Can’t Stand Cocktail Parties? Adopt an Extrovert

Adapted from Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home) Copyright © 2017 by Morra Aarons-Mele. Published by Dey Street Books.

When my husband Nicco and I decided to get married, I wanted to go to the courthouse for a quick, private ceremony. As an introvert, being celebrated in a white dress wasn’t on my bucket list, and the financial strain and hoopla of a big ceremony made me feel overwhelmed.

My intended, however, had other ideas. He wanted a formal wedding with friends and family, flowers and party favors. He wore me down, and, while he pored over dinner menus, cakes, tablecloths, and card stock, I called him Bridezilla. Seven months after our legal marriage, I stood there in my big white gown, thinking, “It’s sad the bride gets all the attention. I wish Nicco could wear the dress.”

In the ten years since, the pattern continues. I like low-key, he likes high-octane. I want a nice quiet dinner, Nicco wants to invite friends and family. I want to be alone. He picks up the phone and calls people. He loves cocktail and dinner parties, and we have a rule: I’m allowed to leave any event after ninety minutes.

The same is true in our work life. Nicco is a super-connector. He’s energized when he’s around a lot of colleagues, and loves going out with new contacts. I, on the other hand, call myself a hermit entrepreneur. I avoid schmooze-fests and networking. I would rather be home with my kids and cats, with some soup on the stove. I have to say, sometimes I’m amazed we’re still married.

But, although we play out the routine of me being cranky and him pushing me out the door, watching my husband navigate social situations, forge business relationships, and take risks  has illuminated possibilities I didn’t know existed. He has shown me that life is about building friendships and giving back, being open, and sometimes taking chances. Not only has this enriched my personal and intellectual life, it has helped me be a better entrepreneur.

Building strong networks and relationships that truly foster community can be difficult for introverts. Over time I learned how to be gregarious and social but connecting deeply never came naturally to me, because I also have social anxiety. I burned bridges, and missed opportunities to gain mentors.

But as I’ve watched Nicco cultivate meaningful friendships and develop professional connections, I’ve come to understand the value of close personal relationships as well as close professional relationships, and I’ve learned how to overcome my impulse to retreat. In truth, now I enjoy the many social events he drags me to, because I have adopted him as my model. And I’d argue that this isn’t only a useful tactic for an introvert: it’s an essential one.

Your adopted extrovert can be a great friend, a mentor, or a business partner. In my case, I always think of one of my earliest bosses, Betty Hudson. The only 6’2” cheerleader in the history of the University of Georgia, I’m sure, she was taller than me by an inch, but far more elegant and graceful. Betty had Ted Turner and half of the most powerful people in media on speed-dial, and she made you feel like her best friend within five minutes. She would walk into a room and crack a joke (often at her own expense), and everyone melted. I studied her like a book. And on a good day, I think she’d be proud of how I can work a room.

Your extrovert can be your publicist. Nicco talks me up to everyone he knows, bragging about my accomplishments and making introductions that intimidate me. I actually love to pitch, sell, and even talk about myself (who doesn’t?) but I can never figure out the opening. That’s where Nicco–and all extroverts–excel.

Your new extrovert friend is also your pipeline for opportunities. Leave a party or a community meeting, and you know they have the gossip and the news. At a party, where an introvert is still learning how to make small talk, an extrovert can find them a job.

But most important, they’re a source of support, because they know the drill. For instance, the day I attended the White House Summit on the State of Women was one of the most important of my life. I cheered and teared up as I watched heroes and role models from President Obama to Cecile Richards take the stage. But my palms were sweating with panic. There could be bombings, or shootings. My children were 3,000 miles away. In between Joe Biden and Oprah, I tried to rebook my flight home.

I called my husband for a pep talk, and went through my day and my goals. Hearing the words out of my own mouth made me feel more in control, more empowered. I told him to tell me to stay. And I stayed.

A marriage is made of many pieces. Some are romantic; many are practical. In the work sphere, Nicco is my teacher, and my inspiration. When I’m at a loss, I can ask myself, “What Would Nicco Do?” (I should get a bracelet.) And I have brought my own introvert model to the table, too. While Nicco introduces me to new people and opportunities, I temper his overly expansive tendencies. I nurture our domestic life, and Nicco encourages me to make my life bigger. Together, we can both be the life of the party.

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  • Mark Swope

    “There could be bombings, or shootings.”? Where did that come from?

  • Teto85

    My ex-wife and her family are like Nicco, always comfortable at parties. I am not. I would have to visit the bathroom to throw up from anxiety. What was worse were the loud complaints on the drive home about how I was an embarrassment to her and everyone else. Life is better now. My present Mrs understands the need for being quiet and reflective and how much of a strain going to/hosting such gatherings can be for me. And even though we put on parties, it’s ok for me to go to my office/cave to get away when it gets too much for me.