Poly 101: What Exactly Is This Awesome Feeling Called Compersion? (And How To Feel It)

When it clicks it will make your heart aflutter.

Photo by istock

Welcome back to navigating polyamory where we break down social constructs about dating and dive in head first to talk about what is so often avoided in the mainstream: Polyamory. We’ve already talked about jealousy and processing those feels. Now it’s time to talk about compersion, a little-known word that defines emotions that are often seen as the opposite of jealousy. However, I’d say that the two feelings aren’t mutually exclusive and can be felt at the same time. It all depends on your relationships.

Basically, compersion is the feeling of joy or happiness (and sometimes even arousal) for your partner’s happiness with their other partner(s). The Keristan Commune, a now-defunct San Francisco-based polyamorous community, originally coined the term in the late 80s.

The road to feeling compersion can take time if you’re new to non-monogamous dating. But when it clicks, you’ll feel it and it will make your heart aflutter. Non-monogamy often comes down to having really incredible communication within your relationships. Setting amazing boundaries that you continue to talk about. And knowing one another’s limitations or triggers of jealousy — not so that you can always avoid them, but so you can handle your partners with love and care.

When you really find your groove in a non-monog relationship and realize what kind of communication styles work best for you, that’s when things really are able to thrive. Of course, moments of jealousy might come up. But when you see your partner’s face glowing with excitement because of the date they just went on, you can’t help but feel happy for them. It’s this feeling of confidence — of knowing that they aren’t trying to replace you or find someone “better.” Your relationships are yours alone and your partner(s) having other lovers doesn’t take away from that. In fact, you might just find that it shifts things in a new and exciting way.

The thing is, we’re raised to see dating in a scarcity model. With our parents and elders using language like “she’s one of the good ones, keep her on a tight leash,” or “you better find someone before all the good ones are married.” We are raised with this mindset that we have to find our other-half, our soulmate, one of the good ones quickly because they are few and far between. This paired with compulsory monogamy — that we have to be a monogamous relationship for it to be considered real — makes for a dangerous combination that fosters raging jealousy and feelings of ownership over our partners.

I see non-monogamy and people who are consciously monogamous (not out of compulsion) as breaking down this barrier. Whether you’re monogamous or polyamorous — we all are going to have attractions to other people. Jealousy might be the gut feeling that comes up first, but I think that’s more often than not rooting from the model in which we were raised: to feel ownership over our partners. When we let go of that, we’re able to realize there is no “threat” if you have solid communication with your lovers. That’s the feeling of compersion.

But how exactly to you get to that point of confidence and comfortability in your relationships?

1. Let go of all your society-informed ideas about the way relationships should be. 

What we consume about relationships from the media (publications, movies, TV, books, etc) is usually pretty toxic. Society does a really incredible job at upholding relationships standards that are filled with persistence, non-consensual cheating, and complete and utter fulfilment from one person. These narratives played out in real life are often hurtful to us. Let go of them and feel a huge weight lift from your heart. Go about having relationships in a way that feels amazing for you (of course, consensually and through communication). Don’t follow anyone else’s script of what your relationships should look like.

2. Keep the lines of communication open. Especially about jealousy. 

Talk about how you’re feeling with your partners. When you start to feel jealous, welcome that energy in. Make your jealousy a cup of tea. Talk with it and figure out the root of where it’s coming from. Get comfortable in the feeling and know that jealousy is usually an unrooted fear that you need to pay attention to.

Also, ask your partners about their jealousy. Sometimes waiting for them to bring it up doesn’t always work. Have regular check-ins where you talk about how you’re feeling. You might all be feeling incredible, or they might have something y’all need to work through in the moment. Allow the time and space to have those needed conversations.

3. Recognize new relationship energy (NRE). 

NRE is sooooo real. It’s that butterfly, tingly-all-over, warm-and-fuzzy, filled with love feeling that you get at the beginning of a new relationship. Sometimes witnessing partners feel that energy for someone else can be challenging. Just know that you also will have (or have had) those moments with new partners. Don’t get swept away by the tides of your jealousy. Allow yourself to recognize that they’re feeling NRE — remember what that feeling is like and how incredible it is — and then you’ll slowly start to feel compersion sneak up on you when you least expected it.

4. Meet your partners’ other partners. 

This depends on your relationships — but it’s usually healthy for poly partnerships to meet their lover’s other babes. It helps put a face and personality to the people your partner has been telling you about. I’d suggest meeting up for coffee with your metamour‘s to get to know them outside of the context of your shared partner(s). You don’t have to be besties, but having a relationship where you at least know one another can be healthy. It also can help sway some of those jealous feels to compersion.

5. Continue to communicate. 

Talk about it all, babes. When you think you’re done talking about it — dive in a little deeper. That’s the beauty of polyamory, not only do you get to know your deepest emotions and struggles better, but you also get to share them with your partners in a vulnerable and intimate way.