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.

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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.

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