As a Dan Savage admirer with some qualms about his philosophy, I was nearly fully on board with Mark Oppenheimer's take, fully 100% in terms of his clear laying-out of Savage's message and its significance.
Basically, Savage's critique of monogamy is most easily ripped apart in terms of gender. Whether we're attributing it primarily to nature or cultural expectations, women, on average, connect sex with emotion/a relationship more than men do. This means that something that works for some (and I agree with Oppenheimer that, with legal SSM, increasingly fewer) gay male couples (including Savage and his husband) will not work as well for straight or lesbian couples. But there's also the common-enough tendency of the male partners of women to expect fidelity from their girlfriends/wives, while not holding themselves to the same standard. (The male partners of men, meanwhile, however jealous and hypocritical some may be, do not have this gendered script to fall back on.) The two things tie together - men in straight relationships assume that women only cheat if they've formed an emotional connection with someone else, and think that this justifies a level of anger beyond what would be reasonable if it were just about "release" outside the home. So, even if we think it's unfair and social-construction-y that this is how it is, this is kind of how it is in the world as it exists, meaning that Savage's notion (and this I think was somewhere in the article) ends up reading as giving men permission to stray, and not really doing a heck of a lot for women.
But my own main objection to Savage's take on monogamy is not at all gender-specific. Savage may have coined "DTMFA" (Google if curious), but he generally assumes, even when a couple is unmarried and has no kids, that the very fact of having a partner means someone wants to stay with that person. Rather than being skeptical of every 'he's a great guy, but...,' as a good advice columnist should be, he earnestly accepts that nearly everyone in a relationship wants to make it work. When, a hefty percent of the time, someone whose 'relationship issue' is that they want to see other people... wants out. I suspect that many if not most who are happily, monogamously married - men and women, gay, bi, and straight - can think back to a time when they'd made a monogamous but short-of-engagement commitment to some other boyfriend or girlfriend and, somewhere down the line, been alerted to the fact that they didn't want the perfectly nice relationship to go any further precisely by the fact that they were noticing other people left and right. Prior to settling down, the continued interest in other people - specific other people, or just the idea of other people - is how you know an otherwise decent relationship isn't going to work. That's the signal.
So, after using the other-people barometer to determine, from high school on, whether a relationship should go further, it gets awfully confusing if you're supposed to now look at 'exploring other people' as compatible with staying put. See, all you need to do is call the person you'd have otherwise dumped your "primary partner," negotiate some terms, and everyone's happy! Never mind that however much hurt there'd be initially, it's a whole lot better - unequivocally, assuming not a marriage/kids scenario - to be dumped by someone who's desperately curious about other people, and to then go on to find someone else who's not.
For the most part, Savage ignores the banal reality that the desire to 'see other people' is often enough less about sexual curiosity and more about wanting to leave a relationship. To his credit, he sometimes suggests that couples first establish themselves as solid via monogamy, and only once stable bring up the possibility of other people. But when does "stable" announce itself? How would that ever be mutual?
Which is, I think, where Oppenheimer's going here:
My sense is that this kind of radical honesty may work best for couples who already have strong marriages. Where there is love and equality and no history of betrayal, one partner asking if she can have a fling may not be so risky. Her partner either says yes, and it happens, you hope, with only the best consequences; or the partner says no, in which case their relationship endures, maybe with a little disappointment on one side, a little suspicion on the other.Savage's ideal of keeping couples together despite the desires of one or both partners to see other people is actually conservative as well as quite lovely when he's referring to, say, the parents of young children, or ideals for the marriage union. That is, when there's something to preserve. But in run-of-the-mill boyfriend situations, girlfriend situations, the other-people barometer ought to be maintained.
That is the ideal situation. What if the revelation that a partner is thinking about others creates a shift, one that plagues the marriage? Words have consequences, and most couples, knowing that jealousy is real and can beset any of us, opt for a tacit code of reticence. Not just about sex but about all sorts of things: there are couples who can express opinions about each other’s clothing choices or cooking or taste in movies, and there are couples who cannot. [....]
Where a relationship is troubled, and one partner senses, correctly, that aloneness is an imminent threat, then the other partner asking for permission to have a fling is no neutral act. If you are scared of losing your partner, you may say yes to anything she asks, including permission for an affair that will wound you deeply.