A reader writes: I've been in a great relationship with my boyfriend for 2½ years. I love him. But lately, my friends have been causing some friction between us. We used to attend parties my friends invited us to. But he's incredibly quiet and introverted, and ends up drinking in a corner by himself. In social situations, he only speaks when spoken to. He says my friends have given up having conversations with him and he feels uncomfortable around them. Now, he won't come out with me if my friends are involved. So do I party with my pals on my own or make him come out with me so he can suffer in silence? I want him to enjoy himself, but he treats my friends and family with the same distant politeness as the first day he met them.
An introvert speaks out
Introverts find socializing draining; extroverts find it stimulating - it's a matter of energy. The boyfriend needs to say no to some social events or have some control over the time he spends at them. As an introvert, I find many gatherings enjoyable for a limited time. One has to gear up. But when the energy is drained, it's time to go. By staying in a corner and limiting stimulation, the boyfriend is practising self-preservation (like a computer going into hibernation mode). I once attended a heavy-metal concert and fell asleep halfway through; I became overstimulated by the crowd, the lights and the loud music.
- Dana King, Toronto
Oh, the aching effort
I spent 25 years with a loner and then 2½ with an introvert. I loved both very much. If you have healthy friendships, you will be sadly disappointed with someone who is socially uncomfortable. He will depend on you for most of his needs. Perhaps that dependency is the initial attraction. But you will make the exhausting effort to keep things smooth. In time, if you insist he comes to your brother's wedding, he will do so and be resentful. If you say there is no need to be by your side for your aunt's funeral, you will have an aching in your heart that will become anger. The best partner for an introvert is an introvert.
- Anne Mulligan, Ottawa
The introvert excuse
It's not your friends causing friction, it's your boyfriend. He's the one refusing to relax and hang out with the other people who are important in your life. The introvert excuse is sometimes a true statement of a person's character; look forward to lifelong friction.
It is also sometimes a cover for a partner bent on gradually cutting you off from a support system so he can control you emotionally, physically and financially. If he's content to stay home, well and good. If he's trying to make your time with friends and family seem more trouble than it's worth, then you're in trouble.
- Jayna Barnard, Calgary
The Final Word
I don't know which is worse: the boyfriend who sulks, Nietzschean, into his drink or the brash drunkard firing off half-jokes to the assembled crowd.
As a couple, there will always be some deft social navigation - and compromise. My question to you: Is your boyfriend willing to try?
Let's begin sagaciously. Is it that he wants you all to himself? While this is a suspicious read of your situation, Introvert Excuse Barnard makes a worthy point: Your boyfriend's sullenness and melancholy, his refusal to be drawn out, could be an isolation tactic - one that will tire you into eschewing gatherings and, eventually, closeness with others.
Frankly, after 2½ years, I too would abandon the effort of coaxing conversation from a man who clearly prefers muteness. Relationships require effort; its expression - however modest - is a form of respect for others.
This is most crucial with friends and family. Reaffirm that, while you respect his shyness, these people are a definitive part of your life - one that, like a delicate crop, deserves cultivation and attention.
Heavy Metal King provides an empathetic view. Advising moderation, she understands that your boyfriend, overwhelmed by the demands of socialization, is preserving himself. While this is a useful perspective, is it a reality you can live with?
As Exhausting Effort Mulligan forecasts, you may find yourself granting your boyfriend a bye to weddings and funerals. In heightened, let alone prosaic, times, can you bear his solitude as your own?
Whatever you do, please do not join that doomed legion of women - grinning wide and wooden as ventriloquists' dummies - pressed to overcompensate for their paramours' poker faces. Like the aforementioned puppets, this does not strike me as a truthful life.
With love, we are made iconic versions of ourselves; we are braver and more generous. Instead of this boisterous possibility, I sense you are both sinking. Your last sentence perfectly encapsulates the quicksand that is his approach; he continues to be mired in a "first day" politeness with your intimates. Extrovert, you are at a critical point with this man. Keep trying - as long as he does, too.
Next week's question
Click here to contribute your widsom - or submit your own dilemma. (We will not publish your name if you submit a personal dilemma for the print column.)
Claudia Dey's plays, Beaver, The Gwendolyn Poems and Trout Stanley, have been staged across Canada. Her first novel, Stunt, was published by Coach House Books. Her website is ClaudiaDey.com.
Claudia Dey's first novel, Stunt, was published by Coach House Books in April. Her website is ClaudiaDey.com.