Love the One You're With? Or Choose the One You Love?

How going with the flow can get you into the wrong relationship

Posted Apr 20, 2016

Source: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Are you looking for love or waiting for love to find you?

If you’re a quiet introvert who prefers sitting in the corner, accustomed to feeling overlooked, then having the high beams of an extrovert’s attention turned on you can be flattering, if not blinding. It’s hard not to be drawn in when the center of attention wants to share the spotlight with you. And it’s hard to resist a forceful personality reaching out and pulling you in.

On one hand, this is fine, since many introverts are not comfortable being the pursuer in relationships. Dan, a 44-year-old computer tech who married an extrovert he met on the job, says, “Given that I was/am also shy with women, dating an introverted woman would have been difficult and long. Actually the dating wouldn’t have been bad; getting around to asking her out would have been long and difficult.”

Ray-Mel, whose wife first pursued him, says, “I think someone who approaches someone else is by nature extroverted; recovering from a rejection isn’t as difficult as it is for someone who is more introverted and finds it hard enough to make an approach at all.”

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with recognizing you’re not the pursuer type. It’s the kind of self-knowledge that can put you on the path to a happy ending. Many introverts I spoke to about this issue said that they did tend to be the pursued rather than the pursuer, but some also realized this meant that they didn’t always make conscious choices in their relationships. “I’m very shy and too afraid of embarrassment to put myself out there,” says 17-year-old Niza. And so even though she’s not really interested in super-friendly guys who have lots and lots of friends, she usually ends up with talkative extroverts. “Which is probably why we didn’t work out,” she says of a past boyfriend. “I always get bored or aggravated with the person and dump him.”

Because of many introverts' tendency to let others take the lead, we are at risk of being sucked into relationships we might not have chosen had we given it more thought.

We’ve already talked about why introverts can be appealing to extroverts: We let them have the spotlight, we listen to them, and the rapt attention we are capable of providing (or at least faking) is irresistible to someone who's attention-hungry. And some extroverts genuinely need us (whether or not they’re aware of it) to help them slow down. “It’s easy for her to get pulled a thousand ways by people,” says Nancy about her “large and in charge” wife. “To have someone who can be quiet with her is really a healthy thing for her.”

All this is 100 percent OK: If you find nourishment in the energy of an extrovert, if you enjoy basking in a reflected spotlight, if you are endlessly entertained by an extrovert's antics, or any of the other myriad reasons you might be drawn to one, let that extrovert woo you and enjoy.

All I suggest is that if you are going to be drawn into an extrovert’s whirl, be sure you do it consciously and for the right reasons. Don’t just fall in love with someone for loving you, if you know what I mean. That’s good advice for anyone, but because introverts are less likely to stick their necks out to make connections, we can be more easily drawn into an extrovert’s attention without considering whether it’s the kind of attention that feeds our souls.

Among the risks of letting the extrovert choose you is that after the initial thrill of getting your undivided attention wanes, the extrovert might wait for something more exciting to happen, leading to hurtful disappointment. Or you might learn that you only enjoy all that fuss and bother to a degree. After a while you may find yourself wondering irritably why this bundle of noise and energy doesn’t just calm down and read a book. (Granted, you might grumble about that even if the relationship is generally successful—just as your extrovert might sometimes wish you would put out a little more energy around other people. No relationship is without frustrations, and that’s fine, if they’re fleeting.) You might tire of sharing your loved one with his or her 300 closest friends. You might get tired of being dragged to parties, or your extrovert might get tired of having to be the engine of your mutual social life.

You might even find that you view your outgoing extrovert’s easy charms with strangers as a threat. In the essay, “6 Things Every Extrovert Secretly Has to Deal With,” extroverted writer Macy Santo Domingo complains, “People will often assume you’re flirting,” even when you are just being your ordinary, outgoing self. This is a problem for her, she continues, when her friendliness is “misinterpreted as something more, especially when the person you are talking to gets offended that you are not, in fact, hitting on them.”

Some extroverts might have a flirtatious manner that they have trouble turning off whether or not they intend to flirt. While this might be a little irritating for the extrovert, it can feel deeply threatening to an introverted partner who perceives this flirtation differently.

Of course, you also have to trust your gut: While it could be that your extrovert partner is just being friendly, it also could be genuine flirtation. If it is flirtatiousness, use your gut again to determine whether it’s all in fun or an actual threat. But regardless of whether the threat is genuine, if you dislike it and the extrovert is unwilling to ratchet it back for your peace of mind, you get to decide if you’re OK with this in your relationship.

If any of these relationship breakdowns happen, it’s important to remind yourself that it’s just part of finding your way to love. An extrovert might choose you, but you always have the option to opt out if the fit is wrong. If the extrovert you were dating ultimately found you dull, don’t take his or her word for it without first asking yourself what this person’s criteria for “interesting” are. They might be entirely different from your own, and entirely different from the person you want to be.

In other words, you’re not dull just because this person thinks you are.

Actually, the person might be reacting to something that has little to do with you. My friend Carol Lennox, a therapist in Austin, Texas, points out that problems in a relationship often trace back to childhood issues: An extrovert who was neglected as a child might be drawn to introverts because that lack of attention feels familiar, she says: “This hooks into the childhood pain and makes them angry at the introvert, who may be simply being themselves.”

In his classic book, Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, Harville Hendrix points out that most of us look for mates who are like the people who raised us, in order to do it right this time. “Our old trying to recreate the environment of childhood. And the reason the old brain is trying to resurrect the past is not a matter of habit or blind compulsion but of a compelling need to heal old childhood wounds.”

In that case, by choosing you, the other person may be subconsciously opting into a relationship that has problems built into it from the start. And you may or may not be doing the same thing, depending on whether you are genuinely attracted to the relationship or if you just allowed yourself to get sucked in.

Pretty heavy stuff, right? Well, there’s not a lot that’s heavier than choosing the person with whom we feel safe to be ourselves. This is one good reason to wait until we have a reasonably mature view of our needs and wants before we set our life-love path. Getting to know oneself well can be a long and difficult process with a lot of trial and error. In relationships, this can also mean an awful lot of hurt.

If you frequently find yourself in relationships with friends or lovers who make you feel small or less-than, or if you find yourself frequently exhausted in the relationship from the effort of maintaining a persona the other person expects, maybe you’re letting others choose you rather than choosing to be with people who make you feel wonderful. It might be time to step back and ask: What do I want in a relationship, and is that what I am finding? And am I settling for not-quite-right relationships because they find me?

Excerpted from Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After.

Check out my books

Note that anything you buy from Amazon by clicking through from this blog post will earn me a few cents. Or you can support your local independent bookstore; click here to find an indie bookstore near you.

Want to hang out with a bunch of cool introverts? Join us on my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter or Instagram