Too Many Hearts at Stake – A Newly Poly Sex Educator Doubts Himself


Too Many Hearts at Stake - A Newly Poly Sex Educator Doubts HimselfI’ve asked myself this question several times this week. How can I educate? How can I educate when I’ve just experienced a week that made it rather abundantly clear that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing half the time. Can I be allowed to just fall back upon that trope that says those who can’t do teach? Is that really a saying? Or just a Woody Allen joke.

This week hard times were hit in the Beckett household. Storms have been brewing. We’re still very new in the poly arena, and much has not been ironed out as of yet. And growing pains are rather substantial. Far larger than they ever were with swinging. I’ve had this conversation recently with my new girlfriend, the poly girlfriend, about why swinging is “easier.” (I maintain that it is.) I told her that sex is, with all its pageantry and trappings, rather uncomplicated. Navigating the emotional minefield of additional people in your relationship, and the interconnected-ness that springs up all by itself (ie, the connections between the supplementary players and significant others) can yield great rewards indeed, but also can blow up quicker than you would anticipate.

Or maybe quicker than MOST people would anticipate.

I thought I could do it. No problem. Swinging had its troubles, sure. But they were brief, they were fleeting, and the yield was just so tremendous from that crop. As though we paid tribute to some Sun God on Summerisle. So I naturally assumed that I could, without fail, navigate the much murkier waters of polyamory.

This is not a giving up treatise. Far from it.

This week, my relationship with Marilyn was laid bare. Chest torn open. Vivisected. Exposed. All its horrible weaknesses and shortcomings on display to be picked over and examined. And when you’re exposed like that, from either side, the goods, the positives, the awesome that make up the rest of your relationship, really easily rolls off the table and behind a piano somewhere in the recesses and margins. Instead you dwell. And bathe in the horrors. Accusing. Snapping. Wringing hands, gnashing teeth.

NRE is still a bitch to watch. And it loves to set up shop in your brain, handing out free boxes of doubt and jealousy, whispering in one ear those things that you’re trying very hard not to think because you do trust your partner, you DO, but these things it’s saying are just so…plausable.

Shira B. Katz told me very early on in my poly experience that I wouldn’t be able to hold on as tightly as I did in swinging. I’d kept a pretty fair handle on all events and encounters, finding and maintaining the balances, making sure everything was kosher across the board. With poly, she told me, it’s a completely different ballgame. And rules and boundaries simply tend to cause more problems than they prevent. I’ve encountered the most perplexing mystery of poly, the fact that combatting a troublesome feeling, or a difficult moment, needs to be done by LOOSENING the restrictions rather than tightening.

In swinging when an issue was encountered it was quite simple to close the relationship for a week, a month, two…work internally, get that engine running again and climb back onto the swingset.

In poly, though…well there’s too many hearts at stake. You’re suddenly back on the gong show with plates on spindles and you’re twirling them. If you focus on the one, the rest will fall, and that aftershock, which could be big depending on the emotions involved, will likely upset the balance of that one plate you wanted to continue to spin in the first place.

I’m talking in metaphors and riddles, aren’t I? The words of a man who wants to explain himself to you while not sure he should, he can, or even if there are right words in which to do so.

There was certainly plenty of blame to go around after all. And plenty of compromise to be had, and discussed. And a contract to be written. And interactions to be modified and redefined.

For now, though, dear friends, happily the Beckett plate is still spinning. And less wobbly than on Wednesday and Thursday. You’ve all been so good to me, coming to my aid and rescue without knowledge of what is actually happening, and I apologize for not sharing fully, but I feel it’s still premature. After all, aren’t the best lessons the ones you’ve lived through?

Perhaps that’s where I get the balls to call myself an educator. Or worthy of listening to for advice. Trial by fire.

Because there’s fire everywhere, isn’t there?


About Author

About Cooper
Cooper S. Beckett is the co-founder and host of Life on the Swingset: The Podcast since 2010, author of swinging & polyamory novels A Life Less Monogamous and Approaching The Swingularity, and memoir My Life on the Swingset: Adventures in Swinging & Polyamory. He teaches and speaks on swinging, polyamory, pegging, play parties, and coloring outside the boundaries of your sexuality. He is a graphic & web designer, photographer, and voice over artist, has been a guest expert on Dan Savage’s Savage Lovecast, & is the announcer of Tristan Taormino’s radio show Sex Out Loud. He is currently working on two instructional non-fiction books, one about beginning non-monogamy, and another about pegging.


  1. I think you’ve got it right. A lot at stake, a lot of plates spinning, a little vertigo dealing with it now and then. My life partner and I have been doing it for almost 50 years. We are still fondly in touch with lovers from the ’60’s. And there have always been highs and lows. We haven’t found a way to have the highs without the lows, often at the same time.

    And keep in mind, that teaching is the best way to learn something.

  2. I know a lot of people who, when faced with difficult feelings and troubled times, WOULD,simply close off the “primary” relationship, as if the other hearts involved are simply toys to be put away or thrown out when something “more important” needs to be done. I’ve been on the other side of that… The toy that gets thrown out, the unimportant party, the extra. And because of that, I comment yours and Marilyn bravery, love, and compassion, for not simply taking “the easy way out”, and instead genuinely working through these things with everyone in mind. *HUGS* You’re smart, careful, and above all, caring, and I have no doubts you’ll pull through it. Take care and share the love.


  3. Oh Cooper, this is why I love you. Under your lovely confidence, a questioning and compassionate heart.

    Apologies if the flowery language is a bit creepy coming from a random podcast listener, but it was the first thing that came to mind.

    Anyhow, I think you are doing just fine. None of us entirely knows what we are doing. People are messy and poly will always be messy as well. Sometimes things are hard, sometimes bittersweet.

    But really, I think all lives and relationships are complex and messy below the surface. The relationship styles that seem to make for healthy poly life (lots of communication, trust, and compassion, relatively few hard rules but serious respect for true boundaries) are just a glorious way to live our messy truths out in the open, so that we can all support each other in our struggles.

  4. Keely, there is nothing creepy about that comment, in fact it’s rather wonderful.

    Thank you all for your thoughts. I’m still here. And I don’t plan on going anywhere. Regardless of where life takes me, I hope to ever be a fearless leader.

  5. Holy hell do I ever understand what you are going through. So exposed and raw. Then I felt like I had to seriously question what we were doing. And we get up and dust our hearts off, more open and loving than before, to face the next adventure. Much love~ xox A/s

  6. loosening and not tightening up. I totally get that! wow, the growth and evolution in us all is spectacular. cheers to opening up, letting the heart beat, and letting the blood flow. thank you

  7. “I’ve encountered the most perplexing mystery of poly, the fact that combating a troublesome feeling, or a difficult moment, needs to be done by LOOSENING the restrictions rather than tightening.”

    Great lesson. Thanks for sharing. I have been here more than once.

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