"Compersion for Beginners"
The heart of polyamory (pun intended) is, for me, compersion: taking joy in your lover's other loves. Couple-love is wonderful by itself, but when the energy gets flowing freely among three (or more), things become transcendent in a way most people never imagine.
But the word itself? A lot of people hate it. They say it sounds clinical or stuffy or made up. The latter is certainly true; the word was invented during the 1970s in the legendary Kerista commune in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, with the aid, according to those who were there, of a Ouija board.
Me, I like the word (just don't get me going on woo-woo Ouija-board nonsense). To me it sounds like a blend of "compassion" and "person" (appropriate!) and carries a ring of weight and awe (also appropriate).
Some years ago a group of people in England were sitting around saying how much they disliked the word, and as a joke they made up a nonsense word to take its place: frubble. They didn't mean it seriously, according to one of the group who's currently around on the lists. (Hey, if you're reading this, wanna comment?) But apparently there was a real demand for an alternative word because "frubble" caught on and is now widely used in the poly lexicon. It is synonymous with compersion except that it has less serious, more cuddly-bubbly overtones. For instance.
Compersion is often called the opposite of jealousy. "Jealousy" is supposedly the only emotion-word in the dictionary without an opposite, at least when it's used in the context of romantic love. This says two things right off: that a new word was indeed needed, and that an innate aspect of human nature has been widely overlooked.
All this is introduction to a recent article in Tango magazine for people who've never encountered the concept:
Compersion for Beginners
By Koko Taylor [undated]
Amidst a crowded dance floor, a slender blonde woman leaned over to whisper in my ear. "You're a very attractive couple," she purred. I smiled at her — an ego boost is always nice — and continued dancing with my boyfriend. The man with her gave me a high-five and kept flashing smiles my way. Was he trying to hit on me? It could not have been any more clear: I was there with my boyfriend.
For the next half hour every time I looked up, I felt one of them trying to make eye contact with me. When we left the bar my boyfriend asked if I'd noticed the couple. "I think they were trying to hit on me," he said.
"No, they were hitting on me," I replied. Then it dawned on us: they were hitting on us as a couple. That's funny, we both thought. And then he looked at me and said, "I don't want to share you with anyone."
"Neither do I," I replied. Exclusivity with one partner is where I'm comfortable in a romantic relationship.
The model for romance in our culture is so dominated by the monogamous male-female relationship that most people subscribe to it without stopping to consider the alternatives. But not everyone is uncomfortable with sharing his or her partner.
People in open relationships often feel joy or pleasure when their partner has romantic adventures with other people. This feeling is sometimes called compersion....
When Shara Smith started dating Brian Downes, he was already in a relationship with someone else and he wanted to be careful about respecting Stephanie, his first partner. "He wanted to take all the right steps, and that made me more attracted to him," said Shara, who describes compersion as a "positive emotional reaction to a lover's other relationship."
"I love to watch his face light up when she calls because I know how much he cares about her." Shara doesn't view other partners as competition. "Every relationship is unique and nobody can replace me, because they are not me."...
"It's like a parent watching their children spread their wings and fly," says Anita Wagner, of the joy she feels when someone makes her partner happy....
Birgitte Phillipides, president of Polyamorous NYC, feels "glorious and wonderful" seeing someone fulfill the desires of her partner. Recently the spouse of one of Birgitte's partners told Birgitte she loved her in a platonic way. "It doesn't get much better than that in this relationship style," she says.
..."It does require a fair amount of emotional intelligence and maturity," says Anita. Her path from monogamy to experiencing compersion in open relationships took some "emotional stretching."
All three women stated directly or indirectly that you can avoid or overcome jealousy and insecurity by making sure that everyone's needs are met and that all partners are equally happy. Achieving that balance seems essential for people in open relationships to experience compersion....
Read the whole article.
P.S.: American Buddhists have pointed out that the traditional Buddhist term mudita encompasses the concept of compersion, though much else as well.