The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family

( 19 )


Dan Savage’s mother wants him to get married. His boyfriend, Terry, says “no thanks” because he doesn’t want to act like a straight person. Their six-year-old son DJ says his two dads aren’t “allowed” to get married, but that he’d like to come to the reception and eat cake. Throw into the mix Dan’s straight siblings, whose varied choices form a microcosm of how Americans are approaching marriage these days, and you get a rollicking family memoir that will have everyone—gay or straight, right or left, single or ...

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The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family

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Dan Savage’s mother wants him to get married. His boyfriend, Terry, says “no thanks” because he doesn’t want to act like a straight person. Their six-year-old son DJ says his two dads aren’t “allowed” to get married, but that he’d like to come to the reception and eat cake. Throw into the mix Dan’s straight siblings, whose varied choices form a microcosm of how Americans are approaching marriage these days, and you get a rollicking family memoir that will have everyone—gay or straight, right or left, single or married—howling with laughter and rethinking their notions of marriage and all it entails.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Hilarious, heartfelt.” —Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“As funny as David Sedaris’s essay collections, but bawdier and more thought-provoking.” —Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

“Most of all, a book about creating and appreciating family.” —Seattle Times

“I think America would be a better place if everyone on every side of the gay marriage debate would read this book.” —Ira Glass, host of the public radio show This American Life

“The strongest argument here, which [Savage] brilliantly plays down, is that family means everything to these people: married, not married, blended, gay, straight, whatever.” —The Washington Post

Publishers Weekly
The author of the internationally syndicated column "Savage Love" brings much-needed humor, and a reality check, to the bitter gay-marriage debate with this polemical memoir. As Savage (Skipping Towards Gomorrah) and his boyfriend, Terry, neared their 10th anniversary, Savage's mother put on the pressure for them to get married. But, Savage notes, there were several other points to consider before deciding to tie the knot: among them, the fact that marriage doesn't provide legal protection in Washington State; Terry prefers tattoos as a sign of commitment; and their six-year-old son declared that only men and women can get married. Furthermore, Savage himself worried that the relationship would be jinxed by anything more permanent than a big anniversary bash, though the one they plan quickly assumes the proportions and price of a wedding reception. While documenting the couple's wobble toward a decision, Savage skewers ideologues, both pro- and anti-gay marriage, with his radical pragmatism. Disproving Tolstoy's dictum that "happy families are all alike," he takes a sharp-eyed, compassionate look at matrimony as it is actually practiced by friends, his raucously affectionate family and even medieval Christians. When he explains to his son what marriage is really about, you want to stand up and cheer, and the surprise ending is both hilarious and a tear-jerker. As funny as David Sedaris's essay collections, but bawdier and more thought-provoking, this timely book shows that being pro-family doesn't have to mean being anti-gay. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Are Savage and his partner commitment-phobic? Or is contemporary America driving them to premixed margaritas and matching tattoos instead of the altar? An advice columnist ("Savage Love"), newspaper editor, and VH1 commentator, Savage grapples with the meaning of marriage, particularly gay marriage, and delivers a book that is part essay, part family memoir to explore the larger cultural issues as well as his own feelings: "It's hard not to see my grandparents' bride and groom figurines as a metaphor not only for their marriage-fragile something lasting, but with a little touch of fascism about it-but for the whole idea of marriage circa 1939. Back then you got married, and you stayed married." There's plenty of humor here as well, but don't expect David Sedaris or even the bite of Savage's sexual advice columns. Though he may sacrifice some artfulness for earnestness and is at times a little heavy with the cute comments from his precocious six-year-old, Savage is fearless at taking on the politics of gay marriage and is also brave enough, as readers will discover, to commit himself eventually to a significant decision with his significant other.-Laurie Sullivan, MLS, Nashville Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Seattle sex-columnist Savage (The Kid, 1999, etc.) has found the man of his dreams and adopted a baby. According to his mother, he's finally ready to get married. Savage is a surprising combination of bad boy and good son. His public persona-blunt, often rude and always political-has made him a lightning rod in the gay community, and Savage's long-time fans will recognize his signature mix of wit and annoyance. Adapting the format that serves him so well as a columnist, Savage constructs his memoir out of short, loosely related chapters about the avalanche of details that magically appear once his mother begins her campaign for a wedding. To his irritation, he and his boyfriend are inevitably pulled into the matrimony business. Savage is especially amusing when recounting the pre-wedding horrors: a visit to a wedding expo (hypnotizing and repulsive); attempts to book a reception hall at a Chinese restaurant during Chinese New Year (an accident of planning for which he and his boyfriend blame one another); arguments about wedding cakes (they get two at $500 a pop); and half-heartedly planned escape routes (does getting matching tattoos count as a gay commitment?). The book takes on cherished ideas about gay marriage, marriage in general, heterosexuality and the ideal of monogamy. Savage is a master of gleeful ill-will, but even so, some of his screeds are unnecessary-the stories of his forays into the wedding complex illustrate his arguments just as well. The author has a keen eye for the ironies of modern couplehood, and he doesn't mind airing his own dirty laundry if it will get him a laugh and some political capital, but the real stars of this book are the extended Savage family, andhis boyfriend. They are clearly the reason Savage is such a well-adjusted malcontent. Energetically ambivalent memoir of a gay wedding as a family milestone. Despite his arguments to the contrary, Savage takes a resigned pleasure making an honest family man of himself.
Library Journal
The popular advice columnist and founder of the It Gets Better Project ( describes his relationships with his now husband and their son while wittily analyzing the histories of the marriages in the Savage family. This collection considers the meaning of marriage in his life and the pros and cons of wedding his partner. (LJ 10/1/05)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452287631
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/26/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 415,064
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Dan Savage

Dan Savage's column, "Savage Love," is a nationally syndicated sex-advice column read by more than four million people each week. He has written the column for eight years, and it runs in twenty-six newspapers in the United States and Canada. He also writes "Dear Dan," an online advice column for Savage is the associate editor of The Stranger in Seattle and a regular contributor to This American Life on NPR and is the author of Savage Love (Plume), a collection of his advice columns. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

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Read an Excerpt

Ever since we became parents and Terry quit his job, we've joked about being "husband" and "wife."

While the roles we play in our family have traditional outlines, we don't feel oppressed by them. It helps that these are roles we play willingly, not roles we're obligated or  expected to play because of our gender. Since he isn't actually a woman, Terry doesn't spend a lot of time wondering if being the stay-at-home "mom" is something he freely chose, or if he finally succumbed to cultural pressures beyond his control. And while my "daddy" role is more traditionally male, I'm not a traditional male, and I was never expected to play this role. We borrowed these roles from straight people first because they work—I don't know how single parents or couples who both work outside the home do it—but mostly because they work for us. We never neglect to put quotation marks around them, however, and we never stop mocking them, or ourselves for playing them, no matter how closely we hew to them.

We're not the only borrowers.

Think about the way many straight people live today. After college, straight men and women move to the big city. Their first orders of business are landing good jobs and finding cool apartments. Then the hunt for sex begins. Most young straights aren't interested in anything serious, so they avoid dating and look for "friends with benefits," or they just "hook up," AKA engage in no-strings-attached sex with anonymous or nearly anonymous partners. Some want to have relationships, but find it harder to make a commitment, so they engage in what's known as "serial monogamy," i.e., they have a series of sexually exclusive, short-term relationships. When they're not having sex, they're going to gyms, drinking, and dancing. And since they don't have kids, these young, hip, urban straight people have a lot of disposable income to spend on art, travel, clothes, restaurants, booze, and other recreational drugs.

And do you know what all of that hooking up, drinking, and partying used to be called? "The Gay Lifestyle." Substitute "trick" for "hook-up," and "fuck buddies" for "friends with benefits," and "unstable relationships" for "serial monogamy," and straight people all over the United States are living the Gay Lifestyle, circa 1978. The only difference is that social conservatives don't condemn straights as hedonists or attempt to legislate the straight version of the Gay Lifestyle.

What prompted so many young straights to run off and live like homos? I have a theory: A lot of the early opposition to the Gay Lifestyle was motivated by envy. Straight people resented gay people for giving themselves permission to do what a lot of straight people wanted to do but couldn't—have fun while you're young, sleep around while you're hot, and live someplace more interesting than the suburbs. When the first post-Stonewall generation of young straights came to adulthood, they decided they wanted to get in on the action. They could put off having kids and live a little before they settled down. They could be gay, too.

At the same time that young straights were coveting the Gay Lifestyle, a growing number of gays were coveting the Straight Lifestyle. While tricks and fuck buddies are fun, even hedonism can lose its appeal after a while—particularly after the AIDS crisis drove home the fact that hedonism can have consequences here on Earth, not just in some imagined afterlife. As individual gays and lesbians matured along with the gay and lesbian civil rights movement, many of us began to realize that we wanted more out of life than tea dances and club nights for fist-fuckers. Some of us wanted a commitment, a home, maybe some kids. We wanted the Straight Lifestyle.

You would think that after spending three decades arguing that the Gay Lifestyle was a threat to the traditional family because it was so appealingly hedonistic—yes, appealingly: The fear was that straights would be tempted to live like gays, a fear that was not entirely irrational, as it turned out—social conservatives would be delighted when huge numbers of gays and lesbians decided to embrace the Straight Lifestyle and marry. What a victory for traditional family values! So attractive was commitment, so appealing was the prospect of family life, that even gay men and lesbians were embracing them! But unlike all the good-looking straight guys out there who've come to see being lusted after by gay men as a compliment (hello there, Ashton Kutcher), social conservatives refuse to take the compliment. Gay people who want to settle down and live like straights are not an affirmation of the Straight Lifestyle, they insist, just another attack on it.

You would think conservatives would declare victory and take the freakin' compliment. But no. Instead, social conservatives moved the goal posts. From Anita Bryant through early Jerry Falwell, gay people were a threat because we didn't live like straight people. Now we've got Rick Santorum and late Jerry Falwell running around arguing that gay people are a threat because some of us do live like straight people. It's not on the hedonism charge that the religious right has attempted to move the goal posts. Anti-gay leaders used to argue that homosexuality was so disgusting a perversion that not even animals engaged in it. When researchers admitted that many other animals engage in homosexual sex acts and, in some instances, form lasting homosexual bonds, anti-gay leaders declared that gay sex was a disgusting perversion because animals engaged in it. I suspect that Kathleen Parker, the conservative commentator who accuses gay parents of being "selfish," would condemn me for being a selfish, self-indulgent gay man if I were childless and spending $1,000 a month on, say, male prostitutes in leather hot pants and not on D.J.'s school tuition.

The religious right still levels the hedonism charge when it suits them. Robert H. Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, a conservative Christian group, attempted to pin the blame for skyrocketing housing costs on gays and lesbians in an interview with a Christian news service. "The homosexual lifestyle is about pleasing oneself," Knight said, "not planning for the future, not setting aside money for the kids, not creating a situation where the generations come together. It's about having fun. It's about indulging in whatever desire you want at any given time." With no kids or generations to worry about, we have more money to spend on housing, and drive up home prices.

And all those straight people living the Gay Lifestyle in cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, Seattle, and Portland—basically any city with a population over 250,000? Social conservatives don't have much to say about their hedonism. They want to prevent gay people from acting like straight people (by banning same-sex marriage, gay adoptions, civil unions, and domestic partnerships), but there's no concurrent effort to ban straight people from acting like gay people. This hardly seems fair. If we can't get married, at the very least, all the straight people who've moved into gay neighborhoods should have to go back to the 'burbs, where they should be forced to marry young and make babies. Oh, and let's not forget about sex. When a straight girl fucks her boyfriend in the ass with a strap-on dildo, a gay angel gets his wings—but I don't think straight people should get to enjoy sex acts pioneered and popularized by gays if we can't get married. Fair's fair, breeders. Back to missionary-position sex for you.

If gays living like straights and straights living like gays proves anything, it's that there really is no such thing as "The Gay Lifestyle"—or "The Straight Lifestyle," for that matter. My life proves there's nothing inherently "straight" about making a commitment or starting a family. The Straight Lifestyle was only "straight" because gay people weren't allowed to form lasting relationships, or to have families, things we weren't allowed to do because for centuries straight people insisted we were incapable of it. And how did straight people know we couldn't form lasting relationships? Because we didn't form them. And why didn't we? Because discrimination, hatred, and bigotry warped our lives. Until very recently it was illegal for us to have relationships at all. You could be jailed for being openly gay, your family could have you committed, you could be lobotomized. And our relationships—all conducted under the threat of imprisonment, some conducted post-lobotomy—because these relationships weren't perfect in every possible way that imperfection used to justify the very persecution that warped our lives in the first place.

My relationship with Terry has always been our own creation, the product of a love some people believe isn't even supposed to exist. With state and church against us, there's a kind of dignity in loving each other anyway. Sometimes when we're introduced as a couple, straight couples will ask how long we've been together. Often they're shocked and delighted to learn that we've been together such a long time. At first, I assumed many were shocked because they believed that gay men weren't good at forming stable relationships. But when I've pried—and I tend to pry—I've found myself listening to straight people explain that it means something different to them when a gay couple hangs in there long enough to get into the double digits. We could walk away from each other at any time, but we don't. That can mean only one thing: We really, truly love each other. Married straight couples don't benefit from the same assumption. They might stay together for love or they might stay together because they take their vows seriously, because they do see themselves as "bound together in holy matrimony." They've tied the knot and the bitch in the house is stuck with the bastard on the couch.

Yes, yes: The quiet dignity of a long-term gay relationship isn't worth the stigma of being treated as second-class citizens. The inability of stable, long-term gay couples to tie the knot is discriminatory and unfair. A straight couple could meet and marry in one drunken evening in Las Vegas (how about a constitutional amendment to stop that?), and their relationship has more legal standing than, say, the 51-year relationship of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, the first same-sex couple to marry in San Francisco. Then there's Julie and Hillary Goodridge, one of the same-sex couples who successfully sued the State of Massachusetts for the right to marry. They'd been together 17 years on their wedding day. If a groom in Las Vegas were to be hit by a car leaving the chapel with his bride, his new wife—not his parents, not his siblings—would have the legal right to direct his medical care and, if necessary, pull the plug. But after 51 years, Phyllis and Del may not be able to make those end-of-life decisions for each other. Distant cousins who might be hostile to the surviving partner could blow into town and make all the medical decisions. While the arrival of gay marriage will correct this injustice, something else will be lost, something intangible, something that used to be uniquely our own.

In bed at night, Terry was reading a mystery novel by a Swedish writer and I was reading about—what else?—marriage.

When a Christian is in trouble, he'll often pick up a Bible and start flipping around. If he finds a passage or a psalm or a parable that speaks to his predicament, he'll take it as a sign from God. Of course, if the Christian picked up some other book—The Origin of Species, for instance, or Dr. Phil's Weight Loss Solution—he might chance upon a passage that might seem equally relevant, but he would never take that as a sign that Darwin was right about evolution or that he should take weight-loss advice from a man who appears to be overweight.

Anyway, I was reading E.J. Graff's excellent book What is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution when Terry amended his previous objection to marriage. "I love you, honey, I really do, but I can't do it," he said. "I don't want to wear matching tuxes and I don't want to listen to your father offer us a toast and I don't want to shove cake in each other's faces. If getting married means making an ass out of myself in front of everyone I know, then tell your mother I'm sorry. I can't do it."

He went back to his book, I went back to mine. I was reading Graff's chapter about the moment the Catholic Church stepped in to regulate marriage in the 13th century. Early Christians rejected marriage, sex, and children, Graff writes, as a way of turning their backs on Roman and Jewish society and, they hoped, destroying the social order and bringing about the second coming of Christ. Then when Christ didn't show, the Roman Empire collapsed, and the church inherited Europe, and with it the responsibility to run the very society it had hoped to destroy.

"It wasn't until 1215 that the church finally decreed marriage a sacrament," Graff writes, "...and according to the church, what turned two individuals into a married couple? It was—drum roll, please—the couple's private vows. Why a drum roll? Because the church insisted that a private promise was an unbreakable sacrament... After a great many theological volleys and debates, theologians decided that a marriage was made and permanently sealed the moment that the pair knowingly and willingly said 'I marry you.' Even if they said their vows in absolute secrecy, with no witnesses."

The emphasis is mine.

I grabbed the Henning Mankell novel out of Terry's hands and handed him Graff's book.

"You have to read this," I said.

Here was a marriage ceremony we could get behind. It had the added benefit of being a more traditional, ancient, and sacred marriage ceremony, a marriage ceremony that predated cake toppers and florists and obviated the need for seating charts. If marriage was a promise two people made to each other, and if you didn't have to make it in front of anyone else, then here was a marriage ceremony infused with quiet dignity. All we had to do to turn our anniversary party into our wedding reception was mutter "I marry you" to each other before we walked in the door.

We wouldn't even have to tell anyone we did it.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 19 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2005

    Against gay marriage? Read this book

    I loved how Savage was able to put a face on gay marriage by showing his readers his family. It becomes so much harder to demonize gay people when we see who is the target of this kind of discrimination. And besides the book itself is extremely funny, witty entertaining and insightful.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2006


    Dan Savage's honest account of trying to marry the 'other father' of his child is funny, frustrating and most importantly filled with lots of love and laughter. It goes beyond the bounds of a gay love story and deals simply with two people attempting to justify their union in the face of a government who wants no part of them and a family who, for the most part, accepts them for what they are. That is, a couple in love with a precocious child who is wise beyond his years. After reading this book my partner of 26 years and I decided to 'make it legal' in Canada as well. Thanks, Dan!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2005

    A Great Book

    I read 'The Kid,' and loved it so when I was wondering through a DC bookstore and ran across this one I had to get it. It's a fast, funny, and insightful read. Highly recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2014

    Savage is BIPHOBIC!!!

    Go to Youtube and type in his name. His stance is that Bisexual is a transitional status, that bi men do not exist, and bi women are hiding in straight relationships. He bases his views on dubious studies and myths Bisexuals have been fighting against for years. Not all bisexuals are vicious disease spreading liars who sleep around. There are monogamous and celibate bisexuals too. As for the bi women hiding thing: He has very little understanding of what Bisexuals go through. Bi women are seen as the ultimate prize by men who bug them about swinging and threesomes or they are threatened. Lesbians treat bi women like they are gross and that they need to be converted. In fact, the whole LGBT moniker has been grossly abused. Many so called LGBT groups say they support Bisexuals, but when Bisexuals try to participate in marches or protests they are told the are not welcome unless they identify as gay or lesbian. How dare Savage or anyone else tell Bisexuals who they are or when, where, and to whom to share their truth!!! People like him are a big part of the reason Bisexuals are victims of hate crimes, suffer from anxiety and depression, are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, are likely to be abused by a partner, and are more likely to avoid medical or mental health care. And this just fuels all the right wing, conservatve bigots, some of whom support LG people but who buy into all the misconceptions about Bisexuals and therefore believe they should be erased or deprogrammed. It just makes me sick. If I could I would have marked this 0 stars.

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  • Posted October 11, 2011

    Some funny parts, but mostly a rant about gay rights

    Dan and Terry have been a gay couple for ten years, they have a son together, and they plan to stay together forever, so why wouldn't they want to get married? Terry doesn't want to act like straight people and Dan is rebelling against his mother's oft expressed desires. They compromise on getting matching "Property of" tattoos and begin planning a 10th anniversary party that soon begins to feel suspiciously like a wedding reception. As the two of the struggle through their feelings about the institution of marriage and why or why not they might want to partake a slightly madcap adventure ensues.

    The Commitment is billed as a hilarious romp through the world of gay marriage. Instead it is mostly an angry rant about the restrictions and prejudices faced by homosexuals today. While I agree with all his points it felt a bit like having someone endlessly trying to convince me of something I already agree with. There were funny parts, many provided by their 6 yr old son DJ, but they just didn't balance out all the bitterness for me. I did enjoy the discussions he had with his siblings about their life choices, they all seem like very interesting and thoughtful people.

    I listened to The Commitment on audio, narrated by Paul Michael Garcia. He had a nice way of emphasizing the dry, sarcastic humor that occasionally comes through.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2010

    I LOVED "The Kid" - this book, not so much

    I adore Dan Savage, but if I wanted a sermon i'd go to church. This book is just too damned preachy for me. I LOVED his memoir "the kid" and could not put it down. This book, I put down and can't seem to pick back up. There's a good story woven into all of Dan's preaching and the story seems totally cool. I just can't get to it with all of the tantrums.

    Sorry Dan - I LOVE the podcast. I LOVED the other books. This one - not so much.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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