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Compersion For Beginners

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Can you imagine taking pleasure in your boyfriend's feelings for someone else? That's compersion.

Amidst a crowded dance floor, a slender blonde woman leaned over to whisper in my ear. "You're a very attractive couple," she purred. I smiled at her—an ego boost is always nice—and continued dancing with my boyfriend. The man with her gave me a high-five and kept flashing smiles my way. Was he trying to hit on me? It could not have been anymore clear: I was there with my boyfriend.

For the next half hour every time I looked up, I felt one of them trying to make eye contact with me. When we left the bar my boyfriend asked if I'd noticed the couple. "I think they were trying to hit on me," he said.

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"No, they were hitting on me," I replied. Then it dawned on us: they were hitting on us as a couple. That's funny, we both thought. And then he looked at me and said, "I don't want to share you with anyone."

"Neither do I," I replied. Exclusivity with one partner is where I'm comfortable in a romantic relationship.

The model for romance in our culture is so dominated by the monogamous male-female relationship that most people subscribe to it without stopping to consider the alternatives. But not everyone is uncomfortable with sharing his or her partner.

People in open relationships often feel joy or pleasure when their partner has romantic adventures with other people. This feeling is sometimes called compersion. The Keristan Commune, a now defunct San Francisco-based polyamourous community, gets credit for coining the term, which is often defined as the opposite of jealousy. The word compersion is widely used in poly circles, but anyone in a non-monogamous relationship can experience joy from a partner's other love interests. 

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When Shara Smith started dating Brian Downes, he was already in a relationship with someone else and he wanted to be careful about respecting Stephanie, his first partner. "He wanted to take all the right steps, and that made me more attracted to him," said Shara, who describes compersion as a "positive emotional reaction to a lover's other relationship."

"I love to watch his face light up when she calls because I know how much he cares about her." Shara doesn't view other partners as competition. "Every relationship is unique and nobody can replace me, because they are not me."

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