My boyfriend has told me he is deeply in love with me and wants to be with me, but he has been dating this other woman as well and wants to keep seeing both of us. He tells me this other woman is in a long-term committed relationship with a guy who treats her horribly, and that he wants to care for her and show her what a positive relationship should look like. I feel uncomfortable from an ethical standpoint since she’s supposedly monogamously committed, and my boyfriend hasn’t told her about me and doesn’t plan to. He stresses to me that he doesn’t love her, and would choose me 100 times over her, but I can’t help but feel sad and jealous, even though I am such a big ally for polyamory and many of my friends and past partners have been poly. I believe in compersion and want to support him but I can’t make myself fake the emotions. I want to support, not limit, but my values and desires don’t align. Do you have a trick to practice compersion or train my compersion muscle? How can I quickly bounce back and stop this heartache? Please advise.
Signed, Aversion to Compersion
It’s sweet that you are willing to believe that your lack of compersion is the main problem, but I would like to help you drop this self-judgmental belief. This situation doesn’t call for compersion – it calls for discernment.
I see plenty of red flags here. First of all, your boyfriend tells you that he loves you. But he also says he wants to care for the other woman and “show her what a positive relationship should look like,” without telling her about you AND without telling her he doesn’t love her. If he’s not willing to be honest with her (by his own admission), how do you know he is being honest with you when he says he loves you? Second, what kind of positive model is he giving her by pretending to love her and be monogamous with her? Certainly not a model of authentic relationship and trust. Third, your boyfriend tells you that she has a long-time monogamous commitment and her partner is abusive. Can you even know if this is true? If it is true, she is struggling herself and needs real support, not an illusion of support.
From my perspective, this situation is a pit of dysfunction. With so much dishonesty, how can you know whether he is telling the truth about crucial issues (for example, sexually transmitted infections)? Your path of growth here is not to force yourself to feel compersion, but to ask yourself why you are wanting attention from a person who is not honest and authentic with his partners. Are you, like the other woman, settling for an illusion of love and care? And if so, what might serve you better?
Once you’ve done some self-inquiry, you will see many possibilities – for example, 1) stay in the relationship on his terms because dysfunction can be interesting, 2) break up with him and find love and care elsewhere, or 3) set personal limits to keep yourself safe (for example, regular STI tests for him if he wants to be sexual with you). You don’t have to drop your discernment in order to be a loving and supportive person. Now over to Leon for his take.
I think Sarah nailed this on the head: the problem lies with him and not with you. There *are* potential healthy ways forward here; in the light most favorable to your boyfriend perhaps he is trying to be a role model to her, but he’s a pretty awful role model if he can’t even tell his other partner about you or his true (?) feelings while claiming to be showing her how a positive relationship works. It sounds like he’s telling everyone what he thinks they want to hear, rather than practicing open honesty. I can understand the psychological pressure to hide information that might be a dealbreaker for anyone: why rock the boat by being open and honest while he’s getting what he wants from each of you? But that is NOT how polyamory works. That’s how cheating works. It’s up to you if you want to enable a cheater, or insist he come clean. If he does, all three of you might wind up getting everything you want and feeling good about it – at least, until she comes clean with her mono partner. And now that you know he’s capable of it, you’ll always be looking over your shoulder, wondering if he’s lying to you about something important. But that’s the price you pay for starting off dishonestly.