Savage’s straight-talk approach has an intuitive appeal: our culture places a huge premium on honesty, or at least on confessional, therapeutic, Oprah-fied admissions. We are told to say what is on our minds, so why not extend that principle to sex? Why not tell your spouse everything you want, even if that includes wanting another person? 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.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. I don’t mind if my wife tells me another man is hot, but it took me a long time to accept her criticism of my writing. We all have many sensitive spots, but one of the most universal is the fear of not being everything to your partner — the fear, in other words, that she might find somebody worthier. It is the fear of being alone.
I’m skeptical of making an absolute out of any generally good principles, honesty included. People who proudly describe themselves as “brutally honest” only make me think that they’ve found a way to be supercilious about being a self-centered, inconsiderate blowhard. So I have no problem with the idea that each of my loved ones has some sort of sensitivity that requires certain things to go unsaid. Kindness sometimes trumps honesty. And not only that, but not every fleeting thought or impulse is worth voicing, let alone acting upon. It’s great that we have the privilege to customize our comfortable lives to such exacting specifications, but you’re not really being deprived if you can’t have absolutely everything you think you want.