Cooper S. Beckett’s characters in his new novel, ‘A Life Less Monogamous,’ begin their story with a predicament that is familiar to many folks in long-term relationships, perhaps especially those from the last several decades as relationships have been more likely to be established for love and less for practical concerns. Call this predicament what you want, be it angst, ennui, or Weltschmerz, or just plain old family homeostasis; the label is far less important than the experienced feelings and the actions in which these feelings often result.
Sometimes you feel the same for so long, you think that is just the way that life feels. A yearning can feel visceral, almost physical. […] Jennifer initially mistook the yearning as hunger […] (for food). (pages 52-53)
Beckett’s female protagonist, Jennifer, is describing a yearning widespread among many people, particularly those that are female-identified. Deemed “emotional hunger” by some, this feeling of emptiness, this appetite for something unknown, has been the inspiration behind many bestselling books from the past several years, including Carolyn Knapp’s Appetites: Why Women Want and Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl. Ultimately, this is a desire for fulfilment of the soul – and that fulfillment looks different for every one of us.
Granted, this book is by Cooper S. Beckett, co-host of the podcast Life on the Swingset, so the main characters, Jennifer and Ryan, aren’t exactly waxing philosophical. Though they have their moments of metaphysical insight, what they’re really on about is finding an answer to their mutual unhappiness with life in general and their marriage specifically.
I’m tired of just existing,” Jennifer had said. “Aren’t you?” “I think we do more than just exist.” “Yeah? What?” She’d cried. “No hobbies, no vacations, no sex, what are we even saving for?” “A house.” “For what, Ryan?” She’d grabbed his chin and turned it toward her face at that moment. “So we can have more room to hide from the world outside and do nothing?” (page 50)
Jennifer’s passionate exclamation to her husband, “But I can’t just exist anymore. I need something in my life. Things! People! Pleasure! You!” (page 51), is one so familiar to many, perhaps it’s even a universal desire. How the couple decide to fulfill this desire is not so universal: they open their relationship and enter into the world of swinging.
Ryan and Jennifer have no game plan for this change in their relationship, yet they do not hesitate to simply dive blindly into the deep end of the swinging pool. It’s when describing this lack of caution, the resulting events, and their related emotions, that Beckett is at his narrative best.
‘A Life Less Monogamous’ is ultimately a humorous and touching guide on how not to open one’s relationship. While it asks “How do we stop feeling lost all the time. How do we stop feeling ill equipped for life itself?” (page 38), the answer the characters choose might not suit everyone — but there’s no way of knowing for certain without trying!