when two robots fall in love: a story about compersion

I adore WALL-E.

It came out ten years ago, a couple of years before I settled into practicing my form of polyamory. Before I knew the word existed. I moved to Korea shortly after the movie was released, and I showed it to my Korean students. Their mastery of English varied quite a bit (though all speak it infinitely better than I speak Korean); and this is one where you don’t need to know many words. You just need to feel compassion.

Not long after I returned to the US, I watched my partner kiss his then love– and I didn’t feel jealous. I did feel pleased for them. It made me think they were in love.

At various points along my journey into a polyamorous relationship, I think about why this love story makes me feel good, when most fail to impress me at even the barest level. Perhaps, I think to myself as I fall asleep, its the fact that the love between the two robots is not romantic. It’s not sexual. There’s no expectations, no “relationship agreements.” It’s a pure love, devoid of complications that I witness in other romantic love stories. Their battle is never with each other.

The story of WALL-E and EVE is simple, but beautiful.

There’s a sweet montage where “La Vie En Rose” plays in the background while WALL-E does awkwardly adorable things to try and get EVE’s attention. But when it becomes clear to WALL-E that what EVE cares about is this little green plant? He risks everything to give it to her. It’s not about him. I mean, he likes the plant, but he doesn’t see it the same way she does.

But it’s important to her. It means everything to her, and so it is everything to him (and, at the same time, he still takes care of what is important to him and doesn’t lose himself utterly to her, even as he grows in his compersiveness).

What their love is, is compersive.

WALL-E is still one of my favorite movies. I love animation. I love cute romantic stories that don’t make me puke.

Leave off the voyeur aspect of compersion. Leave off the idea that it means you must be jumping off the ground giddy every time your partner dates someone new. Leave off the idea that you need to gain JOY from your partner’s other partner.

Boil it down to the very essence of the word:

Happiness in someone else’s happiness.

I love how simple and happy the little robot is for the first robot friend he meets, even if it does take him a bit to get it “right.” All he really knows is what makes himself happy. He’s never had to worry about his cockroach companion, and that’s the only “person” he’s ever known. So, he’s not perfect about it at first, but he does try.

EVE doesn’t respond to WALL-E’s initial advances. Unless you count trying to blow him up with lasers. In general, she ignores him. Nonetheless, he keeps trying.

Because her happiness stirs something in him that makes life more than just getting up, doing a day’s work, and going back to robot sleep.

That, I believe, is the true beauty of compersion.

The idea that you are happy, because your partner (for purposes of this writing, I shall say ‘partner,’ but it could be a friend, family member, etc.) is happy. That you can be happy for their happiness– when they get a new job, when they achieve a new success, when they meet a new girl that curls their toes. That their being happy makes you feel warmer inside.

Sometimes my friends, my partners, my “tribe,” find happiness in something totally unrelated to me. That doesn’t mean they love me less. It simply means, on occasion, that we have different interests. Of course the fewer interests we share, the harder it might be to have a long lasting, entwined relationship (if we find everything about each other tedious, we might rethink whether we want to be together).

The funny thing is it actually does provide more joy in your life. Not the kind of joy where my Partner Sue dates her Partner Bobby…and Bobby becomes my friend so I get joy from our friendship…but a selfless joy.

It’s not better or more enlightened than other sorts of happy feelings– it’s merely different. But I am very much a “collect em all” when it comes to the pleasant, happy feelings. I highly recommend this one. (I also believe I deserve someone who can be compersive towards me, as well.)

Sometimes compersion can be difficult.

At one point, WALL-E might get chased and buried under shopping carts against a set of glass doors. And other similar incidents. Whatever. Sometimes it’s a little rough on the journey.

Compersion isn’t always easy for me, or anyone else. Happiness that doesn’t involve me? What?

It’s easy enough, until we stumble. Say, you and your partner start dating a girl. Turns out she likes your partner and not you. It’s a rejection that you can’t even get away from….but can you still be happy for the two of them?

Perhaps, but don’t worry if it takes time. Especially in this sort of situation when said happiness involves, -gasp-, Other People. Their dependence on you is diluted when others provide some of their happiness and security. That can be scary. If they don’t need you, will they want you? Plus, now they are getting something that you wanted. Can you still be happy for them?

Compersion is so much more- and so much less- than the silly misconceptions surrounding it.

Such feelings are sometimes complex and require time to age, much like a fine brandy. No, it doesn’t make you a worse person to not have this one under your belt from the start. Especially when you think it means things that no actual human could accomplish.

By the way, it’s okay to not be entirely the same person as a partner of yours. I like WoW. M likes Diablo. It hasn’t killed the relationship; and he can get excited about my shiny new helmet, just as I can get excited that he’s reached a new Torment level. And sometimes I play Diablo, too (I won’t ask ANYONE to play WoW without enthusiastic consent. I’ve sold my own soul, but I will not ask anyone else to do the same unless that’s their kink. That’s just fair. Plus, lately I think I’m losing interest, anyway.)

And, please, drop the idea that it has anything to do with watching your partner engage in sexytimes with someone else. Compersion is NOT voyeurism. It literally has its own kink for that.

When all the biscuit is put aside, I think asking that our partners be happy when we get excited and happy is not asking too much. That’s all it is, for me, and for everyone I know that actually feels compersive. Rather than trying to make ourselves feel what we think we OUGHT to feel.

And it’s seriously one of the most beautiful feelings ever.

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