SL Letter of the Day: An Honest Divorce Isn't Always The Answer
by Dan Savage
on Thu, Nov 12, 2009 at 2:19 PM
I should tell you right away that I am a big fan of your column. I write this now only because you have raised my standards through years of entertaining, informative and honest answers: your advice to HORNYO this week was weak.
Wouldn't you think that HORNYO, after 19 years of marriage, has already made "a good-faith effort to undo the damage and, perhaps, restore the sexual aspect of [his] marriage" before thinking to blow his head off? He must have. You are avoiding the question: the man is asking your permission to deceive his wife and have sex with others. And you give him your permission. And that's fine. It's a moral judgment call and people trust your judgment. But you could have advised the man better by explicitly pointing out the deception and the trade-off he makes: he's trading away an honest relationship for an active sex.
Incidentally, why do you frequently recommend that people in an non-abusive but sex-deprived marriages deceive each other and look for sex elsewhere? Wouldn't it be better if they split up? Where are abusive relationships are concerned you recommend that people DTMFA. Why not in cases like HORNYO's? Why advise people to live with hypocrisy? Are kids or a nice shared house a good reason? This is an honest question.
Space limitations prevent me from tagging every base in every response, KEEPITUP. (I hope you didn't strain something reaching for that acronym.) If I didn't have to keep things at-or-under word count for the print edition of the column—I'm allotted 1250 words—perhaps I could've made it clear that I assumed HORNYO had already made a good-faith effort, perhaps several, "to undo the damage and, perhaps, restore the sexual aspect of [his] marriage." Indeed, someone doesn't typically contemplate suicide, or send me a letter, without first exhausting all other possible solutions, including those good-faith efforts.
Now let's talk about your assumption: you assume that HORNYO and Mrs. HORNYO, 19 years into a sexless marriage, have an "honest relationship." Have you ever talked with anyone in a sexless marriage? Odds are better that Mr. and Mrs. HORNYO's sexless em>19-year-old marriage long ago passed through all four stages of Marital Sexlessness: dysfunction, despair, deception, and finally dishonesty. I doubt that an "honest relationship," at least where their sex life is concerned, exists to be sacrificed.
Would it be better if Mr. and Mrs. HORNYO split up? Yes, KEEPITUP, if their marriage creates nothing but misery for both of them and if untangling themselves creates more good for both than harm. But if, on the other hand, they're good partners and good parents and otherwise content with each other, KEEPITUP, it might make more sense for Mr. HORNYO to do what he must in order to stay married to Mrs. HORNYO without blowing his brains out. And how would you feel about Mr. HORNYO leaving Mrs. HORNYO over sex if it turned out that, say, Mrs. HONRYO had a chronic medical condition that drained her of all sexual desire and that she was entirely reliant on Mr. HORNYO for health insurance and an income?
It's easy to say that people should never cheat and that husbands should always be honest with their wives and vice-versa and that infidelity is always wrong and blah blah blah. But long-term relationships develop fissures and cracks over the years and decades; sometimes contingencies have to be made, sometimes allowances have to be made, and sometimes we have to adjust our expectations when circumstances change. And we have to recognize that some problems can't be solved and that some solutions—particularly divorce—create more problems, and bigger problems, than the simpleminded and idealistic and honesty fetishists seem to realize.