The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty - 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel - Tiffany Watt Smith 2016
Wander through the vintage clothes stands and record stores of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district and it’s easy to feel a surge of ersatz nostalgia for the utopian lifestyles once experimented with there. The Kerista Commune, founded in Haight-Ashbury in 1971, reimagined many of the orthodoxies of American life—the conventions of family, ownership and, most notoriously of all, of exclusive sexual relationships.
The belief that all our sexual desires should be met by a single person is relatively new in Western culture. It’s the product of an eleventh-century trope of courtly LOVE that celebrated an almost spiritual commitment to one, idealized beloved, and does not always reflect the complexity of our attractions. The Kerista community practiced polyamory, its members encouraged to pursue multiple sexual partners at once. Some of these relationships were brief, some longer lasting, but none exclusive. Explaining that they did not struggle with jealousy, Keristans coined the word “compersion” to describe how they felt instead. A spin on compassion, compersion described a vicarious tingly, excited sensation felt on discovering a loved one was attracted to, or sleeping with, someone else.
Many languages have words for shame felt vicariously (see: VERGÜENZA AJENA) or contagious fear (see: PANIC). But the idea of taking pleasure in a loved one’s desire for another remains baffling to many today, so powerful are the expectations that have grown up around the idea of love in our culture. The Keristans weren’t the first polyamorous community to exist since the eleventh century, when exclusive romantic love was fully formalized in the West (there are examples in the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries too). And they certainly aren’t the last. Their gift of the word “compersion” continues to challenge unspoken assumptions about emotions, and is still in use in North America and Europe.
In Britain the same feeling is more commonly known as the frubbles.*
See also: JEALOUSY.