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Just Poly Stuff: Compersion When Your Partner is Dating and You’re Not

Oh boy, this is going to be a personal-ass post, so ready your feels. Today I want to talk about my love life and how I deal with things in the context of my polyamorous relationship, and how to best be good to yourself and your partner once they start seeing other people. If you’re not familiar with polyamory, the short of it is that you’re consensually in a non-monogamous relationship, meaning that you agree that it’s OK to see other people. That’s a very generalized definition – your relationship may or may not include dating individually, flirting, or even sex, and that’s OK.

My partner and I got married in October 2013, and we’ve been happy ever since. There was a period of non-monogamy when we were first dating, and then we were monogamous again up until a couple of years ago when we decided to try to open our relationship for a time. There were some short bits of flirting and chatting, but nothing ever really came of it for either of us. Eventually, the stress of the social aspects of trying to date coupled with the stigma that polyamory is somehow wrong made everything more stressful. We decided to close it up with an opening for sexy things on a case-by-case basis.

Fast forward to this summer, when my partner came to me and asked permission to flirt and be sexual with people online. I was hesitant for a second, but I’m actually pretty secure in our relationship right now, so I said (paraphrased) “Sure, knock yourself out.”

Later, my partner came to me again, and I could tell they were nervous to ask for more. They told me how they had developed feelings for someone, and wanted to know if they could pursue that more. My stomach wound up in knots, I was afraid of going back to being an open relationship. I didn’t want to think about people sexting and fucking my partner. I answered “If that’s what will make you happy,” and left it at that. We discussed in more detail later that we were in fact, opening up our relationship to polyamory and I made preparations for trying to master this beast that is compersion.

Compersion’s a weird word – it even looks like I was drunk and trying to type “compassion,” which isn’t far from the meaning. In my own words, compersion is feeling happy for your partner being happy. It’s not about “being a cuck” (I hate that phrase) or not being good enough or even just controlling your own jealousy. In fact, that’s a huge misnomer about polyamory – a little self-controlled jealousy is going to happen, just keep it in check.

I know it’s easier said than done, but you can still feel jealousy and accomplish having compersion. Where compersion happens successfully is when you keep your jealousy in check and root yourself in the assertion that you love your partner, they love you, and that you trust them. If you really love someone, then you want them to be happy. That doesn’t mean polyamory is for everyone – but everyone can probably relate to the sentiment of wanting loved ones to be happy.

My Partner Has a Boyfriend Now

My wonderful partner Sugar Cunt officially started dating a guy on the other side of the world. For some reason, that made it easier at first to cope with feelings of jealousy. Hey, it’s just online right – no harm, no foul. But as my partner is demisexual, there are emotions there too. The emotional intimacy definitely made things harder. But I realized, they don’t love me any less, nor I them.

So what did that end up meaning for me, practically speaking?

Well, lonely nights, for one thing. My partner’s relationship is still new, and with the time difference that means they sleep most of the day and wake up to spend a few hours with me, then head off into the living room to use their desktop PC and Skype/message each other for hours in relative privacy. Not every night, mind you – but they have nights where they’re together and nights when he is with his primary. The boyfriend having a primary also eases things a bit for me. I know he cares about my partner, and treats them well.

Being newly poly opened up a world of questions and anxieties for me on my side of things, too. I longed for companionship, someone to spark old or new interests that haven’t been active in my life for a while for one reason or another. You know, all the nice things you get from new friends, plus the possibility of more. I also no longer felt any guilt about feeling and expressing attraction toward other people. It’s exciting times.

It’s #Fistmas Time in the City

In August 2017, the Woodhull Sexual Freedom conference happened, and my partner and many other bloggers attended. During the conference, there rose a hashtag on Twitter that loomed heavy over my head. It was #Fistmas. My partner and dearest treasure was offering themselves up to be fisted by a room full of friends and strangers and have it photographed and retweeted across the internet. I’m being dramatic, but this is how it went in my head at the time.

Instead of getting anxious and upset, I reminded myself this is the perfect time to let my partner practice their own bodily autonomy and sexual freedom, and how if it were me in their place I’d be thrilled but also worried about them. It was time for me to get face-to-face with compersion, and this would be a trial by fire.

It turned out fine, and I was super happy for them. Mission accomplished. I got through it by thinking about how the experience doesn’t change anything about what they mean to me or vice versa, and the end result is that my partner experienced something good and it made them happy.

Pinita large fortress wall lined at the bottom with tall grass

Boundaries and Communication

What’s really made our situation work, them dating and me currently in just the one committed relationship, was talking about boundaries and having good communication all along the way. I’ll give you an example: when they first started this new relationship, there was some pet names and other lovey stuff on his Twitter account with reference to my partner. I felt really weird about all that. I didn’t want to ask him directly to stop, because it’s his choice to post things or not. I talked about it instead with Sugar and they talked to him about it without me asking them to do that. That’s good communication.

Something Sugar did that really helped that situation, since I follow their boyfriend on Twitter and also their main account, was to create a brand new Twitter account and block mine, so they have a place to do that lovey dovey shit in public. I didn’t know this until I stumbled upon a “Tweet Unavailable” and Sugar explained it to me.

When Sugar is in the livingroom on their PC, it’s easy to just walk in and say hi or whatever, because talking to him is not the only thing they do in there. So we agreed that after a certain time of night, I either knock first or message them to see if it’s OK to come say hi and get a hug and a kiss.

Another important boundary is how much to communicate about their relationship with their paramour(s). If you’re newly poly, there’s a tendency to either overshare or undershare about your feelings and what’s happening lately. You have to find the right balance that works for your relationship. In my case, I don’t want to know what’s going on for the most part. I’m OK with being told that they (my partner) are happy, that they’re feeling good about themselves, but I don’t need to know life details of their partner either unless it’s necessary.

Megan Ashley (of Take Back Your Sex) writes:

“When we opened our relationship there was an expectation that I had that to be “truly” poly meant to be able to tell each other EVERYTHING… but that doesn’t work for everyone, and that is ok. One of my partners wants me to kiss and tell, the other doesn’t, and it does not mean one is a better poly-partner than the other. There is not a one-size-fits-all to this.”

My partner and I have also talked about how they’re learning to wait to talk to me about things sometimes. While they’d immediately want to tell me what was wrong or bothering them, they are trying harder to wait and identify their feelings first, decide if what they want to share is actually something good to share with me, or if it’s something better to talk about with someone else for support.

It takes a lot of pressure off me to have to be supportive in a situation that is painful to talk about because of jealousy. As long as he isn’t hurting them, I honestly shouldn’t be involved much. I do have compassion for them though, as a human being and acquaintance, so when I noticed there was non-relationship related troubles for him, I sent along my well wishes and concern.

NOTE: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE BUDDIES WITH YOUR METAMOUR (the partner of your partner who isn’t you). You don’t have to be a jerk to them, but you’re not under any obligation to initiate friendship, much less any sort of three-way situation. That’s another polyamory myth – you can date and experience other people individually OR as a couple. But it’s already SO hard to find someone you like and want to be with, finding a single someone who coincidentally has feelings for BOTH people in a couple is rare. People often misuse the term “unicorn” to describe someone who is single and wants to bang both people in (typically) a hetero couple. I hate that. Don’t make poly and bi/pan people your “unicorn.” We are not your novelty entertainment in the bedroom or elsewhere.

Compersion is About Selfless Happiness

Compersion is all about being happy for your partner, and letting them be happy for you! Ask your partner how much they’re comfortable being told, and let them know how much you’re comfortable hearing. Give them space, and time, especially as they develop new relationships. You remember that feeling, right? That warm, tingly, giddy feeling you get when you meet someone new and they like you back? You want to spend every waking moment talking and laughing and enjoying them richly. While I don’t know and don’t track how much time Sugar spends with their boyfriend away from me, I give them space and time to do that so they can nurture this new thing.

If your partner is dating and you’re not yet, take some time to work on yourself. That will be to everyone’s betterment. Find new friends, hobbies, and potentially your own romantic interests. This helps you break free of the habit of requiring your partner to provide all your validation and emotional needs, and it’s a healthy thing to do if you’re poly or not.

Know your own limits, don’t do anything you’re not ready to do yet. If your partner is dating and you’re not even comfortable talking to strangers, you need to go at your own pace. Take care of yourself and be good to your partner. Continue dating each other, sending sweet gifts – being thoughtful and romantic to your partner is a great way to affirm and reassure each other as you go on this wonderful journey together.

Are you currently struggling with compersion? Is your partner dating and you’re not? Share your story and how you’re coping (or not) with compersion in the comments below.

Love and hugs <3 -Zoe

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Leave a Reply

  • Megan Ashley
    September 8, 2017

    So well written, Zoe. I Love learning about you and Sugar, you two seem like such an awesome pair and I’m so glad you have found happiness in polyamory, as challenging as it can feel at times, it seems like it has helped you grow,too. Same for me. <3 and thanks for the quote from my post 🙂

    I am really loving your blog!

    • Zöe
      September 8, 2017

      Thank you sweetie! It’s been an interesting road for sure, but it’s been worth it to live “at full volume,” as it were. And it’s also worth it to see my partner happy.

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