Tuesday, March 13, 2012

When Introvert and Extrovert Marry

In this series of posts, I've been talking about introverts, people who are contemplative, reserved, and quiet, and how such people are often viewed as being maladjusted.  I am particularly aware of this phenomenon since I am an introvert.  Being married to an extrovert (35 years), I've also got a pretty good handle on the other half and what makes them tick.

Here is what I've observed over the years.  I need lots of time to myself, quiet time, without other people, without incessant talking, without blasting music, without traffic or other city noises....QUIET.  When there is a lot going on around me, I cannot concentrate, I cannot relax, I cannot recharge.  After being around people, especially loud people, I need quiet time to recover.  My husband is the opposite.  He is energized by other people, the more the better.  He needs the stimulation of being around other people and lots of activity and noise to be happy. He can appreciate a quiet evening alone, but after only a day or so, becomes anxious and needs to socialize.

Going to a party is quite a different experience for the two of us.  I usually dread it, much like someone would anticipate a visit to a dentist to have a root canal (we feel we should do it, but it's not going to be fun); he looks forward to it like a kid anticipating Disney World.  I'm anxious; he's giddy.  Once there, I'm usually fine and can carry on a decent, even enjoyable conversation with people.  On the way home, he usually points this out to me saying, "See, you had a good time." Yes, but I pay for it.  I'm drained emotionally and mentally. It may take several hours or even days to recover.  It really doesn't matter whether the stress is positive or negative; both are draining and take a toll.  The fact is, I often prefer to stay home, curled up with a good book in front of the fireplace.  I would have a much better time and would not be emotionally drained at the end of the evening.

As a couple, we've learned to compromise over our different needs for socializing.  I make an effort to do what he likes, and he does the same for me.  We spend quiet evenings together over a nice meal or watch a movie (at home–I finally quit going to the theater after acknowledging how much I hated the crowds).  We also go out to dinner with friends or have friends over; we go to plays or concerts (in small, intimate theaters).  He also does a lot of socializing without me...spending time at coffee houses, having lunch with his buddies, talking on the phone.  These extra activities help him feel socially connected.  I happily stay home and read or carry on some other solitary hobby.  When we travel, we take turns going to remote, natural areas to camp, hike, canoe, or swim and to cities with museums, restaurants, and bustling crowds. Sometimes, we manage both extremes during the same trip.

However, there is always an element of judgement regarding whose nature is "best".  My way is somehow viewed as being inferior, deficient, flawed, or maladjusted.  According to some, the extrovert is the ideal; it's what we should all be striving for–at least in the US this seems to be the case.  Apparently, many people who are naturally introverted also believe this and fake a more outgoing nature.  Even though they feel uncomfortable in social situations, they force themselves into social settings and can even fool other people into thinking they are extroverts.  Consider the poll I ran on this blog a while back (see very bottom of the page), asking scientists and non-scientists to rate themselves on a social scale: Social Butterfly, Congenial Comrade, Split Personality, Wallflower, Social Outcast.  I included, at the last minute, another category: Impostor (socially awkward, but able to fake social aptitude).  This category was selected most often, by both scientists and non-scientists.

Trying to "pass" as an extrovert may be a common behavior for some introverts, according to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.  We feel pressured to spend more time socializing than is comfortable.  The pressure to be more social can be greatest from those closest to us--spouses, parents, or friends.

What this bias does to introverts and to society as a whole is explored in Cain's book. If you are interested in hearing her TED talk about these ideas, see the video link below.


BugDoc said...

Really interesting thoughts, and also useful to think about how different personality traits can help or hinder your career path. My spouse would definitely call himself introverted and I think most people would classify me as an extrovert. Even though I enjoy social activities very much, I do strongly feel the need for "down" time every day where I can sit and think quietly or read without chatter or music, so maybe there should be a "split personality" category too!

Anonymous said...

I agree on the split personality, I enjoy social interactions with people, my husband prefers staying at home or meeting with 1 couple at a time. But when it comes to vacation it is he who enjoys the huge cities and I who seek the refuge of nature. We try to adjust to one another. Also he is the one who will think a subject through and then express his ideas, I think as I speak or write. Thank you for this and the talk