Open letter to Dan Savage

You are one of my gurus. Probably, the one who has influenced me most. And I’m a guy with some real gurus.

You are great, give great sex and relationship advice, and write great books (The Kid may well be the best book on parenting I’ve ever read).  Except…. You treat people as if we were in perfect control of themselves, as if we enjoyed perfect, unfettered agency. And that’s just wrong. We think we enjoy agency, but our range of motion is far more constrained than we imagine, our choices far less.

You understand, often, that our desires in some sense govern us – that we don’t get to pick who or what excites us, which fetish gets us hard or wet, what fantasy obsesses us.

But you often lose sight of this basic wisdom when you proclaim, as you often do, DTMFA (“dump the motherfucker already”). Sometimes – often – this is good advice. But equally often, or even more often, you miss the key point: that, without some greater insight, the caller, even if s/he does DTMFA, is doomed – doomed to replicate whatever problem s/he has created with her or his current flame. Why? Because you seem to believe your writers and callers when they profess a deep-seated desire not to be with the lying, manipulative, cheating piece of shit they are just dying to leave. But you don’t hear the subconscious message in these calls, the desperate insistence that, in spite of all of her flaws, she is perfect for me, that even though he’s a lout, he loves me. That whatever negative trait the writer or caller is complaining about is, in fact, the equivalent of a denied fetish object to the writer/caller.

You – hardly alone among us – overestimate the extent to which our conscious minds are in the driver’s seat. Usually, the things driving us crazy about our mates aren’t inconvenient imperfections, marring our otherwise-perfect choices. More often, those things are, in fact, not inconvenient imperfections, but essential, required characteristics. We have to engage with the fact not that our boyfriends are crazy, but that we require crazy boyfriends; that our girlfriends may be depressed, but it’s their depression that allows us to feel o.k.

Whenever I have a particularly acute complaint about my wife, I do well if I ask myself, “Now just why is it, again, that I fell head-the-fuck-over-heels with someone with this trait?”

I love your advice, Dan, but wish that you were a bit more sensitive to the power of the subconscious in our decision-making.

Yours fondly, and with great appreciation,


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