Over the weekend, a friend of mine asked me for a little advice. She is an extrovert dating a very introverted man and she was looking for some tips of how to negotiate and understand the inevitable conflicts that come about when these two personality types attempt to experience intimacy together.
As a lifelong introvert* who has dated a long chain of extroverts (including my current girlfriend), here are a few tips I’ve discovered for negotiating a shared space between these wildly different yet equally important personality types.
First off: if you’re not already familiar with the term, what is an introvert? In simplest terms, an introvert is a person who recharges their batteries through solitude and/or reflection. A popular misconception is that introverts are shy or dislike people–some do (frankly some extroverts are shy or dislike people, too) but it’s hardly true of all introverts. Many introverts have warm and caring relationships with a multitude of friends, they’ll just need some time to themselves after hanging out with them to recoup. There’s some evidence that what makes an introvert is that a person’s system is constantly flooded with dopamine such that in large social situations they can easily get overstimulated and need some recovery time to get the equilibrium back in their system. Think about how broken down and exhausted you feel after a really, really hard night of partying and realize that an introvert feels that way after most large gatherings. With that in mind, if you are not an introvert, here are a few helpful hints for dating one:
- If you want to know, ask
There’s an old maxim: if you don’t know how an extrovert feels, it’s because you haven’t been listening. If you don’t know how an introvert feels, it’s because you haven’t asked. It may seem bizarre to many extroverts, but you have to ask an introvert to share anything about their emotional state. They think they’re being obnoxious if they share such things without being invited.
- Schedule important discussions in the near future
Things will come up that you’ll need to discuss with your introvert–important things. Here’s how to bring it up: tell them you’d like to schedule a time to talk about x, y, and z issue and ask them if they’d like to throw anything else on the agenda. Yes, they’ll dislike scheduling important conversations, but they’ll appreciate that they don’t have to go into it unprepared and have some time to think over the items on the list.
- Have patience when checking in
Don’t freak out if they don’t answer your texts in a timely manner. Any and all social interactions drain their batteries, including things as simple as texts and emails. Tell them you don’t always need an immediate answer to a question (unless it is urgent), but would like to know that they received your message. Also: be sparing in your use of phone calls. I know they’re comforting but introverts hate the phone because they don’t know how to process a conversation if they can’t see the person they’re talking to. If it’s just to check in and say hi and that you’re thinking of them, texting or email will usually do fine and you’re more likely to get a response.
- Deep conversations=real connections
You may introduce your introvert to a whole host of people near and dear to you at a gathering. They will not remember a single one of your friends in such a venue–it’s not that they’re ditzy or your friends are unimportant, it’s that without more than a passing conversation they don’t hold onto this information. Schedule a night to have you and your introvert hang out with just two or three of them at a time in an informal setting and your introvert will never forget them as long as they live.
- Give them space during or after a fight
If emotions are running high in a fight and your introvert says they need to walk away from it–let them! You may still be upset and need to talk about it out, but if your partner has made it clear that they need to walk away it means they are in an extremely emotionally volatile state. Continuing to pursue the matter at this point will lead to them behaving like a caged animal and lashing out in ways that will be productive for neither of you. You can think of it this way: for every minute a fight continues after your partner has asked to walk away, it’ll take them an entire additional day to get over it, if they ever do. Think about if those five minutes are worth five days.
- Define important commitments
If you’ve got an important event or evening coming up, make sure to tell your introvert that. Please note: “It’d be nice if you’d come.” will tell your introvert it’s optional. To ensure they get the gist, make sure to note “it’s important to me that you be there.” You’re not being pushy by saying this, you’re helping your introvert understand how to prioritize the event.
- Communicate priority information
The same goes for important information you tell your introvert–they frequently don’t know how much of what you’re telling them you’re expecting them to hold onto, so before you say something they’re going to need to know make sure to preface it “Oh, and this is really important…”
- Silence can be golden
Your introvert needs reflection time in order to process the world–this does not always mean they need to be away from you to do it. Think of what they’re doing as being like meditation, only they do it a lot. If you can be in that meditative state with them, there’s no need to take a hike. If, on the other hand, the silence or lack of interaction feels boring or is too much for you, don’t begrudge them the solitude they need. You know how every once in a while they’ll say something really profound or insightful? This is how that happens.
- Talking ≠ Thinking
It is impossible for your introvert to speak and think at the same time. The longer they’re kept talking, the longer it will take them to come up with a decision or opinion and the more they will need time away from the discussion to come up with either item. This is a tough one for extroverts because the act of talking helps them think. For introverts, talking comes after the thinking/feeling, not concurrently.
- Honor both your needs
It won’t be unusual for your introvert (especially if they have a job that requires they interact with a lot of people during the day) to want to stay in at night. It’s okay to go out without them–they will not feel neglected. If you feel a little odd that you’re not going out with your significant other, remind yourself that by giving them that time to themselves, they’ll have more to talk about with you when you return (I know, it sounds counter-intuitive but trust me on this), plus you’ll be energized from a night out with your friends. Everyone wins!
Lest the extroverts out there think I’m making this too one-sided, I’ll be back with another blog entry with tips for introverts on dating extroverts. Till then take care and be good to each other!
* I’ve tested as an XNFP since my mid-twenties, but throughout my teen and college years I consistently tested as an I and still very much self-identify that way. Much of these are lessons learned over the years before the switchover. Who knows? Maybe having learned to work with extroverts helped move me toward the middle!