What if compersion was a verb?

 

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Nineteenth centure erotic alphabet letter L: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

I recently met someone whose favourite source of compersion is when one of his partners writes him an erotic letter with juicy details of intimate encounters with others. He lit up talking about how much he appreciates those letters, and how in turn he happily encourages her to enjoy herself fully with other lovers. The conversation around this was rich. I believed that consent of all involved was critical for this. But I was also fascinated at how they had creatively found a way to help him to feel safe and included, which in turn helped him to feel authentic joy for his partner. Details like this definitely do NOT help me access compersion, if anything it can be challenging for me to hear – though sometimes my imagination can be a real turn-on. But I was inspired by their creativity strategy to cultivate compersion. It got me thinking about the many ways in which people access compersion. And then it hit me. Can compersion be treated as a verb?

Love as a noun. We have all felt love, all different kinds of love, even if only in fleeting moments. Poet, mystic, and intellectual alike have all attempted to capture and describe these feelings in thoughts, words or through art. A combination of emotions, hormones, sensations, thrill. Love is a state we aspire to, dream of, and crave.

Love as a verb. Through acts of love, we open doors that enable a deepening into love, the noun. The five love languages – acts of service, touch, quality time, gifts, and words of affirmation – all represent actions. These actions open our hearts, and incite intimacy, passion and deep appreciation.

Many thinkers have argued: which one – noun or verb – is the most important for living a good life or having a successful relationship or finding happiness (for example here, here ,  here , or here).

I believe the verb of love is a portal to the noun of love. Relation-ships don’t drive themselves, those in it must select destinations and move towards them. Without the verb of love, the noun of love will steer itself, and may waver, get lost, or simply disappear.

In specific situations when compersion has not come naturally for me, I have sometimes found it by actively cultivating compersion. In this way, I perceive compersion as being a verb. I have had some great successes through these actions in finding my joy for loved ones.

Compersion as a noun. I have previously operationalized compersion (the noun) as being comprised of three parts: intellectual, erotic and somatic. I first introduced the concept here. I continue to find this classification useful for me in identifying feelings of compersion when I experience them. This then gives me a starting place for doing my work.

Compersion as a verb. When I feel intellectual compersion and know it is safe to work on igniting somatic or erotic compersion inside of me (safety – that is a different post, stay tuned), I have often found that treating compersion as a verb is helpful. Here are some examples of acts of compersion that work well for me:

  • Reaching out to a metamour to let them know how much I appreciate that they bring joy to someone I love
  • Collaborating with a partner/lover to make it easier (or possible) for them to spend time with someone else. This likely involves a conversation and some brainstorming together, and then me doing something like offering to rearrange my schedule to free up time for them to see their other lover
  • Actively encouraging a partner/lover to do something with, or for, their other lover.
    • “Hey look there is that bottle of wine she loves, why don’t we buy that so you can give it to her when you see her next?”
    • “There is a fun party this weekend. Maybe we could invite him to join us?”
    • “I was thinking of making dinner on Thursday, would you like to invite x and y?”
    • “I baked cookies. Can you please bring some to her when you see her tonight?”
    • “Did you remember to put her dance performance in your calendar? I think it is really important for you to go see her perform!”
  • Engaging in the details of other relationships in a positive way. NOTE: This one isn’t for everyone – check in with yourself – are you asking about details to feed your compersion or is it rather feeding your jealousy?
    • “How was the movie/performance/dinner/date?”
    • “Did she like the cookies?”
    • “What was your favourite part about your date?”
    • “What are things about them you really appreciate?
    • Share or exchange intimate details about other relationships. NOTE: This one requires consent from all involved in my opinion (it is ethical non-monogamy afterall).
  • Actively initiating and engaging in heart to heart conversations with metamours.

The act of me initiating and supporting other relationships somehow helps me to feel included, empowered and safe, and it makes me feel like a good partner and metamour. Again, this is always a balancing act and I realize that the ways in which I actively cultivate compersion for myself need to support me but also all those involved. Everyone has different needs in terms of privacy and intimacy and how close metamours ultimately want to be. Cultivating compersion – compersion as a verb – best starts with inquiring:

  • “How would she feel if I reached out to her on the phone next week?”
  • “Would they like to meet me?”
  • “How can I help him feel safe?”
  • “Is there anything you would like from me to support you and your new relationship?”

Questions like these give me a framework, and from there I can get creative in terms of what kinds of things I can do to cultivate compersion.

Ultimately, compersion as a verb is similar to love as a verb. When I am actively generous, it not only supports others and brings them a sense of joy and safety, it in turn brings me feelings of joy.

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Dear metamour: a white paper

Hello, new person. Thank you for taking a moment to visit me here, in what a I hope feels like a safe place for you to meet me.


Pen-and-Paper

First, I’d like for you to feel welcome here. I am so grateful that someone I love dearly has met someone that makes their heart beat a little lighter and faster. Or maybe someone who gives them butterflies. Perhaps it is more carnal than that, and that is wonderful also. Whether you are visiting for a few hours or a few years, I want you to know that I care about your happiness, your health, and your heart.

The other reason why I am writing to you is to help give you some insight into who I am and to give you some suggestions about how best to navigate me and my relationship with this person you have just met. I don’t know what your background is, or how much experience you have with non-monogamy. Please forgive me if it sounds like I am making assumptions that you do not have a lot of experience with poly, I am trying my best to be a clear communicator here, no matter what your history is.

I believe that love is abundant. I believe that we love more than one person because there is simply so much love that our cups overflow. I prefer approaching relationships from this perspective, as opposed to the older paradigm belief that we look elsewhere when our primary partner does not meet our needs. I believe that you are unique and special and wonderful, just like I am unique and special and wonderful. I hope you feel the same way, and that we can appreciate each other for the gifts and talents and attributes we each have.

I believe that it’s only weird if you make it weird. So please, say hello to me. Look me in the eyes and smile. Reach out to me to acknowledge me and to let me know that you care about me, that you’ve got my back. Be prepared to be vulnerable and authentic with me. Ask me something to show me you are curious and engaged. Ask me anything.

It takes time for me to warm up to some people. I am shy sometimes, and I am scared sometimes. You are probably smart, funny, beautiful, and talented. It sometimes takes me some courage to open up to you. Please don’t take it personally. Recognize there have been people in the past who haven’t really honored me and my relationship, and this has left me with some trust stuff when it comes to new people. Again, it honestly isn’t you, you’re lovely. I want you to be here, I really am grateful that you bring joy to someone I love so dearly.

If you aren’t sure how to navigate the situation, ask my partner, or ask me. It will go a long way even just to ask, because then I know you care about the pre-existing relationships and that your intention is to make things better for all of us.

If you aren’t sure whether you are non-monogomous, please be very clear and honest about your intentions. If you aren’t sure whether you can handle being kind to me or to my partner’s other partners, please be authentic and honest about your own fears, desires, and questions. I will do my best to hold space for you and to meet you where you are. We can learn together.

No matter how much experience we all have in relationships, we really are all just infants learning to walk together. I know we will all make mistakes. My request is that we all acknowledge each other, see each other, listen, and do our best to look after each others tender hearts.

Again, thank you for taking a moment to read this. It really means a lot to me to know that you are willing to take time to consider me. I feel better already. You’re neat. 🙂

 

 

Tracing bones

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Wikimedia Commons

In the dungeon, tracing bones again.
With this pen.
This will end.
I just don’t know when.

Special lenses to help me sleep
Yet here I sit, and weep
What I’d give for these weary feet to be dancing in the street

Darkness invades my mind
Stillness in bones and in rhymes
There are no shadows in a room of this kind
And I have broken you from the inside

A traveller’s wife has no time
Just keep telling the world we’re fine
Getting better like aging wine
Softly falls a false lash from my eye

With a wish and a breath
Not ready for death
Where is my poet, picturesque
I promise, bones, soon we will rest

Compersion & jealousy: is that really all there is?

I often see compersion defined as  the ‘opposite’ of jealousy. I understand why it is tempting to do this. The experience of having a loved one sharing intimacy with another can bring up complex and overwhelming feelings. Intellectually, we strive to simplify this complicated emotional landscape in hopes of ‘overcoming’, or at least understanding, our jealousy.

The problem is, in my experience, it’s not so simple. Emotions are not binary.

First, there is the issue of ‘conflation’ (experiencing different emotions simultaneously). In one of my earliest experiences, a lover of mine had a particularly prolific period in which he connected sexually with seven different women in a month. Sure, it brought up some fears in me of loss and inadequacy. Yet when he and I entered intimate space together, to my surprise, my mind went to images of all these women finding ecstasy in the arms of my lover, and rather than shutting me down, I became incredibly aroused. So while feeling jealousy, I also experienced erotic compersion.  Opposites, by definition, would not co-exist.

Second, how I respond to a given situation depends in part on how my lover responds, or how I think they do, in that situation. What is the story I am telling myself, what am I making it mean?  I therefore decided to do what any good scientist would do. I created a 2×2 table:
compersion-2-by-2-table

You can see here that compersion and jealousy are not the only possible outcomes, since it also depends on what is happening, or what is being felt, by my lover. Let me walk you through it.

If my lover is having a positive experience with another lover, I have two quadrants in which I might respond, generally divided into ‘positive’ emotions (compersion) or ‘negative’ ones (jealousy). However, what if something happens that leaves my lover feeling not so happy? Maybe he gets in a quarrel with his other partner, or maybe they break up? Or maybe he has stuff come up because he loves you so much that he is worried about you so he holds back with his other partner(s)? In this case, you might fall into the other two quadrants. You might feel happy/elated/relieved: this could be considered a type of schadenfreude. Alternatively, you might feel compassion/sadness/guilt. The best word I have for this is empathy. Technically empathy can be positive or negative, however in my experience we often speak of empathy in regards to someone’s negative experiences.

Importantly, these quadrants relate to the x and y axes, meaning they fall along a spectrum of feelings. Also, with the axes themselves, it is possible to be in a place of neutrality. I remind you, it is possible to fall in more than one quadrant simultaneously (conflation).

I hope this table will help you identify feelings that arise in you in relation to your lover’s others, as a starting place to diving deeper into the work of uncovering core feelings and beliefs. I’d love your feedback.

3 dimensions of compersion

Based on my personal experience, I would like to propose a 3-faceted model in which we may experience compersion. I’d love your feedback.

  1. compersion venn diagramIntellectual. I know in my mind that I want you to be happy. In that sense I am indeed happy for you in your other relationship/experience. In order to arrive at this, I need to reason/talk myself through what comes up for me. I might be feeling some jealousy, but I know in my heart of hearts that I want you to feel joy, even if it does not involve me.
  2. Somatic. The moment I see that smile on your face, or hear you speak to or about a joyful experience, I feel happiness in my body, such as my heart or stomach. I smile instantly.
  3. Erotic. When I see or think of you with your other lover, particularly in intimate scenarios, I feel aroused. Sometimes I feel closer to you through this feeling in me.

Degrees of sexparation

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Photo credit – Daniel Walker

I just found out today while listening to a podcast that I’ve been intimate with someone who has been intimate with Nina Hartley. Now  I’ve never played the Kevin Bacon game, and I’m certainly not what some friends call a “star f&#!@er”, but this kind of titillated me. I’m two degrees of sexparation from a porn star!

 

Nina_Hartley_after_speaking_at_Woodhull_Freedom_Foundation_event
Nina Hartley

For those of you who don’t know, Nina Hartley is a remarkable human being. Not only has she been making porn for longer than anyone in the history of making porn (over 30 years!), she is also an activist and educator. She has devoted her life and career to making pleasure healthy and safe for people. Have you heard her speak? Incredibly inspiring. Check out her podcasts with Sex Nerd Sandra here and here, and with Sex with Emily here

I’ve never been very interested in mapping out my polycule (see KIMCHI cuddles), but I have to not-so-secretly admit that today’s surprise was kind of fun.

Thank you for everything you have done for the world, Nina!

72 words for love

The English language has a single word for it: love. My ancestors have a single model for it: monogamy. And despite the poetic notion that we marry for love, marriage has historically been inextricably woven into a cloth designed to be worn by owners – of money, land, and women.faith-christian-bible-verse-love

In elementary school, I was once told that a boy in my home town was the illegitimate child of a famous music celebrity. Thus, I was taught that a child conceived beyond the strict confines of a state-sanctioned monogamous marriage was not legal. Not valid. Not wanted. Shameful. We’d whisper the story of this dark truth amongst ourselves in school hallways, despite not understanding why we used hushed tones. We whispered because our parents whispered.

Fortunately, humanity has not always lived with such narrow values. As many of us are seeking “new” possibilities, others are coming forth to share world views of love that give great hope.

The Awansa Ta’pish nation, for example, has 72 words for love. They have 14 love relationships, the a’ukota pash’ele. The ‘illegitimate’ child I mentioned , if born into such a nation, might have been raised in an extended loving family. The parents would have been fully honoured for their loving companionship. Mom would have never been called a ‘single mother’ since many cared together for children, according to scholar Kim Tallbear.

I believe that polyamory isn’t a ‘new paradigm’ per se, but rather a ‘remembering’. And this path of remembrance is hard work. Each lesson dismantled, each shaming unlearned, slowly, at times very painfully. The damage has been caused by centuries of harmful practices and thus is epigenetically imprinted in us – in essence, we are born broken. The healing of love and the return to erotic innocence thus goes beyond individuals: we are healing ourselves, and also our ancestors. Tallbear adds that ethical non-monogamy is not just about self-actualization and healing oppression, but that it has implications in the “broader context of community, of extended relations and of our obligations to the Earth”.

This is no small task. The Awansa elders spend considerable time and energy teaching the 14 love relationships, because reportedly only by experiencing them can one become a “complete human being”. Courageous communities around the globe are committing to this deep healing work in the realms of love, eros and spirituality. Film-maker and Tamera love school apprentice, John Wolfstone, explains we need deep study “because we’ve been wrongly trained and traumatically ripped from community for six millennia”. There is a deeply misguided world view, he argues, “that we are separate from everything else”, a belief that has led us to compete for resources and live in fear.

As this ‘remembrance’ takes place, we are slowly discovering how to connect in deeply with our extended communities. We are embracing the many ways we can share love, and developing a language to fully honour the diverse ways in which love is experienced.

In English, there is only one word for ‘love’. Perhaps one day we will see, the only thing there is really one of, is us. We. Are. One.

 

There’s no such thing as jealousy

Jealousy: that dragon which slays love under the pretense of keeping it alive” ~Havelock Ellis

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Photo credit

So if jealousy doesn’t exist, where does this mythical beast come from? This green-eyed monster that leaves us sick with despair and transforms us into an angry god who fires lightning bolts at the ones we love to stop them from pursuing their bliss, on account of our own self-preservation? What causes such ugliness in us all?

The Ethical Slut (first edition) blew my mind during my first forays into polyamory over a decade ago. The authors suggested that ‘jealousy’ is not actually a feeling or emotion. Rather, it is an umbrella term referring to a collection of emotions that can come up in any number of situations. Reid Mihalko describes an octopus with eight arms, each arm a continuum of an emotion that falls under the construct of jealousy. We can fall anywhere along all 8 arms, creating a unique emotional venn diagram. Kathy Labriola prefers to simplify jealousy into three main feelings: fear, anger and sadness. She then provides a comprehensive list of feelings and symptoms falling within these categories that can help direct us towards a core underlying experience of jealousy.

While jealousy may not ‘exist’ as a pure emotion, it is real, it is alive, and it is valid. I have yet to meet anyone, even those who claim they are not jealous people, who don’t experience at least a wobble, if not a crushing blow, from this creature of the dark. I have seen friends and lovers try to tame or hide their emotions for fear of not being seen as ‘poly perfect’. I’ve even had a partner ask me, “Are you sure you’re poly?” during my own times of intense emotion (this was intensely triggering for me, btw). There is no shame in having feelings. Do not buy into the ‘stigma’ that becoming poly makes you more evolved to the point that jealousy falls off your radar. Jealousy is not weak, is not shameful, is not erratic or out of control.

My so-called ‘evolution’ only means that, in the face of jealousy, I choose to remain heart-centred, to swim through whatever is alive in me, do the shadow work, to love myself, and to come out the other side still loving you without trying to control your joy. No matter what happens, I know I will be ok, in fact I will thrive. From this place I can nurture my fear, my anger, my sadness, the way I would care for a child. There is such a thing as jealousy. She is a green-eyed dragon, but she’s a baby dragon. I’ve got this.

Photo credit

 

Meet the in-loves

M45%2001-07-13The term “metamour” has never really sat with me. While ‘amour’ makes me swoon, the ‘meta’ part (Greek for ‘after’ or ‘beyond’) leaves me feeling lifeless. It could be my science background: meta-analyses are often complex and frustrating to complete, or there isn’t enough information provided in the initial studies to undergo this statistical method. See, you’re asleep already. And ‘beyond love’? What does that mean, anyhow?

These special human beings that my loved ones adore. I want them to feel welcome, loved, and a sense of belonging. They are part of my family, afterall. Sort of.

I mean, I don’t always love them with the same enthusiasm or depth or commitment level that my partners do. In fact, sometimes I find it quite challenging to have them around. There are times I’d like alone time with my partners. Sometimes I’m working through my stuff, jealousy, fear, feeling inadequate. And sometimes those not-so-nice feelings are triggered by metamours. I don’t always have the energy to be ‘on’ and make sure they are taken care of when in fact I’d rather be nourishing myself.

On the other hand, I am so grateful for these beings who provide so much joy to my partners. The beings who love to cook, or make crafts, or dance, or play music, or be intimate, in ways I can’t or don’t desire to, because we are all special and unique. These beings who bring out a more grounded version of my partners, more romantic version, more thoughtful version.

And of course they are the brightest mirrors who every day reflect back to me where I am on this spiritual path of loving without limits. What demons am I working with today? How full is my self-love reservoir? Are my communication skills as good as they could be? What can I do to make myself a better person today? Am I taking good care of myself, of my partner? There is no one who can present this so clearly to me as a metamour.

And yet, even though they are family, they are more like family by association than family by choice. They are more like my in-laws, the sisters and parents who visit at Christmas. The ones from whom I get to learn about what has shaped how my partners show up in the world – how they communicate, tease, laugh, argue, suffer.

It’s fun to watch how my partners take on little idiosyncrasies from new lovers, like a facial expression or a new phrase. It’s a delight to experience what they bring home to our kitchens and our beds. There will never be a time when we achieve stasis, because we will spend our lives learning and growing  and evolving within this constellation of lovers.

Meet the in-loves. These are my metamours, my lovers’ lovers. They belong to my family on my partners’ side. I love them and am grateful for the gifts they bring, whether bliss or heartache. Ultimately it’s all just love.

Photo credit – Plieades / Seven Sisters