The silent treatment

 

My husband and I spend a lot of time not talking to each other.  Not because we’re fighting or because we’ve run out of things to discuss, but because it’s a comfortable respite for both of us.  This is what happens when an introvert marries another introvert.

We introverts are frequently misunderstood to be shy, but many (like me) socialize easily. This means that we can “pass” for being an extrovert. I did this for a long time, mainly because I thought I was one. I assumed that being introverted meant you hated people and lived by yourself in a basement that smelled like cat food. Yet as I went about my “extroverted” life, one question always nagged at me: If I truly liked people, why was being around them so damn exhausting?

Imagine my outsized relief when I learned that being extroverted or introverted is not about liking or disliking being around people. It’s about how you recharge. Extroverts replenish their energy by being around others. Introverts, on the other hand, need to reboot by slipping away to stare at a wall in silence for a while after too much socializing.

I was well into adulthood by the time I came to terms with my introversion. This means that I spent a lot of time when I was younger worrying about why I didn’t have more friends.  At different stages of life I’ve always been close to 3-4 people, but rarely have I been part of a larger crowd that hung out together all the time. Coming of age in the heyday of Friends and 90210, this was stressful! Not having a crew to hang with at Central Perk or the Peach Pit made me both anxious that I was unlikable and destined to die alone, and also relieved that I didn’t have to socialize and keep up with so many people all the time.

Realizing I was an introvert also helped take me off high alert whenever I met someone new and calm the internal battery of questions.  (Are you friend material? Do you like me? Do I like you? Am I talking too much? Am I talking enough?) It allowed me to relax into connecting with people at my own pace. This is important because I don’t love small talk. I also don’t love diving into my deepest feelings the first, second, or even third time we meet. This leaves only the awkward middle ground in conversations, where I’m searching for meaningful and interesting topics that are neither the weather nor how I feel about religion, sex, etc.

When I was in my twenties people started getting married. Weddings are an introvert’s nightmare; large gatherings with lots of people you don’t know that last for hours.  It took me nearly a decade of sitting through awkward toasts and over-choreographed first dances to realize that unless you are listed in my iPhone Favorites, I don’t have to go to your wedding. You’re better off, really. I’m a terrible wedding guest. I don’t like to dance in public. I don’t want to make small talk with your second cousin. I don’t want to get drunk and make out with the best man.  Basically I am no fun at all at weddings. So if you truly love me, don’t invite me to your wedding.  Or invite me (because introverts like being invited) but don’t expect me to come. I will send you a lovely gift and take you out to dinner another time.

Embracing my introversion has helped me to be more honest with myself and others about what I’m capable of.  Recently I had a lunch with a friend whose birthday party I had skipped.  At the time I’d made up some lame excuse about the babysitter canceling, but at lunch I told her the truth—that I’d spent the night at home in my pajamas watching Netflix because I’d overscheduled myself earlier that day and was maxed out on socializing.  She knows me, so she totally got it.

I’ve also learned to structure my life to avoid activities that drain me. I choose drinks or coffee with someone over a large group happy hour.  I schedule a 1:1 play date rather than going to a playgroup.  I have a couple of people over for dinner instead of going to a party. And perhaps most important, I married someone who understands all of this.  

Compared to my husband, I am a social butterfly.  Probably the most friction in our marriage comes from him wanting to know why we need to hang out with other people all the damn time. If I invite friends over he’ll ask why we have to socialize so much, because didn’t we just have people over?  I’ll remind him that, yes, we did have people over—a month ago.

A few months after our son was born I went away for the weekend.  My in-laws claimed the baby for the weekend and my husband stayed home alone. I kept asking him what he was going to do and who he was going to see. I listed off several friends he could call whom he hadn’t seen in a while. I checked in a couple of times over the weekend.

“Hey honey, how is the weekend going? What did you do last night?”

“Mm, nothing much.”

“Did you call Colin to get together?”

“No.”

“Well, what are you doing tonight?”

“I’ll probably just hang out at home, maybe walk to pick up dinner somewhere.”

I felt bad for him, spending the weekend all by himself.  Then it clicked. These 48 hours of solitude, of not needing to make conversation with anyone or even wear pants, was his dream weekend.

Like me, my husband is a sneaky introvert.  We’re a good pair that way. We’ll make fun, interesting conversation at your dinner party, truly enjoy ourselves for a couple of hours and leave immediately after dessert.  Then we will recuperate on the drive home in most intimate of states: comfortable silence.