Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Extrovert's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Your Introverts

My 'extrovert' post is far and away the most-read thing I've ever written in my life.  It's still turning up, over a year later, on websites and facebook and everywhere.  It makes me really happy that so many extroverts have said, "Thank you, so much, because I thought I was alone, and now I don't feel alone."

In the comments for it, someone suggested, "Why don't you write a piece about how to manage healthy relationships with introverts, from an extrovert's point of view?"  A lot of the 'how to deal with introverts' advice seems to come from the sorts of introverts whose position is "Go away unless I want you there, and don't disturb my precious, precious personal space except on my terms and don't disrupt me with your inanity."  That is not helpful.  I'm not discounting that some of the advice out there, particularly advice about how to approach and interact with introverts who are not already your friends, can be very useful, but "don't bother me unless I want you to and don't expect me to communicate when I want you to," isn't very helpful in a long-term relationship where both people have needs and expectations.  So I sat down and thought about "How do I maintain my friendships with the people I love and respect, who also happen to be very introverted?"

Keep in mind, this is NOT written from the introvert's perspective and contradicts a number of those 'how to deal with an introvert' tips.  Please understand that I've been navigating relationships with introverts (I am an extrovert nerd and/or geek, so I am seriously outnumbered in my community) for over 25 years, and if you want to disagree with me, please read the companion piece linked at the top of this article first.  This is an extrovert, writing for fellow non-introverts, about what has consistently worked for me.  So, here we go!

1.  It is NOT about you.  This is the big one.  Your introvert friend didn't come to your party, or left it early.  Unless there's some drama within the friendship that you're conveniently ignoring, this has nothing to do with you at all.  Introverts find varying levels of human interaction wearing, and have to choose the energy they spend carefully.  Let your friend know, "Hey, I missed you and I'm sorry you couldn't make it."  No guilt, no recrimination, just "you were wanted, and you were missed."  The important thing is that you should never take it personally unless your introverted friend is rude, flat-out stands you up, or deliberately makes you feel unwelcome and unwanted (more on that below).

2.  Introverts don't 'all hate people' and it's kind of rude to make jokes about that.  I've known a few introverts (and dated one) who were self-proclaimed misanthropes.  The misanthropy is separate from being an introvert.  A lot of introverts really like people and enjoy their company in reasonable doses.  If someone is a misanthrope, call him a misanthrope, not an introvert, and call out people who tease or pester introverts about not liking people.  Your introvert friends will appreciate that you understand the difference.

3.  If an introvert comes to your party, that IS about you.  If you're an extrovert or an ambivert (most people are neither extroverts nor introverts, but ambiverts), you look at a party invite from a casual friend, or a co-worker, and you think, "I'll check it out.  Maybe it will be fun.  I haven't been to a party in a while!"  Introverts almost never go to large gatherings just because 'maybe it will be fun'.  They go because they have to (professional or familial obligations) or because they genuinely want to.  If your introverted friend is standing in your living room with fifteen people, drinking a beer and making small talk, it's because she LIKES YOU.  She made a conscious decision to spend time and energy doing a thing you invited her to do.  Think about that.  Value that.  Make sure during the evening to engage in conversation with her directly beyond general social chatting.

4.  Introverts frequently leave social events early.  You may look around and find that the introvert hasn't actually been in the bathroom for half an hour; he quietly got his coat and ducked out while you were chatting with another friend.  Nothing happened, he's not mad, he wasn't avoiding you.  Likely he just hit his critical limit of 'dealing with groups' and didn't want to have to get into a long explanation of why he was leaving abruptly, or make a long and chatty round of goodbyes.  Most introverts, having had the "no, nothing's wrong, I just want to go home now, I promise," conversation several dozen times, will tend to avoid it if possible.  If you make it clear that you understand the concept of that threshold of social interaction and respect "I have had enough and am going now," your introverted friends will stop just vanishing and quietly come to tell you, "Hey, I'm done.  I'm headed out now.  Thank you for inviting me."  Say "OK.  I'm glad you came!" and not "But you can't leave now!" (letting them know "we are cutting the birthday cake in three minutes if you'd like to stay for that" is OK, but they still might leave anyway).

5.  Introverts want to be included.  So you send your introvert friend invitations to every party, and invite her out to dinner frequently, and she only accepts one invitation in ten.  Keep inviting, and accept refusals graciously.  A lot of people respond to introverts' lack of social participation by assuming they don't care to socialize, or they say, "You never come out when I ask you!  Don't you like me?"  Consistently maintain a posture of "Hey, you are always welcome but not required," and you'll find that your introvert friends feel more comfortable with you.

6.  Give personal invitations to small events.  If you haven't seen your introverted friend in a while, and you'd like to get together, call him up and say, "Hey, honey, I miss talking to you!  I'd love to have lunch, just you and me.  Is there a time that's good for you?"  Choose a restaurant that's quiet, so you can have a nice long deep conversation and really catch up.  Most introverts prefer one-on-one interaction so they can really connect, because it's not as draining *and* gives them a chance to open up and interact.  Don't just say, "Man, I haven't seen you in forever.  We should hang out more," because introverts hear that a lot, but the follow-up invitations are not always forthcoming.  Lead with the follow-up invitation.

7.  You don't have to excuse clear rudeness as 'introversion'.  I have a few introverted acquaintances who also have no social skills.  They cut over others in conversation because 'you were just making dumb small talk and I wanted to talk about something interesting', they make people feel unwelcome in their presences, they make comments about 'not having time for stupid social shit' because they have important things to do, and in general they create a clear impression that they resent being out in public and consider people who enjoy social interaction shallow narcissists.  You don't have to put up with that, and it's not 'being an introvert'.  It's 'being rude'.  Privately address rude behaviour with anyone, introvert or extrovert or ambivert, and explain that you would rather someone stayed home instead of making others feel dismissed.  The gracious and socially skilled introverts among your friends will appreciate that you don't consider rudeness and abrasiveness hallmark traits of their personality type.  Some of the offenders will try to haughtily explain to you that 'introverts are thinkers, unlike extroverts.'  It is appropriate to tell those people "I don't need to be friends with someone who thinks I'm stupid or shallow."

8.  As with all relationships, remember to respect others' boundaries and communicate your needs.  If you're romantically involved with an introvert, this can require negotiation so that both your needs are met.  Remember, your need for social interaction is equally important to the introvert's need for solitude.  Never allow anyone to dictate that you have to forego getting your own needs met because it's not convenient for them.  An extrovert or ambivert dating an introvert may need to establish a way for the introvert to say "I don't feel like going, but you should go and have a good time," and *mean it*.  Ambiverts and extroverts need to hear that as it is, and not interpret it as "I hate your friends and the things you enjoy are stupid."  Introverts need to trust their more socially-focused partners, and not assume that wanting to go out when your significant other would rather stay in is anything other than "I need to be around people right now, and I know you don't want to go so I'm going alone and I'll give everyone your love, then come back and tell you all about it."

9.  If you really need an introvert to be somewhere where there will be a lot of people, give plenty of warning.  If you want your very introverted friend to be a groomsman at your wedding, tell him months in advance, let him know there will be a lot of people there, and DO NOT plan eleven thousand social gatherings the week of the wedding that you expect him to attend.  If you're throwing a big birthday party for your best friend, let his very introverted wife know in enough time that she can scale back social activities around it and manage her own needs.  Also, when planning large gatherings to which you've invited introverted friends, it's helpful to have a smaller, quiet area (a back patio, a library or study with just a few comfy chairs) where people can step away and get a little quiet time if they're feeling overwhelmed.  Don't make a big deal out of it; people will find it if they need it.

10.  Remember that you're not responsible for maintaining your friends' emotional health, just respecting it.  Ultimately, it's up to people to manage their own needs and boundaries, and it's perfectly reasonable to expect your friends to communicate those needs and boundaries.  You're only responsible for basic courtesy and empathy, not for anticipating the possible feelings of everyone you interact with, assessing the exact correct level of human interaction, and bending your own needs to fit around theirs.

A lot of these are just 'good tips for dealing with people', but they're especially helpful if you find that you work or play in a mostly-introverted community and you're 'the social one'.  It's also important to remember that extrovert/introvert is not a be-all-end-all defining personality trait, so what works in relationship with one person may crash badly with another.  Most of all, be aware and respectful of the differing social paradigms that we all find most healthy for us, and do what you can to make sure everyone around you feels most at ease and comfortable in your friendship.


  1. You nailed this post as well as you might have if you were an introvert, contemplating your own navel. :) Truly insightful and much-appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to puzzle it all out.

    1. I don't much contemplate my navel, but I sure do contemplate a lot of introverts...

      I'm glad the post was useful for you.


  2. Thank you, this is awesome! I've dealt with a lot of people who pressured me into staying at a party once I was done, and I really appreciate that you respect that and talk about it.

    1. But you HAVE to stay, because we haven't done the karaoke yet!!!!

      Yeah, I will so not do that to you.


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  4. I am also an extrovert surrounded by introverts. Thank so much! Thankfully, most of them aren't like the type described in #7, but there have been enough that are, and I don't always know how to respond. So glad you wrote this, and the previous post on extroversion as well.

  5. This is excellent! I think it's exactly what the extroverts in my life need to see in order to help them understand. For me personally (as an introvert), a few points stand out more than others as things that bother me/would be really helpful for extroverts to be aware of, but all are excellent points. Numbers 5, 6, and 9 are the most important to me. Especially number 9; if I can't give myself enough time alone, I sacrifice sleep in order to have time to think by day 2, and start having panic attacks over every (completely unrelated) problem that I can't process properly because someone's trying to help (talk) me through it by day 5.

  6. Perfect, perfect, perfect!! This introvert appreciates you so much.

  7. I have friends who are introverts and as I date I'm attracting introverts. So I want to learn more about how I can make my relationships with them even better.

    I always want to learn, grow and be a better person. So when needing information about introverts I turned to my roommate (who is an introvert) for advice.

    My roommate found your blog article and thought it would be helpful. And it was VERY helpful!

    Thank you so much for helping me to see the differences between extroverts and introverts and how best to deal with those differences.

    I am an extrovert (ENFP) and as I read this article I realized that I've become more introverted over the past several years while I've been on my spiritual journey. Which makes total sense because I've had to go inward to learn more about myself.

    I enjoy more alone time now than I ever have. Being social is great, to a point, but then I find myself retreating and wanting to be more self-reflective and inward focused.

    Very insightful article! I really enjoyed it and learned a lot. Thank you!

  8. What a great article with a lot of points and it actually made me realize that I have actually become pretty introverted socially this past, oh probably year. I am often VERY extroverted and love to have fun and go out or to a party, but I am the one that when Im ready to leave, Im gone....Irish exit right outta there haha mostly because saying bye to everyone and having people try to talk you into staying can keep you there so much longer. Im the type where I'll be having fun, having fun, having fun, and then BAM....Im done...ready to go home, immediately. Also the invite thing! Sometimes, I might decline to go and usually this results in never being invited anywhere anymore, but there are lots of times I WOULD go if the invite were given, and even if not, it still makes me feel good that they thought of me and wanted me to go. Anyways, really insightful article and thank you!