On being a jealous ‘compervert’

Google “Compersion,” and a Wikipedia article pops up with the following definition:

Compersion is 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.

A few years ago, I didn’t know this word even existed. The concept was foreign to me. I wish I could say I remember a beautiful, revelatory moment when someone used this word and all the lights went on in my head — but alas, that memory is gone. I only have the current newly found passion that I have for this concept.

Compersion, for me, is a really tough ideal to grapple with. I think a lot of you polyamorous folks assume that to be compersive, one must also be simply “without” jealousy.

I hate to break it to you — this is completely untrue and I say this as a serial monogamist.

I just found out that my “perceived” compersion is pretty tied to my jealousy. They’re two sides of the same coin. For every compersive feeling I have, I find that I have an equal amount of squicky-stomach-feelings. This duality, you see, is key to my humanity.

What happens in relationships because everybody is trying so hard to create this ideal, is that we tend to put our intellectual ideals above what we’re actually feeling. We create these emotional extremes that just aren’t rational to abide by at every second of every day for our partners. Sometimes, I’m able to hear every juicy detail of every single thing that someone I’m seeing does with someone. Sometimes, I need to pretend that none of those juicy things ever happen. Sometimes I like that my partner is getting to know someone else and feels comfortable talking to them about things she won’t tell me about, sometimes, it just rubs me the wrong way. And sometimes those two emotional states can happen in the same exact conversation.

These dueling feelings do not cancel each other out. Just because one day I’m as compersive as fuck, and the next I’m not, doesn’t mean that I’m not actually compersive — or the opposite, that I’m a jealousy-free individual.

What I hope we learn is that we need to be able to check in with ourselves about what actually works for us, what we feel, rather than what “ideally” works for us. It’s alright to hold ourselves to high standards, and try our best to exist in the world we are aiming to create, but we aren’t robots. We can’t input some magical compervert formula, and enact the guidelines necessary every single second without faltering.

Being in touch with my feelings as they happen comes really easy for me, sometimes I think it’s the bane of my existence — sadly, we’re not all set up for that level of emotional intensity. I struggle every second with knowing how I actually feel about something, especially when it comes to my relationship and I often discover that I won’t really know how I felt about something until a few hours — or even days — afterwards.

Thus, the duality of feeling equal parts compersive to jealous. For example, I can find that watching my partner with someone can turn me on and make me giddy, and at the same time cause that butterflies-“something-is-amiss” sensation in my throat and stomach. I will learn to embrace moments of conflict like these, and make sure to pay attention to which direction my feelings might see-saw into. If the giddy wins, I stick around for more. If the butterflies win, I step away to focus on something else.

It’s okay to be jealous. Nobody wants to feel replaceable.