Picture this: You have a co-habitating couple. One is always going out while the other is always staying in. Not only that, the one who goes out doesn’t mind the other staying in and actually sometimes prefers it. And the one who stays in often enjoys seeing the other walking out the door, en route to the latest beckoning social engagement.
To some it might appear like an unhappy relationship between two people drifting apart who don’t like spending time together. But for me, the above scenario is a close description of my relationship, and it’s a huge source of happiness in my life.
Often when I am out hanging with friends or at parties, I get the same question: “Where’s Stephanie?”
It’s a valid question. Over the last year and a half, my hilarious, beautiful, devoted, brainy, silver foxette of a future wife has rightly become a darling of my friend circles. Yet, eight out of 10 times I’m out in public, she’s nowhere to be found.
I used to have excuses ready: “Oh, she’s at home working on a paper.” (She’s a doctoral student.) Or, “She’s at home grading papers.” (She teaches online college courses.) But now, I’m fine with what is more than likely the simple truth: “She’s at home.”
Generally, it comes down to this: She’s an introvert and I’m an extrovert (note: there are varying shades and degrees of introverts and extroverts and many people exhibit characteristics of both at different times or circumstances. For the sake of argument here, I will stick with the generality of introvert vs. extrovert).
I always knew of the concept of introvert vs. extrovert but never quite placed myself or my romantic partners on the scale until Stephanie came along. But now having done so, it has made it easier to understand what each of us needs as individuals and a tool to understand the needs of the other.
As many introverts I’ve known have said, we all live in an extrovert’s world. I see it too. Extroverted behavior is more visible and seen as positive: The affable, outgoing life of the party, the person telling stories to large groups at barbecues, the person who speaks up in class or asks questions during meetings. Introverts are often misunderstood as being shy, meek or anti-social.
In general, the biggest difference between introverts and extroverts is what energizes them (and how they recharge that energy). I see these differences all the time between Stephanie and me. While my idea of fun is hosting 30 people for a beer-tasting party, she prefers a homemade meal, one or two friends, and spirited conversation. When we returned recently from a 10-day vacation, I was antsy and anxious to go hang out with my friends. When I told her of my plans, she said, “Yeah! Imma stay here and watch ‘Walking Dead!’” looking forward to time alone to do whatever she wanted.
At one stretch before I met Stephanie, I had gone out on the town 18 days in a row, often wondering who I might run into but knowing I’d run into someone. Sometimes now there’s no place I’d rather be than with my closest friends, standing or sitting at a table at Steamworks talking and laughing. When left without social time, I begin to feel stagnant. Social engagements are times for me to air out ideas and issues. Like a healthy lake, I need a regular influx of fresh water, rivers and streams rushing through.
It’s the opposite for Stephanie. She said that if she socializes too often without properly recharging with alone time, she’ll begin to disengage. She’ll get annoyed (even with me!), irritated, or emotional. She’ll become drained. Alone, she can let her mind wander, she can reflect and problem-solve. Alone time gives her energy and clarity.
Understanding this in each other has been vital. When I go out, Stephanie understands that it’s something I need to be the best me. And when she stays in, she thrives because of it. This is not to say that we don’t make time for each other – time together takes precedent. It is also not to say that we won’t make extra efforts for the other if we know or are made aware of a special occasion or need.
At a party last weekend that I went to solo, I was asked if I ever wanted Stephanie to change so that I could have a partner who came out with me more. No way, I said. We are individuals with different needs. Often when I’m out I can’t wait to get home, back to Stephanie. She likes hearing my tales and war stories of what I did, the conversations I had, the jokes I heard and made, all while laughing at the shenanigans of my crazy life. She’ll tell me about something she watched or read, devised, or thought about.
And in the end we’ll both be recharged and refueled, clear-headed and fulfilled, ready and equipped to continue loving each other madly.