• Sarah M. Neal

Stumbling Through Compersion as a Servant of the Polyamory Community

“Hello. My name is Sarah. I serve the polyamory community, and I struggle with compersion.”

Photo by Emilio Machado on Unsplash

“Hello. My name is Sarah. I serve the polyamory community, and I struggle with compersion.”

Deep breath in.

Slow Exhale.

To admit that you are a polyamorous human and struggle with compersion is tough enough.

To admit that you serve the polyamorous community as a coach, therapist, organizer, or community leader and also struggle with compersion is a whole different level.

I work with polyamorous people, helping them navigate the messiness of polyamorous relationships. I speak at conferences. I organize events. I teach. I’ve written articles on being the best polyamorous person one can be. This is my passion. This is my work.

Yet, I’m human. I too am doing the very best I can to be the best human I can. I am doing the best I can to be the best partner I can be to all of my partners. I love being full of compersion. But, I’m human. We all are.

I wrote last year about Relationship Shapeshifting and about Changing the Landscape within our polyamorous relationships. As with most of my writing, those pieces were inspired by what was transpiring in my life at the time. Those two pieces were inspired by my desires for my and Tyler’s relationship to open up. I was in a place where I wanted to be able to date others but Tyler was having a difficult time with the idea of that happening.

I’m not sure I was quite prepared for Tyler to be the one to really start dating before me.

He first started seeing a woman in our community, Baast. I love Baast. I set them up because I love her and her energy and I thought that Tyler and Baast would get along GREAT. I had a few rumbles from my jealousy gremlins, but they felt easy enough to be indifferent towards.

Well, Baast and Tyler decided they made better pals than lovers. I was sad, but at the same time, I am all about continuing to strengthen my relationship with Baast as she is one cool cat.

Right before that decision, Tyler let me know that he and a woman at his work, Oshun, had been flirting pretty heavily. Then, he decided to have a talk with her about his relationship status. She was intrigued and totally down with giving it a shot and so here we go.

At first, I was absolutely tickled. I am truly happy that Tyler is dating someone with whom he has a great spark, connection, and comfort with.

I am also petrified, and my gremlins have the run of the field right now and they are up by several points.

Because of all the work I do within community; because of my decade of experience with polyamorous relationships I am all too clear on the worst-case scenarios.

I know the havoc NRE (New Relationship Energy) can wreak on polyamorous relationships that have been in the game for years, even more so, the havoc it can wreak on those who have not gone through it before while in a polyamorous relationship.

Tyler and I were full of NRE for so long, but at the same time, while John and I still had to work things out on occasion, it wasn’t our first rodeo on the NRE horse, so we had the knowledge of experience to help work us through that. Both John and I have been in the seat of the partner watching their partner go through NRE. We know what it feels like, so we try to be very cognizant because we COMPLETELY understand.

Tyler hasn’t been in this seat yet. He has heard me talk about other potential partners and has had his stuff to work through with that, but he has yet to sit in this particular seat.

So, why was I okay with him dating Baast but having a much more difficult time with Oshun?

The initial, obvious answer is that Baast and I have always friendly, and I have yet to meet Oshun.

The deeper answer, the answer that may not be solved with meeting or hanging out a couple of times with Oshun, is that Oshun and Tyler are both “single”. Neither of them has a nesting partner and they are both relatively new to this whole polyamory thing. Baast is engaged and she and her fiancé have been polyamorous for a while now.

Granted while Tyler and I have been together for five years, the only other person in our relationship has been my husband, John.

My gremlins whisper, “What if they decide to move in together and then Oshun decides she can’t handle Tyler being with me and I get shut out because what monogamous woman in her right mind would let me continue any type of relationship with someone I have loved and been loved by for so long?” “What if Tyler gets so caught up in NRE that he decides spending time with me, nurturing our relationship through this isn’t as enjoyable as being with Oshun and he only spends time with me out of some sense of obligation?” “What if he enjoys having sex with her more than me?”

“What if...”

“What if…”

“What if…”

These thoughts bring me to my knees. Sitting here at my computer writing these make my eyes leak.

So, what does this have to do with me being a servant of the polyamorous community?

As servants of our communities, we are expected to practice what we preach. We are expected to have the answers and then apply the answers. We are expected to set an example. We are expected to not be hypocrites.

If I talk about how great I am with compersion or how I want my version of polyamory to be “kitchen table” where I have a great relationship with my metamours, yet my life and my actions show differently, it isn’t okay.

If I give tips on how to deal with compersion, jealousies, insecurities, yet I don’t use those tools myself, it’s a problem.

Community servants are often held up on pedestals whether we put ourselves up there or our communities did. When we aren’t honest with our communities about how we show up and even fuck up in the world, then we set this expectation that we, as leaders, are perfect and in order to be happy and fulfilled, you must be perfect too.

It is by sharing our journeys, our fuck ups, owning our shit, acknowledging when we cause harm, and then ACTIVELY working to do better, we are able to give EVERYONE the grace to do the same.

I am struggling. I feel your pain when you are struggling too. Struggle is a part of growth and it is oh so painful.

So, how is this leader dealing with her obnoxious gremlins and struggles with compersion?

First and foremost, I am owning my shit. I am owning my insecurities. I am owning my fears. I will NOT hold Tyler and Oshun’s relationship responsible for MY shit. I do not want my insecurities and struggles with compersion to have any negative effect on their relationship. It isn’t fair and it isn’t okay. To let my issues with compersion get in the way of THEIR relationship goes against EVERYTHING I preach. I cannot sit here and tell you, Beloved, or anyone else that it is unethical to let your insecurities effect your partners’ other relationships and then I let my issues do just that, it makes me not only a hypocrite, but an unethical hypocrite.

I am having multiple conversations. Not just with Tyler, but with other trusted Beloveds. I am leaning into my close relationships and letting them know I’m struggling a little. There isn’t a whole lot they can do, because the struggle is my insecurities, but they can offer me love and support, which they do.

When Tyler and his NRE trip up and stumble, we talk about it. Calmly. We both do our best to not only acknowledge our stuff around it, but also try to put ourselves in each other’s shoes. I try to remember that this is his first time through polyamory NRE and that he would never intentionally hurt me and that I need to keep my red-headed temper in check.

Compartmentalization. Holy cow this is tough sometimes. There is a fine line between ignoring your feelings and compartmentalizing. I was in Boise, Idaho speaking at RelateCon during the first weekend Tyler and Oshun spent together. On some level, it made it much easier to deal with because I was completely immersed in the polyamory community and my days were full of workshops and amazing people. On the other hand, my pesky gremlins would very subtly whisper, “He’s with her all weekend. They’re going to have sex this weekend and you are all alone at this conference on the other side of the country with no one to fall into.” And then, I would get distracted and go inside of myself instead of being fully present at this conference I worked so hard to attend. Tyler was wonderful and patient and as supportive as he could have been considering he was across the country and also needed to pay attention to and focus on Oshun. He even sent me flowers. These flowers were my “grounding stone” all weekend. If my gremlins got TOO noisy, I would look at the flowers and breathe and get back to this awesome conference and the phenomenal people. I accepted cuddles from someone who has become a good friend and it helped.

Today, Tyler is out with Oshun and I am focusing on my work and my family to keep out of my head and to quiet the gremlins. Every time they have been on a date, I have worked to keep myself busy enough to keep out of my head.

But where compartmentalization gets tricky for me is that fine line between healthy

compartmentalization and ignoring what I am feeling. I have spent the last year or so learning to allow myself the space, love, and compassion to really sit with my uncomfortable, painful feelings. I have been learning to allow myself the same grace as I allow others to feel whatever they feel and to not apologize for their feelings. I am trying to be for myself what I am for others. So, if I am busy compartmentalizing, am I getting to the heart of where my compersion issues are or am I ignoring them? Am I numbing them with distraction?

Journaling/Writing. In order to deal with whatever I am feeling. In order to process all they yuckiness I feel, writing can be so helpful. Writing this blog entry, every blog entry I have done on compersion has helped me work through things. This allows me some of the space I need to work through the ugliness in a productive manner, so I don’t let myself completely numb my feelings with distraction. I can walk away when the feelings are too overwhelming and then come back when I need to. This entire entry has been at least a week’s worth of effort. Sometimes, I need to work on this; sometimes, I need to walk away. Regardless, it allows me to work through my shit.

Exercise. Exercise produces lots of feel-good chemicals in our body and is a natural anti-depressant. Being active in some way whether it is a hair-soaking workout or a nice long walk helps my body produce endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin which play a very important role in regulating your mood. Endorphins trigger a “feel good” response in your body that is similar to morphine. A good workout has helped more times than I can count when it comes to my compersion battles.

I also made it clear to Tyler that I would like to meet Oshun sooner than later. I know she also has to be ready, but for me getting to interact with her and feel her energy can go a long way in fueling compersion. For her and anyone else Tyler dates, I know they have to be good people. If they weren’t good people, Tyler wouldn’t date them. He wouldn’t open himself up to anyone who isn’t worthy. For me, a good relationship with my metamour goes a long way in helping with compersion. I don’t know how Oshun would feel about that, so of course I have to respect where she is, but the first step to that is meeting her.

I don’t have all of the answers. I know that I am working through this the same way I would coach someone else to work through it. I know that as a servant of the polyamory community, I cannot sit here and act like I don’t ever trip and stumble when it comes to compersion, because I absolutely do.

Be gentle with me.

Be patient with me.

I am oh so painfully human.

To my fellow servants, hiding our pain or our stumbles in order to “save face” is far more harmful to our communities than owning our crap. We don’t have to disclose all of our shit to the world, but I feel that we do need to be honest when we don’t handle things the way we preach everyone else should. I feel that we need to make it okay for us to mess up too and then figure out how to do better.

We are all humans and we are all trying to do our very best.

“I wanted to be your shelter, I wanted to be your home. I wanted to be your reason and have that reason made known, so no one would know all my weakness, no one would hear what I’m thinking. Oh I am the biggest coward, they call the woman of the hour.” Jennifer Nettles “The Awakening”


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