letting compersion percolate…
March 19, 2011 § Leave a comment
This is for you, Colleen, because I love you and want your thoughts, even as they become more questions than anything else. Here’s the deal – I’m opening up discussion (because I’m the motherfucking alpha male…or at least because I have the ability to fire the rest of you) on the idea of compersion. Rather than use comments to flesh out our thoughts, what if we just continually edit the post so that it’s representative of the entire muddle? And if any other creepers are out there reading aside from us official creeps, join in with comments and we’ll add those in, too.
So, compersion: a state of empathetic happiness and joy experienced when an individual’s current or former romantic partner experiences happiness and joy through an outside source, including, but not limited to, another romantic interest. This can be experienced as any form of erotic or emotional empathy, depending on the person experiencing the emotion.
Discussion can begin…
M: My first thought, belly full of pizza and reading this and so much else online the other night (let’s not even get into fluid bonding), was “What the fuck?” and then “NO. No. No? Well, wait a minute… Hell no.” I can readily relate this to inanimate objects or activities – I can and do take joy in the people I love finding things that make them happy. But when I think of a lover finding happiness and joy in another person, everything in me curls up and shrinks away.
Is that jealousy? I don’t think so. And I’m not the poster child for monogamy, either. But I do firmly believe that for two people to be in a relationship, there has to be a primacy of emotional connection (think Sartre and Beauvoir, minus the fuckedupness) that is stronger than what can be found with another person. If half of the pair is being fulfilled by someone else, then that primary emotional connection is shot, and the correct response is sadness or grief or anger or betrayal, not “Hey! Bully for you, dude! I’m as happy as you are about this.”
My turn! My turn!
When I took a graphic design class at BU (and made all the pixels go weeeoowwoosh) one of the projects was to design a “social consciousness” poster. One girl’s poster consisted of three toothbrushes laid out next to each other. I assumed it was for adoption, or foster care or something generally family-related. Long story short, she was advocating for polyamory. Or for polyamorists? It was confusing–she didn’t mean to say that everyone should be polyamorous but that some people were and that they should be better understood. She talked about having “too much love to give” like it was a kind of affliction; polyamorous people couldn’t be with just one person, or have their partners be with just one person, because one person alone can’t handle all their business. Or something. She said that people can’t understand polyamorous relationships because people who only want to be monogamous will always assume that jealousy would become a serious problem in polyamory. The “problem” then is that people in polyamorous relationships understand themselves and their partners within this whole compersion thing, while monogamous people close off their relationships to this possibility.
This is a long way of saying, “I don’t get it.” I understand that monogamy isn’t always ideal for everyone (I hear you, Dan Savage.) No matter how much you love your partner, there’s always going to be cute boys at Booksmith–or some equivalent somewhere out there. If two, consenting adults love each other but agree that they are really bored with just fucking each other all the time and would really like to fuck someone else sometime (safely–no germs, plz.) otherwise they will pull each other’s eyes out and not love each other so much anymore, fine. But, a relationship? I mean, a full blown “I-know-when-your-birthday-is-and-I-made-you-a-pie” and “You-left-your-socks-at-my-place-so-I-washed-them-in-my-laundry” relationship? I don’t know, I just know I couldn’t do it. Part of it would probably be jealousy, but a lot of it would probably be me feeling super inadequate. I feel like there’s a difference. It’s not so much, “fuck you and your other girlfriend” but “what’s missing that I can’t give you?” And I think that’s where girl-in-my-class missed. It’s not about sex or this weird, abstract notion of love as a commodity to be doled out. Wanting a monogamous relationship doesn’t necessarily mean you’re closed-off sexually and not free to check out the cute Booksmith boys until your eyes dry up–and being polyamorous doesn’t mean that everyone in town gets a ride. But even if you had a “main” partner, and side partners, and they had side partners–how does everyone carry on without stepping on anyone’s toes? A relationship—a real capital R relationship—I can’t imagine how that works without a little emotional monogamy. But that could just be me. Maybe it requires you to turn off that voice that says “what’s missing with me?” and instead say “something’s missing with me, but that girl or guy is awesome at it! Hooray for us all!”
(Your turn, Colleen!)
M: Colleen, where you at?
Reading your take, Jamie, I thought about being sensitive (and made a mental note to visit Booksmith again). As a narcissistic example, focus on me for a moment. I take everything personally – things said to me or about me or the things I imagine someone is thinking about me, on and on. In theory, this makes me sound super-sensitive. But in practice, it makes me pretty insensitive because everything affects me equally, so no one thing affects me more than any other thing.
So then I thought about emotional commitment and having “too much love to give”. Perhaps polyamorists feel so much for so many people and it’s unfair to ask that they live within the constraints of emotional monogamy – but I wonder if what’s really going on is a version of my sensitivity, wherein they don’t actually feel too much for any one person, just a lot in general. In which case, sure, that tug of emotional commitment to one person won’t be there because they lack the depth of feeling.
I don’t know. What I do find interesting is that you and I both (again, Colleen, help?) differentiate between physical and emotional commitment. I see no problem with two adults committed to each other but also openly and healthily fucking other people. I would readily share my (imaginary) lover with someone else physically. And while I don’t see myself pursuing multiple sexual partners, this is more a result of baggage and trust issues than a monogamy hangup. Will we burn in hell for being so dismissive of physical monogamy? Or are we prudes for not extending this attitude to emotional and mental commitment?