Why does it seem like our extrovert friends always have other people around when we want to spend time with them? Sure, sometimes it’s because they always have other people around, period. But other times they invite others even though they know in advance that they’ll be getting together with us! Do they need others as a buffer or because we are too boring to spend time with one on one? Do they need to invite lots of entertaining people along just so they can get through that hour or two? Is our company not enough?
I’ve seen a lot of this in my own life and in stories from other introverts over the years, of course, but lately I’ve been thinking about three different situations where I knew the people on both sides of the issue.
Susan and Robert
Susan, a sensitive introvert and Robert, an extrovert who “never met a stranger,” had been best friends, doing just about everything together most weekdays. They worked together, they ate lunch together every day, and they shopped and gossiped and laughed together all the time. They didn’t live together; she lived with her husband Brad and he lived with his partner Jeff, so Robert also got his chance to do plenty of socializing with his large crowd of friends while she got her chance to stay home.
Then Susan had to move to a city 250 miles away when Brad got a big promotion. The move was agonizing for her. Robert was an important part of her life and she really grieved over having to leave him behind! She and Robert still emailed and texted often, and about a month after she moved, Robert invited her to come and spend the weekend with him and Jeff. She counted the days until the visit, anticipating all the fun they would have, talking, eating, laughing, and just doing whatever they wanted.
When Susan arrived at their home after four hours of driving, the guys greeted her happily and introduced her to their new dog, who was beautiful and sweet. It was just like old times, and she was content and even elated, in a way she hadn’t been since she moved away. Some good smells were drifting into the living room from the kitchen, so she knew Jeff had something delicious on the stove for dinner later.
Around 6 pm, the doorbell rang. She didn’t expect that; hopefully it was just a neighbor with a quick question and then they could resume their sweet, but much-too-short visit. Instead, six women were at the door! Some carried beer or wine, and one carried a baguette. What the hell was going on!? Robert greeted the visitors heartily, and soon the living room was a lively place, as the women loaded plates with food and sat down. Jeff put on a movie for everyone.
Susan was crushed. So Robert had forgotten she was coming for this visit! How could he? Should she leave? She felt like a spoiled toddler, almost in tears from fatigue of the long drive plus confusion and hurt. Fortunately everyone was watching the movie, laughing loudly and chatting among themselves, so she was able to stay quiet and just be one of the crowd. She spent the night and much of the next day with her friends, but since they apparently didn’t have time for her she vowed that she would never make the effort again. It was obvious that she had totally misunderstood her value to Robert. He had made it clear that he didn’t think that having “just her” would be “enough.”
Marie and Diane
Marie was always extremely close to her sister Diane, but once each one moved out of their parents’ house and got her own place, it seems that Marie could never get a moment of Diane’s time without a flock of other people around. Even if Diane called her and invited her over, she also invited what she considered a fun mix of other people to join them. Sometimes Marie felt very rejected. Didn’t Diane even care about being able to really talk to her, instead of the shallow small talk one would do in a large group? One time she harshly told me that apparently all Diane cared about was “social climbing,” if she couldn’t get together with her own sister for a “nice evening” for just the two of them.
Jeremy and Roderick
Jeremy is a very kind guy, a quiet introvert who enjoys solitary sports like hiking and fishing. He worked in a big group of guys he considered to be his friends, especially Roderick, who shared some inside jokes with him and always brightened up his day. Then Jeremy got a better job offer, and he found that after he left the company he didn’t hear much from Roderick anymore. In fact, the only time Roderick seemed to want to meet him for drinks or dinner was when a big group was going. Had he been wrong all along? Maybe Roderick wasn’t really his friend! He wondered if he had any friends at all.
What was going on
In the first two cases, it wasn’t that the extroverted friends and relatives found their introvert too boring or “not enough.” Instead, Robert and Diane fully believed that if one person was fun, two (or ten) would be even better! Robert wasn’t trying to ruin the visit with Susan; he was trying to make it really awesome for her! He had been excited for her to come and spend the weekend, and he thought she’d really enjoy an evening at home with a few of his friends rather than to do what he’d normally do on a Saturday and go to a big party. He also had no idea that he was one of just one or two people she treasured so much. He liked Susan a lot, but he had lots of friends and wanted to enjoy a lot of them all at once. Wouldn’t anyone?
Likewise, Diane thought she was helping her sister Marie to broaden her horizons a bit. She knew Marie didn’t go out very much and she sometimes worried about that. She thought she could help Marie by including her sister in her usual active social life, hoping that Marie also could start enjoying a larger circle of friends and have more fun.
Roderick, it turns out, really did want a buffer of extra people. He confided to me once, “I can’t go for a beer with just Jeremy because he won’t talk! I need some more people there so we can keep a conversation going.” Jeremy never heard that, of course, but after months of getting used to it he finally started accepting the fact that he wasn’t going to be seeing Roderick without the group, and in fact he started to really enjoy looking forward to getting with the big familiar group. Sure they were his friends. They just weren’t that “best friend” he had been thinking he wanted.
It took me a long time to realize that many extroverts really do believe in “the more, the merrier,” and to realize that what might seem like too much to me is just enough to be enjoyable to them – whether that’s people at dinner, hours spent talking, or a lot of other things. We may still wish we could have some one-on-one time with our extroverted friends, but understanding their approach to socializing takes away the feeling of being slighted or ignored and allows us to ask for what we want. It’s hard for us to use our words sometimes, but it may be exactly what we need. Marie or Susan could say, “Hey, I’m really looking forward to getting together with you. I miss getting to talk to you just us, like we used to. Could we make it a really small crowd Saturday evening? Then next time we can have a big dinner with your friends.” Our friends may be a little surprised at this sort of request, but with any luck they’ll be happy to make the effort, and we’ll have that intimate visit we’ve been longing for.
Photo credit: Ed Schipul