Taking joy in your partner’s pleasure sounds like exactly what a good lover does. However, it is actually the definition of a word that might be new to you—compersion.
Compersion is like the feeling one might have for a best friend who's happy in a romantic relationship. There is a similar word in Yiddish, kvel, which means something like the pleasure and pride a parent might feel at the accomplishments of her child. The Urban Dictionary defines compersion as “a feeling of joy when a loved one invests in and takes pleasure from another romantic or sexual relationship"
Wait, what? Another relationship? My lover is in a romantic or sexual relationship with someone else—and enjoying that? And I'm happy for them?
A rough approximation of compersion might be “the opposite of jealousy.” There is a common belief that anyone in love will be jealous and possessive of his or her mate. Such feelings are seen as a natural—and integral—part of loving. The idea that a person need not feel that way, and might actually enjoy the idea of his lover in the arms of someone else, is for most of us simply unfathomable.
I do not believe that love and jealousy are necessarily permanently entwined. I have seen that separation in others and experienced it myself. There are people who aren’t jealous by nature and there are those who learn to eliminate that awful feeling from their emotional vocabulary. As a therapist I have seen many individuals, women and men, through their struggle to do just this. (And yes, many succeeded—most of the time.)
Jealousy can be an occasional thing, depending on the nature of the loved one’s outside connection, and even more so on how the one who is left at home feels about him or her self. If one feels secure in himself or herself, and secure in the healthiness of the primary relationship, there is no need to begrudge their partner's outside pleasure. A person can even be pleased that their sweetheart is finding additional happiness, and that all-encompassing feeling of loving generosity is compersion.
The first definition of jealousy in the Oxford Dictionary of Current English is “resentful of rivalry in love.” And yet if someone is secure in the knowledge that their primary relationship is not in any jeopardy, jealousy may not be a given. Further definitions of jealousy are “fiercely protective of one’s rights” and “intolerant of disloyalty,” both of which may be indicative of an unhealthy possessiveness.
And jealousy is unhealthy. It’s an awful feeling that roils one’s innards and grinds one’s teeth. A jealous person is ever watchful and suspicious, growling at those who come near like a dog guarding a bone. It’s a mean and miserable way to live. Has anyone ever actually enjoyed feeling jealous? I sincerely doubt it.
I don’t really know if everyone is capable of compersion. The idea has to hold some appeal for an individual to even consider it. Each of us must find comfort somewhere between controlling and cloistering a partner, and total indifference to what our mate does.