A number of years ago – ten or more – Tom and I walked into a social function at church. It was either a casino night or a wine tasting (we’re Catholic so those are normal church functions for us), and as I scanned the room I said to Tom, “I don’t see any of our friends.”
Tom answered back, “we’ll make new friends,” at the exact same moment that I suggested, “let’s go to a movie.”
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. This was before I’d heard of the Myers-Briggs test (I’m an INTJ, Tom’s type definitely begins with an E). And it was long before introversion became a hot topic, thanks in part to Susan Cain’s book and viral TED talk.
All we knew at the time was that I felt like Tom always wanted to be at a party or gathering, and he felt like I never did.
And 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 at work. 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 get your energy, it took me a while to stop being defensive.
Once I relaxed into it, it began to make perfect sense.
The Myers-Briggs people use C.G. Jung’s definitions of introversion and extraversion, which they explain are different from the way we more commonly use those terms. To put it (very) simply: extroverts draw energy from activity and being with people, while introverts draw energy from a more 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 – extravert 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, like outgoing introvert and social introvert.
But other people are more clearly one or the other. My former boss’s Myers-Briggs test showed her to be 100% extraverted; there was no continuum necessary to plot her result.
I suspect Tom’s results would be the same. 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.
Part of the Myers-Briggs theory is that both personality types are healthy and valuable; no one needs to be “fixed.” That’s an important point to make, especially regarding introverts, because our society generally favors outgoing types, and our institutions, like schools and workplaces, are often organized around this preference.
And about that other institution: marriage. Over time (we’ve had almost 30 years of practice) Tom and I have come to understand our differences.
Having the language to use 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 and bookkeeping and Family CEOing.
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 the thing that makes us both happy: time with family and close friends. Things like outings with our kids, dinner with friends, and drinks on the patio with neighbors. In fact, despite being a card-carrying introvert, one of my favorite things is to have friends and family at our house for special occasions or no occasion at all.
I’m just going to need a really long nap when they’re gone.