I am the "glue" in my polycule (their words, not mine, though I agree with them), and it requires a LOT of emotional energy, scheduling, etc and I feel like the lot falls to me. When I'm low-energy, it feels like the polycule is in "danger" because I feel this pressure. I'm positive that other poly folk have felt this way! What do I do to cultivate my own security (cause this is a me problem)??
Wow, it’s been a while since I got a letter that could have been written by me. I totally feel you, Letter Writer! I’ve been there; I am there.
Part of it is recognizing where that desire and behavior comes from, for you. You mention security, and that’s a huge thing for me. (I’m an Enneagram 6, if that sort of thing helps you give language to the situation - my core need is to feel secure). I’m a Type A control freak, and planning everything is a great way to be in control, but then people get used to you planning things, and it can get exhausting. I try to recognize when I’m doing something because I genuinely enjoy it, and when I’m doing something out of a draining sense of obligation.
It’s okay to try to “wean” people off their social/emotional dependence on you. It’s hard, but totally worth it. Next time you’re feeling down, if people are over at your house, it’s totally okay to say “y’all are welcome to keep hanging out, I’m going to go lie down and have some me time. You know the wi-fi password and where to get drinks. Peace.” I’ve done that before, and the first few times it’s nerve-wracking, but it usually works out fine. And the more times it works out fine, the more reassured you can feel next time.
If people try to wheedle you back into doing the work, or seem lost and confused without you, hold your boundary and let them figure it out. Often, feeling responsible for the group’s cohesion is a self-fulfilling prophesy, and when you let yourself let go of that responsibility, people will be a bit directionless for a bit, then they’ll figure out how to manage themselves.
But be careful - when you do this, it can be very tempting to passively sabotage things to prove to yourself and everyone how critical but under-appreciated you are. Don’t just neglect to plan dinner and then wallow in how everyone will starve without you. Let your people know that you won’t be able to shop and cook, and that someone else will need to orchestrate dinner for movie night. But then, don’t hold their hand through it, making them a shopping list, texting them reminders to go to the store, and running out to get some backup snacks just in case. If it falls through, it won’t be your fault. Don’t play the “clearly you’re useless without me” martyr, just give some guidance about what it actually takes to plan, shop, and prep dinner.
You’ll need to be explicit about what you need them to step up and do. “Look, folks, I’m not feeling up to the task of choosing a board game, corralling everyone to play, and teaching it. But I also don’t want the evening to devolve into a boredom-mope-flop session. Can someone else please take point on organizing a board game?” Or, “There’s a 3-day weekend coming up, and I know some of us were talking about going camping. I don’t have it in me right now to find a camping spot, book the spot, organize carpools, make sure we have enough tents, and plan a grocery list. But I’ll show up to whatever y’all plan. Who’s willing to set this up?”
It will be an adjustment, because in many ways being the “glue” for a group of people feels good, and empowering, and letting go of that control means giving up some of the good with the bad. But if you’re clear and intentional about it, you can make that subtle shift.
I don’t know the gender makeup of your polycule, but this article does a good job articulating the sort of emotional and psychological labor that certain people end up doing to keep relationships and households running - it might help you find some language or definition for what you’re struggling with.