You might notice that I didn’t add the normal “received this item for free in exchange for an honest review” disclaimer. That’s because in this case, I did a rare thing: I bought what I’m reviewing. I did that because, knowing what I know of the author (I’ve been listening to his podcast and reading the articles from him and his compatriots for a long while), I knew it was going to be awesome. I was not disappointed.
A little bit about it: Cooper S. Beckett’s My Life on the Swingset is a hilarious and touching book about swing, polyamory, and ethical non-monogamy in general. It’s part memoir, part how-to, and part how-to not when starting or continuing along the path of an open relationship. It’s not linear, but instead is a collection of essays on many different topics in ethical non-monogamy. This book covers a lot of ground on a lot of topics and does it very, very well. Just a sampling of things that are touched on: body image, jealousy, making the decision to be open, society’s unfair judgement of male bisexuality, first date jitters, losing relationships, finding relationships, intimacy, STIs, giving yourself (and your partner) permission to be your authentic selves, experimentation, quiet dates, orgies, condom use, orgasms, common problems, personal comfort, swinging in general, polyamory in general, and on and on and on.
What I loved: Like all informational books, not everything is going to appeal to everyone. He’s been a lot of places, done a lot of things, had triumphs and made mistakes. Even parts that may not be applicable to the reader’s life are touching, funny, entertaining, or all three.
There are already books on this subject, of course. Opening Up and The Ethical Slut are generally the big ones that are recommended by those under the umbrella of ethical non-monogamy. These books, of course, are very, very important, and as wonderful as Mr. Beckett’s writings and rants are, they are not a replacement for those info-packed tomes. However, MLOTSS adds something they don’t. It’s quintessentially human. While the other books give solid information and do talk about real people, they are more like case studies with the proper academic emotional detachment, as they should be. If you could compare Mr. Beckett’s work and others’ works with something more banal, say, a woodworking manual, the already well established books would say something like “Always keep your chisel sharpened, because otherwise it may skip across the wood and cut you.” MLOTSS would say something more to the tune of, “I once didn’t sharpen my chisel because I was sure I knew what I was doing. I cut the fuck out of my hand and ended up with eight stitches and a week of antibiotics. The lesson, folks, is sharpen your damn chisel.” The other books are like learning history by looking at maps, while My Life on the Swingset is more like notes from the trenches.
There is a lot about this book that I loved. Geek references sprinkled in like seasoning of course always entertains me. Anyone that quotes Doctor Who is going to have my attention for at least a moment. It made me feel like I was not being talked to by this voice of some alpha-swinger with a body that was far better than mine, reaching levels that I could never hope to touch, but instead like a real person who just happened to have experienced things I had not and had a larger knowledge base than me.
But the best part about My Life on the Swingset is what it says about fucking up. Other works seem to be missing what to do if you are afraid to screw things up, or what you do if you do screw up. Other books are more about just avoiding the fuckups, which, in my experience, leaves a huge hole. I’ve known a lot of people, and a lot of people that practice non-monogamy (it’s far more common than you might think). Here is something I’ve noticed happens a lot: Tom and Susan decide they want an open relationship via swing, poly, what have you. Someone screws up and/or gets their feelings hurt, so Tom and Susan get confused. The books never say what happens when a problem arises. They talk about communication, of course, but that’s often not specific enough advice. The problem is often one they never even discussed, never saw coming. Or, it’s something they thought they would be ok with but in practice were not. They followed the books’ advice, but had a setback. Since they weren’t perfect, they quit, the end. Ethical non-monogamy should be easy, and if it’s not, then they aren’t meant for it. Right?
Wrong. What Cooper includes in detail that other books just barely touch on is that people are human, and they do screw up. What really won my heart in this book more than anything else is the chapter The Safe Zone: Giving Yourself Permission to Screw Up.
My Safe Zone idea is about giving yourself permission to make those mistakes and fuck up, because it’s those potential mistakes, those things that could backfire so greatly, that wind up being the absolute best things about the lifestyle.
He acknowledges that a person might fuck up, their partner might fuck up, and that it’s part of this lifestyle. And that, I think, is the best part of My Life on the Swingset. He gives the reader permission to fuck up, to know they will, to know that their partner will, and not be the end of the world. He goes on to talk about some of his own fuckups. And that’s one of the endearing things about him. He’s not pretending to be some sort of perfect non-mon god that has always done it perfectly. He’ll tell you what he did, and what he learned from it.
And of course, mixed in with all his personal stories, anecdotes, and shenanigans are the real nitty-gritty how-to stuff. All the things that people practicing non-monogamy really need to know. Compersion, jealousy, practicing with condoms, erection problems, body image, finding people, communication, the importance of not taking one for the team or being pressured.
What I didn’t: The only thing that caught my attention was mentions of time. Occasionally there was a “yesterday” or “last week” that I personally find a little jarring since there’s really no date to speak of. But that’s probably more of a me thing than a readership at large thing.
Final thought: Worth it. If you are thinking of looking at ethical non-monogamy, this book is a must to buy alongside other books on swing/poly. If you are not interested in different relationship styles or are completely monogamous, I would say this is still worth a read because it’s just so entertaining. You can grab a copy at Cooper S. Beckett’s site.