As a person who is in a marriage that is sometimes open and sometimes closed, I feel varying degrees of compersion, the revered polyamorous principle describing the ability to derive pleasure (instead of jealousy) out of the fact that your beloved is getting it on with someone else. There have been times when I’ve been moved watching my husband evolve in a particular way with another lover—a way in which the fabric of our marriage does not have the threads for. Yet it is precisely the unassailable foundation of our marriage that invites him to grow in different ways.
The interplay and charge between these two spaces—us playing with others, then rediscovering each other in our secure base—creates an erotic tension. This highly charged erotic love is what I believe most people yearn for in a marriage. We need security, intimacy, and longevity, but we also crave mystery, excitement, and wildness. Having a balance between the familiar and unfamiliar can create a divine attachment. I believe there are ways to do this in a closed marriage as well, as long as two people are sex positive and allow enough space and separateness between them to create the charge.
There are moments when I’ve not felt generous toward my husband’s attraction to other women. During these times I was barely able to tolerate his flirting … and yet, surprisingly, it also wildly turned me on. Some people might say that this is not true compersion. What I say is, who really cares? It’s interesting! (And maybe we need a whole new vocabulary, a love lexicon to capture all the nuances of how to love well.) It is striking to get hot thinking about your partner screwing another person. (Which is different from candaulism, the sexual practice or fantasy of displaying your partner to other people for your voyeuristic pleasure.) There is something exponentially vitalizing in a relationship that consists of being free yet committed to each other but with no “rights of ownership”.
Without a doubt, compersion can be felt differently in various relationships and situations. For instance, last year my husband and I arrived late to a party, zooming up in a sexy Tesla roadster on loan from his job. He became an instant bitch magnet. A young woman glued herself to his hip and stayed there like a neon light shining on his most impressive parts for the next hour. I did not feel compersion. I felt about as generous as Dracula’s Daughter.
After 45 minutes of inner turmoil and conflicted self-talk that went something like, “But you write blogs on open marriage! You can’t go over there and smack that girl,” I did something sort of middle of the road: I threw him in the roadster, burnt rubber at top speed 'til we were home, then fucked his brains out just so he knew which side of the bread his sex life was buttered on. Intellectually I knew I was unlikely to lose him, but on a primal animal level I was threatened. The idea of losing him was charged with a massive desire to have him. An hour before the barbecue we had been quibbling over wet towels on the floor, but post-barbeque we were getting it on and actually giggling. How did this happen? What changed? I realized that I liked that he got hit on, I liked that his whole sexuality lit up and I got to see him strut. I did not guilt-trip him for having a sexuality all his own that I could not control. In the post-coital sweetness of that night, I felt all flushed and fluffed up like a satisfied hen with her big ole rooster man—and instead of pecking at him, I gave him a little reminder of how much pleasure this old hen can deliver.
Later I asked myself, “Am I a compersion failure?” I decided instead that I was a compersion success! Because separate from me—and that is the whole heart of the matter—my beloved was thriving and getting something he could no longer get from me—and I was happy for him! The seductive glow that a stranger can elicit is thrilling. Polyamorous people call it new relationship energy (NRE); the sudden affirmation that a newcomer finds you desirable is a real high. When we get to have both—the high with the stranger, and the erotic charge of our long-term lover, we have achieved relationship manna.
Perhaps this is my new addition to the love lexicon. Relationship Manna—the byproduct of compersion—a phenomena that yields the renewal of erotically charged love. The divine and the human, the familiar contrasted by wildness, the tried and true—reborn yet again.