My best friend in high school was a pretty, outgoing, talkative extrovert. Not only did she have gorgeous skin, a cute figure, and shiny brown hair that fell practically to her bottom, she also was flirtatious, opinionated, and quick to laugh. Boys were irresistibly drawn to her, and it seemed to me that she could get the adoring attention of anyone she wanted. At parties, she was the center of attention, the one laughing the loudest, flirting the hardest, and enrapturing everyone she met. In social situations I felt dumpy, clumsy, and dull next to her.
About 400 years later, when through the modern miracle of the Internet I reconnected with people from high school, I was dumbfounded to learn that I hadn’t been nearly as invisible as I’d thought. People noticed me, boys noticed me—one of my secret crushes even admitted that he’d had a little crush on me, too. (Too bad neither of us said anything at the time, but that’s high school.)
This realization forced me to recast my whole high school experience and, to an extent, my own self-image, in a different light: A softer one.
Here’s the point: Sometimes we imagine that to get attention, we have to compete with extroverts’ glitter and sparkle, and that can be discouraging. But it’s also not correct. Remember how your mom used to tell you if that you just be yourself, the right person will come along? For what is probably not the first time, your mother was right.
The reality is that you are not competing with extroverts for attention. Extroverts and introverts are apples and oranges. Extroverts sparkle, introverts glow. Extroverts are fireworks, introverts a fire in the hearth. Extroverts attract people who like razzle-dazzle, introverts attract people who want to bask in your warmth.
Remember that, if you’re looking for a one and only.
If you come from a family where introversion was not appreciated (or even if you didn’t), you might set out on your quest for the right relationship with a one-down mindset, imagining you will be easily overlooked or will have to behave like someone you’re not in order to get attention. But that’s not the way to go. People are drawn to others who are comfortable in their own skin, which means knowing yourself and liking who you are.
Besides, trying to be who you aren’t in order to attract a mate can backfire in so many ways. First of all, there’s the matter of truth in advertising. My husband still brings up the very sexy top I wore to the party where he finally asked me out. “I never saw it again,” he says, with a hint of wry bitterness. It was the first and only time I ever wore that thing. It just wasn’t me. It was a blouse for an exhibitionist, not an introvert. While Tom has forgiven the deception (sort of), it offers a lesson: Don’t misrepresent yourself or, even if everything else works out, you’ll never hear the end of it.
But even if you don’t dress like Beyoncé because you’re more Adele, if you kick your extrovert side into high gear to attract someone and then, when you’re all comfy cozy together, reveal yourself as the introvert you are, you’ve done both of you a disservice. You may have gotten involved with someone who would prefer to be involved with an extrovert, which does not portend well for happily ever after. After a while, you might find yourself resenting their expectation that the party will go on forever, while they might feel like they’ve been hoodwinked into an ill-fitting relationship. (College students, take note: These are the days when it’s easy to fake extroversion because there’s always a party. Things change out in the real world when parties don’t come to you and you have to make an effort.)
I remember incidents in my youth when I tried to emulate my extroverted best friend. Most of the time they ended with me feeling foolish or getting the kind of attention I didn’t like. I didn’t have a boyfriend in high school in part because I didn’t know what I had to offer. My friend knew exactly what drew people to her. They liked her flirtatiousness. They liked her bubbliness. They liked her audacious in-your-faceness. But I had no idea what people might like in me. I was smart but remember complaining, “Nobody ever says, ‘Holy cow! Look at the IQ on that girl!’” My friends found me funny, but I was more about the witty aside than regaling the masses. I was a good sounding board, but, like most introverts, I was selective about close friends so most people didn’t benefit from that.
I wish I’d been more like my friend Niza, currently a junior in high school. “People seem to be drawn to my personality and awkwardness,” she says. “Strangely, my introversion works for me, which is cool!”
Of course, many (most?) people reading this are long past high school, but insecurity knows no age. I’ve heard from many, many adults over the years who admit that they did not appreciate—were even ashamed of—their own introversion before the “ introvert-positive” movement got rolling in recent years. To an extent, dating requires doing a sort of sales job on yourself. But you can’t do a good job of that unless you believe in your product and know its best features. While of course you have individual wonderfulness that is part of your own personal sales pitch, you also bring some fine qualities into relationships that are partly a function of your introversion. For example, my husband doesn’t have the patience for yakety-yakkers and appreciates that I’m not a big talker. I’m also pretty low maintenance; I don’t need or want 24/7 attention.
So, for your consideration, here are 6 of we introverts’ best features:
We hear you. Several introverts cited listening skills among our best attributes. “I really try to understand and process what the other person is saying and where they are coming from before I respond,” says Kristen, a 30-year-old client services rep and a newlywed. “I generally think carefully before I say something, especially something of a serious nature. Not to say I never blurt out stupid or hurtful things—who doesn’t?—but it’s less likely, I hope.”
We don’t shoot from the hip. Similarly, Lynne says, “I like to have time to process the situation and then decide how best to respond. This can be helpful, as words spoken cannot be retracted or forgotten easily, or at all.” And David thinks his marriage to an extrovert benefits from his ability to pause and reflect, “taking time, instead of rushing headlong into something.”
We have deep thoughts. This slow thoughtfulness means that introverts bring depth to relationships by digging into ideas and thinking things through thoroughly. We take the time to know the people we care about. “I like to learn everything about a person I’m dating, and I try to be as open and communicative as possible,” says Taylor, adding, “I’m extremely loyal and reliable.” And Melissa points out that a preference for quality one-on-one time takes relationships to deeper levels than they might otherwise reach.
We'll let you shine. Introverts also know when to step back and let others do their thing. Laura, who prefers dating extroverts, says she is fine letting her extrovert have center stage, which, she says, “feeds their need and they don’t feel threatened.” And, she says, “I also love riding along on the adventure path of an extrovert . . . basking in that energy but not having to worry about planning and more. So I have been told I am a great travel partner for my boyfriends!”
Indeed. And while extroverts can forge an adventure path and help introverts socialize or come out of their shells (or the house), introverts bring flip-side benefits to extroverts.
We'll provide a quiet space to recharge. “My husband is a high energy extrovert who works in sales and also is energized by getting involved in politics, which I tolerate when I have to for his sake, but personally find draining,” says Kristen. “After all the pushing and shouting in both of these areas, it’s nice to come home to a peaceful home environment to unwind.”
“I like to think I bring a core of quietness, a home hearth to our relationship,” says Robert. “My girlfriend often remarks how much of a calming influence I give her.”
We get things done the introvert’s way. And Doug H., an analytical engineer—"a group of engineers other engineers call geeks,” he says—who also plays the trombone, met his extroverted wife at Ohio State University, which has a famous marching band. “They’re very physical, and if you don’t know how to march their way, there’s essentially no way you can make it,” Doug says. (Look for them on YouTube; you’ll see what he means.) He tried out for the band as a freshman and was cut, “like half the people that tried out.” Then, rather than griping and bad-mouthing the band, as his now-wife had heard others do, he hunkered down to study the way the band marched. He practiced, and made the cut his sophomore year—impressing her with his solid introvert traits of tenacity and quiet determination.
Later on, after they were married and when they had hit a rough patch, Doug brought that same sort of low-key resoluteness to their problems, researching and reading up on relationships in order to learn what he needed to know for a happy marriage. Which is introverted, geeky, and wonderful, and surely contributed to his long marriage.
Introverts have many stellar qualities that we play close to the chest. But if you can’t see them in yourself, you can’t expect others to see them.
What are your finest qualities?
Check out my books, Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After; The Introverts Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World; and 100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Go. Support your local independent bookstore; click here to find an indie near you.
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