The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance is a thirty-second ditty that American school children are taught to recite each morning at school, facing the Stars and Stripes (what we call our country’s flag), with hand across heart. It ends with the phrase, ‘with liberty and justice for all’ and I verily shouted it out every morning because I was proud to be an American…in the 1970’s. Currently, pride is a tenuous conceit, as we now suffer under
dictator President Trump, but at least this pledge reminds us of our ideals. However, if I were to rewrite the pledge, I’d include a new word to express a sort of warm and fuzzy paradigm that should be the goal of any upstanding democracy: Compersion.
Compersion has come into use more frequently these days because a growing polyamorous community finds its definition suits the feeling of pleasure and happiness one gets when one’s lover is being enjoyed by someone else (uh, physically, right). I know – not easy for our lizard brains to get a handle on! But I want to talk about taking the word and applying it more broadly to our many relationships and practicing joyfulness when our loved ones are happy. Here’s the Wiki definition of ‘compersion’:
Compersion (or, in Britain, ‘frubble’) is an empathetic state of happiness and joy experienced when another individual experiences happiness and joy; by members of the polyamory community in the context of polyamorous relationships. It is used to describe when a person experiences positive feelings when a lover is enjoying another relationship.
(I love it that the Brits already have a sappy word to describe the welling up of joy one feels watching ecstatic children open Christmas presents. And what a good word ‘frubble’ is. But it does rather conjure the image of a person’s insides turning to jelly. I don’t want to feel that way every time I’m happy for another’s happiness.)
Compersion has emotional heft. It’s a word that you need to work for, like a diploma. Because what makes your lover happy may, at first blush, make you decidedly unhappy. That is, until you take a close look at the root of your own unhappiness. Compersion is the opposite of jealousy or envy; jealousy being the fear of losing something (or someone) we believe is our own and envy being the pain of not having what one wants. These are both deep-seated evolutionary emotions that have more to do with our fear of not getting enough to eat or being able to procreate with the hottest caveman on the block. Getting over these Neanderthal inclinations is a state of evolution in itself. But I think our practical brains, having been nurtured by refrigerated food and the extinction of human-eating predators, means we’re better able to understand the uselessness of jealousy.
I experienced a lack of compersion when I told a former lover I wanted to join a women’s choir. Instead of being happy for my desire to sing, he said he was disappointed because it would take away from our time together. That was a big, flapping red flag for me, because shrinking from the world outside your relationship not only implies obsession with your lover, it is going to lead to eventual isolation and, yes, doom!
I also dated a polyamorous man. I still consider him one of my dearest friends, mostly because he’s just so lovely. He adores his partner, and was adoring of me as well. He was clear that she was the love of his life. But that didn’t preclude him from being loving with others, naked or not. He would often tell me how thrilling it was to have his partner recount her times with other men and how each experience brought her a deeper sense of herself and her sexuality. He was truly happy to see her grow through these experiences. Besides, he was a Tantric massage practitioner so his inclusiveness extended to his ability to lay his accepting hands on someone’s bare body and make them feel like the beautiful being they were. (I know. I got this, PLUS the yoni massage.)
But I’m not Poly. I don’t want my partner to blissfully have sex with anyone he deems attractive and expect I’ll be happy for his ‘happiness.’ What I want to do here is take this word out of the context of sex and use it to simply improve our behavior on non-sexual levels. If my partner wants to hang out with his best friend from college who happens to be a woman, I want to feel happy that he’s emotionally intelligent enough to even have a close female friend. Chances are he’s already told me about their relationship and I don’t ever want a lover to feel I’m getting my nose out of joint over other friendships.
Compersion means rooting for your partner to go for her dream job, even if that means a pay cut. It’s feeling happy when he finishes the Friday crossword when your own word skills suck. It means wishing your partner success on his two week Himalayan hiking trip knowing he’ll cover the kids when you’re ready to go on your writer’s retreat. Compersion is almost selfless, a state of effortless generosity that considers the individual’s happiness a key component of what strengthens the couple and makes them successful partners.
Next time you find yourself irritated by what someone you love wants to do, think about what it’s saying about your own beliefs. If the tables were turned and you wanted, really, really wanted to do the thing they were asking to do, how would you like your wish to be received? Curiously? Non-defensively? Happily even? Yep. That’s compersion.
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