Political Flavors

It’s The Heartbreak

Posted in Editorials on March 9th, 2011

I quite enjoyed Benjamin Dueholm’s article about Dan Savage’s sexual ethics. Amanda at Pandagon did a good job of explaining why his argument about the free market fell flat, but the thing that bothered me the most was his questioning that

[F]or Savage, no matter how we direct its expression, our sexual self is our truest self.

I think that if Dan Savage was saying that, and I’m not completely sure that he is, the reason that he advises people to get out of relationships where their sexual needs are not met is to avoid future heartbreak. Savage knows that if a person has strong sexual desires that are unmet they will suffer silently and alone, or they will cheat and possibly destroy the relationship. This is why he encourages honesty and for people to seek out a compatible partner – because people shouldn’t force themselves to stay with an incompatible partner who makes them miserable, and breaking up is difficult enough without the feelings of inadequacy and humiliation that may accompany being cheated on.

This Aspiring Honest Nonmonogamous Dude (AHND) takes greater pains than most of Savage’s correspondents to praise his girlfriend, not only in general but specifically with regard to their sex life. They have already spent several happy years together. He is anxious about his surplus of desire, but apparently nothing else. Yet that consideration trumps all others in Savage’s answer. Sexual compatibility—in terms of libido or in terms of tolerating nonexclusivity—is the coin of the realm. Love, emotional compatibility, the possibility of a life together, not to mention irrecoverable years already spent—these must all be staked against the value of a fully deployed libido. But what, exactly, is the upshot of “calmly winding down” a relationship with a high risk of infidelity? Potential romantic partners, unlike firms in the classical free-market model, are not infinite in number, and a life of comparison shopping is not free of cost. If the aspiring HND dissolves this years-long transaction in order to find a partner who is just as lovable but less jealous, or who shares his libido at every point, he will likely have a lonely road ahead of him.

Dueholm seems to be ignoring the destruction that would be caused if HND cheated after he had married his girlfriend or had children with her. For some reason he is discounting how much potential unhappiness that would cause in the future when compared with a relatively uncomplicated breakup today. As a minister who counsels people about their relationships I fail to understand why he would think that way. And for someone who is so fond of economic terms, he has a hard time understanding the idea of a sunk cost.

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