Is Introversion Interfering With Your Friendships?
If you can't bring yourself to reach out, don't blame introversion
Posted March 18, 2015
"Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend the wedding because of work obligations," she wrote. "I was unemployed at the time, but she didn't know that, and so it seemed a good enough excuse. I did click on her wedding registry, however. I bought the couple two gifts: wine glasses and scuba diving lessons. I just punched in my credit card info, and bam, my friendship obligation was fulfilled. It was such a simple exchange and I felt very good about it."
A number of commenters on my page were horrified by this essay's flippant tone towards friendship. Some related to it. A few were horrified by the horror, much of which had a judgmental tone.
The writer never identified herself as an introvert, but introverts are certainly familiar with the kind of skittishness she described. A lot of us, like the writer, tend not to answer the telephone. We might even, like the writer, return phone calls when we feel pretty certain we'll get voice mail. And, like the writer's, my phone doesn't ring much anymore. Sometimes I feel bad about that. But only sometimes. My friends just know that's not the best way to reach me.
This essay is an interesting mirror in which to view ourselves. How many of us are like this writer, hoping friends will hang on even if we dodge their calls and never find time to see them?
But is that behavior being true to our introversion, or unfair to our friends? And can we call people friends if we don't make time for them?
There was a time in my life, when I was in my 30s, when I could and would blithely say, "Oh, I don't need any more friends. I hardly have time for those I have."
Then life went on. I'm in my 50s now. Friends have died, moved away, drifted from my orbit. I've experienced loneliness. I've had to go on friend "dates" to find new people to hang with. Some of those dates led to friendship, most did not.
And so I'm trying to take very good care of friendships that have survived the years, many of which are long distance. These friends know not to expect spontaneous phone calls from me, but they also know that I’m happy to plan catch-up calls, and will suggest them sometimes. And I clear my schedule for those calls, because they can go on for hours. If friends come to my town for any reason, I make time to see them. I will travel for the sole purpose of visiting friends. I don't receive a lot of invitations to go out and do stuff these days so I rarely refuse those I do get. My attitude is, "take it when you can get it."
If you honestly and truly don't care if you have friends, I don't judge. However, I believe that friends are important to our emotional well being. Most introverts don't need or want a lot of friends; we tend to be selective about who we invest in. This makes taking care of the friendships we value all the more important.
And introversion is not a good excuse or reason for neglecting them.
Actually, it's not a reason at all. Some commenters on that essay pleaded their case by saying they sometimes find that they can't pick up the phone to reach out. But this, I believe, is not because of introversion. Introversion is about motivation. As introverts, we may have to work a little harder to motivate ourselves to reach out to people, but we can do it.
Once you get into the realm of want to but can't, then the issue might be less introversion than something else. One woman said that when she starts thinking can't, she considers whether depression is staying her hand. Or maybe it's anxiety. Or shyness. Or social phobia. Go back and read this post about the difference between introversion and shyness.
It might take some brain work and gut-checking to tease apart don't want to from can't. But the important thing is that if you are unable to bring yourself to do something you truly want to do, that's not introversion. It's something more noxious, and a therapist could probably help you identify and conquer whatever it is.
The person whose wedding that writer skipped eventually got sick of pursuing the friendship and gave up. Maybe that's just fine with the writer; some friends are not worth the trouble of keeping. I know that. On the other hand, many friends are. And introverts or not, we have to do our part to keep the friendship alive. If we can't, we should probably figure out why.
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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