Thursday, March 18, 2010

Compersion Confusion

Let's take a moment to discuss compersion.

Wiki defines compersion as a "non-sexual state of empathetic happiness and joy experienced when an individual's romantic partner experiences happiness and joy through an outside source." Seems conceptually simple, right? When you see someone you love being happy, it makes you happy too. Like the feeling one has when they watch their partner or child open the present that they asked for on their birthday. It's about soaking up someone else's smiles til you smile too.

There are some key elements in that definition that I'd like to point out. The most obvious is the whole 'non-sexual' part of Wiki's definition. Not to say that there is anything wrong with getting all hot and bothered while watching your partner get someone else all hot and bothered, that's a delicious experience in and of itself. And though it can be accompanied by compersion, it's not compersion. It's something closer to voyeurism. A good thing, to be sure, but not compersion.

It's about actually experiencing joy from seeing your partner experience joy. It doesn't come automatically with the idea that you don't mind if your partner has relationships outside of your own. It's usually (though not always) a learned quality. It's not simply saying "sure honey, do whatever you like." It's not simply the absence of jealousy. The absence of jealousy is also a wonderful thing, and it's on the road to compersion, but there are still a few more steps to go.

The most important element in compersion is empathy, experiencing other's feelings as they feel them. Without empathy, there is no compersion. If one has empathy for one's partner, then that empathy will show itself in other parts of the relationship. If you are not finding your partner to be particularly empathic in your relationship in general, there is no likely basis for compersion.

Empathy, like most emotions, is a physiological process. Mirror neurons, discovered accidentally in the 1990s by Neurophysiologists in Italy. The function of mirror neurons is still being debated, but there is significant evidence that one of the functions of mirror neurons is empathy. The more one uses mirror neurons, the more active mirror neurons exist. It's reasonable to assume, then, that empathy and compersion can be learned if practiced.

Some people, probably because of both biological and environmental factors, have a higher or lower mirror neuron response than others. So some people may be more naturally inclined to experience compersion. But most people have at least some natural inclination toward having empathy for others.

So yes. Compersion is attainable, wonderful, and not necessarily sexual. It's that sweet honey feeling all warm in your belly when you recognize the joy in your partners face as he/she holds hands with another partner. Very truly, the opposite of jealousy.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Letter from CURSED

Dear Polyanna,

You referenced

He said:
The thing that defines a polyamorous relationship is that everyone involved knows about, and agrees to, everyone else's involvement.

I have two girlfriends. Girlfriend A (April) doesn't necessarily know about Girlfriend B (Betsy).

I once had a conversation with April. My take-away from the conversation was that she didn't care what I did when she wasn't around, as long as it didn't affect our relationship. Tho frankly, nothing was that precise.

I think of poly as "anything not monogamy" but if i take the poly 101 at face value... it kinda makes me feel guilty.

Consumed Utterly about the RamificationS of my Ethical Decisions


Okay, pull the bus over. You're not riding safely.

First of all, let me thank you for writing in. That's exactly what you should be doing. I'm glad you're doing research and trying to put some meaning to the word poly, because as of right now what you're doing isn't poly at all. It's simply cheating. Cheating is lying, whether it's by creating falsehoods or omission of facts. And yes, one can be poly and still cheat.

Franklin Veaux is right in the definition of poly mentioned in your letter. Complete consent is absolutely imperative FOR ALL INVOLVED. If the girls don't know about each other, or one doesn't know about the other, then you're lying. And dishonesty, especially with those you're romantically involved with, is the antithesis of polyamory. I'm tempted to insist that you tell the girls about each other, but really I don't think you should be responsible for anyone's heart until you get your shit worked out.

Stop seeing these girls for a while. Do some research starting with the links at the bottom of my blog. Franklin Veaux's site is an excellent place to start. Because one very important thing you are totally wrong about is "think(ing) of poly as anything not monogamy." Honey, nothing could be farther from the truth. There are plenty of dishonest, ill defined types of relationships that aren't monogamy and aren't poly either.

Poly is all about full disclosure. And I mean direct full disclosure, not some half assed conversation that you may have had with April wherein neither of you were direct about anything. I'm assuming you're both adults here; start acting like it.

Do some research. Feel free to write me with more questions if some come up. Figure out what it is that you want, and what the most community minded, empathic, full disclosure way is to get your needs met. And remember; if you're going to be asking someones to meet your needs you must be ready and willing to meet their needs right back.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Letter from Spouseazoid

Dear Polyanna,

I've been married for about a year now. I love my wife dearly. She is a fantastic partner. We both have other lovers, some more regular than others. But recently she slept with her ex. And I got bothered. It's further complicated that we both used to date her together. It wasn't a true triad as he and I weren't involved intimately. She has two or three other lovers and I never feel this way about them. I know she is out with them and that likely they will have sex. And yet, I can't get over how bothered I am that she slept with an ex. What should I do?


Dear SZ -

Ah, yes. I know this one. You think you're solid, you think you have poly all figured out, and then, wham! You have a visceral reaction that you didn't expect and don't understand. We've all been there, SZ, and we all will be there again. Don't worry, it's a sign that you're doing things well.

Lets start with this; what exactly bothers you about the fact that she slept with her ex? When you think about her doing that, what part of the event brings out the strongest emotional reaction in you? In The Ethical Slut, Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy point out that jealousy doesn't have to be a negative reaction. Jealousy is the path that leads us to our subconscious worries. So try letting your jealousy lead you to understand what it is that you fear.

After you have a good round with yourself about what it is that's really bothering you, it might be time for you and your wife to revamp your guidelines a bit. Remember, DIY relationships aren't static. We all need a good revamping once in a while. I would recommend against the veto rule. Veto should be reserved for situations in which you feel like your partner is in danger or being dangerous. But maybe you need to state that you feel especially vulnerable in this instance and you guys can work out a few little extra expressions of primaryness to be implemented for the moment. Maybe she can call you at a certain time and talk for a few minutes when she's out with him. Maybe she can save a word used during sex for you only.

Chances are that after a month or so of her seeing him again and implementing these new guidelines, you won't need them anymore. What we imagine our lovers are doing with their other lovers is always, always more intimidating than what they are really doing. As long as you both are honest with each other and yourselves, you'll feel better soon.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A thread so good it's now a post..

This thread brought up such a good point that I wanted to repost it.

Thomas Drake Steffens said...

I am sure you will find at least half of the poly/open community divided on whether they are for or against this documentary. Recognition has it's pros and cons - I believe that the exposure will bring to light the fact of infinite love(s) within the universe, but the more people who recognize these relationships the more opponents will rally against. I forsee a long tug-o'-war in the days ahead for those who wish to establish legal rights to their poly lifestyle within the state/country. Would the exposure that this doc reveals propel poly units into a battle that some don't wish to fight? It's hard to stay on the fence when one's "team" is engaged, however some poly units may not want the world to know - keeping it underground isn't elitist, sometimes it's for safety. In a legal sense, many people could lose jobs, homes, benefits, loves, etc. before their "right" to be openly poly/open is acceptable within the public domain. Is the greater good in striving for equality within our means of comprehension? Or are we blinded by our righteousness to what we "deserve" vs. what is legally feasible? The ambiguity of our relationships can be confusing to us alone, what would a polu unit's marriage license look like??? :)

PolyAnna said...

To Thomas:

Yes, I have realized that the poly community is divided about this documentary. And unfortunately, about a lot of things.

The risks that we will take as a community when it comes to public exposure are very very real to me. A lot of my poly friends have children or high profile jobs, or both. I myself have a child to protect. And it is for those very reasons that I want to bring poly into the legal and social spotlight. I want to live in a world where we don't have to leave all but one of our lovers at home when we go to the company Christmas party. I want to live in a world where ALL of our children's parents are welcome at his parent teacher meetings. I want to live in a world where, in the event of a death, poly pods don't have to worry that the children or the family bussines will go to some random blood relative instead of the non-legally sanctioned family that has loved and cared for them since inception.

These are the reasons that we hide, and these are also the reasons that we need to stop hiding. As long as we sit passively in the shadows and keep quiet, these issues will continue to keep us quiet. We will quietly lose our children, our jobs, our economic stability. Our lovers will be put in hospitals and we will be denied rights to see them in their last moments.

The issues that we face as the poly community aren't dissimilar from the issues that have been faced by same sex couples for years and years. And history shows us that, little by little, progress is made. By Jan 1st, 2010, same sex marriages will be officially legal in six states in the US, as well as in Belgium, Canada, The Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden. We have come a long way since the time when homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. Yes, we've got a long way to go, but the fact is that we're on our way.

The same can eventually be true for the poly community, but only if we are willing to take the steps to get us there. And yes, it's going to be hard and scary and dangerous at times. That's what it takes. But I think there is a very real possibility that we can make major legal strides even in my lifetime.

I hope very much that "the greater good in striving for equality (is) within our means of comprehension." What is legally feasible is up to us. And as far as the poly marriage certificate, well, wouldn't that be a beautiful thing? :)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Screaming Flea and Poly in the Media

Okay kids, progress report time. I recently attended a casting call for a possibly upcoming poly documentary series by Screaming Flea, a Seattle film production company. I read about the event at Polyamory in the Media, another awesome poly resource on Blogspot. A very important one, I might add, so if you're not already following it, please do.

So. The basic idea is this; a number of major networks have requested that Screaming Flea put together a pitch for a polyamorous documentary series. I get the impression that the networks put in this request to multiple film production companies, though I do have to admit that I'm totally inferring that idea, the representatives of Screaming Flea did not overtly say that. So Screaming Flea had this potluck as a way to initially meet the poly community in Seattle. It turns out that none of the Screaming Flea people are poly, or at least not as far as I could tell, so they were trying to get kind of an idea of what subjects to cover and basically what kind of people would be interested in participating in a documentary of this type.

Myself and my primary partner talked to all of the members of the production company. They were very nice, and didn't seem to hold any particular presuppositions about a lifestyle that isn't exactly well represented so far. It seems that the main goal of Screaming Flea at the time of the potluck was to just meet the people, get some basic ideas of what poly means, (no small task, I know) and to make contacts with people who may be interested in being filmed for the documentary if it were to be picked up by the networks. The final thing was to get people to agree to be filmed introducing themselves and talking about their particular flavor of poly on camera so that the production company would have some footage to use to pitch to the networks to try to get the poly documentary contract.

All in all, I would say nothing negative about the event. The Screaming Flea people seemed interested in learning about poly culture. When I spoke to one of the members about how there might be a percentage of poly people who would be somewhat hesitant about participating in a documentary for legal reasons (job related, child related, etc.), they were sympathetic and made it clear that anyone with reservations should not be participating in such a project. They seemed to do a satisfactory job of expressing what the project was and why they were having the potluck. Really, the project is in very initial stages and the potluck functioned mostly as a meet and greet.

Okay. So that said, I would have to say that at this stage I'm very much supporting this project. One of the conversations that I've had multiple times at or since the potluck is how horribly poly has been represented via documentary in recent years. I even spoke to a person who participated in one such documentary and was highly misrepresented because of editing, according to him. While I realize this is a real risk as far as documentaries go, I really, really believe that quantity of poly representation in popular media is an issue right now. I would probably feel differently if the production company gave me any idea that they might demonize poly, but at this point it seems that their focus is on learning as much as they can. I very much hope that this documentary series gets off the ground. I plan on participating as much as it is possible for me to do so.

Friday, July 3, 2009

terminology and why we're here

Okay people. Lets talk about terminology for a second. Because, annoying as it may be, we all use specific words to describe specific things and there's really no way to circumvent that. We could choose to beat on drums to communicate, or use a pattern of dance moves to communicate, or use a group of hand signals to communicate. But in the end, it's all the same thing. Whether we choose dance or beats or hand signs or a set of sounds that come from vocal cords, it all comes down to recognizing a pattern of some agreed upon symbols. Symbols that we, as a community, agree to have certain meanings.

Now, don't get me wrong. I understand how squishy language and communication can be (and more often than not, is). And I know I don't have to tell the DIY relationship community how rarely one word has the same inferred meaning from person to person. But. I want to build a dialogue here for a purpose. And in order to communicate in that dialogue we have to have terminology that has a generally agreed upon and understood meanings.

Part of the reason I'm writing this blog is to do what I can to push DIY relationships into the social and, eventually, legal spotlight. I'm so incredibly proud and excited by what has happened in our culture in the last few years regarding same sex couples. We are seeing amazing social change happening right now. I feel that it's the next inevitable step that multipartner relationships will see the same great strides happen socially and legally. But it's gotta start somewhere. And if our terminology is too squishy then we will just have one more hurdle to jump once multipartner relationships start becoming more focused on by society at large.

So. Let's start with the term that is probably most inclusive and coined by a lovely friend of mine: DIY relationship. What does this mean? I see this as meaning any kind of relationship that chooses to not be governed by the set of societally imposed rules that make up monogamy. Now, this doesn't necessarily connotate having multiple partners or being in an open relationship. There is a lot more wrapped up in the idea of monogamy than just whom one has sex with. Traditional ideas about monogamy also have a lot to say about how monogamous people conduct themselves around friends in both public and private. Lets say, for example, that a person who chooses to be in a two person exclusive relationship has a sleepover once a month with a platonic friend of the gender that that person is attracted to. Lets say they even sleep in the same bed and snuggle. In a society of monogamous relationships such behavior would probably be completely unacceptable, even though there is no sex involved. So choosing to be in a DIY relationship means that the people who are in the relationship sit down and work out the boundaries of their relationships together. Based on their own needs, based on what they are comfortable with, based on what they desire. They write the rules themselves.

The term DIY relationship can apply to any configuration of people, regardless of gender, sex, or number of people. It can include the two person exclusive couple, an exclusive triad, an open four person relationship, a poly pod household of twelve, whatever. It doesn't matter. It's all about the way that the relationship is created and maintained. It's about thinking for yourself instead of following a dogma imposed from outside.

So. That's my two cents. Anyone wanna expand?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hard Times at the War Room

Yay for new poly events in Seattle! It looks like the War Room is trying out something new, "a poly omni art experiment." They're keeping it cheap; $5, and it sounds like an exciting experiment in art and culture and community. The Stranger calls it "new weekly Weimar era–style night of polyamorous mindfuckery."

I haven't been yet, the first night is tomorrow, but expect a full report once I go. Any event that is going to include "poly" and "art" in the title is worth a peek.