AS I type in the words "polyamorous" and "compersion", red
squiggles appear underneath them, telling me that the words do not
exist, or that at the very least they are misspelt. Perhaps Bill
Gates is not up-to-date with the latest jargon emerging from
relationship politics, as explored in Monogamy and the Rules of
Love (Radio 4, Monday of last week), or perhaps it is the
technology telling us something more profound about human
Once upon a time, there was Tom, who was engaged to Charlie. By
happy coincidence, his best mate Chris was also engaged, to Sarah.
Then Tom fell in love with Sarah; and Charlie fell in love with
Sarah; and Chris fell in love with Charlie. Now they all live
happily under the same roof in a "polyamorous" relationship.
Arrangements are made with great care. A date night confers on
its participants important rights in the household - over TV
viewing, for example. Each person must exercise "compersion", a
neologism created to express a feeling of warmth towards a fellow
human being's success and happiness.
The presenter, Jo Fidgen, treated the set-up with suitable
delicacy, but I wondered why one of the quartet, Chris, did not
want to give his views. Perhaps he needs more time to get used to
this compersion lark.
But determining who gets control of the remote control is not
the only problem to contend with in open relationships. Alice and
Sam provided a case study that at first seemed liberated and
refreshing, but, as the documentary progressed, displayed tensions
and anxieties at least as burdensome as the average monogamous
Alice and Sam allow one another to date other people. They now
have two children; so the resentment in the stay-at-home partner
when the other is out is difficult to manage. And what if one or
other of them falls for somebody with whom they want to be
exclusive? That is the biggest worry of all, Alice explained. Alice
is not her real name; and "Sam" did not wish to be interviewed.
In both of these scenarios, the argument of last resort was that
the same tensions and resentments would occur in a monogamous
relationship; and the programme was not asking what might be deemed
best for society. But, in the end, the listener could feel neither
jealousy nor compersion for these people who, by attempting to
break from norms, appeared more oppressed by them than anybody.
Fitting in is also a problem for Dr Tim Stanley, as he
repeatedly told us during Summer Nights: A sense of
belonging (Radio 4, Tuesday). His Roman Catholicism, his
politics, his whole relationship with Britain make him feel as if
he does not belong here. But, under the chairmanship of Hardeep
Singh Kohli, this round-table discussion turned into a kind of
therapy session for Dr Stanley, during which the other guests
listened, cajoled, and found accommodations with the
"I don't want this to be all about me," Dr Stanley declared. But
the show represented the classic progress of the narcissist from
self-defined alienation to acceptance and belonging.