Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

April 14, 2021

Polyamory news roundup:
Compersion in the media, pre-judging
FMF throuples, "Good Trouble"
developments, and more

As polyamory becomes more widely known and understood year by year, you might think the need for basic Poly 101 explanations would wane. Not so. As more people get wind of a topic, they create a demand for more explanations of it. Both mainstream and new media are acting very aware of this.

Last month I posted my choice of the three best Poly 101's on the web to send people to. That post took off faster than anything I've put up in a while.

Now here's a specific Compersion 101 just up on YourTango, a big online relationship magazine aimed at young women: What Is Compersion? A Look At The One Thing That Not Only Makes Polyamorous Relationships Work, But Thrive (April 12).

No, it's not "the one thing" that does that. But it is a major thing. A compersive personality is the biggest difference, IMO, between people who struggle with poly and those for whom it comes easily and naturally.

Vershinin89 / Shutterstock
By Koko Taylor

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.... The man with her gave me a high-five and kept flashing smiles my way. It could not have been any more clear....

...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.

What is compersion?

People in open relationships often feel happy or pleasure when their partner has romantic adventures with other people. This feeling is sometimes called compersion.

Compersion is a feeling of joy from others’ pleasure, specifically celebrating your partner(s)’ other relationships in a polyamorous structure. In this sense, compersion is often defined as the opposite of jealousy. The Kerista Commune, a now-defunct San Francisco-based polyamorous community, is credited with coining the term about 40 years ago.

Compersion doesn't just apply to sexual relationships, however.

According to Urban Dictionary, compersion "differs from candaulism in that compersion does not specifically refer to joy regarding the sexual activity of one's partner, but refers instead to joy at the relationship with another romantic and/or sexual partner.

...Since compersion is feeling happiness from your partner enjoying other people, the opposite would be, well... jealousy. The opposite of compersion means becoming upset, jealous or sad that your significant other is with another person, romantically or sexually.

...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 described 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," added Anita Wagner, describing the joy she feels when someone makes her partner happy.


...It [can] take work to feel compersive for your partner. According to psychotherapist Paula Kirsch, to cultivate compersion, "Give yourself a break and recognize fear as neither good nor bad; it is normal. Love is not scarce: adopt an abundance mindset."

The piece goes on to describe some "components necessary to experience compersion in a non-monogamous relationship":

1. Empathy...
2. Intellect...
3. Support...

As Kirsch suggests, "Focus on your personal growth. Learn something new, expand your circle of friends. Process feelings with your partner." 

With the article they posted a companion video, a 2019 Tedx Talk by Joli Hamilton:

Turns out the article is reprinted from 2008; YourTango is clearly casting around for good poly material to publish. Writers take note. From its "Write For Us" page: "Send pitches to our Editor-at-Large Andrea Zimmerman and include the word 'Pitch' in your subject line." The page don't indicate what they pay, but discuss payment after an editor shows interest in your pitch.



●  Speaking of compersion, this powerful story is just up on Medium: What Becoming a Throuple Taught Us About Our Capacity to Love (April 13). 

...The three of us would go on to talk the rest of that night. While Erin didn’t come home with us that evening, she would spend her first night with us less than a week later.

The sex was so much more than that of a traditional FMF threesome. It was love making to the third power, awakening my bisexual side in more wonderful ways than I thought possible. ...

...Our time with Erin taught us more than we could’ve imagined about life and love.

●  And for those who will pre-judge any FMF triad (like that one) without knowing their actual dynamics, feminist writer Abby Moss on HuffPost UK tells you to get over your pre-judice:

We’re not two women being strung along by a man. We’re not a couple using another woman like a human sex toy. We are simply three people in a relationship.

By Abby Moss

...There’s one question that’s more problematic. “How can you be a feminist in that relationship?”

...They imagine him swaggering down the road with a woman under each arm. They imagine a non-stop orgy (one that’s flatteringly lit and airbrushed like mainstream porn). They assume the dynamic was his idea. They assume Andrea and I aren’t really into each other, that we’re both just doing it for his male approval – or that Andrea is trying to ‘steal’ him from me.

...Take the common misconception that Andrea wants to ‘steal’ Paul away from me. This assumes that a relationship (and most especially a monogamous two-person relationship) is the ultimate social success. ...
But not all women want [that].

Or take the assumption that Paul is somehow getting more out of our dynamic. This inherently positions Paul’s male experience as somehow more valid, and worth more, than a woman’s experience. It also plays into the scientifically disproven idea that men want sex more than women, as well as the disturbingly too common belief that bisexuality is not real.

These assumptions harm all of us because they reaffirm misogynistic biases that put male experiences, and male preferences, first. It also suggests, quite offensively, that women like me and Andrea are essentially doormats incapable of making active choices about our relationships and our lives.

...The most worrying part is that my friend is someone who already gets this stuff.... And that’s how powerful these prejudices are. They get into our heads even when we think we’ve overcome them.

For a dissection of common disfunctions that do occur in FMF groups, see this piece also by Abby Moss on the same site: Why Being The 'Unicorn' In A Threesome Isn't Always A Magical Experience (last updated March 2).

●  There's buzz in the polyam world about where last week's episode of Good Trouble is leading. Good Trouble is a hit progressive series about two young black women making a new life in L.A. (It's on Freeform, in its third season.) Poly Philia writes,

The latest episode of ‘Good Trouble’ has a very positive portrayal of polyamory! [S3 E8, aired April 7]. The main character Malika has a boyfriend named Isaac but then she meets a polyamorous man named Dyonte who has a girlfriend (who has another boyfriend). Malika admits her attraction to Dyonte to Isaac while in a therapy session together. The therapist says the following:

“Commitment shouldn’t mean suppressing your feelings or identity for fear you’re gonna lose the person you love. And, as scary as it is, not being your authentic self, not asking for what you truly need...that’s what ultimately blows up relationships.”


According to recapper Maggie Fremont on Vulture, the therapist

also talks to Malika about how “monogamy is a social construct” and some people believe being polyamorous is a sexual identity — some people are just “hardwired” that way and to deny that part of you is to deny your authentic self.

This is part of an ongoing storyline that continues to develop:

Malika chats it over with her friends. They’re basically like, okay, if you want to be polyamorous and that’s what you need to be happy, that’s one thing. Does Malika  think Isaac would be into it? Her friends put it bluntly: “Is it worth the risk of losing him” to find out if he’s into it....

And then we see a tearful Malika back in therapy. She says that she needs to tell Isaac that she lied when she told him she wasn’t interested in Dyonte, because she does “want to pursue a relationship with Dyonte.” But she also wants to continue dating Isaac. She wants them both. And then we see that Isaac is there sitting next to her at therapy and he looks at her in shock and perhaps a little bit of heartbreak?

It’s doubtful Good Trouble would go this deep into poly relationships and not dive all the way in, so something tells me Isaac might be willing to give it a go for Malika. ...

But, says Fremont, the next episode (E9, out April 14) left this story thread alone.

●  A review of Polysecure appeared in Greater Good magazine, written by its editor Jeremy Adam Smith: What Polyamory Can Teach Us About Secure Attachment (March 26). "A new book provides lessons for everyone about cultivating strong emotional attachments with romantic partners."

Greater Good comes from Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, which "studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society." 

●  North Carolina Public Radio broadcast a 45-minute show with Black & Poly's website editor Crystal Byrd Farmer and others: Polyamory And Love Beyond The Relationship Binary (online April 2; aired Feb. 12).

Polyamorous relationships look as different
as the people who get into them. (Canva)

Polyamorous relationships look as different as the people they involve. But they all take some learning and “unlearning” of our standard relationship structures.

Crystal Byrd Farmer
Host Anita Rao talks with Rob, a co-organizer of Triangle Polyamory Meetup, and Crystal Byrd Farmer, the website editor for Black & Poly magazine, about how they approach communication and community-building in polyamorous relationships. 

And Natalie Murray, a licensed clinical mental health counselor, joins the conversation to talk about how she counsels people exploring polyamory.

●  Polysaturation statistics. How many partners is too many? Eli Sheff, in her Psychology Today blog, goes looked for data on where various polyfolks feel they max out: Polysaturation: When Polyamorous People Have Enough Partners (Feb. 25). Turns out there's not much data, and it depends on what definition of "relationship" people think they're using, but consider this:

Referring to her 30 years of providing counseling for clients in diverse relationships [in the Berkeley, CA, area], Kathy Labriola explained that her clinical experience indicates:

The vast majority of people in open relationships do not have more than two long-term partners concurrently. I have seen a very small number of people who seem to be able to have three long-term committed relationships. However, I could count them on one hand, and they are either retired or being supported financially by a partner, so they have lots of time and energy for relationships since they are not working. I have seen many people TRY to have three serious relationships concurrently, and almost invariably one or more will collapse rather quickly (within six months to a year) because they just do not have the time, energy, or emotional availability to keep all three people marginally satisfied.

My own research indicates that Labriola’s observations hold true for many polyamorous people who sustain two long-term relationships and either do not have the time and energy for more relationships, or have only occasional flings with others. A few, however, seem to be polyvoracious (another word I just made up) in that they never reach saturation and are always interested in a new partner, regardless of how many partners they already have. Some of these folks are relationship nomads who travel to see or meet new partners and may or may not have a home-base themselves.

Well, I know some longterm more-than-threes right in my area. With all respect to Labriola, who does have a lot of knowledge of the wider community, most of the relationships thata counselor sees are going to be ones in trouble.  

●  And on the subject of statistics, what is the infidelity rate among supposedly monogamous couples? Despite many surveys over the years no one knows, points out Michael Castleman in his Psychology Today blog: What Proportion of the Coupled Population Cheats? (Feb. 15)

...Infidelity is difficult to research. Few willingly admit it. I recall a survey showing that only a tiny percentage of married folks had ever strayed. The researchers interviewed subjects in the presence of their spouses. Duh! 

...Since Kinsey’s studies in the late 1940s, credible estimates of heterosexual Americans’ lifetime infidelity have been all over the map — for men, 12 to 72 percent, for women, 7 to 54 percent.

If you're writing or speaking on the subject, as quite a few of you are, those numbers are the only honest picture you can currently give.

●  And this afternoon, Women's Health attempts to choose The 9 Best Polyamorous Dating Apps You Can Download Right Now (April 14).

I'm glad to see that one of them is #Open, what with its founders' dedication to the community and their battle to see through the Great Wall of Google, which banned their Android app from the Google Play store for nine days when an algorithm reacted to words like "threesomes" in its description, while competing apps use the terms just fine.

Okay, enough for one post! More to come.

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Anonymous Poly Philia said...

Thank you so much for including my bit about Good Trouble in your article! You're doing great work.

April 14, 2021 4:24 PM  
Anonymous Richard Gilmore said...

Thank you for pointing out the skewed sample that relationship therapists and counselors have of marriage, polyamory or other relationship forms. I have also noticed another concept that is troubling; it is the assumption that one person must fulfill all the needs of the other two, three or more partners. It seems to assume that the subject’s partners have no other relationships in their live’s. I have never seen that to be the case in my life or any polyam family I have known.

April 19, 2021 1:57 AM  

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