Compersion: the feeling you get when you see a person you love being really, incredibly happy with someone who isn’t you. It’s an awesome word, which I was introduced to by polyamorous friends. They explained to me that compersion is how they feel when a loved one is with (fucking, loving, hanging out with) someone else who makes them happy. It’s the opposite of jealousy, with which I’m much more familiar: the feeling I get when the person I love is fucking someone else and it makes me want to curl into a ball and weep until I shrivel and die.
Trying to feel compersion
I understand compersion, I think. At least, I have tried so fucking hard to understand it that I now have an idea of the shape of the feeling – what it’s supposed to look like when I hold it in my head. I understand which sensations it should fire in my brain. The contented warmth of knowing that someone you love is happy, and recognising that the happiness they get from fucking other people is not a replacement for happiness they get from you: it’s an addition.
My rational brain wholly ‘gets’ what compersion is meant to be. But it ‘gets’ it in the same way a scientist understands sonar: as graphs and charts and explanations, not the feeling that it is like to only ‘see’ with sound. So I marvel at people who do feel compersion, and I suck up details, greedy for the secret that can help me feel the same thing.
I want it. I am in training for it. If this were a film you’d slip in a compersion-learning montage, in which I mentally photoshop a bunch of pictures of threesomes I’m not present at, or my other half fucking someone else without me, and I try to force a genuine smile.
I would really like to be comfortable with my boyfriend fucking other people. I would like it in the same way I’d like not to hate spiders or my own body. As I’d like to be able to discard my anxiety like a shirt that no longer fits.
The hardest thing about being a sex blogger is the nagging feeling that I’m supposed to be really good at this stuff. I’ve read all the books, and I’ve pored over other people’s blogs where they write posts about how happy they are to hear that their partner had a brilliant fuck with someone else. I should be like them. I should do this thing. I should be happy to think about my other half fucking someone. I should welcome it, because he doesn’t belong to me.
I understand compersion, on exactly this level, I just cannot make myself feel it.
I don’t understand how. I catch glimpses of it sometimes, if we’re fucking people we know. I can see him being happy, and see them being happy, and get a glow of delight that this thing is causing joy.
But it is causing joy for me because we are doing it together. It’s an adventure. A journey we’re all going on, aided and abetted by wine and lube and really, seriously good friendship. So that’s not compersion, it’s just bog-standard happiness, of the kind I’d get if we did anything else side-by-side: built a great Lego spaceship or cycled together in the rain.
I love this group stuff, and I can extend it to include more people or different people but… as soon as I remove myself from the scenario that familiar pang of jealousy shoots through my stomach, and I realise that again I’ve failed.
Monogamy isn’t everything
One of the most frustrating things about monogamy is the myth we’ve bought into that one person can fulfil all of our needs. He can no more fulfil all my needs than he could sprout wings and take flight: I need friends to go to the pub with, to hang out with, to talk to about him. Likewise he needs friends to do the things I can’t: play Overwatch on Xbox or talk shit about me when I’ve pissed him off. These are all important, necessary things. These are all needs I accept I can’t fulfil myself.
Yet when it comes to the need to fuck new and interesting people, I cannot see it. I want to see it. I want to be able to grok that the ‘new’ does not mean ‘better’ – it just means ‘new’. My rational brain understands it, but my heart does not. Because these people are not just better or newer or more interesting: they are necessarily not me.
I’ve talked briefly about compersion before on Twitter. When I asked how I could understand it better, a few people responded by asking – quite rightly – ‘why?’
Why do I need to feel this thing, if it seems so uncomfortable to me? Why force myself to enjoy something which right now fills me with dread? Someone implied that it was peer pressure – a pervasive ‘sex bloggers should shag everyone’ mentality that is patently false. Someone else suggested that maybe my other half was putting pressure on me because he wanted to get his end away. Neither of those things hits the mark. It’s not about them: it’s about me. It’s about the life I can imagine for myself – and my partner – if sexual jealousy was not just pared down but stripped away completely.
It’s me seeing my polyamorous friends being happy. Not feeling like I want to compete or that I have to keep up, but just… wanting it. Aching for it. That happy emotional confidence.
So I try and understand compersion: I feel the shape of it in my mind. And I try to hold it there as I picture him fucking other women. Having private jokes with them, or whispering secret filth that he learned from me or from porn. Marvelling at the new facial expressions this or that person makes when she comes. Learning techniques that he’ll bring home to me that will make my stomach churn with a mixture of lust and repulsion. I hold all that in my mind, and I try to make myself happy. I try to feel compersion.
I try, and I try, and I try.
And all that time spent trying is time that’s slipping away. Time that could be expended on doing hot things, not just thinking about them. Days and weeks and months that add up to a whole lifetime. A lifetime wasted, waiting for me to learn.
What if I just never ever learn?