Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Compersion for all

I follow The Ferret's blog consistently even though I often disagree with what he has to say.  Sometimes people are surprised that I read his stuff given how often we aren't on the same page but I think generally it is a really good idea to follow some things that are well written and interesting but which contain opposing viewpoints to keep you from ending up in an echo chamber, impervious to new or alternate ideas.  Today he wrote about being interesting on dates.  Specifically he thinks you should be genuine and get your important stuff out there even though it will get you dumped a lot of the time because it will also help you find someone who will actually be good for you.  I agree, which should be no surprise since it is a very similar piece to what I wrote yesterday.

Agreeing with people isn't super interesting though so let's get right to where Ferrett and I disagree.

In his post yesterday and an earlier one he talks about how compersion should not be the base value for polyamory.  Compersion is feeling joy and happiness when one of your romantic partners is happy in a romantic relationship with someone else.  Polyamorous people tout this as a very important part of poly living - rather than feeling upset and jealous they feel happy for their partners instead.  Not only should compersion be the base value for polyamory, it should be a natural extension of not being a jerk in the rest of life.

If someone I know has been working on an art collection for a long time and succeeds in getting it shown at a gallery I should be happy for her success.  I could be bitter and grumpy about her achievement but everyone would rightly condemn me for being a jackass.  If a buddy of mine finds a new girlfriend that he is all kinds of crazy about I ought to be pleased.  If I gripe about his happiness and get all wrapped up in a funk then I need to get my damn priorities straight.

Fact is when people we love are happy and are doing things they enjoy we should be happy for them.  Full stop.  That doesn't mean that other emotions don't exist of course but if your base response to someone you care about doing happy things is to be angry, bitter, jealous, or resentful you have a problem that needs addressing.  Imagine that I had a friend who got all bent out of shape every time I hung out with someone other than them; we would call that friend a toxic, possessive lunatic and I would be advised to avoid them in future.

Ferrett is right in that sometimes people do use compersion as a hammer to try to convince people that they are not allowed to feel their feelings.  They say "Well, *proper* poly people are just happy about their partners doing things with other people, you are just doing it wrong."  That isn't reasonable or fair.  Everyone has days where they see their friends doing big things and feel a bit blue that they haven't accomplished those same things.  You are allowed to have feelings.


The baseline, the default, the general case needs to be that you are happy for your loved ones when they do things that make them happy.  (Clearly this is not true when they are betraying their word or violating a trust, but that isn't what we are talking about here.)  When my friends go to a fun event I should be happy they went.  When a lover of mine enjoys time with another paramour I ought to be glad for them.  If you can't manage that as a baseline then either you need to fix that problem somewhere between you and the other person involved and if you can't fix it you probably shouldn't be in that relationship at all.  Maybe that means a long talk about needs, maybe it means therapy, or maybe it means changing the nature of your relationship but defaulting to being upset as a response to happy is a disaster.


  1. I understand how the word "compersion" came to be and that for most uses it seems to specifically relate to romantic partners and poly/open relationships. But wow does it seem like we need this word to use in everyday language about everything. We have a regularly used, well known word that means "being mad that something good happened to someone else" and we don't seem to have one that means "being glad that something good happened to someone else."

    Though I have to say, what's up with that noun? If it's a feeling, how do I say, "I am ". That's how we talk about feelings most of the time. What's the adjective?

  2. Yeah, the idea that being happy about others suffering is mainstream enough to have a word and being happy about their happiness isn't... yuck.

    Maybe it is time for me to push a new word into existence!

  3. Apparently the adjective is "frubbly": q.v.: