A number of years ago—ten or more—my husband Tom and I walked into a social function. I scanned the room and said to Tom, “I don’t see any of our friends,” and was about to suggest we leave and go to a movie instead when Tom answered, “We’ll make new friends.”
Welcome to our introvert/extrovert marriage. We laugh about that story now along with any number of others like it, but at the beginning of our relationship, our different temperaments caused problems. We didn’t have the words to describe it then—all we knew at the time was that I felt that Tom always wanted to be at a party or gathering, and he felt that I never did. We had a lot of these conversations: “I don’t want to go, but you can go.” “I’m not going to go without you.” “That’s not fair. It makes me feel guilty.” “But I really want us to go together.”
Some of this began to change when I took a Myers-Briggs test. I remember being irritated—angry even—when my results showed that I was an introvert. To me, the word introvert had negative connotations: shy, boring, no fun. And even though the person administering the test patiently explained that being an introvert didn’t mean any of those things but instead had to do with where you got your energy, it took me a while to stop being defensive.
Once I relaxed into it, it began to make perfect sense. To put it (very) simply: extroverts draw energy from activity and being with people, while introverts draw energy from an inner world of thoughts and ideas. To put it another way, while introverts may enjoy being with people (I do), it’s taxing. They need to be alone to recharge. Extroverts, on the other hand, are drained by being alone. They recharge by reconnecting with people. These are general statements, of course, and people are found all along the introvert-extrovert continuum. My tendency for introversion is more towards the middle, meaning I’m introverted—but not extremely so.
Indeed, a lot of people are surprised when I mention that I’m an introvert, and I find myself relating to some new terms that are now popping up such as outgoing introvert and social introvert. I suspect Tom’s results would reflect his extroverted nature. It’s rare that he comes home from a full day of work to an empty house, but when he does, he’s been known to head to the Mexican restaurant down the street to watch a ballgame and have dinner at the bar. That’s how strong his need is to be around people.
Over time (we’ve had almost 30 years of practice), Tom and I have come to understand our differences. Having the language to describe them has been helpful. So has the fact that our work suits our personality types. Tom is in sales and is therefore with people most of the time. I spend my days mostly alone, blogging, bookkeeping, and Family CEO-ing. We compromise too. Tom is agreeable to taking a pass on some social events or going without me at times. In return, I go to a few more than I’d like to. And communication is key. Tom knows to tell me if something is especially important to him because then I know to make it a priority. As we look over our calendars or discuss an invitation, I’ll sometimes ask him, “On a scale of one to ten, how much do you want to do this?”
And we focus on what makes us both happy: spending time with family and those close to us, doing things such as outings with our kids, dinners with friends, and drinks on the patio with neighbors. In fact, despite my being a card-carrying introvert, one of my favorite things to do is to have friends and family at our house for special occasions or no occasion at all. I’ll just need a really long nap when they’re gone.