I’ve heard of people describing it as a euphoric, passionate state. I’ve heard others describe it as something warm and familiar, like a mug of hot cocoa on a cold day. My one partner describes it as “happy sympathy,” feeling happy for your partner’s happiness. I have struggled with this particular emotion. Compersion does not come easily for me. For years I felt that I was simply incapable of experiencing it. It has only been relatively recently that I’ve started to feel what I’ve heard so many describe.
As a deeply empathetic person, I always thought it was bizarre that I seemed incapable of taking pleasure in the happiness of my partners. I didn’t feel jealousy towards my metas, and I certainly didn’t begrudge my partners their happiness, but as far as my feeling pleasure from what they did with another? Nada. So what exactly was I missing? I very much wanted to feel this joyful feeling I’d heard so many talk about.
A big part of my inability to feel compersion, I believe, came from my fear of missing out. And this wasn’t limited to romantic partners. If I heard about two of my friends doing something they both enjoyed together, the nagging feeling of not being a part of that fun overpowered any sense of happiness I may have gotten. So how do I deconstruct this tendency towards envy?
A lot of people believe that jealousy and envy are the enemy, particularly with regards to non-monogamous relationships. I don’t believe one must conquer them in order to be successful in polyamory. Rather, understanding ones jealousy and envy and how they manifest, treating them like sometimes contentious but nevertheless educational acquaintances seems to be the healthiest way to deal with them. Make no mistake though; my emotions are MINE to deal with. Not my friends’, not my partners’. They can help me work through them, but no one is responsible for my insecurities but me.
I have heard people say that compersion is the opposite of jealousy but I’m not sure I agree with that. The two can exist simultaneously, neither necessarily undermining the other. Once I embraced this duality, I was able to get a clearer picture of how to get past my insecurities. Now I want to make this perfectly clear: not everyone is capable of feeling compersion, just as not everyone is capable of feeling jealousy. There is NOTHING wrong with people who don’t feel these emotions and they are not better or worse for it.
For me, the breakthrough came when I started to see my new partners and friends making connections, becoming friends, lovers, partners. There were still pangs of envy, for sure. But there was also something new. I still feared missing out on things. But I had an assurance that I’d also be able to share those things at some point with them. It wouldn’t necessarily be simultaneously. But I had the opportunity. And that was the key for me: knowing that I could still have those experiences.
And because of that feeling of security, this connection between the people I loved seemed to add to my own. It’s not an ecstatic or euphoric feeling, it’s not a feeling of arousal, nor is it particularly overwhelming. But it’s there. I can pinpoint it and say “hey, compersion!” And it’s heartening to know that something I thought was unobtainable is available to me, if subtle. Compersion, I feel, is the antithesis of schadenfreude; taking pleasure in another person’s happiness rather than their pain. And that’s a pretty neat thing to feel.
Want to learn more? Read Polyamory 101 By Angel Kalafatis.
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