“Compersion” is a word used in non-monogamous circles that describes the emotion of feeling happy for a lover when they’re happy, specifically due to interactions with another lover. Sound confusing, or impossible due to jealousy? It doesn’t have to be.
The idea behind compersion is that if you really care about someone, you want them to be happy. You want them to have experiences that feel good and bring them joy. In non-monogamous arrangements, such as swinging or polyamory or open relationships, this extends to feeling happy when your lover has an amorous experience with someone else. Different situations allow for different types of disclosure, so perhaps a partner simply hears that their lover went on a date with someone else, or perhaps they get to hear all the gory details. Regardless, a compersive response is one of empathy rather than one of jealousy.
Despite the fact that compersion is usually experienced in non-monogamous arrangements, I’d argue that it can have wider applications, ranging from monogamous relationships to friendships. If you accept the basic idea that it’s possible for you to feel happy for a loved one who’s just had a good experience that did not involve you, it doesn’t matter whether that experience was sexual in nature or not. You can feel compersively happy for a spouse who enjoyed a long-deserved massage, or for a friend who just traveled through Italy and ate the best gelato of her life. Would you get jealous of the masseuse or the gelato? Does the fact that you weren’t there for those experiences somehow detract from their meaningfulness?
Compersion is a useful notion for people in all kinds of relationships to think about, because at its heart, it emphasizes the fact that we do not own our friends, lovers, and family. We cannot expect to fulfill their every single need or desire. Pleasureâ€”whether sexual, aesthetic, culinary, or so onâ€”isn’t a limited resource. The pleasure I get from chatting with a friend over coffee cannot be compared to the joy I experience eating a finely crafted meal with my family. Thinking in terms of compersion encourages us to empathize and share, rather than possess and control, which are strategies for bringing more pleasure (sexual or otherwise) into our lives.
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