I’m currently at work on my next book, Introverts in Love, about introverts and relationships. I’ve been reading about relationships, talking to introverts about relationships, thinking about introverts in relationships, being an introvert in a relationship.
Here’s a sneak preview of a chapter in progress. With Valentine's Day nearly upon us, I decided to be the anti-romantic and share a chapter on some red flags introverts should look for of in the early stages of a new relationship. (If you've been together a while, you might recognize some points of conflict, too. Never too late to fix them.)
Red flag, red flag, red flag!
In some ways, introverts are like sponges, soaking up everything happening around us. Because we are such good listeners and sensitive to the vibes of people around us, we are ultra-tuned-in to the needs of others. Like anyone else, we want to be liked and appreciated, but because we are reserved and don’t draw a lot of attention to ourselves, we might sublimate our needs by offering ourselves as sounding boards and use our talent for anticipating others’ needs in order to get the connection we crave.
“My introversion, which from an early age was not seen as ‘normal,’ led me into trying to be more of extrovert,” says John, 59, divorced after 17 years of marriage. “It led to subverting my needs to others and not advocating for my needs, to resenting that eventually, and to a distance between us that could not be repaired. Fundamentally, my inability to be myself and feel comfortable with who I was led to marrying someone who was not a good match.”
So before you get in too deep, turn your introvert superpowers of perception on your relationship and you might save yourself some heartache down the line by either changing your ways, or deciding that this might not be a relationship you can thrive in. Here are some red flags to look for.
Oh, OK: Does your new squeeze have awesome powers of persuasion? Do you find yourself saying (aloud or to yourself) “Oh, OK,” to one more social event, to one more family gathering, one more whatever it is that you really don’t have the energy for but don’t have the energy to fight? Does this person wheedle and beg when you try to say no until “Oh, OK,” just seems like the easiest way to put an end to the fuss? Red flag! If you can’t say no, if the other person won’t let you say no without an argument, you may be setting yourself up for a life of perpetual exhaustion and probably eventual resentment. Either learn to say no and mean it, or accept that this person might not be your love match.
Got a Better Idea?: If you haven’t reached the point of fully embracing and appreciating your own introversion, you may believe the fallacy that doing nothing is not doing anything. But listen carefully: Our need to sit quietly, to be alone, to not always be running around, is as valid as someone else’s desire to stay busy. But often when someone wants us to do something, even if we don’t really want to, we tell ourselves—or the other person may imply— “Well, it’s not like I have anything better to do…" And sometimes that’s true. But sometimes you do have something better to do, it just happens to be nothing. So if you frequently find yourself dressing to go out when were looking forward to an evening in sweatpants, you might be short-shrifting your own desires.
Try It, You’ll Like It: First the disclaimer: Trying new things is great. It keeps us vital and engaged with the world, it pushes us out of our comfort zone and makes us grow as human beings. That said, after we reach a certain age, we have a pretty good idea of what sounds fun and what sounds hellish. So as long we are otherwise pushing ourselves in ways that sound interesting and towards kind of growth we want, then we are perfectly justified in sometimes saying, “No, I won’t like it,” and leaving it at that. No matter how hard your sweetie insists that if you would only just try…
For example, I love yoga and I enjoy trying different yoga classes. But there’s something called laughter yoga that I’m not going to try, thankyouverymuch. No, really. I won’t like it. Call me small minded and stubborn, but don’t tell me I don’t know my own mind. A person who is constantly trying to push you into things you don’t want to do may have trouble respecting boundaries.
Three’s Company: Do you get enough just-the-two-of-you time, or does the extrovert you love require an entourage everywhere you go? Nobody should have to sacrifice their friends for a relationship, but you want your sweetie pie to enjoy quiet time just with you as well. If it seems like plans always include friends, if you don’t get enough one-on-one, it might be time for a little talk. And if that talk leads to accusations that you’re antisocial or don’t like people or are too needy, run like hell.
Did You Say Something?: Introverts are great listeners and we pride ourselves on that. We also pride ourselves on choosing our words carefully, on not speaking unless we have something to say. Both are fine qualities that I admire, but I’ve also found myself in relationships where I’ve done all the listening. One of my less-than-admirable qualities is that I like to feel wise. It’s my own little power trip to be the one to whom people come with their problems. But eventually, I hit a listening wall and realize a relationship has become imbalanced, that I have sacrificed my own need to be heard to my need for that very special type of oh-so-wise power. And then I get resentful and blame the other person. Everybody loses.
Everything is Fine: Two careful introverts who connect but then try to avoid conflict and confrontation at all costs are likely to end up in a relationship precariously perched on eggshells. No relationship is perfect and resisting all conflict is not the same as never having any. In fact, relationship expert John Gottman does much of his research into marriage by looking at the ways couples handle conflict. If they do it well, the relationship will have legs. If not, he predicts (usually correctly) failure.
Let’s Not And Say We Did: One risk introvert-introvert relationships face is frequently talking yourselves out of doing things you had planned to do. This, alas, is a bit of a problem in my own marriage: we see something that looks fun and have every intention of getting out and doing it, but then the time comes and we both sort of go limp and wait for the other to motivate us both out of the house. “How badly do you want to go?” we ask each other, and if neither one of us jumps up to cheerlead the idea, inertia decides for us. So what’s the problem? you wonder. If neither of you wanted to do it, why do it? Well, because often we wake up the next morning and one or both of us kick ourselves because we really did want to do whatever it was, but the inertia of two people was more than we could transcend. If you find that you frequently talk each other out of having a life and regret it (key point), then maybe you are not bringing out the best in each other.
Run Away, Run Away!: Quite a few of the introverts I’ve talked to for this book said that they are rarely, if ever, the pursuers in relationships. Because narcissistic people can be predatory, seeking out passive souls who might bend to their will, and because some introverts can be passive about letting relationships come to them, it’s a good idea to know the red flags of narcissism. Beware the person who needs lots of ego strokes; who considers himself or herself a rare and exceedingly special person that only other rare and exceedingly special people can understand; who lives in a fantasy world of success and power; who expects the world to cede to his or her every wish; who preens in the light of the world’s alleged envy. If your new interest displays any of these traits, proceed with caution. Oh, and none of these qualities is exclusive to extroverts; that introvert sitting in a corner passing judgment on everyone around could be a narcissist of a different flavor, no less unpleasant. But if you find the attentions of a gifted charmer turned your way, be sure to look past the dazzle of the lovelight to be sure it’s not blinding you to a dark side.
My first book about introversion, The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World is available in any format you like (dead tree, Kindle, Nook, audio). Plus I'm giving away a few copies through Goodreads. Be sure to enter before February 21, 2014.
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