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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

How can I feel compersion for someone I used to know?

Hi there Mischa and Leon,

I have a partner. He's married. His wife is wonderful. I'm in a relationship with him, but not her. That's fine.

My partner is interested in a friend of mine. Well, I say friend. It's a little more complex than that, but for convenience I'll call her a friend. Basically, she was really close to me about two years ago, but grew apart, and has solidly not budged when I've tried to reconnect in meaningful ways. We no longer share interests that we used to share to the same degree.

I'd be fine about it - people change and that's okay! - except that there's subtle little ways where I've gotten the impression that she doesn't respect me.

My partner likes her, and has said he'll be asking her on a date eventually. He doesn't anticipate it will result in a date. Neither do I - she's pretty mercurial, and while I don't know if she has a 'type,' I have never seen her demonstrate more than friendly interest in a person remotely like him in terms of personality and body.

That being said, what if it does work out? I think he's stellar. What if she does too?

I don't normally struggle with compersion, but with this particular friend, my heart boils with resentment and rage. What if they get along splendidly when my friendship with her fizzled out, outside of my control?

I do feel like this is a case where intellectually, I feel strongly compersive, but my emotions are struggling to follow.

I just had a dream about it last night where his wife and I were spending time with each other because he was off courting this friend, and I was desperately depressed about it, which has spurred me to write this.

Thanks for the thoughts! <3

-Compersionista


Dear Compersionista,

This is a really interesting scenario, and I can think of at least a dozen different outcomes or motivations coming into play. But the bottom line is that if you don't think this ex-friend respects you, you should let your partner know that so he can be fully aware when their conversation inevitably comes around to being about you.

I'm inclined to agree that the relationship won't work out. You don't mention if your ex-friend is into poly or not, but it's a safe bet she's not, given the way the world is right now. That might even be the explanation of why you feel like she doesn't respect you, that she disagrees with your choice of dating someone who is married. So I agree that all this hand-wringing may well be for nothing.

My advice to you for getting your emotional compersion more in line with your intellectual compersion is to engage your curiosity. What if your ex-friend has had some serious calamity in her life that caused her to withdraw from everyone, including you? Perhaps she feels embarrassed or ashamed to contact you directly. Mightn't this be a way for her to re-establish her connection with both of you?

Clearly, there is some resentment on your part due to how the friendship ended, and that's natural. You should tell your partner about it, but I'd advise you to avoid letting it affect what he might possibly have with her, lest you engender his resentment. Maybe this new development will be an opportunity to put whatever resentment you might harbor against her behind you, and that would be a good thing.

Leon, over to you!

Compersion develops most naturally when you're happy with all the people and situations involved; it's easy to root for a relationship when you're arguably all on the same team. Unfortunately, it's pretty clear you've got unresolved issues regarding your former bestie which are acting as a mental roadblock.

Setting aside the issue as to whether or not they'd like each other, the fact you're having nightmares about their potential relationship is enough to break down the reasons why.

You describe yourself as fearful that your partner might succeed where you have failed, but what I'm reading is frustration - I'm guessing because you tried to hold your relationship together and she left anyway, without much of an explanation. It's a pretty classic scenario, just with a poly twist.

I think you'll find that this issue doesn't really have much to do with your partner, and instead revolves around your unresolved issues surrounding your lost friendship. My suggestion is, try to understand better why your relationship petered out, from her perspective. Maybe an email, or handwritten note, or conversation, simply but honestly explaining your feelings and asking for clarity. If you can get out of her why she grew distant, even if you don't agree with her justification, you can begin to let go of your resentment towards how she treated your relationship, and start making space in your heart for both of them to maybe find some happiness without you.