I have seen human beings who have forged “intellectual” armor to shield themselves from adversity. They seemed stronger than most. They said, “I couldn’t care less,” and laughed at everything, but when adversity managed to pierce their armor, it caused terrible damage.
I have seen human beings suffer from the slightest adversity, the slightest annoyance, but still remain open-minded and sensitive to everything, learning something from each attack.
-Bernard Werber, Empire of the Ants
Every man is sensitive. Some cover it up with brutality, others with cowardice and vanity, but a small few wear it bravely like armor.
Compersion Isn’t a Miracle Cure for Jealousy
Let me go on the record: I think compersion, or the delight in the joy of others (sometimes known as “the opposite of jealousy”), is fan-fucking-tastic. I love it. I cannot praise compersion enough. And why I recommend fostering it in polyamorous relationships (some easy ways include seeing your own success in your partner’s, gratitude journaling, and practicing random acts of kindness).
But is compersion a magic bullet for jealousy? No.
How do I know? Simple, really.
I was really jealous and full of compersion at the same time.
I was what you might call poly-sensitive. I had all the feels. And I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one.
When Seth and I started dating Megan as a triad, I basically felt everything. All the time.
It was a rollercoaster. I was terrified about what opening up would do to my relationship with Seth. I had no idea how I’d react. Or what would happen to our dynamic with others in the picture.
But I got on that ride anyway.
And what waited for me on the other side? Was pure emotion. Of every kind I could imagine.
Rather than being horrified when Megan kissed Seth, I found it sweet, heartwarming. Kind of hot.
But did that tidal wave of compersion wipe out the jealousy I was struggling with? Not at all.
It’s one of the best and worst things about being human: You can feel more than one thing at a time. You can delight in the joy of another but still feel fearful or sad.
Compersion didn’t obliterate my jealousy.
What Compersion Did Do
Now don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying that compersion wasn’t useful when I was newly poly and struggling with jealousy and insecurity.
But it wasn’t because compersion wiped out jealousy. Instead, compersion gave me something else to focus on. A new thing to pay attention to. A place to center my nervous energy as I adjusted.
Rather than avoiding my partner’s relationships with others as something that caused me distress, I instead paid close attention to them. Emphasized the happiness I observed. And interpreted their joy as also being my joy.
It’s funny. Because in some ways, cultivating compersion felt like poor boundaries when I was doing it. After all, I was being nosy. Paying a lot of attention to something that didn’t directly involve me.
But paradoxically it was by viewing my partner’s success as my own that I was able to really let them do their own thing. By personalizing vicarious joy, I was able to depersonalize the threatening aspects of it. I stopped viewing relationships as zero-sum. I stopped thinking “Where’s mine?” every time I saw someone else get something good.
And jealousy? Well, it had its own life cycle. A lot of that was time. That came from being polyamorous for a while and seeing that the world didn’t end. Fostering emotional security also helped.
And sure, until time passed and I could do that work, compersion helped to take the edge off.