Carolyn Hax: As an extrovert, he doesn’t understand his introvert partner

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi Carolyn: I’m an introvert who, when I was single, could go all weekend without talking to anyone. Casual dates, phone calls with friends, even running to CVS were enough social interaction until I got back to the office on Monday.

For four years, I’ve been living with an extrovert who loves my company (go figure!). A LOT of quality covid time together got me thinking about how much time we are “supposed” to spend with partners.

I’m good at having the time I NEED – I’m also generally happy to read for hours on end – but I feel guilty knowing my partner is sitting alone in the living room. I also have other solitary hobbies like writing and games (which he’s not interested in), and when we argue he says things like, “You’re always here reading or playing games”, so I know it bothers him.

I think even when he’s sitting alone working on his laptop, he’d appreciate me being in the same room with him to share a story or keep him company. In some ways, he reminds me of my aging mother, who always needed someone in the room with her, or maybe I’m the loyal dog he needs by his side?

When we talk about it he says he just doesn’t “get” the introverted “trick” so I feel like I’m not a good partner (appreciating which is probably more than an amount “normal” alone time) and feeling a little resentful, like “Man, we’ve been together all day, can’t you find something to watch on Netflix?”

Any ideas on how to negotiate or find the “right” balance of alone time? Or maybe we just aren’t compatible.

Introvert: Why doesn’t he “get” the introverted “thing”? You “get” the outgoing “thing”, enough. You don’t have to feel it to know it exists, do you?

You know there are two terms for two different general emotional compositions, and you are one of them, so you have no reason to believe that the other is just a made up thing. Right?

So did you ask him why he, with the same mastery of vocabulary, can’t believe you fit the other description?

I guess it’s under my skin because you take care of yourself emotionally AND you try to take care of him. And I don’t see the same effort from him to make sure you get what you need.

So if you want to try discussing it again, then that’s where I’d start: saying you’re introverted and lonely – shy, but try to provide him with the companionship he needs. And you’d appreciate it if he returned the favor and was equally concerned with facilitating — or just accepting — your alone time instead of resisting it.

As for the “assumed” time spent with partners, there is no such thing. The right amount of time together is when you feel good about the time together — not guilty, not smothered, not lonely, not tired of begging, and not tired of having to hold your lines all the time.

  • I pretty much have the social needs of a rock fart with cats and reading books and baking brownies. In addition to Carolyn’s suggestions, ask your partner to read: “Quiet” by Susan Cain. We introverts are not things, we are humans who are wired differently, which is not a problem that needs to be solved.

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