A Guide to Introverted Polys, Featuring Pie
When I think of what polyamory looks like, I often find myself thinking of some of my friends with more active social lives and big family lives. I think of outgoing characters like the Poly Man Whore who regularly details in his blog how he schedules his varying social relations, platonic, sexual, and romantic. When I think of how to meet other polyamorous people face to face, I often think of Meetups or poly friendly swingers clubs.
But for the most part, the polyamory I actually experience day to day, and the close poly friends and relationships I have do not find each other at the bar or with intensely scheduled lifestyles; they're people like myself who prefer the quiet glow of the internet or time alone with a book or music to loud parties. Most of the time, anyway.
Polyamory can take many forms; one of which is through the lens of introversion.
An introvert like myself centers by focusing internally. That said, introverts tend to be reserved and less sociable than extroverts. Extroverts, on the other hand, tend to orient themselves in the world relative to other people. They gain energy and ideas from interaction, rather than internalizing as the introvert does. Polyamory, being the maintenance of plural intimate relationships, almost sounds like it goes hand in hand with extroversion – like one big happy network of people who love each other openly and sociably. Nonetheless, many poly people are indeed introverted.
If polyamory is about communication and openness, how can someone who innately requires to withdraw from others possibly maintain plural relationships? The needs of an introvert and the needs of multiple relationships do indeed clash at times. But taking a different outlook about the behaviors of introverts can shed some light on how to navigate relationships with one (or more).
I once ended up in a silly hypothetical conversation with an extroverted partner about what life would be like with a certain number of committed non-exclusive relationships. He told me with the glibbest confidence: “If I had four girlfriends, I'd probably be a professional boyfriend.” He was on the far end of extroversion, feeling he could get infinite energy from infinite positive reaction. He went on to explain his need for a full 'boyfriending' lifestyle as a need to “take time off from everything to make sure I'd see them all often enough and we'd spend adequate time together.”
That remark blew my mind. I couldn't imagine such constant social engagement. I chided myself, later, “If I had four girlfriends, I'd probably still be a recluse.” Even if I had so many people to love, it seemed inconceivable to me to give up my therapeutic solitude. If I loved my partners and they loved me, assuredly they would be people that would understand my need to retreat at times. Some of my partners at times, both introverted and extroverted, have had trouble syncing up my need for space and their need for my attention, or my needs for attention and their own availability. This is a problem that is present in most relationships, but is particularly prevalent in polyamorous relationship structures.
The introvert seems to already have a primary relationship, with the solitary self; and attending to the health and well-being of a primary relationship is always important for all parties involved. I have at times had to take the initiative with my partners to denote when my down time was for purposes of sanity and peace, and other times when they should feel free to interrupt me. It really is a lot like negotiating time spent with a primary, live-in partner with another partner who isn't already in the home. As the introvert has a certain amount of responsibility to maintain that self-as-primary relationship, they may end up wary as to where they apply their energy – there are only so many hours in the day. Social engagement, for an introvert, is to give up a piece of their pie. It is time spent away from the primary, or time spent with the primary in less inwardly focused contexts. It is not traumatic or terrible at all, innately – it's just a decision to be made about where one wants to put their focus today.
Love can be infinite, but our time and energy is not; this is one of the common hazards of polyamorous living, exacerbated by needing time to oneself.
To use a metaphor: to recharge, an introverted pie would have to go in the quiet of the refrigerator and chill, while to be at its best, an extroverted pie has to see and be seen with other pies in the display case. To not get that time in the refrigerator, an introverted pie would feel like it's giving up a slice of itself, similarly, to be shut up alone in that refrigerator, an extroverted pie would feel like it was getting stale.
Sometimes, when an introvert forges a specific intimate bond, they allow their partner to enter their personal space/solitude bubble. This limited receptivity to human company creates a kind of merging. For example, if a strawberry pie is involved with a rhubarb pie, they can become a strawberry rhubarb pie, and mesh nicely. Or you can just be strawberry pie and rhubarb pie sharing the same shelf in the refrigerator. The amount of shared space is of course dependent upon the manner of relationship and the compatibility of partners, as always. The definition of the introvert's self-oriented primary relationship can then expand – the behavior of solitary introversion (“I am safe”) can become shared (“we are safe”) with partners. The partner need not to be introverted as well to experience this sense of inclusion, but extroverts must try to understand how very precious it is to be included in an introvert's safe space – it can be more than simple company and courtesy, but can instead be an extension of intimacy.
Extroverts do not experience social contact nearly so accutely as giving up a piece of their pie; they tend to flourish in contact. As such, I would suggest that an extrovert sees themselves as pie, and the world of people to be like delicious toppings. Extroverts in polyamory are often pie a la mode, or with graham crumbles, or both. This is not to say that extroverts value their relationships less, but rather that interaction is less of a sacrifice and more of a means of energizing stimulation.
It is entirely possible to allow multiple intimate connections into an introvert's safety space. When an introvert allows partners to bond into their introversion bubble, the introvert benefits by expanding their definition of security with others. It begins to sound more like the fluidity of an extrovert, but remember that for an introvert, safety is still in withdrawing, even if the definition of withdrawing has changed. The flavors and toppings may change the composition of the pie; it may change from a closed refrigerator to a refrigerated display case, but this need to compose introspectively remains, even when shared with partners.
Being involved with an introvert can be hard work, especially if neither of you are available at a whim due to general life issues – kids, work, other relationships. But being aware of your partner's needs is always essential to any healthy relationship, poly or not. In the case of polyamory, as always, responsible communication is the key to ensure that everyone and their four hypothetical girlfriends has a chance at enjoying a piece of pie.
About the Author
Avie is pursuing a degree in Creative Writing at a big university in the Southwest. She currently has two cats, a number of lovers, and even greater number of novels unfinished. Her primary creative interests are fusing the style of Western literature with the stark landscape of contemporary city life, sexuality, and classical archetypes.
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