by Katie Diamond
When you Google “Compersion,” luckily, a Wikipedia article pops up with the following definition:
Compersion is a state of empathetic happiness and joy experienced when an individual’s current or former romantic partner experiences happiness and joy through an outside source, including, but not limited to, another romantic interest. This can be experienced as any form of erotic or emotional empathy, depending on the person experiencing the emotion.
Thank goodness. When I first started my foray into polyamory, I definitely didn’t know this word even existed. This Wikipedia page hadn’t been posted yet. The concept was foreign to me. I wish I could say I remember a beautiful, revelatory moment when someone used this word and all the lights went on in my head—but alas, that memory is gone. I only have the current passion that I have for this concept.
Compersion, for me, is a really tough ideal to grapple with. I think a lot of polyamorous folks assume that to be compersive, one must also be simply “without” jealousy.
I’m writing you today to tell you—this is completely untrue.
I’ve found that my compersion is pretty tied to my jealousy. They’re two sides of the same coin. For every compersive feeling I have, I find that I have an equal amount of squicky-stomach-feelings. This duality, you see, is pretty key to being human.
What happens in polyamory, because we’re all trying so hard to create this ideal, is that we tend to put our intellectual ideals above what we’re actually feeling. We create these emotional extremes that just aren’t rational to abide by at every second of every day. Sometimes, I’m able to hear every juicy detail of every single thing that someone I’m seeing does with someone. Sometimes, I need to pretend that none of those juicy things ever happen. And sometimes those two emotional states can happen in the same exact conversation.
These dueling feelings do not cancel each other out. Just because one day I’m as compersive as fuck, and the next I’m not, doesn’t mean that I’m not actually compersive—or the opposite, that I’m a jealousy-free individual.
What polyamory has taught me, and what compersion has really taught me, is that we need to be able to check in with ourselves about what actually works for us, rather than what ideally works for us. It’s alright to hold ourselves to high standards, and try our best to exist in the world we are aiming to create, but we aren’t poly-robots. We can’t input some magical compervert formula, and enact the guidelines necessary every single second without faltering.
Being in touch with our feelings as they happen is really hard—our society isn’t set up for that level of emotional intensity. I struggle every second with knowing how I actually feel about something, especially when it comes to relationships, and I often discover that I won’t really know how I felt about something until a few hours—or even days—afterwards.
Thus, the duality of feeling equal parts compersive to jealous. I can find that watching my partner with someone can turn me on and make me giddy, and at the same time cause that butterflies-“something-is-amiss” sensation in my throat and stomach. I have learned to embrace these moments of conflict, and make sure to pay attention to which direction my feelings might see-saw into. If the giddy wins, I stick around for more. If the butterflies win, I step away to focus on something else.