I'll admit it. Even though I've been in an open marriage with Steph since August of 2006, I can be a bit of a polyamory newb sometimes. It was only this past winter when having dinner with S (guy I dated last summer / fall) that he mentioned the term compersion to me, assuming that I was very familiar with it. Truth be told, I don't think I'd heard of it before, but I know now that it's very key to any successful non-monogamous relationship while remaining one of the hardest things to master.
According to our faithful online friend Wikipedia: Compersion is a term used by practitioners of polyamory to describe the experience of taking pleasure that one's partner is experiencing pleasure, even if the source of their pleasure is other than yourself. The feeling may or may not be sexual. Quite often it's not.
In simple terms, it means that I would be happy if Steph is hanging out or fucking or who knows whating someone else, because he's happy. Sounds logical. Happy equals happy, right?
He and I were discussing this last night. His happiness has always been influenced by mine as he's a bit of a mood sponge. In fairness, I'm a bit of force when feeling any emotion, and it's hard to not get caught up in it. When I'm down, he's generally down, and when I'm up, he's generally up. Perhaps it's because I'm a woman, perhaps it's just because I'm me, but my life is often a rollercoaster of emotions, at least thankfully a lot more good than bad. If you lined up our emotional graphs on top of one another, his would be a pretty consistent straight line with mine moving up and down like a feather on the wind. Think Forrest Gump ending scene. Ah, such pretty music...
Moving on. During all of our relationship, but especially noticeable now, is how truly happy he is when I'm happy, no matter what I'm doing. I've been dating people, or doing strange, kinky things that make me smile, and even though he might not understand it (you like being slapped where??) sometimes he's so amazingly easy going it blows my mind. Keeeerrrblaaammo.
And then there's me.
I like to think that most things I do in life I do while considering if someone else's happiness is going to be effected. I hate causing bad feelings and sometimes I worry too much about other people and forget about myself. Not so much the case with Steph dating. It took us quite some time to get to the stage where we both were good "compersioners".
In the past I would try to be happy for him when he'd head out into the dating world. It's not that I wasn't slightly content; I was glad he was getting out and meeting people - not much of a social butterfly, my husband - but there was a part of me that wished he would maybe make some regular, male friends first. You know, good ol' regular bromance.
I found it impossible to be 100% happy for him enjoying someone else's company while he was still doing things at home that either hurt my feelings, drove me crazy or weren't consistent to the life we were making together, in my opinion. He, on the other hand, was always able to separate our home life from our dating lives using his master skills of compartmentalizing. I know now that it didn't have very much to do with the people he was seeing, or the things he was doing, but issues that we had together that needed to be resolved.
The first time that I found myself experiencing a somewhat skewed example of what I now know as compersion was during a threesome. I realized then that I enjoy watching him. I wouldn't classify myself as strictly voyeur - there's definitely an exhibitionist streak in me - but seeing my partner being sensual with someone else reminds me of the things that I find attractive about him. It's like an out of body experience: a big sexy non-dead out of body experience. There are times when it stings still, when he thinks I'm not looking and I catch an intimate moment between he and a lady, but I don't believe it's completely necessary that I have to get over that 100 % of the time. If it's not causing any problems and I'm generally pretty compersion-y (compersionesque?), then I'm not worried.
Finally I've gotten much better at experiencing real compersion when he's out with someone else. Throughout our open relationship we've learned that a lot of the issues that I was having with women he was seeing had more to do with our own problems that needed fixin'. Once we were able to work on our shiz, to really feel strong as a couple, it became so much easier for me to be happy for him in his dating adventures.
Nowadays I'd consider myself a much better compersioner than I used to be. He knows what I need to feel safe, secure and sexy in our relationship, and I know the same of him. By always working to make sure these needs are being met we can both be happy for each other and ourselves.