Compersion. NRE. Two of the most popular terms thrown around in poly circles.
Compersion is defined as “the positive feelings one gets when a lover is enjoying another relationship”. Jealousy be damned, if you are polyamorous, compersion is the mecca of feelings. If you are successful in feeling compersion, then Welcome, Friends! You are officially amazing at being polyamorous; you are in the poly ‘cool club’. A club I tried so desperately to be a part of but did not have the emotional tool box to manage. Which always brings me back to this: poly is intellectually pretty simple to grasp, but emotionally, a much more difficult feat to manage.
Jealously is a totally normal feeling and should not be ignored – it often signals that something deeper is going on and needs to be examined and hopefully worked through. And in no way am I saying that jealousy should be equated with love. It isn’t. It is insecurity within one’s self and usually the existing relationship.
Compersion can seem, to many, a lofty and unattainable goal. And, to be honest, it seemed that way to me during my failed attempt at polyamory with my husband. I felt brief glimpses of it – moments where I could think of his relationship with his metamour (your partner’s partner) as something amazing and fulfilling for him. I mean, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to fall in love all over again with someone after 16 years of marriage and monogamy? However, those fleeting moments of compersion were filtered through the eyes of someone who was in no way getting her needs met. And worse, that relationship became the vehicle through which my husband hurt me more deeply than anyone ever has in my entire life. A post for another time…
Enter in another catch phrase of polyamory, NRE (new relationship energy). NRE is that heady, happy, lofty feeling of, you guessed it, being smitten with someone in a new relationship. NRE and compersion should, ideally, go hand in hand. Your partner comes home glowing with NRE and bam! you feel compersion for them. Maybe these two things can compliment each other, but certainly not when the primary relationship is already struggling and deeply flawed.
My needs within my marriage were in no way being met (for a number of reasons) and hadn’t been for years. So, when my husband came home from being out with his metamour, I was left in this confused state of feeling ‘less than’, ‘not good enough’, and certainly not ‘special’. I totally own that this was, in part, my lack of self-esteem, but it was also the fact that as my husband dated this other woman, he did not ‘date’ me. The two of us rarely went out together and yet I was expected to watch him leave, two to three nights a week, to go have adventures with someone else, while I baby-sat our children.
Yes, I was, and still am, bitter, hurt, and resentful. Like I have said before, this is my journey and I have a lot to sort through. My relationship with my husband came with baggage; children, a mortgage, responsibilities. And I have to be honest, I am not sure how any long-term relationship can compete with a brand new one with a woman 12 years younger who lives in a van.
I think that NRE can become a toxic space for the primary partner that many people in the poly community celebrate and simultaneously use as an excuse for their partner’s behavior. NRE should not be something we need to ‘deal with’ or ‘get through’. NRE should not be the existing partner’s nightmare (as was the case for me). I challenge you to think of it instead as something the person in the extraneous relationship needs to own and help the primary partner through. Be it with extra support, extra love, and extra attention, whatever, but in no way should NRE be seen as something that the existing partner should suffer through.
It is difficult enough when opening up your marriage after 16 years of monogamy to unwind all of the cultural lies and confusion regarding monogamy. Soul mates? Bullshit. One person for the rest of your life? Bullshit. Someone to complete you? Also, bullshit. Add to this total-upending and reevaluation of fidelity, the heady mix of NRE and the pressure that you ‘should’ or are ‘supposed to’ feel compersion for the person walking out the door, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. This is especially true if you are emotionally unprepared for the hurt and the jealously that are TOTALLY NORMAL. I think in our situation, there was a severe imbalance – my husband kept up walls around me due to my codependency and trauma. I could be explosive at times, and he began to dread and fear accidentally triggering me. Things got so bad that he began to purposefully damage and hurt our relationship. And the more he distanced himself, the harder I fought back.
Until I stopped fighting and began to live a lie just to keep my family intact. It was a slippery slope of emotional confusion and exhaustion.
A lie, a dance, a nightmare that I woke up from one day and said, “I AM DONE”.