogamy, a successful cheater, i.e., a cheater whose partner has no idea, is practicing social monogamy. Now, most couples that are socially monogamous but not sexually monogamous are swingers, not cheaters, and they’re obviously practicing ethical non-monogamy. They may fuck other couples at hotel takeovers, but they wanna be perceived by friends, coworkers, and other members of the Sarasota school board as a normal monogamous couple. And since most people assume socially monogamous couples are also sexually monogamous, it’s not hard for swinging couples to be perceived as sexually and socially monogamous. Moving on… I shrugged at a reader who was thinking about cheating on her husband in this week’s Quickie’s column — see LW18 — which led BiDanFan to express nostalgia for the Dan who never was… Re LW18: It seems that ever since Dan had a couple of bong hits and coined the term tolyamorous, he’s (a) looking for/creating opportunities to use it and (b) like the newly out bisexual, presuming that everyone is a little bit like this. It’s not true, Dan. Partnered people shouldn’t just assume that if they cheat, their partner will forgive or overlook. Many people will continue to take a promise to forsake all others seriously, and view “I only slipped and fell into someone else’s genitals a few times” similarly to being “a little bit pregnant.” Many people will be incredibly hurt if their spouse takes the course of action you’re advising LW18. Perhaps you won’t stop trying to make tolyamorous happen, but please go back to promoting ethical non-monogamy. First, I don’t take bong hits while I’m writing my columns. Please. I am a lady. I recline on a chaise lounge in my parlor and dictate columns to my social secretary while nibbling on THC-laced bonbons sent by my many secret admirers. For the record: Of course cheating isn’t something a partnered person in a monogamous relationship can simply overlook. Some do manage to forgive and get past cheating eventually, and some do decide — for good reasons and bad — to overlook it or tolerate it. But cheating in the context of a monogamous relationship is always painful and sometimes unforgivable. But when did I stop promoting ethical non-monogamy? I’ve promoted ENM for decades and will continue to promote ethical non-monogamy. But I’ve always been a realist. Cheating happens and sometimes cheating, as I’ve said a million times, is the least worst option for all involved. I’ve recommended ENM in response to one reader’s question and in the next response to the in the same column I’ve told another reader to do what they need to do to stay married and stay sane. I don’t see this as an either/or — I can promote ENM or allow for cheating but not both — but as a both/and: I can promote the ideals of ENM while being a realist about… well, about people sometimes needing to do what they need to do to stay married and stay sane. Larry Stone, Esq (I’m assuming), comes to my defense on this point. Ken K. makes some goods counterpoints and offers some relevant reminders. But Curious wins the argument with this sincere and succinct piece of advice for LW18 (and this reminder for me): Be honest and talk about it. Difficult conversations are the price of integrity. My response to LW18 may have been too flippant and too glib. (It was a Quickies column!) And while I don’t think I was promoting cheating in my response to LW18, I can see how it came across that way. I hope LW18 does the right and has that difficult conversation with her husband and that they’re able to renegotiate the terms of their relationship. But I gotta say… While difficult conversations can lead to happy outcomes, they don’t always. I think people in successful open relationships — those of us who made the transition from monogamous to open and/or from open to poly — have a little unconscious survivorship bias where those difficult conversations are concerned. While our relationships (and our egos) survived the kind of difficult conversation we think LW18 should have with her husband, it doesn’t follow that every relationship survives that kind of difficult conversation. Okay, because you guys insist, a couple more questions about tolyamory. Says Thingamajig… I don’t have much of a dog in the tolyamory fight, but my sympathies are with Mr. Christian and MissBian. I think it’s important to consider what it means that partner A “tolerates” cheating if partner B has more power. People can convince themselves that they are content with all kinds of non-ideal situations. Sometimes that’s healthy. Sometimes it very much is not. Someone may decide to stay with a cheater — someone may decide to embrace tolyamory — because they have less power. Sometimes people embrace polyamory for the same reason. I’ve talked a lot about people who are PUD (polyamorous under duress) but there at least as many MUD out there, i.e., people who are monogamous under duress. Lots of people stay in monogamous marriages that don’t meet their needs or make them happy because they have less power. So, it’s not just people who are being cheated on or people whose partners issued “open or over” ultimatums to them who convince themselves that they are content with their non-ideal situations. For some people, monogamy — either monogamy itself or being monogamous to the person they married — is the non-ideal situation. (Check out my exchange on Twitter with Phoebe Maltz Bovy on the same issue.) Says SloMoPoMo… So, clearly, we need a definition for “jollyamourous” now. Oh, but we have one already, SloMo! This final paragraph in a letter to the editor of the New Yorker — a letter frrom someone who thinks monogamous relationships are better in every way than open ones — kind of set my blood to boiling… If sex were effortlessly hotter in a long-term, committed, sexually-exclusive relationships, fully half of the output of my industry — that would be the sex-advice-industrial complex — wouldn’t be devoted to telling long-married couples how to get the spark back. If monogamous marriage lit fires, dishonest sex advice columnists and shitty marriage counselors wouldn’t be out there selling so much snake oil in bottles labeled lighter fluid. Speaking of terrible sex-and-relationship advice… If you don’t loathe your ex with every fiber in your body, if you look back at a previous relationship and feel anything positive at all, you have betrayed your current partner and your relationship is doomed. https://t.co/S43NEJYkEt — Dan Savage (@fakedansavage) January 30, 2024 “This doesn’t sound like the Dan Savage I know and respect,” said Neil Steinberg. “Good thing you don’t give relationship advice professionally,” said F. Sommelier. “Please be kidding,” said Dan. I was kidding. Of course I was kidding. I don’t think Rebecca Romijn has to hate her ex-husband John Stamos to demonstrate her loyalty to current husband Jerry O’Connell. You guys know how I feel about exes: I think it’s a good sign when someone is friends with their ex, not a bad sign. Hell, in this week’s Savage Love I told LW15 that friendly exes make the best very special guest stars. It doesn’t sound like that could happen for these three — looks like it was a messy breakup — but, hey, in some alt timeline Romijn and Stamos are on such good terms she’s invited him over for a threesome with O’Connell. Says Willzebub on BlueSky… Dan! Did you really suggest a lady watch “Looking for Mr. Goodbar”? Have you forgotten how that ends?!? I haven’t seen it since it came out when I was 12, Will, and I’ve consumed a lot of THC-bonbons since then, so it is entirely possible I’ve forgotten how “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” ends, along with a great deal else. I will rewatch it. No spoilers, please! Says Andy… To the woman whose husband drinks and drives a lot: you didn’t say that there were any other problems caused by his drinking so the solution seems so obvious I can’t believe Dan didn’t think of it. Send him out in a taxi so he can party with his friends and come home and fall asleep never having touched the steering wheel of a car. Says SloMoPoMo… I’d find it hard to accept that my partner found me attractive, if they claimed they found ONLY me attractive. That just doesn’t seem credible, it sounds like gaslighting to me. When someone says, “I only have eyes for you,” they’re paying you a compliment —  a hyperbolic compliment that should understood as such. In reality, only someone who was into taking anon loads while blindfolded in a hotel room could legitimately tell his partner he only have eyes for them: “My eyes are only for you, baby, it’s my holes that belong to all.” Says Scott via email… For several weeks now I’ve been wondering when you will say something about a certain former University of Wisconsin Chancellor. I’m sure many others have asked, but I’m adding my voice to the list. Perhaps you are waiting for more information before commenting? Personally, I think the most remarkable thing about this story is how forthright the couple has been since their sex videos were revealed, and how bold they are in promoting the idea of proud sexual expression by older persons. I wrote something about about Joe Gow, the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, after he was fired for making porn with his wife… but the into that week was long and I cut that chunk for time. I mean to get back to the story and didn’t. Your note inspired me to reach out to Gow. I’m hoping he’ll be a guest on an upcoming episode of Sex & Politics. Before we go… I took one serious question in this week’s Quickies column — LW16 was a widow who didn’t feel right getting back out there four years after her husband’s death — and MJ wrote wrote a thoughtful and touching response. Thank you, MJ, for sharing your story of loss with LW16 and offering her your encouragement.  And thank you for proving, once again, that Savage Love is the one place on the Internet where you should read the comments. And now… Our Muppet-Faced Man of the Week: Finn Bennett! So, everyone is raving about “Night Country,” the fifth season of the “True Detective,” starring Jodie Foster, Kali Reis, and Bennett. I followed Bennett after watching the first episode of the show — for obvious reasons — and he immediately sent me a DM: “Oh man what a huge honour to be followed by you! Big fan of the podcast!” And now I am dead.

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