The Friendship Doctor

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The Inside Scoop on Your Introvert Friends

It ain't easy being friends with an introvert...

I've never met my fellow PT blogger Sophia Dembling in person but consider her a friend of sorts. We met as members of one or another online writer communities that we both frequent because we have so many overlapping interests. She lives in Texas but her roots are pure New York. I love her sense of humor and her refreshing candor.

When I surveyed more than 1500 women for my book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, women described what it was like to meet a close friend. "We just clicked," was the most common phrase they used. You can say that Sophia and I clicked, both literally and figuratively. Another thing we seem to have in common is that we consider ourselves introverts.

I asked Sophia to write a guest post on the topic of friendship among introverts. Feel free to post your own feelings about introversion at the end of this thread :-)

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Sophia Speaks about friendship and introverts...

Losing friends can be particularly difficult for introverts because we don't surround ourselves with people. We prefer a few intimate friends to lots of less-intense friendships, and deep discussion with one person to a party full of festive chitchat. For us, losing one good friend can leave a larger hole in our lives than it might for an extrovert with 25 best friends.

Attrition in my friendships in recent years has forced me to think about what I most need and want in my friends. Among other things, and like all of us, I want my friends to understand me. But first, of course, that entails understanding myself. Writing and talking to people about introversion has helped me gain insight into my own behavior and what extroverts might want to know about their introverted friends.

It's all about energy: What appears to be the bottom-line difference between introverts and extroverts is that social interactions are energizing to extroverts but draining for introverts. This is why I might come to your party but leave long before the conga line starts. And why a stretch of interaction then requires a few days of solitude to recover. If you understand this, you will have grasped a key quality of your introverted friends and their perhaps puzzling behavior (why didn't she come to the after-hours party?) will make more sense.

I don't need to come out of my shell: A huge misconception about introverts is that we're all shy. Nope, not the same thing. One can be introverted and shy, or introverted and not shy. (Same with extroversion.) I'm not shy. When I'm in the mood to socialize, I'm perfectly friendly and outgoing. When I'm reluctant to socialize, it's choice, not fear. So if I decline an invitation, please don't push or insist it will be good for me. I have my reasons and they're valid. (At the same time, I promise not to say "no thanks" too often.)

The more is not the merrier: Not for me, anyway. If we make plans, please, please don't invite other people to join us-at the very least, check with me first. Introverts usually prefer one-on-one to groups and I'm bummed when the nice cozy visit I anticipated turns into a convivial racket. I'm sure your friends are wonderful people, just don't spring them on me and please don't be offended if I decline invitations to group outings. (Although I do believe that friends attend friends' parties. It's the right thing to do and if you throw one, I will come.)

Anything but the telephone: I have one friend who likes to call "just to hear my voice." Very sweet of her but I wish she would invite me to lunch instead. (Yes, of course I invite her; I usually initiate our get-togethers.) Like many introverts, I loathe the telephone. For one thing, we tend to think and respond slowly, and dead air on the telephone doesn't work. I'm awkward on the phone, especially when just-to-chat calls drop on me from out of the blue. And I feel bad that the other person can always sense my yearning to break free. But really, it's not you, it's the phone. Don't take it personally. (I do talk on the phone, sometimes for hours, with far-flung friends. However, I like to either schedule those calls or initiate them so I don't feel ambushed. I often screen my calls and return them when I feel up to it.)

Yes, I like online communication: Don't give me grief: The Internet is a godsend for introverts. Not as a replacement for face-to-face, no no!, but to stay connected between visits and take care of business (making plans, for example) without obligatory and tedious phone chitchat. Want to make me happy? Set up a get-together via e-mail. (I don't text or IM much, but many introverts like those, too.) I'm also a fan of social networking-a Facebook extrovert. I'm not a loner in my parents' basement with lots of virtual friends and no "real" ones. My Facebook friends are mostly real-life friends, many of whom are far away. I love being able to kibitz with them anytime online. (Of course, as a writer, I also spend a lot of time in front of a computer.) If you're not a fan of Facebook, that's fine. Just don't hassle me about it, OK?

 

Sophia blogs at The Introvert's Corner on PsychologyToday.com as well as on the travel site Flyover America with her friend Jenna Schnuer and she reviews fitness DVDs on Suit Up and Show Up. If that's not enough of her, there's more on www.SophiaDembling.com/

 

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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