Carolyn Hax: Extrovert doesn’t understand his introvert partner

Adapted from an online discussion.

Hello Caroline: I’m an introvert who, being single, could get through the weekend without talking to anyone. The occasional date night, phone calls to friends, even walking to CVS was enough social interaction by the time I got back to the office on Monday.

For the past four years I’ve been living with an extrovert who loves my company (can you imagine!). LOTS of quality time together got me thinking about how much time we “should” spend with partners.

I’m good at taking the time I NEED—I’m generally happy to read for hours too—but I feel guilty knowing my partner is alone in the living room. I also have other solitary hobbies like writing and gaming (which he’s not interested in), and when we argue he’ll say things like, “You’re always there reading or playing games,” so I know it annoys him .

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I think even if he’s working alone on his laptop, he’d appreciate me being in the same room with him to share an anecdote or keep him company. He kind of reminds me of my aging mother who always needed someone in the room with her, or am I the faithful dog he needs by his side?

When we talk about it, he says he just doesn’t “get” the introvert “thing,” so I feel like I’m either not a good partner (by probably enjoying more than a “normal” amount of alone time) and a hold little resentment, like, “Dude, we’ve been together all day, can’t you find something to watch on Netflix?”

Any idea how to negotiate or find the “right” balance of time alone? Or maybe we just don’t fit together.

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

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

So did you ask him why, with the same understanding of the vocabulary, he couldn’t just believe that you fit the other description?

I guess this gets under my skin because you’re emotionally taking care of yourself AND you’re trying 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 and discuss it again, I would start there: by saying that you are introverted and lonely, but try to be careful to offer him the companionship he needs. And you’d appreciate it if he returned the favor and also remembered to make your alone time easier — or just accept it — rather than resist it.

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

  • I pretty much have the social needs of a pet rock with cats reading books and baking brownies. In addition to Carolyn’s suggestions, have your partner read aloud: “Quiet” by Susan Cain. We introverts aren’t things, we’re people wired differently, which isn’t a problem that needs fixing.

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