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How an Introvert Adds a Significant Other to Their Life : Making Space for Relationships

mom alone solitude A 2014 study out of the University of Oxford found that we all seem to maintain a constant number of intimates, and when we add one, we drop one. While the number of people — what researchers call an individual’s social signature —varies from person to person, each individual’s social signature remains pretty constant.

— Sophia Dembling, Introverts in Love

This quote reminds me of the character, Sheldon Cooper, on the TV show, The Big Bang Theory, when he claims he can’t add any new friends unless he gets rid of an old one. I believe many introverts can relate to that. If we have a constant social signature, I bet an introvert’s signature is fairly small compared to an extrovert’s. I have struggled (experimented?) over the years with the number of close relationships I can maintain. When I was married and had three children my plate was pretty much full. Post-divorce, I have participated in an ongoing trial and error process in which I try to find the right mix of family, friends, intimate partner, career and solitude.

One at a time, like omelets

I am a serial performer. Like serial computing, I do my best work if I do one thing at a time. I am like this with tasks and people. If forced to multi-task, my focus deteriorates and results are sketchy. For example, I make big breakfasts on weekends. I try to be generous and offer options for the meal. Omelets are a favorite and are often requested. The trouble is they are also one of the most stressful things to prepare due to their singular and subjective nature. I can only make one at a time and everyone wants different fillings. If I try to make more than one at a time and add bacon on the side, forget about it. I become the world’s worst short-order cook. I have no rhythm, no skill and no patience. My brain is fried and the omelets end up being scrambled eggs with add-ins.

Mom -> Girlfriend -> Writer/Coach -> Friend

My relationships resemble my omelets in that they are each unique and best when nurtured one at a time. Unfortunately, life does not allow for relationships to occur in a vacuum. They exist simultaneously, overlapping and colliding every day.This overlapping and colliding is what stresses me out and causes me to limit my important people.

alice-group

Cast of Alice

I want so badly to have what my friend, Lisa Avebury of Sacred Introvert, calls quality intimacy, with each of my people. I want a deep and positive connection that results in us both benefitting internally and/or externally, but mostly internally.

Like most introverts, I prefer depth to breadth when it comes to relationships. This makes it difficult to open my doors to many individuals. There is a fear of spreading myself too thin, running out of energy and turning into grumpy Mel from Mel’s Diner (old person reference to the 1970s/80s sitcom Alice). I am trying to make short-order cook humor here, but honestly, there is something to this juggling of too many relationships at once. Decision-making becomes constant and personal. Do I spend time with my kids or professional networking? My man or my friends? Where does solitude fit in? Prioritizing and choosing all of the time fatigues my mind. If I spend too much time with one relationship or endeavor, I worry about disappointing or failing  the other ones.

Be very very selective

I recently took a huge step in my personal life. After 3 1/2 years of being single and dating 30+ different men (a lot of 2-3 date wonders), I introduced my children to someone I’ve been seeing for seven months. I did not introduce them to any of the other men I dated, some of whom I went out with for over six months.

I have three children but there were no compelling images of mother and three darlings.

I have three children but there were no compelling images of a mother and three darlings.

When my boyfriend and I started seeing each other regularly, we  consistently worked around my parenting schedule. I established boundaries around work and parenting time. He showed an interest in my work from the start which I think helps him justify the time I spend engrossed in it. I also let it be known that as an introvert I need solitude. He honored/honors these boundaries.

I should mention My Man takes most things in stride. He is adaptable, fun, more extroverted and quite a problem solver. No surprise, he is an amazing omelet maker.

I greatly appreciate his flexibility and thoughtfulness and do my best to honor his needs and relationships as well.

Bringing worlds together over sushi

While it was getting difficult to maintain separate lives (Mom Brenda and Girlfriend Brenda), I was also a tad nervous about letting the worlds collide. How could I manage/love all of those personalities at once? So many eggs and ingredients…

My confidence in My Man and our relationship grew. He proved time and time again that he was in it for the long haul. He was the first man I dated who talked openly about including my children in his life. He stood with me on the sunny and shitty days. I had an inkling that a few messed up eggs were not going to scare him away.

120511064149-couple-holding-hands-silhouette-story-top

So… my kids and my man met over platters of sushi (that expert chefs prepared so I could relax). It was such a relief to see everyone get along. We are still in the honeymoon phase with everyone on their best behavior, but I believe my selectiveness will pay off.

Who dropped off in order to maintain a constant number of intimates?

I should mention that while my Mom life and Dating life have been thriving, my career has been steadily growing but my friendships have been slightly placed on the back burner. I still see a few of my writing friends monthly. I also made new friends through career opportunities and My Man, but I feel some of my dear friends have been neglected. I guess, they were the casualty to maintain my social signature, but since they are solid friends I feel they will be there despite my recent absence.

What I’ve learned about introvert relationship maintenance

The key is to find supportive friends who want to see you happy. They will be there when you are single or in a relationship.

Prioritize the relationships/endeavors you value. For me, my kids are always going to be top priority. That  makes number one simple. The next tiers are a tad more nebulous. Career and significant other are in a tight race. As an Idealist introvert, meaningful work and relationships are crucial to my well-being. Which brings me to my last point regarding relationship/activity juggling…

If at all possible, choose people and activities that combine easily and therefore minimize your apprehension, stress and effort. If you need friends and lovers with a flexible schedule, seek them out. If you want a partner who accepts your children/family, search and wait for them. If two of your groups can co-exist peacefully, hallelujah. You’re life will be simpler and richer but don’t invite them over for omelets. 😉

How many relationships can you maintain? How do you manage quality intimacy and numerous relationships? 

If this piece resonated or affected you in a meaningful way, I would truly appreciate it if you would share it with others who may benefit.

Thank you,

Brenda

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17 Comments

  1. Morena April 6, 2016 at 7:14 pm - Reply

    It’s going to take a lot for me to add someone to my life…the men I meet are looking for something serious like right away…whats the rush I don’t know…I’m not ready to cohabitate with anyone…I love and value my privacy….If I can find someone who understands that I am an introvert and I need my solitude and will give me space, then maybe on day, I might consider living with someone….I’m not going to feel rushed to live with someone or even to start a family.

    I let go of a lot of toxic people, I keep my circle small and tight. I want to be surrounded by like minds and people who want to grow. I can’t be around superficial people. I can’t be on the go on the time. I need people to respect that on the weekends, I just like to be home, after a long week. I’m not anti social, I just don’t like to go out and eat and spend money, when I cook. It’s not selfish of me that I don’t like people in my home for hours on end especially after a long day. I have things to do. People tend to get real comfortable around me. And they don’t know when to leave, and it doesn’t matter how many hints, I drop or when I tell them directly, they will find a way not to leave.

    I had to stop inviting people over, because they refuse to leave…People don’t respect my space…they figure since I live alone, I shouldn’t mind people in my house… or they think what am I doing since I don’t have kids or a S.O..Very intrusive..My mom when she was alive, said “never wear out your welcome mat”. So when I visit people, I stay for about an hour if even, one time I was at someones house, for 4 hours and the girl act like she didn’t want let me leave, her gathering and the funny thing is Brenda, I lived next door, LOL…I had to sneak out. She act like she wasn’t going to see me again.

    I tend to meet people who want more meaning in life, but they are extremely needy and clingy, as they don’t have bobbies or things they are interested in. Most became parents early on in life and when they come across a single person that shows them attention, they think this is my personal friend all for me and I don’t have to share and that I have time to devote to them whenever they need, so my personal space is violated. Then I hate to deal with the arguments because I want alone time. I told my ex I was wanted to be alone and go for a walk, and he followed me to the lake. Its bad enough he moved in on me. But I couldn’t even enjoy sitting in the park and thinking and reflecting or listening to music…He knew if I had time to myself, I would be in my head and want more and have time to think about my life, and he didn’t want me to think about my life or what I wanted, because he was to busy trying to leech off of me. But his plan backfired. I ended anyway… If I was I occupied with other things, then I wouldn’t have time for myself.

  2. […] article was originally published on BrendaKnowles.com. It is republished here with permission from the […]

  3. Dee October 19, 2015 at 8:15 pm - Reply

    Oh, my. I’m older than most of you but still struggle with relationship issues (male & female). Don’t know how I found you . . . But happy I did. Quite often you speak to me.

    • Brenda Knowles October 20, 2015 at 8:03 am - Reply

      I’m glad you found me too Dee. Relationships are challenging but worth it. Follow me as I attempt to navigate relationships as an introvert.;) I welcome any insight you can offer as well.

  4. Will August 20, 2015 at 12:06 pm - Reply

    Great article! Here is a nice blog about living life as an introvert (and having fun with it) — http://introvertlife.com Hope you enjoy it!

  5. Jimbaux June 1, 2015 at 9:56 pm - Reply

    A running theme in this article of yours is that of how introverts struggle with worlds colliding, specifically, relationships colliding.

    Have you ever agreed to meet with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time, often due to distance, looked forward to catching up with that friend, only to be supremely frustrated when you show up and see a third person there whom you were not expected to be there? “Hey, I brought Steve, whom I want you to meet.” Umm, no; I mean, nice to meet your friend, but I wanted to catch up with YOU, and I made the effort to come over here – and leave behind whatever else I could be doing – specifically for that purpose.

    An introverted friend and I have discussed this, and both of us have had this problem and consider it inconsiderate on the part of the friend who does this. There are things that you might want to share with your friend – especially when you haven’t seen him in like five years – that you obviously wouldn’t want to share with a stranger, no matter how much your friend endorses that stranger. As if that isn’t enough, even for the things that you don’t mind sharing, you now feel the need to explain the backstory to everything you are discussing to your friend who already knows the backstory; this extra effort is annoying considering that you’ve made precious time to see someone whom you haven’t seen in a long time.

    Has this ever happened to you?

    I should mention that the element of surprise is the real reason for the frustration, for the inconsiderate nature of this. It’s a different story if travel and visit a friend who has told me beforehand “come to my house, and you will meet my wife, too.” Fine. I know that I will meet your wife, I can PREPARE for meeting your wife, and my decision to travel to your house is made with and based on that knowledge. I have done that, and I have no problem with it. It’s a different matter if you show up at the home of a friend you know to be single – or agree to show up at a bar or restaurant with your friend – only to discover THEN that BillyBob is tagging along the whole time.

    • Anne from E. June 2, 2015 at 6:04 am - Reply

      Oh yes, this has happened to me, and I react in the same way. 🙂

    • Brenda Knowles June 3, 2015 at 8:28 am - Reply

      I completely understand the frustration in the scenario you mentioned. We look forward to having a long and meaningful conversation with our close friend and it ends up being more ‘surface’ because of the additional new person. I had a friend who would always ask if she could bring a friend when she came to visit me in Chicago. She knew we would be going out to fun places and thought it would be OK to bring someone else along for the adventures. It always ended up being fine but I would have preferred more one on one time with my friend. The intimacy is disrupted when new people are added unexpectedly. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. It made me think.;)

      • Stephanie June 3, 2015 at 4:38 pm - Reply

        I hear you too, have had this happen and have felt quite annoyed and then have wondered why I have felt so annoyed, so reassuring to hear other people feel the same way, and why!

      • Jimbaux June 3, 2015 at 10:47 pm - Reply

        Thanks, Brenda. At least in your case, your friend ASKED ahead of time, being smart enough to know that it could be a problem or that at least you should have a heads-up.

        Stephanie, for awhile, I thought that I was the only one! No, you’re not rude for objecting to being put in such a situation.

  6. www.laurensapala.com June 1, 2015 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    I can really relate to this. I don’t think there was ever a time in my life when I wasn’t stressed about the tension/balance between wanting to have deep relationships with many people, and wanting lots of solitude. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that I have to be VERY selective about relationships. At the age of 37, I now have one partner, one child and approximately three close friends. And those friends have to be very understanding about my tendency to withdraw for weeks at a time.

    The problem is that I LOVE people (when they’re not draining me!) and I’m fascinated easily by a new personality coming into my life.

    • Brenda Knowles June 9, 2015 at 6:50 pm - Reply

      We are very alike Lauren. I guess you know what your social signature is. Being selective is a positive thing, right? As long as we don’t let the tension get to us. So many people, so little time and energy…

  7. Orange Rhino May 29, 2015 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    . . . my profession, WHICH requires long hours. . . . (Sorry.)

  8. Orange Rhino May 29, 2015 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    Fifty-two years ago, long before I knew I was an introvert, I began working out with weights. Small, studious boys growing up in steel mill towns need a special edge to survive. I got steadily stronger and then, to my surprise when I was twenty-three, guys in my gym told me that I possessed hyper-flexibility. This is ideal for Olympic-style weightlifting. (Think Russians on tv hoisting big weights overhead more through skill than strength, though they are not weak.) Although I was never on the tube, I competed for twenty-five wonderful years and won six state championships and a regional championship. Now, in my late sixties, I no longer compete, but still work out two hours a day, four days a week, when I get enough sleep to recover properly. My physicians love what I do, as it leads to beautiful readings on just about every kind of diagnostic test.

    I guess it is good that I am very introverted because, between the weights and my profession, requires long hours, I’m not even sure I could keep a girlfriend. Studying cost me first a wife and later my best girlfriend ever, but as I think back, I was lifting pretty heavily as well both times.

    Do any of the other introverts out there find that having a relationship means that other things in life just don’t get done? Or are you able to compress household and other duties into the reduced free time that you have? Is twice a week sufficient contact with a significant other? I haven’t had a girlfriend in a long time. I’m beginning to attract looks from attractive women, but cannot accurately remember how often I saw my last non-cohabitational girlfriend. How often do you see yours? What’s a reasonable minimum? A lot of women say they want to work out, but only those who compete stick with it for more than six months. And no women compete where I live.

    Orange Rhino

    • Brenda Knowles May 30, 2015 at 12:51 pm - Reply

      I definitely let some things slide in order to incorporate a relationship. My house is not in perfect condition. I’ve needed to replace the mulch for over a year. I’ve given up on immaculate housekeeping. As I said in the post, I spend less time with my friends. It’s all about tradeoffs and what is most important to you. I am happier with a quality relationship in my life.

      I see my boyfriend 2-4 times per week. I have a feeling that will increase as we go on. I have to work up to that. The more comfortable I am with him, the more I can just BE, the easier it is to have him around. I have to be able to relax WITH him.

      It would be ideal if you could find a partner who is as intensely dedicated to working out as you are. That would make the overlap more tolerable. My boyfriend has many outside interests so he knows how to entertain himself without me. It is such a relief when he doesn’t take it personally if I say I need a night to myself. So, perhaps a woman with a lot of her own passions would be best for you? Thanks for sharing your perspective and story OR. You are always insightful and thought-provoking.

      • Orange Rhino June 1, 2015 at 2:46 pm - Reply

        Thanks for responding, Brenda. Funny that you should mention mulch. I, too, am a year behind in that department.

        Every lifter wants a girlfriend who lifts; it reminds me of the 1960s’ Beach Boys’ song _Surfer Girl_. Everybody wants one, but few have actually seen one.

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