I love to dress up and go socialize with people. My boyfriend, however, can only smile friendly and chitchat for about 20 minutes before he seats himself in some corner and starts reading the host’s books. Last time we went to a dinner party, I found him alone in a room petting the owner’s dog! I do introduce him around and encourage him to be more outgoing. I think if he’d just make more of an effort to talk to people, he’d have a better time. He says he’s not miserable but just can’t do this social stuff for long. I love having him with me, even though he’s kind of not actually with me. So, can it work with a self-proclaimed introvert and a party girl?
— Social Butterfly
It’s a party! You’re in your element, making the rounds, meeting tons of new people, racking up invites to parties after the party, and your boyfriend’s, well, probably in that little crawl space under the host’s stairs.
Sartre once said, “Hell is other people at breakfast.” An introvert sees no reason to narrow it down to a particular time of day. My own introvert boyfriend is charming and fun one on one, but his favorite kind of party is one that’s canceled, and his preferred RSVP would be something Ving Rhames said on the set of “Out of Sight”: “I don’t want to talk to anybody I don’t already know.”
Ever since Freud decided (sans evidence) that introverts were repressed, narcissistic trolls under the bridge, extraversion has been considered the ideal and introverts have been seen as socially stunted. Introversion is also wrongly conflated with shyness, but shyness is fear- and shame-based — quite different from seeing no reason to say anything to strangers unless you or they are on fire.
More and more, research points to a strong biological basis for personality. Brain imaging shows distinct differences in introverts and extraverts. Studies by neuroscientist Debra L. Johnson and others found that extraverts, who get energized from external stimulation like meeting new people, have increased blood flow to rear areas of the brain for sensory processing (like listening, touching, watching). Introverts, who tend to be more pensive and introspective, and are easily overwhelmed by too much external stimulation, showed more blood flow altogether (indicating more internal stimulation), over more complicated pathways, with more activity in frontal regions for inward tasks like problem-solving, reasoning and remembering. Put that together with a Chinese study adding evidence that introverts get socked with a higher level of cortical arousal from stimuli, and you get the idea that urging introverts to be more outgoing is a bit like urging scissors to be more like a stapler.
So, can it work between you and a boyfriend who probably researches the host’s wallpaper so he can dress to blend into the background? Well, maybe — if you’re independent enough to show up to most events without him as Your Date™. There will, of course, be times when it means something to you to have him there, and the compromise then is his to make. Be sensitive to his feelings, try to get there early (when the houseplant-to-guest ratio is greatest), and be okay with him eventually slinking off to read “The Life History of the Dung Beetle” or talking to the dog (who’s sometimes the most interesting person at the party).
Is there any way, for a man out on a date with a woman, to utter the phrase “Whoopsie daisy” and not see a Road Runner cloud where she was just sitting?
— Just Curious
Just wondering … under what circumstances would a man (you?), on a date with a woman, be compelled to utter the phrase “Whoopsie daisy”? Dropped your knitting? Or, was it your Hello Kitty wallet and matching compact?
There are some women who like to date girlier types, and they’re called lesbians. Otherwise, unless you’re joking, and your date shares your sense of humor, you probably will see a cartoon puff of smoke in her wake if you talk like her elderly aunt. You don’t have to grunt and adjust yourself every two minutes, but if you’re looking for a conversational role model, lean more toward Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry” than Kurt Hummel in “Glee.”
People on dates often blurt out dumb stuff because they’re nervous and sitting across from somebody and have nothing on their mind but “I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY!” You can avoid this if you plan dates that have you going places, seeing sights, and showing off your keen powers of observation by pointing out things of interest; for example, “Wow, look at that man running away with your pocketbook.”
Amy Alkon’s just-published book: “I See Rude People: One woman’s battle to beat some manners into impolite society” (McGraw-Hill, $16.95).