Wikipedia defines compersion as: an empathetic state of happiness and joy experienced when another individual experiences happiness and joy. It is sometimes identified with parents' pride in their children's accomplishments or one's own excitement for friends' and others' successes. It is commonly used (in the polyamorous community) to describe when a person experiences positive feelings when a lover is enjoying another relationship.
I have experienced this emotion. It is powerful. I was on the way to a swing club (Internet café by day; swing club by night!) with my lover early on in my poly life. He was married and I had met his wife and had even been involved in a foursome with my lover, his wife and her boyfriend, so it wasn’t as though I’d never seen him having sex with someone else. But for some reason – who knows why – I categorized that as “different” from what was likely to happen that evening. This was the first swing event we were attending as a couple and I was nervous. I had no idea how I would react to seeing him with another woman.
I needn’t have worried, though. I have a clear memory of him on his knees, hands on the hips of a curvy brunette in a red corset and dangerous red spike heels, his mouth open, head thrown back as he pushed into her. I felt – what, what did I feel? I felt happy that he was so obviously enjoying her. I felt proud that the man that I had walked in with was making this woman writhe in pleasure. I felt like an accomplice when he caught my eye and gave me a smile and a wink as she moaned louder into the mattress. Compersion. There it was. Bang! No jealousy. Yay me.
Fast forward 18 months. I am deeply in love with and planning a life with my current primary lover, his children and mine. I jokingly call us the “Poly Brady Bunch.” I wrote about him previously in terms of wanting to tackle early on as many of the things as possible that can derail relationships. We’ve done that and we’ve found that on all of the really important things, we are in agreement or at least on the same page. He thinks Hellmann’s is better on a turkey sandwich than Miracle Whip but I blame that on his improper upbringing and in any case, that’s not enough to rattle a strongly rooted relationship.
My lover is new to poly. The idea resonates with him in the same ways it does with me and newly divorced, he is exploring his freedom with carefully selected women. He is in demand. Having extricated himself from a marriage where his wife rejected him, I delight in watching him experiencing the pleasure of being desired by multiple women. He is completely honest with them about his non-monogamy and that he is already involved with another woman (ME!) who he considers to be his primary relationship. He chooses carefully from among the scads who choose him. He talks to them for a while before he meets them in person. He doesn’t have sex on the first date. They really like him. He really likes them. The connection is there. The sex, when it comes, is good. He has a slight swagger. He practices good time management and over-communication. Perfect, right? I mean, this is straight out of the theoretical list of “Tips for Poly Success.” And yet…
And yet, two of the three women he’s met recently are no longer on his dance card.
In one case, she was perfectly accepting of the sharing that comes with being poly, but after spending time with him, she decided that she would rather be a primary than a secondary. Disappointing but yay for her that she 1) figured that out early on in their relationship; 2) that she told him about her feelings and 3) that she had the inner strength to say that she would not settle for less than what she wanted. I was sad for him when he told me about this because I knew he really liked her. Much more flippantly, I was disappointed because as a petite blond, I thought she and I (a statuesque brunette) would make the beginning of a great harem with him as the sultan for Halloween. In all seriousness though, he had invested time and emotional energy and I knew that although he respected her for her decisiveness, it was still a bit of a drag.
In another case, although he explained clearly at the start about his desire to explore poly relationships and that he was involved with other women, it didn’t last. Whether she was kidding herself from the beginning or whether her feelings changed during the short time they were together remains a mystery. She wanted a monogamous relationship with him. She was clear in expressing herself on that. He was equally clear in his reply that he was not prepared to enter into a monogamous relationship with anyone at this point in his life. It was a point of contention. Her feelings were strong. So were his. Unfortunately though, not in the same direction. He told me he was going to have to say goodbye to her.
Again, I was saddened. They had spent some significant time together. They shared a passion, experience, and interest in a business area that I know almost nothing about. They enjoyed each other. He had invested additional time and emotional energy in a woman who wanted something he wasn’t prepared to give her. My heart ached for him. I felt for her. I worried about him going through this again so soon with another woman.
I confess that I had a difficult time the evening I knew he was going to see her to end it. I had anxiety-filled flashbacks of the many, many times in a previous life when my married lover had told me he was going to “tell his wife he was leaving” only to hear the sheepishness in his voice the next morning when he had to admit he had done no such thing. Haven’t we all felt it at least once? That sick feeling when your stomach drops away and you realize that all of the things you’d hoped for weren’t going to happen. I did have a few moments where I worried that my current lover would choose monogamy, and the woman asking for it, instead of the life that we had been starting and planning. Emotions are unpredictable. It could’ve happened. If it had, I would have found a way to get through the devastation and eventually continued on with my journey. That’s my emotional baggage.
But my insecurities aren’t what this post is about. The overriding emotion I was feeling was sadness that my lover was going through these difficulties. And yet…
And yet another part of me felt, guiltily, almost exultant that his connection to and feelings for me were sufficiently compelling. He wanted his life to include me. I am loved. I am enough.
So what’s a tidy word to encompass that unruly ball of tattered emotional rubber bands?