Sharing is Caring: Compersion in Life & Work

Just as I can’t pick a favorite food, color or book: I cannot pick a favorite person. Each one of my relationships provides a unique contribution to my well-being because each one nourishes me in a unique way. I can’t merely take more Vitamin-C if I’m deficient in Vitamin-D; I need both in their proper doses to be healthy.

I Don’t Play Favorites

I’ve never been one for favorites.

I roll my eyes at online dating profiles and advertising platforms that ask me to tell potential suitors what’s my favorite food, what’s my favorite color, and what’s my favorite book. I suppose to some people these questions seem direct and easy to answer, but not for me. I toil over the keyboard, writing and erasing answers over and over that all feel right yet still manage to feel like lies.

Is this an accurate representation of myself?’ I think as I sip my third cup of coffee.

Last month, I ate more Italian but this month all I’m craving is sushi. I love yellow but right now I’m feeling red, dark red. I can’t even address the issue of a favorite book; that concept is completely baffling to me! How can they ask me to narrow it down to simply one of anything?’

I suppose the real problem is that I’ve always had too many favorites.

My interests are many and my tastes can vary depending on any number of factors. The weather might inspire a hike instead of the gym or a new influence might inspire me to pause my writing and tackle photoshop. I’m always interested in The New: learning new things and meeting new people. This means that even when I love something very much, I may have to reprioritize the time I dedicate to it or even take a break from it altogether because I need to foster this new, potential love that I’ve found.

I will always love you Mint Chocolate-Chip, but right now
Chocolate-Peanut Butter & I need to be exclusive. Don’t worry, I’ll be back in a few months after I see you at a friend’s house.

This makes picking a single “favorite” impossible for me. Whether it’s my favorite right now because I’m newly passionate about it (like the glass dildo I was recently introduced to) or because it’s a long-term, consistent part of my life (like Mr. Hitachi) isn’t the point: the point is that I have the freedom to explore both as much or as little as I need to.

Just as I can’t pick a favorite food, color or book: I cannot pick a favorite person. Each one of my relationships provides a unique contribution to my well-being because each one nourishes me in a unique way. I can’t merely take more Vitamin-C if I’m deficient in Vitamin-D; I need both in their proper doses to be healthy.

The Green Monster

Just because I don’t pick favorites doesn’t mean I don’t still experience jealousy.

For the sake of this essay, I’ll define “jealous” as the feeling of fear or worry that someone else will take what you have.

Everyone gets jealous sometimes. Jealousy is simply an emotional response to either an unfulfilled need or lingering personal insecurity (though sometimes, it’s both). Those feelings are just that, feelings: they’re blaring alarm bells trying to bring attention to a root problem. If I’m feeling jealous because my girlfriend is going on a date with someone else, I can stop that jealousy from growing into anger or self-righteousness and ask myself, “Why?”

Is it because we haven’t been on a proper date in 2 weeks and I’m craving some quality time together? Or is it because I’m afraid this new person will outshine and replace me in my lover’s life? The former has a simple solution: respectfully communicate my needs for some 1-on-1 with my partner and schedule a date. The latter, however, can require a bit more introspection and self-awareness. This is usually the time when I light a joint, grab my journal and start asking myself the harder questions.

Has my partner done anything to make me feel unloved or replaceable? If so, what are those specific behaviors or actions? When was the last time my partner said they loved or appreciated me? Am I feeling connected to my partner physically and emotionally? If not, why? Am I feeling confident and secure in other areas of my life?

We each have a choice in how we deal with jealousy. I can choose to do the emotional labor to unpack my own shit or I can choose to punish my partner by limiting their autonomy to ease my own insecurities. We live in a culture of monogamy which has normalized toxic traits like possessiveness and entitlement over a partner’s time & body as a regular part of any loving relationship. Much of this is left over from our religion-based culture & legislation, but instead of fading away, it’s continued to be reimagined as romantic in mainstream television, literature, and film (Twilight and its fanfiction BDSM inspired spin-off, 50 Shades of Grey, for example).

Toxic-monogamy isn’t romantic, it’s a slippery slope towards abuse and violence.

Client/Professional relationships are no exception to the green monster and they’re also rooted in fear and insecurity. Fear that a provider doesn’t truly value the relationship, fear that a good client will take their business elsewhere without notice, fear that a lack of exclusivity somehow equals a lack of importance. This lack of respect for one another can lead to hurt feelings, at best, and violated boundaries or violence, at worst.

I’m not suggesting that all people who have monogamous relationships are living in a toxic pit of quicksand or that everyone in the poly or provider communities is a more philosophically enlightened guru. What I am suggesting is that everyone can leave the worst parts of monogamy behind and we can fill our lives with something better: compersion.

Compersion

“Compersion” is a term coined by the Kerista Commune, a group who lived in San Francisco through the 1970s and 80s. It’s now a key term in polyamorist communities and it’s loosely defined as the “non-sexual feeling of joy that one receives from seeing a partner happy with another partner”. The key here is that it’s a “non-sexual feeling of joy”, which doesn’t mean that people who share sexual and romantic partners can’t also feel compersion but that compersion is a specific feeling of happiness that is not associated with a sexual experience. An example of feeling compersion would be feeling happy to see my partner smiling after a good date or feeling giddy for my client because they saw a new Mistress and had a fantastic time!

Side note: Compersion is an American term but polyamorists in the United Kingdom call this feeling “Frubbly”! How adorable is that?

Compersion might seem a little strange at first but, to me, it’s a natural stepping stone from learning to share. As children, we are taught to work through many jealous feelings and behaviors by sharing. For example, we share our toys and learn we will get to play with them again once someone else has had a turn. We learned to share cookies after dinner, share our friends at recess, and even share Mom and Dad’s love when the new baby was born. What many people find is that sharing brings a certain joy to their lives, the same type of unique joy you feel when giving someone else a gift.

That’s what I think compersion feels like: the gift of seeing someone I love being brought joy.

As I mentioned earlier, I have many favorites. I also enjoy being the favorite of many. This mindset makes it easier for me to find the joy in seeing my partners genuinely connect with others, especially over things I have no interest in! It relieves so much pressure off me, as an individual, to meet all the needs of any single partner because I can feel content with them having those needs met by someone else who will truly enjoy the experience.

“Ya know, I really would not enjoy the car show and I don’t think I’d be the best company. Is there someone else who would be more excited to do that with you?”

And vice-versa.

“Okay, I get that pegging isn’t your thing so I won’t ask you about it again. However, I’m really into it so I’ll be exploring that elsewhere.”

While those who practice monogamy may not be totally chill with their partner getting pegged by someone else, I urge everyone to try and practice compersion in their own relationships even if it’s merely at a platonic level.

I challenge you to analyze where your jealousy comes from, identify your needs and insecurities, own your own shit, and try to find true joy in seeing your partner happy doing something with someone else. It’s cheesy but it’s true: sharing is caring.