Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I'm In Love With An Extrovert

Throughout my life, I have always found myself in relationships with extroverts and I have told myself to seek out someone quieter like me. Yet time and time again, I am with Mr. Social Butterfly, leading me to believe we are often attracted to what we are not.

Per my usual trend, my most recent significant other is a complete extrovert. I often admire how naturally socializing comes to him. While traveling the halls of our law school, he would wave to and chat with almost every passerby, while I awkwardly grinned and attempted (by attempted, I mean failed) to engage in the small talk. Our personality differences were obvious to me, but I never gave it much thought and it had not interfered with our relationship.

And then it happened. After about a year and a half of dating, he finally lost his patience and asked me why I seemed so uncomfortable around his family. Did I dislike them? If things didn't change, he was going to have to think about things, he said.

I had no words for him. All I could provide in response was a complete breakdown. In my mind, I had been making huge efforts and quite frankly, I thought I was doing well. Admittedly, I was quiet when in a small group of his very outgoing family, but I was quiet when I was with my own very outgoing family. After countless heartbreaks, this was the guy I knew I wanted to be with and if I could not change for him, how could I ever have a successful relationship? Why was I so ridiculous and unable to be his outgoing counterpart?

After much self-loathing and thought, I realized it was simple. My introversion would not change, and I was not going to live a life trying to alter something about myself that was no less permanent than my blue eyes. My boyfriend would have to try to understand me, or our relationship would have to end.

I knew I had to try to reason with him, but the explanation would be the hard part. I feverishly searched for articles that I felt best described what it meant to be an introvert, because although I could put my daily experiences into words, I thought it would be most helpful for him to see I am not alone. I went as far as highlighting the sentences I related to most and giving examples from my own life. I e-mailed this information to him and crossed my fingers.

Being the wonderful guy my boyfriend is, he actually took the time to sit and digest the articles. He did not pretend to completely understand or relate, but he acknowledged that introversion exists, and that it is not wrong to be that way. I was not someone to be fixed, I was someone to be accepted. There was no bigger relief for me than to be accepted by the person I love. Now, we are constantly poking fun at each other's personality. I ride him about his political wave and chit chat with anything that breathes, and he teases me about my embarrassing affair with reality television (yes, I just outed myself). The joking eases the tension surrounding the issue, and it is something we would have argued about had we never had the discussion.

Extroverts are far from jerks. They just can not grasp the idea of introversion and its hallmark of socializing being draining. We live in a world dominated by extroverts, so it is easy to see how an extrovert can misinterpret an introvert as antisocial, shy, surly, or even rude. For them, a social outing is as easy and instinctual as waking up in the morning. When an extrovert and an introvert are in a relationship they want to last, it is so so so important to have a frank discussion about who you both are and whether it is something each of you can accept. Your extrovert does not need to fully understand your introversion, but you must demand he/she respect it.

And it is not all on the extroverts. Us introverts need to compromise too. If your significant other will accept that you may only want to go out with a group one weekend night, it behooves you to be as socially "on" as you can when you do attend a function. Your partner will appreciate the extra effort you make to engage, just as you will appreciate the following day of quiet time.

Have I figured out the perfect balance yet? No. I still have a lot of work to do in compromising. Does my boyfriend still get upset when I retreat into myself? Probably. Has he ever given me a hard time about it since our discussion? Never, which tells me he respects me and that is all I can ask for.

Extroverted-introverted relationships are far from impossible. Just have the discussion as early as possible and talk it out. You will likely find out you complement each other well!


  1. Saw your post on a related article on theatlantic.com
    I can so totally relate to what you wrote. Am sharing an excerpt of my recent reply to that article:

    I am married to an E for 3 years now. He has been in positions of leadership throughout college, has organised events and likes meeting new people. He works as a Consultant and is quite a natural when it comes to keeping people engaged. A year back we moved to a new country and I have still not made much effort to make friends (although I have a bunch of really close friends back home). He and I have struggled with our differences in our need for being social. Initially I did not come clean and tried to go along with his preferences as I was afraid of exposing my so called "flaws". Of course, I would be extremely irritable just before and on the days that we had to meet new people. I would get angry and shout at him. But I did not come clean.
    I always felt inadequate being an I. I now know that my Social Anxiety had a bigger role to play in my case.
    For the past one year, I have been on a sabbatical from work and have had more time to think and read. I have also shed some layers and come clean with the hubby. He is making an effort to be more understanding. I think he still doesn't quite get it but I appreciate that he is more accepting of the way I am.
    He had stopped trying to connect with new people as he felt that I was not comfortable meeting them. I went through the pain of dropping my guard and told him that I am fine with him bringing new people over. He just needs to tell me adequately in advance when possible. I like that because of him being an E we have a bit of a social life. To my surprise, I have also connected well with some of the folks he's introduced me to.
    It has and will continue to be an effort to understand and work with oneself and each other...but it's been proving to be worth it so far :-)

  2. I have been involved with a woman for several years and married for a year. I have explained my status as an introvert to her but it all seems to fall on deaf years. She cannot seem to understand my need for down time or quiet time and seems to take my need for this time for myself to recharge personally. I bought the book "Quiet" and even read her portions of the text. However, she just doesn't seem to get it. One problem is that I am a trial lawyer and I have an outgoing personality in public. I can "act like an extrovert" as they say. However, being in groups of people constantly and being forced to interact drains me. People think of me as an extrovert and don't get me. Of course, as the author of Quiet pointed out, being an introvert and being shy are two different things.