The Georgia Straight - - Front Page - > BY KATE WIL­SON

Few life events are more devastating than catch­ing a cheat­ing spouse. Ac­cu­sa­tions fly, trust crum­bles, and divorce pa­pers are drawn up. Ask a sam­ple of peo­ple how many have been af­fected by in­fi­delity, and about 80 per­cent coyly raise their hands. But what, asks sex-ad­vice colum­nist Dan Sav­age, if we stopped view­ing af­fairs as a bad thing?

Sav­age, the man be­hind the weekly Sav­age Lovecast pod­cast, spends his days dis­cussing al­ter­na­tives to the one-size-fits-all het­ero­sex­ual mar­riage. Con­vinced that peo­ple are more likely to be un­faith­ful than not in a long-term re­la­tion­ship, he en­cour­ages cou­ples to dis­cuss the virtues of be­ing “monogamish”—an agreed-upon ar­range­ment where part­ners for­give each other for their erotic urges.

“Peo­ple con­flate monogamy with de­cency,” he tells the Ge­or­gia Straight on the line from his stu­dio in Seat­tle. “That’s not the way sex works. In my opin­ion, peo­ple have very un­re­al­is­tic views of them­selves and their sex part­ners. Con­ven­tion says that love means you don’t want to sleep with other peo­ple. And then cou­ples spend the rest of their lives in a com­mit­ted monog­a­mous re­la­tion­ship, polic­ing each other for ev­i­dence of what they know to be true: that of course you want to fuck other peo­ple. Of course your part­ner wants to fuck other peo­ple. Drag­ging your wife over the coals be­cause she’s mas­tur­bated over fuck­ing her per­sonal trainer or drag­ging your hus­band over the coals be­cause of a way he looked at a barista just gen­er­ates con­flict in a re­la­tion­ship that we should be able to side­step. That isn’t to say that monog­a­mous re­la­tion­ships are fu­tile and that ev­ery­one should give up. It’s guid­ance about how to do that monog­a­mous thing with­out driv­ing each other crazy.”

Re­la­tion­ship ad­vice comes in many dif­fer­ent forms—and while Sav­age reaches part­ners through his col­umns and pod­cast, ther­a­pist and au­thor Es­ther Perel coun­sels cou­ples from her couch. One of the most re­spected voices on erotic in­tel­li­gence, she views sex­u­al­ity as a lens through which to ex­am­ine the pro­gres­sive or con­ser­va­tive forces at work in a so­ci­ety. Hav­ing ex­clu­sively stud­ied in­fi­delity for two years as she com­pleted her lat­est book, The State of Af­fairs: Re­think­ing In­fi­delity, Perel helps part­ners over­come the af­ter­math of de­ceit.

“We have a ro­man­tic model that makes us look for the one-and-only,” she tells the Straight on the phone from New York. “We call that one­and-only our soul­mate. With them, we want to ex­pe­ri­ence mean­ing, belonging, tran­scen­dence, and ec­stasy. This is the lan­guage we used to use when de­scrib­ing God. It used to be­long to the world of the divine. To­day, ro­man­tic love is the new re­li­gion.”

The fact that cou­ples are meant to see their other half as in­fal­li­ble, Perel says, makes in­fi­delity so dam­ag­ing.

“If I’m the one-and-only and you are such to me,” she imag­ines, “when you cheat on me, it means that I’m not unique, not in­dis­pens­able, and not ir­re­place­able. And if so, what am I? You’re sup­posed to be my best friend, my trusted con­fi­dant, and my pas­sion­ate lover, and you be­tray me. Who am I now?”

Sav­age and Perel agree that al­though there are many rea­sons why in­di­vid­u­als two-time, in­fi­delity of­ten has noth­ing to do with the re­la­tion­ship it­self. For Perel, the in­creased like­li­hood that men and women will have af­fairs in our cur­rent cli­mate is down to so­ci­o­log­i­cal change. While in the past peo­ple were told that hap­pi­ness was the re­ward in heaven after suf­fer­ing on Earth, in­di­vid­u­als now feel en­ti­tled to pur­sue their de­sires and have been granted per­mis­sion for self­ish­ness. Sav­age sug­gests that many af­fairs are the re­sult not of be­ing un­sat­is­fied with a part­ner but be­ing un­sat­is­fied with them­selves. Rather than look­ing for a new re­la­tion­ship, they’re search­ing for a new self.

Al­though Perel doesn’t con­done hav­ing an af­fair—and Sav­age sup­ports it only in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions— both ad­vice givers can see pos­i­tives that arise from in­fi­delity.

“Some­times the dis­cov­ery of an af­fair de­stroys a cou­ple be­cause the re­la­tion­ship was dy­ing on the vine and would never have con­tin­ued,” Perel says. “Some­times they break a re­la­tion­ship that could have car­ried on. And some­times they can be used as a pow­er­ful alarm sys­tem that lets peo­ple be­come ac­count­able and work out what hap­pened to the re­la­tion­ship. It’s a new start­ing point that al­lows cou­ples to rene­go­ti­ate the dy­nam­ics in their re­la­tion­ship to be more sat­is­fy­ing for them both.”

“I’m the dan­ger­ous lu­natic who’s told peo­ple in long-term re­la­tion­ships that there are cir­cum­stances un­der which cheat­ing is the least-worst op­tion,” Sav­age says. “There is, ab­so­lutely, virtue in in­fi­delity. My mother was Catholic, and shortly after my par­ents di­vorced, which was not my mother’s choice, she was sleep­ing with a mar­ried man. Peo­ple hear the out­line and they’re shocked and ap­palled at what a hor­ri­ble thing my mother was do­ing to this man’s wife. And then you add the de­tails that the man’s wife was an in­valid, she was bedrid­den, they hadn’t had sex for 20 years, they had a care­taker-pa­tient re­la­tion­ship, and that he was in­tensely loyal to her and would never leave. He, through my mother, got the in­ti­macy and re­lease that he needed, and that helped him stay and be the hus­band that his wife now needed him to be. I think in­fi­delity in cer­tain cir­cum­stances can be vir­tu­ous as fuck.”

“Re­la­tion­ships are com­plex,” Perel agrees. “The rules are chang­ing very fast, and we need to make up our own rule book. We need our own prin­ci­ples and unique ways of think­ing.”

The Sav­age Lovecast Presents: Dan Sav­age With Es­ther Perel is at the Or­pheum on Fri­day (Oc­to­ber 13).

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