How to cultivate compersion

Compersion is the joy you experience in seeing another’s joy, often used in polyamory to explain the happy feelings you get from seeing a partner experiencing love with their other partners.  Not every polya person feels compersion, but it seems to be a goal many strive for.  It is completely normal for polyamorous, relationship anarchist, and other non-monogamous folks to struggle with jealousy, and feel hard feelings or even indifference at seeing or hearing about their partner’s happiness with other people.  What sets non-mogogamous relationships apart from monogamous ones, is instead of jealousy being seen as a testament to how much you love someone, it is viewed as a normal emotional response, but one you don’t use as an excuse for poor behavior, and one you work through in a hopefully healthy way.  A lot of non-monogamous folks aim to feel compersion, they strive for a goal of not only working through jealousy or any other hard feelings at their partner being with others, but getting a positive rush of feelings instead.  I have learned to absolutely love compersion over the years, it is an amazing heady rush of joy, and feels gratifying knowing you are feeling this wonderful joy simply for another’s happiness with no reward of your own.  In realizing how amazing it feels, I’ve tried to study it and find ways to further cultivate it within myself, and open up to feeling it more frequently.  In doing so, my jealousy has also decreased and become easier to handle each time, so that is an added bonus.

The first step in cultivating compersion is really cultivating joy from things that don’t benefit or directly effect you.  For me, I started practicing mindfulness first, learning to really live in each moment.  Then I directed that outward, I reached out for the feeling of joy in seeing happiness in others.  I would stop and watch my partners do simple things, inhale spices from a pan as they cooked and smile, lovingly arrange his wrestling figures with clear happiness in cherishing each one, get excited over a movie that was coming out that I couldn’t care less about but which clearly thrilled him, light up with a grin after they took a perfect photograph of sunlight playing on tree branches at the park.  I would look for joy in those moments, and taught my body how to respond with happiness when I just saw the people I loved experiencing their individual moments of joy.

Once I had learned to be in touch with and feel happiness when seeing the people in my life happy, compersion began to come more naturally.  When I would see a partner light up with happiness at something to do with one of their other partners, part of my reaction was to have a bodily response of joy at their joy.  At first though, that response was still small, and often overshadowed by jealousy or insecurity.  Those are powerful feelings, and it is easy to have them consume you and cause strong visceral reactions.  I had been teaching myself for years how to not lash out because of those reactions, but that was learning how to control a behavioral response, not quite eliminating the initial emotion entirely.  To handle working through those emotions I needed to really dive into the threads of them and untangle them so they could be processed and I could leave them behind me.

When I would feel jealous, I started really digging into the reasons behind it.  I asked myself what I was afraid of happening, and then what that made me afraid of, and so on, following it down the rabbit hole.  Often times it was insecurity, that someone would be a better partner then me, either sexually, emotionally, in giving advice, etc.  The scary thing was, often it could be true, I’m not super sexual with a lot of my partners, and I’m a much better person emotionally now, but I’m not the best, and when I first started doing this I was working through a lot of issues and was sometimes still kinda shitty.  So I accepted and acknowledged that.  I took into myself the fact that yes, my partners might have other partners who were better then me, in one way, or many ways.  Where did that lead?  I traced that to a fear that they would then leave more for those people.  Dissecting that it was really two fears.  The first was that they would leave me because the other person was better and that person would ask for exclusivity or they would just prefer to be with that person and not want to make time for me. The second was that in being with someone better, they would leave me because they would recognize I was shitty and not good enough for them.

Okay, so the first I couldn’t really fix, if a partner who really seemed to want to be polya then decided to be exclusive with another partner and cut me out, I couldn’t change that.  If they no longer wanted to make time for me, that was their choice.  So I asked myself what would happen then?  Well, I’ve survived some wretched things, I’ve lost a relationship one of the few people I loved the most deeply and was most attached to.  I’ve dealt with abuse and trauma from relationships.  And I’ve survived a lot of non-relationship related trauma.  If I could survive that, I could survive more loss.  Once I confirmed that in myself and recognized those fears, that jealousy mostly dissipated.  When it would come up, I would just have to remind myself that I could survive whatever happened, and I could make it dissipate again.

The second fear source was still there though, what if a partner left because another partner being better just made them realize I wasn’t good enough?  I could have worked through that one the same way, but the insecurity would still have been nagging at me.  So I worked on myself as a person.  I changed anything I was not satisfied with, that made -me- feel not good enough.  I went on a rapid path of self improvement.  So now, if a partner feels I am not good enough for them, I know there is nothing in myself I would want to change because I am good enough for me.  So I can accept that, and again remind myself of my ability to survive without them, and alleviate that fear in the same way.

That path dealt with most of my jealousy, but not quite all.  The rest was born from seeing someone else getting something I wanted.  I still felt jealous at times because a partner would be sharing something of themself with another partner, and I wanted to experience that as well.  That was my last big roadblock that would rise up and drown out my compersion.  That was also probably the hardest one to deal with.  First I would look at what it was I felt I was missing or not getting enough of from them.  Once I identified what I wanted, I asked if it was feasible to get that.  For example, when one of my long distance partners was giving time to another partner, I was jealous because I wanted more time with them.  It was easier for them to give more time to the other partner who lived nearby.  I had to figure out on my own and with them, if there was a way to increase how often we saw each other.  When there was not, I had to let it go.  When that jealousy would crop up, I would remind myself that they would love to give me more of that if they could, but it wasn’t possible, and them not doing so didn’t mean any lessening of their love for me.  Sometimes I realized that my partner just wasn’t aware of or wasn’t focused on my wants, so I could simply ask for them to be met.  If I saw another partner getting a lot of affection and realized I wanted more of that, I could let my partner know I was hoping for cuddles sometime soon and ask if they could provide that.  Often that was enough to solve the issue, and I made sure to center those conversations on my wants, and not as a response to what they shared with someone else, but at an appropriate time where they could focus on what I was asking.

The really hard part came with when they didn’t want to meet those wants.  There have been times where I wanted something like more affection from a partner, saw another of their partners getting that from them, and then asked for more of that, only to be turned down.  I had to learn to accept that.  Mindfulness came back into play here, sitting with my emotions and letting them exist, and then letting them go on their way.  I learned to accept that just because I wanted something from a partner, did not mean they wanted the same with me.  Them wanting that with someone else, did not mean they would want it with me or owe it to me.  Often times it wasn’t because of anything I was doing wrong, it was out of my control, and just something I had to acknowledge, and lower my expectations for.  And again, once that was done, I could redirect myself to compersion.

Now when I see my partners being happy with other partners, it does usually fill me with joy.  I’ve taught my body how to feel happiness in their happiness, and I’ve learned the skills in handling emotions that might come in and disrupt that.  Those other feelings do still interject at times.  I have to process and handle them, especially in new situations, or ones that hit old surprising triggers I’ve forgotten about.  I try and communicate about it and work through it both with my partners and on my own.  And once it has been resolved and I’ve let those feelings go, I can once again focus on that amazing feeling of compersion.  It is a hard but worthwhile process for me, because my life used to only be filled with joy I got from how the world effected me.  Now that I feel joy from the happiness of those I love, I have a hundredfold more happiness in my life and that is an existence worth working towards.

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Finding purpose in polyamory – how love spirals outwards

Not everyone can understand the purpose of polyamory, why someone would want to have multiple relationships to begin with.  I rebel against the very idea of institutionalized monogamy, but I recognize that some people just prefer a deep romantic closeness with only one individual, and that is fine.  Aside from the fact that at my very core I have never been able to regulate the wonder in my heart for closeness and vulnerability and adoration and love to one solitary person, I also am so grateful for the beautiful moments I find in polyamory that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

This morning I was laying in bed, having already gotten up to feed all the critters, clean the litter boxes and ferret cage, let the dogs outside to work off some energy.  I got back into bed to snuggle up to Kelev, who almost always sleeps later than I do, and was softly snoring in a way that melts my heart.  I love how when he’s sleeping, when I tell him I love him he always says it back, even though he’ll have no memory of it when he wakes.  This morning I was watching him sleep and whispering sweet nothings to him about how he’s a glorious demon ascended into human flesh, his black heart wreathed in flamed and filled with the power of the millions of souls he’s devoured.  You know, the usual romantic stuff.  We may have a slightly twisted view of romance, but who’s going to judge? He smiled and softly woofed at me in his sleep.  The moment was just so precious and I texted Hoffy about it, wanting to share my warm-fuzzy-joy-feels.

Think about what you value in partnership.  The amazing connection with someone where you want to tell them everything that is good in your life, every spark of joy just bubbles over and you want to share it with someone you adore.  The vulnerability and closeness you have with someone with whom you can share your sappiest feelings, who can hear about your squishy bright happy feels and will celebrate them with you.  Think about those tender moments of seeing someone you love so peaceful, with their hair all messy as they sleep, all the worlds troubles smoothed away with rest.  I am so grateful to be able to share the most loving and sweet moments of my life that bring me the most joy, with more people who I share that love and joy with as well.  To revel in the sheer happiness of love with equally loving and accepting people that I am vulnerable and open with.  I wonder who monogamous people tell those moments to?  Do they have a best friend who they feel the same intense closeness with that they do with their partner, who they can share those happy feelings with, who will feel warm and fuzzy at the adorableness of it all instead of rolling their eyes?  I sure hope so.

Yesterday I was talking with my partner D.  We recently got involved in a DD/lg kink dynamic, and she also got involved with Kelev as well.  She has a long distance romance with the Brit, as I’ve taken to referring to him in my mind, a fantastic individual with a voice that makes me melt a little.  She was telling me of a conversation she was having with him, and he made a joke about my love of his accent.  The way he described me in this little snapshot of humor she shared with me was absolutely spot on.  It was so absolutely sweet, the exchange they had, that he had remembered me in it, that she had then shared it with me.  The humor spiraled outwards, and I was graced with being a part of it.

That is what I love about polyamory.  There are so many wonderful moments shared between people who love each other intensely and sweetly, and in sharing my heart with so many people and having partners who do the same, the joy spirals outward.  When we tell each other exuberantly about a snapshot moment of love, and when it is received lovingly and happily as well, it just compounds those emotions.  I don’t have less love for any one partner because I share my heart with many, I have a thousand more opportunities each day for that love to be multiplied as moments are shared and enjoyed in this outward spiral of connection and acceptance.  That is the purpose of polyamory to me.  Just as one of the beauties in cultivating a garden is sharing the fruits of your labor with family, I cultivate each relationship with healthy respect and passion and communication and vulnerability.  And I am able to share what grows of those seeds far beyond just the person I grew them with.  That bounty of love is available to nourish us all through the hard times and invigorate us to grow more in the good times. It all spirals outwards, and I hope if you are on this journey as well, one day that spiral reaches you.

Refusing to be erased – on being seen as a trans man

“You can’t be a man, you didn’t play with trucks as a kid!”

“Are you sure you aren’t just a butch lesbian instead?”

“Thank you ma’am” “Uh, I’m not a ma’am” “Oh don’t worry, you don’t look manly” “No, I mean I am a man”  “Don’t say that honey, don’t worry, you’re pretty I’m sure.”

This is just a small cross section of reactions I got when coming out as a trans man.  It is not an easy thing to live your whole life feeling like there is something deeply wrong, or to know that the way everyone sees you is a lie.  It is not an easy thing to wake up one day and realize it after years of not acknowledging it, you have the agony of so many years gone by where your expression of self was mysteriously discomforting or feels false.  Once you finally feel that click, if you aren’t someone who was well aware that you were trans from a very young age, it is liberating for a moment.  The acknowledgement of yourself is sweet freedom on silver wings, it fills you up with golden bubbles of giddy hope.  That moment is often heartbreakingly short before the icy cold dread sets in. You start to wonder who you will lose, who will leave your life, who may hurt you, if you will become another murder statistic if you start trying to present yourself as you are in a cruel bigoted society.  I was extremely lucky, I’ve only been assaulted once (for being trans at least), I lost very few friends, and my family struggled but have managed to come to some degree of acceptance.  I had to fight for recognition for a few years before I developed the infamous “passing privilege” though.  Now when I go out, people see my face even with my new long hair, they hear my voice, and to them it all speaks of man.  The years before that were true, were a hell though.  Once you have felt incredibly whole and at home with yourself when you acknowledge your gender, you have something precious that society can tear pieces out of with every misuse of pronouns or deadnames, with every slur, with every unfeeling comment.

I did play with trucks as a kid.  My favorite toy for the first seven years of my life was a big yellow dumptruck and I played with it outside incessantly.  I hated dolls and teddy bears, though realistic plush animals were something I adored since I had always loved animals.  I loved my StreetShark action figures. I hated going to a school where skirts were mandatory, and insisted if I must wear them that they be patterned with lizards or frogs and have hefty pockets built in for collecting rocks.  These things mean nothing to determining my gender, gender isn’t built by your toys or your hobbies or your interests.  But when I came out, my father cited my lack of interest in trucks to explain his surprise.  The fact that he’d apparently blocked out such a large portion of my childhood to get that facts wrong was irrelevant.  The message was the same, he would rather forget the markers that could have clued him in if we’re buying into binary gender rolls, and he needed me to justify the core of myself with childhood toy preferences to be valid in his eyes.

My father was the same person who asked me why I couldn’t be a butch lesbian when I came out as a trans man.  As the man who reacted with homophobia when I first had a girlfriend, it was clear what this meant.  He had come to accept I was something he didn’t understand, something he had prejudices against, but good god at least that something wasn’t transgender, and now that it was, he wished for the good old days where I was just a “mild normal queer”.  I tried to explain to him that I could no more be a butch lesbian than he could, since neither of us was a woman.  In fact, I was farther from such then he was, because at least he was interested only in women, whereas I had realized by that time that I was mostly gay.  I spelled out how in being a man who likes men, I was pretty much the opposite of a lesbian by binary gender and sexuality standards.  His response was to protest, “but if you were a lesbian you could still wear flannel”.  Yes father, because I would like to undergo societal prejudice, risk my life by being myself, inject my muscle with a big ass needle every two weeks, subject myself to extensive surgeries, and have to fight to even be seen by the people closest to me….because I want to wear flannel.  If this was about flannel I would have just bought out a fucking L.L.Bean.

A nice woman at school was selling cookies.  She “ma’amed” me, and I was tired of not standing up for myself, so I tried to correct her.  Instead of hearing me when I said I was a man, she tried to reassure me, thinking I was talking down about myself.  It didn’t occur to her that I might actually just speaking my truth, that my words might mean exactly what I had said.  It was easier for her to interpret some imagined hidden message and apply it to me than it was for her to just see me as I said I was.  I spent a week replaying the moment in my mind, formulating the perfect responses for next time to be more clear.  The only thing that usually works is outing myself.  If someone doesn’t want to see you as a man because they don’t fit their notion of it, no matter of insisting on it seems to help.  You have to explain you are a trans man, another breed of human in their eyes so they can justify why you don’t fit inside the boxes they can’t look beyond. So for the few years it took for me to develop a deeper voice and some facial scruff I was faced with a series of choices.  Either I could try and insist I was a man and not be believed, I could crumple inside with every “ma’am” or “miss” and have the words repeat at night until I wanted to disappear or die; or I could out myself, usually in public in the hearing of multiple strangers.  I didn’t know which of those were accepting, supportive, indifferent, or deeply prejudiced.  I saw trans friends dying every year of violence, killed by partners, acquaintances, family, and strangers.  I couldn’t know which passerby might hear me and be so offended by my very existence that I would be the next funeral in an endless procession of trans deaths.

These days my existence is happier, I am safer existing as I am.  I don’t have to make choices between my mental health or physical safety multiple times a day, I don’t have to justify my childhood toys or clothing choices to prove myself.  That spark of joy that shone so bright when I finally acknowledged this aspect of me has been fanned into a bright flame.  There are still shadows though.  My safety is contingent still on not being seen.  I am acknowledged now as a man, that is far more affirming then before.  My identity is respected and seen.  But my experience is not, because I am not just a man, I am a trans man.  I have a lived experience in fighting for manhood that a cis man will never have.  And my safety and comfort on a daily basis is contingent on my lived experience being a carefully guarded secret.  None of this can change until society does, and I fear for my new baby trans friends who are just beginning to come out.  My heart aches for what they might face, especially knowing the road I barely survived was one of the easiest paths to this end.  All I can hope for is those moments of joy and acknowledgment, that exhilarating feeling of freedom and truth on it’s vast silver wings, will be enough to carry them through.  Or society can change, one leap at a time we can stop with the assumptions and the stereotypes and the enforced gender rolls and the bigotry, until this life path is just as much a challenging but engaging climb as any other, and not a harrowing trip through the valley of death.  I still out myself when it might help, when it might change someones thoughts, when there is a chance it might pave the way for the trans folk of the future.  That choice is worthwhile for me, there is still something worth risking my life for, and it is a better world.