Carolyn Hax: Extrovert doesn’t understand his introvert partner

Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi Carolyn: I am an introvert who, when I was single, was able to go all weekend without talking to somebody. Occasional dates, phone calls with friends, even running to CVS was enough social interaction until I was back in the office on Monday.

For the past four years I’ve been living with an extrovert who loves my company (go figure!). LOTS of covid quality time together has made me think about how much time we are “supposed” to spend with partners.

I am good about getting the me-time I NEED — I am also generally happy reading for hours — but I feel guilty knowing my partner is sitting in the living room alone. I also have other solitary hobbies like writing and gaming (which he has no interest in), and when we argue, he’ll say things like, “You’re always in there reading or playing games,” so I know it bugs him.

I think even when he is sitting alone working on his laptop, he’d appreciate me being in the same room with him to exchange an anecdote or keep him company. In some ways he reminds me of my aging mother, who always needed someone in the room with her, or maybe I am the loyal dog he needs by his side?

When we talk about it, he says he just doesn’t “get” the introvert “thing” so I feel like I’m either not being a good partner (by enjoying what is probably more than a “normal” amount of alone time) and feeling a little resentment, like, “Dude, we spent the whole day together, can’t you find something on Netflix to watch?”

Any idea on how to negotiate or strike the “right” balance of alone time? Or maybe we are just not a match.

Introvert: Why doesn’t he “get” the introvert “thing?” You “get” the extrovert “thing,” enough. You don’t have to feel it to know it exists, right?

You know there are two terms for two different general emotional makeups, and you are one of them, so you have no reason to believe the other one is just some made-up thing. Right?

So have you asked him why he, with the same grasp of the vocabulary, can’t just take on faith that you fit the other description?

I guess this is under my skin because you’re taking care of yourself emotionally, AND you’re trying to take care of him. And I don’t see the same effort from him to make sure you’re getting what you need.

So if you want to try discussing it again, then that’s where I’d start: by saying you’re introverted and alone-timish but try to be mindful of supplying him the companionship he needs. And you’d appreciate it if he returned the favor and were also mindful of facilitating — or just accepting — your alone time instead of resisting it.

As for the “supposed to” of time spent with partners, there’s no such thing. The right amount of together time is when you feel good about the amount of together time — not guilty, not smothered, not lonely, not weary from begging, and not arm-weary from having to hold your lines all the time.

  • I pretty much have the social needs of a pet rock with cats and who reads books and bakes brownies. Adding to Carolyn’s suggestions, have your partner read: “Quiet” by Susan Cain. We introverts are not things, we’re humans who are wired differently, which is not a problem that needs fixing.

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