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This May Come As A Shock

...But even extroverts need time alone sometimes.

As your certified neighborhood extrovert, I love my people time. I have spent 2020 talking obnoxiously long amounts of time on the phone and on zoom with people; being That Person who texts all the time (even if you don’t want me to); otherwise figuring out all the workarounds of social distance socializing; and occasionally moping my way through days where I just Can’t Because Mental Health. One of the great things about being polyamorous, for me, is that I don’t overwhelm partners with my level of Wanting To Social Time by dragging them along, or dragging the social time into their space, or applying toxic-monogamous borderline-codependent expectations to my relationships. HOWEVER, and this is a big important caveat, I still need to do things by myself and just for me, or I’m not in a healthy place for any of my friendships or romantic relationships, and this isn’t just true for me, it’s as close to a universal human truth as we can get.

It’s become a pretty well documented fact in pop culture that introverts need time alone to recharge and be their best selves in recent years, and you hear a lot in polyamorous forums, books, and support groups about how polyamory removed pressure from the introvert in a dyad to social butterfly just because a partner enjoys doing so. You hear a little along with that about how great it is that the extrovert in that dyad doesn’t ever feel resentful or forced to stay in because of an introverted primary partner, or advice about how to “balance” the speed at which folks are having success with their polyamorous journeys when only one partner in an opening up dyad is extroverted and is using every free moment to date; but very little about reminding extroverts to actually take care of themselves.

As someone who is an extrovert, a mother, a caretaker by habit, and a recovering people-pleaser, I historically have a lot of trouble prioritizing myself. I say “yes,” “of course,” “no problem,” and then force everything to work, even if what then doesn’t work is the thing I wanted to do for me - the unfinished hobby, the chapter revision I gave myself a deadline on but it’s a deadline by me for me so I ignore it, the time to shop for myself instead of the kids or Christmas gifts, the movie I wanted to watch instead of my ex-husband’s suggestion - this list is too long and not specific enough, let me give an example with names removed to protect the innocent and the guilty.

Mentally set the scene about a decade ago. I am not yet a mother, nor a wife (though I have been with the man I will marry and divorce for some years already). I am, however, an extrovert, social butterfly, friend-group-hub, “planner” (despite flying by the seat of my pants more often than not), girlfriend to two and lover to three more. It is Thursday and the texts, calls, and quick stop ins at my apartment to check in after work have begun to roll in. Three of our friends have birthdays in the next ten days. Am I hosting something? One is one of my metas, albeit one I don’t know well. I care about exactly one of these birthdays and have plans with my roommate one evening and had hoped to go get lunch with a partner on Sunday. That was my grand total schemes for the week. I was tired and wanted to knit a sock and treat myself to a chai latte at the coffee shop a few blocks down. But, the implication of all the messages is clear. Everyone wants to do one or two things but no one wants to be in charge of hosting or planning. I poll the birthday people to see if they have made their own birthday plans, being clear that I’m not fishing for an invitation, just letting them know they aren’t forgotten if they want a celebration drummed up for them and haven’t themselves. One has local family and thinks that’s more than enough birthday for an adult. I heave a mental sigh of relief; the other two are friends with one another and share the same favorite bar, not far from my house.

It’s Monday now. I got my seat-of-my-pants weekend, complete with chai and a half-knit sock followed by the unexpected arrival of half a party with my roommate Saturday night and Sunday dumpling brunch with a lover who I didn’t see very long but introduced me to my favorite dim sum on earth. I spend Monday alternating work and organizing a party of 40 people, some of whom I only half-know, to meet at my house for cake at 8pm Friday for a double birthday before travelling in procession to a nearby bar so that I could minimize the amount of cleaning I’ll have to do Saturday morning.

Tuesday I see one of my partners after work; we watch Star Trek, make dinner, and stay up entirely too late because he doesn’t work until noon, despite my needing to start my commute at 7:30 am. Wednesday I find myself saying yes to coworkers inviting me to a happy hour and getting home late enough that I barely eat, shower, and crash into bed. Thursday I run around like a chicken with no head on getting paper goods and and missing cake ingredients and bake instead of making dinner, and would have kissed my other boyfriend anyway, but give him a couple extra when he arrives with thai takeout and the suggestion “shall we eat while the cake is in the oven?” and volunteers to vacuum so that I can hide my and my roommate’s things out of the living room and into our bedrooms in anticipation of people coming by the next day.

The birthday party goes off without a hitch and is actually the kind of amazing social event that feels recharging - where I meet new people and move from conversation to conversation and it’s 2 am before I realize what’s happened… But I’m out of sorts the entire rest of the weekend. I have all the energy in the world, that isn’t the issue- but I’m snappy, and off, and don’t want to answer people - and it hits me. I haven’t had a day where my free time was actually free and alone, between partners, friends, and obligations, in weeks. The birthday party, that if I’d just been a guest at would have recharged me for a busy week, instead had given me a week of work ahead of time that it had refilled me from and left me at just baseline. I needed to actually take a minute and take care of me; do something for me and not for everyone else. For me, that usually means knitting and old sci-fi or political tv, or new cooking shows or hgtv type house things, with self-assembled charcuterie boards, the no-cooking chic “meal” that feels like I did something nice for myself, or getting outside and taking “selfish” time away from household responsibilities to do exercise (long walks, bike rides, the things that it doesn’t look like my fat butt does).

I struggle with taking time to do these things for myself. As soon as someone calls with a concern about their own life - they’re having a hard time and need someone to talk to, or in the before covid times, they want to see someone and miss me- or if a partner has a concern or needs more time with me- I hop to that, and feel really selfish holding the boundary of needing time for myself. I think part of why I struggle with that so much is socialization of women to tend to the needs of others around them, and part is that I legitimately recharge from large group interactions so sometimes it’s positive for me, so how can I turn it down this time when last time helped? Just remember, fellow extroverts, it’s OK to need your own time. Introverts don’t have a monopoly on this, it’s a human need.

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