Why “Compersion” Should Not Be The Base Value Of Polyamory
“Compersion” is, basically, “I’m happy whenever my lover is happy.” If your partner’s out humping waterbuffalo, as long as he’s thrilled, so are you. It’s a nice state to be in, if you can manage it.
The problem is that people who experience this “compersion” hootenanny often use it as a sledgehammer to bash people who aren’t made entirely of cotton-candy good feelings. “If you don’t experience mirrored rapture at everything your lover does,” they cry, “Then you’re not really poly, are you? Because poly is about compersion!”
No. Polyamory is about trust.
You don’t always feel good about trust.
Look, when my daughter drove my car for the first time, I wasn’t thinking, “What glorious heavenly beauty that she’s finally gotten her driver’s license! I’m so thrilled for her new life!” No, I thought, Did she put her seatbelt on? That’s $13,000 of car I can’t afford to replace, I hope she doesn’t crash it. Oh God, the kid’s driving a three-ton hunk of metal at deadly speeds, please don’t let her kill anyone. Or herself.
Now, that flurry of prayers didn’t mean I didn’t want my daughter to ever drive. Far from it. She needed to learn how to drive. This experience was going to make her stronger, more independent, someone fully engaged with the world. I fully supported it, I encouraged it, and in fact I’d paid cash and time to ensure this moment happened….
…but I didn’t feel good about it. Well, a little. Enough to do it. But not an unalloyed good, the kind of warm ducky fuzzies one should feel according to the compersionists.
I look at compersion as a nice-to-have, a goal you should strive towards if you can do it. But “compersion” is often used as a club to smack people down for having feelings, and too many people have feelings of jealousy or fear or concern or even outrage to just dismiss them wholesale.
If all you ever feel when your lover’s off smooching someone else is happiness? That’s awesome! I envy you! I, however, often feel happiness mixed with fear that I’ll be replaced, and jealousy that New Guy can do things for her that I can’t (or else why would she be dating a carbon copy of me?), and it’s difficult enough to get past those feelings without the extra layer of “Oh, I must be bad at this if I have doubts.”
And sometimes those fears signal actual problems. I’ve had cases when a lover spending all her time with New Guy meant, in fact, that she was losing interest in me. And while in theory, I should be equitable enough to go, “Well, I’m happy whenever she’s happy,” in practice part of my happiness is tragically based on continuing to get to spend time with her.
Sometimes those fears let me see problems in time to fix them.
I trust my partners. And I try to keep my silly fears to a minimum. Just like I explained to my daughter that driving a car was a great responsibility, and could kill her and others… but when she pulled out of the driveway I plastered a smile on, because this was what she actually needed, and I trusted her enough that this would work out all right.
As it turned out, it did. The fact that I didn’t let my fears shackle her was a noble thing. Arguably more noble, in fact, because I had to fight past some concerns to place her needs above my qualms.
Eventually, I got happy when she drove. And she hasn’t wrecked the car yet, God willing.