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Hard-won Compersion

The last time we talked about compersion, we defined it and talked about why it isn’t mandatory. As a reminder, compersion is the positive empathy you feel for your partner at happy or loving moments with their other partner(s). It’s a lovely feeling when it happens; it’s not required to be good at polyamory.

But sometimes, there are moments in your life or your partner’s life where you really want to be compersive and happy, not just neutral. No one external is giving you this pressure or mission, everyone important to the event would respect if you wanted to bow out of an event, or if you wanted to come but didn’t feel better than neutral about it. I had one of those, in my partner’s wedding/handfasting to his husband & wife.

I thought I was already at “oh this is great! They get to have a nice party with friends and family celebrating their love” when I first heard of the event happening in concept several months before. My partner and I communicate pretty differently. I am all about the overshare and every detail of a plan and my life; he wants to give you the information you need for an event, and then maybe share if something really cute happens. So several months before, I heard "oh this is happening; save the date! I don't know exactly how it’s going to happen, since the only talk we had is, ‘do you want to do this with us? let's plan it for this date,’ it doesn't really feel like a wedding," and about a month later, "we’re being pretty relaxed about it, we aren't doing it like a wedding." My brain settled into a very comfortable place of ‘great, I like my metamours, he’s already married to one, and the other, our time doesn’t overlap so I don’t get a chance to see the romantic side of their relationship much, but they seem happy, this’ll be fine. I heard nothing specific beyond the public announcement of a handfasting and the request to bring something for a potluck until about 10 days before the event, when my partner tried to share a super sweet story with me, "We were discussing the wedding vows for the handfasting and whether we want to adjust them for my atheism," and my brain locked up at the word wedding and this all being very real all of a sudden.

I realized this simultaneous to a massive self-esteem crash for unrelated reasons. I have intermittent body image issues that flared, and I’d had a flirtationship that looked like it had relationship legs crash and burn, just as I realized, oh, this is a wedding and it’s to an already married partner (nbd) and their other nesting partner (my brain flips to ‘he’s marrying someone else and it’s not me’ and an internal scream, at lightning speed).

That was a Big Deal for my (now losing their minds) brain weasels. The brain weasels were in full driving my thoughts mode; I was convinced both that I was unlovable, and, despite the fact that these are antithetical to each other, that I was only loveable the wrong way, since he was marrying this additional partner and he and I are never getting married. I was jealous and scared and anxious and a mess. I was looking for reassurance in all the wrong places, because my partner is amazing at expressing his love for me, shares my love languages, does a great job at that side… but has 0 patience for anxiety. You get one spiral before the answer is “We’ve talked about this twice, I can’t say it another way today. Please talk to someone else.” It’s amazing boundary maintenance; it was not enough to get the brain weasels out from behind the wheel. My best friends, as wonderful as they are, are listening and reinforcement friends, not stop the cycling friends, for the most part. They know when to go “Ok you need to distract yourself, because this probably won’t be that bad and you’re working yourself up, but I would also be worried and jealous and that’s normal. Your feelings are valid,” but that’s about it.

This meant I walked into this big day for my partner, where I wanted to be happy, helpful, and compersive, instead nervous, down on myself, and not sure how I was going to handle it. Was I going to flee immediately post-ceremony, grieving that this was a thing I would never have? Was I going to feel tightly wound and awkward all day? Was I going to adjust to just barely OK, which would normally be my minimum for even showing up? I had no idea. None. And honestly? I was an awkward mess who realized I’d overdressed, felt over-anxious and hyper-vigilant, until the ceremony started.

Cords&Candles, Photo by ANROVA Photography 2019

I was ready to clenched-jaw hide at the edge of the big group of friends and family through this ceremony, and instead, the ceremony was transformative for me. That sounds like a fairy tale, I know, it sounds fake. But witnessing the active joy of everyone participating, the trio getting married and the officiant and her assistants, including their children, was so moving (I don’t have good enough words for what it felt like - there’s a level past moving and transformative, but it must be in another language, just like the portuguese “ter saudades” is a level beyond the english “to miss”) that I was crying with nothing but joy and it felt like the almost two weeks of panic and low self esteem hadn’t happened.

I don’t feel deep compersion often at all. In twelve years, I think I’ve felt more than a surface level smile and ‘that’s good for you, honey’ as many times as I have fingers. But this is so much one, that I use it as my example of how compersion can be a beautiful experience.

This is an extremely personal experience. I wasn’t sure about posting it. I made my partner read it before I shared it. I asked my metamours if they wanted to read it first. But I think it is really important to share examples where jealousy and low self-esteem based problems are transient - where negative emotions connected to relationships or metamours give way to positive ones. I’ve been asking friends to share with me other such stories that they don’t mind making public, because honestly, I mostly learned lessons to carry into new relationships or new situations, not had a current one change so dramatically, and it feels necessary to share those successes here, not just lessons learned “for next time.”

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