Nowadays, it seems you can’t scroll too far on Facebook without coming across a cartoon or meme espousing the qualities of introverts. Many of these are well done and genuinely look to help educate all of us non-introverts into the inner-workings of what makes those blanket-dwellers tick, or more importantly, what brings them life.
Sadly, I admit that for a long time I found myself frustrated with the introverted dynamic. It just didn’t compute with me how the mind of an introvert would need space to recharge. I used to think it was a bit of a cop-out and I found myself just secretly wishing they’d all just buck the hell up. Before you introverts gather your pitchforks, I now know how off-base that is! I’m just owning up to what many extroverts likely feel towards their introverted compatriots. It wasn’t until my relationship with Shannon that I came to appreciate the differences between introverts and extroverts.
I think I’ve always known Shannon was an introvert. She admits to having gotten her partying days out of her system in her teens and early twenties. By the time I came on the scene, she was pretty much done staying out late and greeting the sunrise wearing the same clothes from the night before. This worked out well since I was religiously straight-edged in high school and never had any interest in that whole scene. I later came to see the fault in such a myopic worldview, but that’s for a future blog post.
Speaking of me, I am a card-carrying… extrovert? Well, that doesn’t seem quite right. I do love to be by myself and there are plenty of times when I can’t even with the outside world, but being around other people doesn’t drain the life out of me like it can Shannon. I’m sure there’s a Myers-Brigg alphabet salad to describe me: someone whole likes people and can strike up a conversation with anyone, but also appreciates a nice, quiet rainy day. For the purpose of this discussion, I’ll just call myself an extrovert and make a mental note to circle back around to this at a later date.
When It Flips to Social Anxiety
There have been several times when my extra-nature and Shannon’s intra-nature would clash, usually over an outing or event when we would commit to a party or going out with friends. Sometimes it would even be as mundane as lunch with coworkers. Inevitably, said outing would bloom into event encompassing more and more people and I would sense something in Shannon - the inevitability of having to back out. Let’s call this marital Spidey-sense, the tingle. I’ve come to trust the tingle more and more over time because I realize that it’s not Shannon doing something wrong as much as it is my recognizing an arising need in Shannon and how I can work to help her.
Early in our relationship, I would push Shannon to go out with these types of large groups, or a large party (we’re talking things like office Christmas parties, not keggers), and early on she would go… and have a completely miserable time of it. She’d be quiet, keep to herself, make small chit-chat with friends, of course, but otherwise, she’d be completely shut down. Later, as I began to realize this is how these events sometimes shook down, and Shannon would need to not go, I found myself either going in her absence or not attending altogether, having offered up a social acceptable realize for needing to cancel. This often left me angry and at worst, a bit resentful. As much as I enjoyed being around people, I loathed having to back out of a commitment.
What I didn’t realize was that in these times, Shannon’s introvertedness was morphing into something more akin to social anxiety. And it wasn’t always me pushing her. More often than not she would her push herself out of a sense of obligation or worse: guilt. These internal drivers would ensure that she would find herself in situations that would cause undue and unhealthy stress.
Over time, we’ve been able to foresee socially volatile situations and head them off at the pass. This means fewer outings with a ton of people, but that’s ok. This is why movies are so perfect for us! I get my, “let’s go out” vibe going while still being able to provide Shannon a quiet, us-only experience. Sidebar: don’t get me started on the stranger-danger of people sitting next to us in the theater! I mean, dude! There are literally 150 other seats in the theater! Grrr. I guess this also helps to explain why 10 AM matinees work so well for us. Hmmm… that’s a new revelation! Anyway…
If Introverts Were Game Characters
Allow me to put forth my observations based on my 26+ years of living with an introvert in the context of a role-playing (RPG) game. This may get weird, but hang on with me.
An introvert’s spirit, soul, psyche, whatever you want to call it, is fueled by inner thought and reflection. Let’s borrow a good gaming term and call this stored energy, mana. According to popular gaming tropes, an introvert would be a Druid, mage, or spell caster. Their energy output comes from within and requires study, concentration, and deep concentration. They are capable of brilliant displays of magic and wonderful spectacle, but once that mana is out, they’re less than useless, often to the point of being a drain on the dungeon party.
Conversely, an extrovert would be like a warrior – wearers of thick armor whose strength derives from muscle and weapons that allow for the taking on of many “enemies” at one time. Man, I am having World of Warcraft flashbacks so hard right now! Honey! Should we subscribe again? In the World of Warcraft MMO, warriors got their strength from taking hits from other players. Meaning, the more hits they take, the more charged up they get. Pretty handy for an extrovert who needs an external stimulus to feed their own mana meters. (P.S. - Don’t be fooled. Shannon was a max level Druid in WoW and was our raid team’s healer. This ain’t all my guy/nerd stuff!)
To be clear, introverts don’t hate people, it’s just that interfacing with others, especially in large groups, requires a great deal of output and energy that depletes their stores of mana, usually in proportion to a) the number of people present in a situation, times b) the number of strangers, divided by c) proximity of interaction. MATH! Meaning, if you have an office party with 15 people (large-ish group), at someone’s house (close, personal space), where your introvert only knows one other person, their mana burn rate will be so fast, they’ll be down within the first 30 minutes – that is if they’re able to show up, to begin with! This can leave you, the extrovert (as the dungeon party leader we’ll call you the tank), left to muscle through the rest of the night on your own, or as is usually the case, needing to bail early and come and try again later.
Ways to Care for Your Introvert
So if you’re an extrovert and are married/partnered/etc. to an introvert, allow me give you a few tips on the care and loving for your spell-caster.
- Give her the space to recharge - I’ve already covered the idea of making a space in a previous blog post, and this is somewhat related to that. The idea is to honor her need to find a quiet place to recharge and not barrage her with questions or conversation. This could be as simple as some candles in a bedroom, but it might also be sitting quietly on the back patio or in the backyard grass. She’ll let you know what she needs, and most of the time, you just need to get out of the way and let it happen. Believe me, most introverts have been navigating the extroverted world their whole lives and have a finely tuned recharge mechanism, if they’re allowed and supported in its implementation. For Shannon, her recharge place is in bed, playing goofy iPad games until the inevitable nap.
- Make sure she knows you’re on board - Let her know that you support her need for the recharge. I’m talking verbally say it… with your mouth. Even if you’ve said it a hundred times, say it again that you support her need to get refueled. The reason this is so important is that many introverts can feel crazy or even guilty for needing this space. They can feel crazy for not being able to “handle” social situations, or guilty about “wasting time.” These lines of thought never lead anywhere good, so her having the support and reassurance from her most-trusted person is like a shot of nitro in the refueling process.
- Undestand that introverts aren’t broken - There isn’t anything inherently wrong with being an introvert. She’s not broken, and you aren’t required to fix anything. And you don’t need to attempt to bring her around to your extroverted ways! This took me a while to wrap my head around (see my earlier, misguided “buck the hell up” thinking), but there is peace and freedom in this acceptance. That doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges and times of compromise, but you can’t think they’re wrong and you’re right, or vice versa. This isn’t something to “manage” nor is it something to “work through” any more than the fact that redheads need to wear long sleeves in the sun. It just… is. Hear me, fellow extroverts: just because we’re the loudest doesn’t make our way the way it “should” be. There’s room on this marble for all of us on the ‘verted spectrum.
- You don’t need to understand it - It is not a requirement for you to understand why introverts need a space to recharge. Knowing the why is not a prerequisite for your ability to meet her needs. In fact, focusing too much on the why can have an opposite effect and get in the way. Sure, understanding how she thinks and why she reacts to certain situations is helpful, but you may never fully appreciate the full range of the introverted existence any more than I will ever be able to fully realize the childbearing experience. Just roll with it and be cool, man.
It’s not always sunshine and roses, and just because you’ve made strides towards accepting your wife’s introvertedness doesn’t mean you won’t find yourself in tough spots. There is lots more to talk about, and in future blog posts I’ll discuss how to work through these rough patches, but for now, it starts with you and your line of thinking. So get to work!
Dave was born in Hawaii, grew up in San Diego, and wound up in Orlando, FL by way of both High Point, NC and Memphis, TN.
He is a husband of 24 years to his wife, Shannon, and is a crazy cat dad. When he’s not rambling on about life here, he can be found writing music for film and TV, playing music, or teaching music at Full Sail University.