After decades of yielding to the social plans of those friends more gregarious than I am, my practice of furtive early departures from group events evolved into my Rule of Two. I rarely visit out of town friends or family for more than two days. And if I’m part of a convivial gathering for more than two hours, it’s only because I haven’t found an acceptable way to escape.
I did enjoy the spirited get-togethers of my high school years, but even then, after the first couple of hours, I was content to become an observer, never the lasting life of the party. In college, pairing off began in earnest, for me a lovely respite from collective fun seeking. Marriage followed and soon thereafter came graduate school for Len, when there was little time for the festive company of friends, no money and babies to care for. Home became a safe haven from the social whirl.
Was I anti-social as some suggested? I thought not, but then why the discomfort?
Then, one day a friend wise in the teachings of Carl Jung tagged me an introvert. Surely not, was my immediate thought, for I love working with people and treasure many friendships. But with this idea in mind I began to read about the distinctions between extroverts and introverts, and gratefully accepted the label.
Author and journalist Jonathan Rauch, an introvert himself, wrote about this personality dichotomy for the Atlantic Monthly (an article which for years drew more traffic to the magazine’s website than any other). He affirmed that we introverts need hours alone every day. We love quiet conversations with intimates about how we are feeling, what they are thinking. But when our attendance at social gatherings of more than three or four others cannot be avoided, we need days to recuperate. We are not shy as may sometimes be assumed, and can even be comfortable making formal presentations to large groups. Not anti-social, not depressed. But when the jovial schmoozing starts, we yearn to sneak away as unobtrusively as possible.
Rauch writes: for introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.
Extroverts are energized by being in the presence of others, whereas for introverts the opposite is true. Brain scan research even suggests that the two groups process information differently. So, this is the root of my Rule of Two. I need no longer feel deficient or make excuses. I can walk into a room feeling no obligation to be who I am not, allow myself to be a listener, comfortable (usually) to be alone within the crowd, then leave.
A question raised by friends and the disappointed marriage partners who are my clients: are introverts better off partnering with extroverts, or selecting someone of their own orientation? No simple answer, but I’m sure that for opposite types to be happy together, there needs to be a recognition and acceptance of each other’s bent.
At some point Len and I voiced our shared reality that dinner parties were a dreaded chore rather than an anticipated good time. For the first two hours, fine, but then our furtive sidelong glances conveyed a mutual yearning to go home and have the rest of the evening to ourselves.
We were both introverts. I do wish I’d had a better understanding of this early on. I would have worried less during his retreats into silence. But over the years, as we became so well known to each other, there were many times we were comfortable alone, even when together.