I clearly remember the moment I was first introduced to swinging. It was in my own home – my parent’s living room in fact – and I was completely unprepared for the scenario that was unfolding before my eyes. I was definitely confused, more than a little intrigued, and altogether too young to really know what was going on … though all that brash teasing made it impossible to ignore that something provocative and titillating was about to happen. Even at … what? Seven years old? Eight? I knew this awkward, giggly encounter was daring, sexy, and altogether more exotic than the cocktail parties I’d watched grownups mingle through before. So I paid attention like a relentless detective, all the while trying to pretend it was all going over my head so that my parents wouldn’t send me from the room.
Like so many, this first encounter of mine was The Swingers episode of All In The Family: I was watching as a clueless Archie and Edith Bunker were being twirled around their living room by the energetic, determined Rempleys. Oh, Edith. That’ll teach you to go answering ads in the backs of magazines you find on the subway.
That’s right – I discovered swinging from watching TV. All In The Family was (yet again) pushing the envelope … this time by introducing a vanilla America to the more complex ice cream flavors that existed right in their backyard.
Nowadays ethical non-monogamy has become less of a unicorn and more of a check-able box option. People are redefining what it means to be in a successful relationship in order to include their wants, needs, and desires. Whether that means setting up predefined boundaries or whether they’re relying on instinct, it still all rolls up to a new way of being committed without necessarily being monogamous.
From the handful of trustworthy websites and podcasts that deal with this particular topic I tend to find myself returning to Life on the Swingset more often than any other.
Started by Cooper Beckett and Dylan Thomas back in 2010, the podcast has constantly and consistently served up real conversations about the delights and drawbacks of navigating through a space that involves everything from ego and libido to time management and emotions – much more than the traditional two-person dynamic. Quickly scan the Swingset episodes and you’ll find shows dealing with soft swap vs. full swap, parenting while non-monogamous, how to support your partner through their breakup, thoughts on body image and identity, and how to travel with a suitcase full of sex toys. Speaking of traveling, the Swingset gang has even taken their audience along with them and done live broadcasts from Desire Resort & Spa. In between all that, they still have time to answer listener’s questions.
When Beckett isn’t podcasting he’s busy spreading the word about the lifestyle in every other way he can as an author, relationship coach, and teacher. His first book, My Life on the Swingset: Adventures in Swinging & Polyamory, was a memoir and “is very much the journey from [my] beginning of swinging,” he tells me. “Unlike a lot of memoirs, which are all processed through reflection, you see a very different writer at the beginning of that book than at the end of that book. So it is showing you literally my point of view early versus my point of view much later, which is dramatically different.”
His second book, A Life Less Monogamous was a novel which actually began as a screenplay and explores swinging through the eyes of Ryan and Jennifer who are at a point in their marriage when they’re asking “Is that all there is?” Beckett is currently working on his next novel: Approaching The Swingularity which appears to take place in a resort that sounds suspiciously like Desire Riviera Maya.
So, this is something that Cooper S. Beckett is SERIOUS about. But why not just live it? What is it about his personality that says “This has got to be more than a lifestyle for me … it’s got to be my creative life too”?
“I think that’s sort of the way I approach everything,” says Beckett. “When I find something cool, there’s nothing I want more than to share it with other people because it’s like, ‘Hey! I didn’t know this thing was a thing. And now you can know it’s a thing, too!’ That’s certainly why I created the podcast … it was because I felt I would have gotten into this lifestyle a lot earlier, had I known it was a thing.
“I want to be the person that I wish had been there for me at the beginning. I’m a voracious reader so, when I started non-monogamy, I read the very few books that are out there on the subject, I watched the extremely few movies that are available, and I felt very let down by the media out there. There are books on swinging, there are books on poly, but the good ones are very few and far between. And you see a lot of ‘Year One’ swinging podcasts. And then you get to the point where life takes back over. The enthusiasm to continue creating this thing on a regular basis … it’s hard to maintain that. There are so many fallen swinger couple podcasts because of that.
“Dylan and I started this show together. We both had a different direction we wanted to go, and we recruited other people that didn’t necessarily have their own vision for what it should be. And because they didn’t have their own vision, or their feeling of ownership in it, they sort of fell away. You know, when life gets too busy, it’s really easy to jettison the things you’re not responsible for.”
That, of course, begs the question – what’s been the secret to this long, successful podcast run that shows no signs of stopping? What’s the magical secret of Swingset’s success?
“The secret is change.” Beckett says. “The only thing that really can be pointed to in my podcasting and writing is that my attitude is constantly shifting. My perspective on non-monogamy is shifting. When Life on the Swingset began, it was about specifically being swingers. I think it was the end of Year One when we started to be more general non-monogamy. And over time, we dealt with the discussions of bisexuality and what it really means, and changing to more fluid aspects of our non-monogamous lifestyles, changing from swinging to poly to something in the middle, wondering whether or not there is even a final destination style. Because there doesn’t need to be.
“Then Ginger showed up sort of randomly, and became so incredibly valuable, so quickly. But as we were growing, specifically, Shira B. Katz was brought on to be a poly perspective because we didn’t have that. And we have brought people in to be certain perspectives, but actually, we’ve sort of been realizing lately, it’s more about ‘Who can add to the conversation?’ And if that person can add to the conversation for five episodes, amazing. If they can add for twenty episodes, that’s fantastic too.”
As much as Beckett loves podcasting, he’s still most comfortable with the designation of “writer” if you ask him to narrow his creative vision down to just one component. I was interested in knowing how the books started happening. And why a memoir first, then a novel?
My Life on the Swingset: Adventures in Swinging & Polyamory, Beckett tells me, started simply when he decided to put all his blog posts into a single document to see how often he used his writing crutches. Doing that resulted in a document of over a hundred thousand words. Like any writer, he thought it would be “foolish not to do something more substantial with a hundred thousand words of content.” So he figured he’d just rearrange them and publish them. Turns out, that’s not so easy.
“The editing process led me to dramatically rethinking a lot of things that I’ve written about,” said Beckett. “I tried to not correct myself. I mean that’s not as an editor, but correcting myself by changing my opinions. I see no way I could have faked that, I couldn’t have sat down and chosen to create that. I think there’s tremendous value in that because I’ve always been of the opinion that people need to see fuckups. There’s value in seeing me do stupid shit that I may not have talked about if I had been writing it from the perspective of ‘wisdom’.”
A Life Less Monogamous followed when Beckett found the beginning of an adaptation of a screenplay he’d been working on, and thought “Well, this is pretty good. I wonder if I just played with this for a little while.” Then came National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo [kicking off annually on Nov 1st]. “I go on vacation in November,” he told me, “so I can never do that. But then I realized, I don’t have to do it in November.”
“Guess what?” I laughingly told him, “No one does. That’s the secret.”
“I don’t know why I hadn’t considered that!” he continued. “It was about to be October. I thought, ‘Okay, well let’s just try writing fifteen hundred words a day’. I had the screenplay, I’d already worked out most of the kinks of the story. So I didn’t have to do a lot of the first draft bullshit that you usually have to do, and it really came together far better than I’d expected. I had a few people who were reading it on a day-to-day basis, so I would send them new chapters as I completed them. So I got a lot of notes as I went, too, which was very valuable, especially writing for the female character in the book because I was never confident that I was capturing a female point of view. But I was assured that barring a few missteps here and there, I was doing a decent job.”
As for his process, he finds it “… exciting and intimidating. I realized that the less path I build, the better off I am. It makes me flightier, but it also makes me really commit to the things I’m enjoying working on, because if I’m not enjoying working on it – especially as a self-published author – there is absolutely no reason to write something you’re not enjoying.”
But writing about swinging, polyamory … we’re not talking about conventional topics. Beckett may have been getting great responses from peers who were living the life, but how did he have the conversation with people who had criticism? Not of the book, but of the subject matter? The naysayers who didn’t want to accept the validity of finding, living, and thriving in an ethically non-monogamous partnership?
Beckett breaks it down for me. “There’s different kinds of criticism, right? There’s criticism that’s actual constructive criticism, you take to heart and decide whether or not it’s valuable, right? Nonconstructive criticism is just that. And you can treat it as worthless, really. Nonconstructive criticism—telling me when you read my novel that non-monogamy is a dead end and worthless, that’s really not helpful. At all. And odds are, I’m not going to be able to change your mind on that. So, while much younger Cooper Beckett, early-on Cooper Beckett would have probably tried to change the mind of the person, I don’t give my time for that, much anymore. Though, that said, I do fight political and religious battles all the time, so I suppose I hunger for that argument, maybe.”
We both laugh at this. He continues, “I recognize that non-monogamy is either a thing you get, or a thing you don’t. And if you don’t, and want to know about it, and want to learn about it from an anthropological standpoint, I’m happy to have endless conversations about it. But if you don’t get it, and just want to bash it, because either it didn’t work for you, or it didn’t work for your friend, or you just cannot understand it, there’s no value in me spending a lot of time there. “
I brought up one of the episodes of Swingset when someone said “Everyone has a story along the lines of ‘Well my friend tried it and it didn’t work’, because everybody that fails, those are the stories you hear. The ones that are successful, those are the people that are in the closet about it.” And of course, since Beckett is probably the one who said it, this is a point he is quick to agree with, comparing people who bash non-monogamy to gripers on Yelp because “people with a grudge want to talk about it,” he says. “A lot of people who are very adamantly anti-non-monogamous are jealous because they can’t live a non-monogamous lifestyle. And if they can’t live it, they don’t want anyone living it!”
I was curious if, as a whole, the people Beckett found practicing ethical non-monogamy, polyamory, and swinging seem to have a higher level of thoughtfulness. To me, it seemed that there would need to be a lot more self-examination in order to first: be able to understand the concept of it all, second: be grounded enough to put it into practice, and then finally: have that inform a certain open-mindedness in every other part of life.
“I think what it is, is … a simple life is easier to live,” Beckett replies. “It’s real easy to live a simple life, and people who are not well educated, and are not open, are living the simple life. And there’s nothing wrong with a simple life. But, if you’re going to look at two lifestyles, monogamy (irrevocable monogamy, ‘the path’ monogamy, where you get married and have kids and grow old and die) is much simpler, period, without question, than non-monogamy. Especially non-monogamy that acknowledges impermanence, and that you’re not likely to stay with the same person for your entire life, even if you have a primary. That’s far more complex, and overwhelming, and scary. You are more likely to take the simpler road. I think it takes an awful lot of introspection to recognize that you simply cannot take that simple road. I’m trying to not sound like I’m denigrating people, here. But simpler people do not examine their life as much. And therefore, as Socrates was quoted as saying … ‘an unexamined life is not worth living’.”
So is ethical non-monogamy the next logical step after monogamy then? Or is it just another option that more people are starting to explore?
“I don’t believe that non-monogamy is somehow enlightened – or more like an evolutionary thing,” says Beckett. “I don’t think it is the next level of relationships. A lot of people who practice non-monogamy do think it is. What I think it is, is that the act of choosing monogamy or non-monogamy, that is the evolutionary leap. You can still be among the next level people and choose to be monogamous, of course, because you’re choosing it; you’re not accepting that it was thrust upon you. You’re not accepting that that is your lot in life.
“Because that’s what so many people do. They don’t know they have options, or they just accept whatever is handed to them. The examination of our lives is what allows us to actually choose our destiny. Choose where we go in life. It’s like something I tell my primary partner that she had some trouble wrapping her mind around at the beginning, because it seems uncaring. But it’s the difference between saying ‘I need my girlfriend‘, and ‘I choose my girlfriend’.”
So what is the difference, then?
“Needing is something that we sort of unconsciously do, and because it’s unconscious, it can become rote. It can become just a thing we do without thinking about it, and things we do without thinking about it are what allow us to become mundane, dead-end, middle-of-our-lives married, and then snap, and go off and start cheating, or buy a Corvette, you know?
“Whereas, if we say that every day we choose to be in this relationship, we choose to do these things we do, there’s so much value there. It is so important to know that my partner is choosing to be with me, because that’s acknowledging the unspoken truth, which is that at any moment, any of us could leave our lives behind. Anyone. At any moment, any of us could be left behind by a partner, by a job. It could all change.
“Because we all have literal choice. So when we say things like ‘we need’, or we just assume that they’ll always be there, that’s when we lose our ability to look at the world with our eyes open. Making that choice daily, and saying ‘I could walk away’ — because I could.
“So could she. So could any of my partners. But saying ‘We’re going to do it. We’re going to be here, even though we could walk away…’ I think that’s amazing. And it’s a tough one for people because no one wants to think about the fact that anyone could walk away at any moment. No one actually wants to have that conscious thought in their head because it’s a scary one. Impermanence is one of the most terrifying things to wrap your mind around, but also can be one of the most comforting because it allows you to see the value in every interaction. And that interaction is valuable whether or not it lasts for the rest of my life, which it’s unlikely to, because very few relationships last to the ‘end‘.”
After all this deep discussion I needed a mood-lightener. I usually end all my interviews with a complete non-sequitur. “Let’s get off topic! The mic is yours, you have the floor. Tell me your favorite place to go. or tell me a joke you heard that was funny recently, or something that might surprise people. Anything that’s like a little bit of yourself that you can leave with our audience.”
CB: So there is a restaurant that I will drive ninety miles—
CB: to go to.
CB: It’s called the SafeHouse. It’s in Milwaukee. And it is a spy restaurant.
KTL: [Laughter] It is not!
CB: Yeah. It has been there since the Sixties, [Laughter from KTL] it doesn’t have a sign outside, the entrance is in an alley, and you have to know a password.
KTL: [Laughter] Great.
CB: And when you walk in, sometimes there’s someone sitting there; other times, there’s just a telephone switch-box and a wall with a bookshelf. And you have to know how to get into the restaurant.
KTL: This is great.
CB: It has been there since the height of the James-Bond-Cold-War-spy genre. So, I think mid-Sixties. They actually just completely refurbed it for the first time in a long time. And I’m looking forward to getting back up there for another visit to the SafeHouse. But it is a place that I went to with a friend of mine, who’d just gotten his driver’s license, and we decided to head north. And he remembered going to this place with his grandparents, but he had no idea what it was called, where it was, [Laughter from KTL] or anything like that. So we wander around Milwaukee, somehow parking within two blocks of it—
CB: –and he recognized the outside, which says “International Exports Ltd.”
KTL: [Laughter] This is great.
CB: So, if you are anywhere near the city of Milwaukee, the SafeHouse is amazing.
KTL: [Laughter] But I don’t know the password.
CB: Well that’s part of the fun.
KTL: [Laughter] They won’t let me in.
CB: Oh, they’ll let you in.
KTL: Oh, they will?
CB: They’ll make you do stuff first—
KTL: Oh, okay. [Laughter] CB: –but they’ll let you in.
KTL: All right. Fair enough. Oh, my god. I mean, it’s a little longer than ninety miles for me, but I may just have to do it. [Laughter from both] CB: I think there are these things that we don’t know about because people don’t talk about them the way they used to talk about roadside attractions. And you’d think with the Internet, it would be easier to know about places like the SafeHouse. But I find that my friends in Milwaukee don’t know about the SafeHouse.
CB: You know, it’s sad. [Laughter] KTL: They’re wasting their nights! They could be having an adventure. [Laughter from CB] Aww. [Laughter] Well, thank you for telling me about the SafeHouse. That was great. Like, that was truly great.
Talking to Cooper Beckett was as fun, informative, and wonderful as you’d expect. While you, dear reader, might not be able to get him on the phone for an hour like I did you can do the next best thing by listening to the Life On The Swingset podcast yourself. Find Life On The Swingset on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, YouTube and if you haven’t already clicked through on the above links, click here to get your own copy of My Life on the Swingset: Adventures in Swinging & Polyamory, then dip into the exploits of Ryan and Jennifer with A Life Less Monogamous.
Think swinging and polyamory may be for you – but you’re not sure? Looking for a little guidance? Contact Cooper Beckett for a free email consultation to see if his Non-Monogamy Relationship Coaching is right for you. It may just be the first step you’ve been wanting to take. Why not learn from someone who’s already been there?
Finally, like all creatives, Beckett and his team wouldn’t be able to continue to serve the public without help from patrons. If you support what he does, contribute to Life on the Swingset‘s Patreon.
* * * *
Want to hear me reading this post aloud – and get my thoughts about doing this piece? Consider becoming a Friction|non|Friction Tier 2 Patron. I’m waiting in breathless anticipation for your click! ♥