Three Things I’ve Learned Living With An Introvert

Being in a personality-discordant partnership can have its fair share of challenges.

I’m a die-hard extrovert who lives with and loves a staunch introvert, and this personality discordance often feels like a greater divide than our differing genders. He is baffled that I can spend all day with lots of people and come home feeling energized, rather than exhausted. Even after I’ve been around individuals I find tiring, I tend to look for connection with other (non-tiring) people to feel more buoyant.

This difference is not due to a respective lack of competence. I can certainly enjoy being alone, but having shared experience and meaningful connection with others is generally what I find most restorative. Likewise, my partner is actually quite socially graceful – he just finds those interactions to be more work and finds his solitude more energizing.

When we first moved in together, this fundamental difference in the way we interact with the world was a significant source of confusion. I had a hard time empathizing with his need for ‘alone time’ every day, and he found my desire to be frequently social quite puzzling. I’d invite him to some event and he’d sigh and say (half-jokingly), ‘with people?’

While I’ve spent time thinking about how our gendered experiences may be different, it just wouldn’t have occurred to me that people could be opposite in this way had I not been confronted with it my living situation. I obviously knew intellectually that there were introverts and extroverts, but internalizing it enough to be empathetic was a step I’d had yet to reach. It’s a bit like food preferences: clearly people like and dislike certain foods, but until I met a woman who told me she didn’t like chocolate, I hadn’t really grasped it.

In light of this experience, I thought I’d share three things I’ve found helpful in navigating our differences.

1. Read about introversion and extroversion in order to understand some of the nuances. For example, I always associated introversion with social ineptitude, and reading about it helped me overcome that stereotype and as a result, understand my partner more. In particular, I found this Atlantic article, “Caring for Your Introvert,’ quite illuminating.

2. Explain what needs of yours are met when you are social or alone and ask your partner to describe the same. I felt much more understanding when I learned that he found social interactions energetically draining rather than just ‘not fun.’

3. Have a sense of humor about the differences. We have a bit of fun with each other’s personality differences, like when he makes a face when I mention a party invitation, or how I make a face when he lights up at the idea of silently poring over every display in an entire museum. However, I think the emotional understanding is a prerequisite to the joking in order for it to be fun, rather than unkind.

Do you have a partner who’s differently social? What have you found helpful in bridging the divide?

Follow us on Twitter @mysexprofessor or follow the author of this post, @katecom.

About Kate McCombs

Kate McCombs

Kate McCombs, MPH is a NYC-based sex educator + blogger. She's the founder of Sex Geekdom, a global community for sex educators, researchers, and other folks who love having geeky conversations about sex.

  • Jeana Jorgensen

    Thank you for this piece! I’m an introvert who enjoys socializing on occasion, but my partner’s an extrovert who’s really a pack animal when it comes to being around people ALL THE TIME. I’ve found that we often just need to hunker down and communicate before going to an event, so that he’ll know why I’ve run off to be alone, and so I’ll know to look for him in the largest cluster of people.

    I’ve also found metaphors helpful in a similar way that you’ve found humor helpful. Sometimes you poke around for a description of how you feel that is amusing and may not map 100% to the situation, but it can help the other person grasp how it *feels* to inhabit your chunk of the world.

  • Kate

    Yes – I absolutely agree that metaphors can be super helpful for empathy. Thanks for adding that!