My husband has long had a greater appetite for socialization than I have; it was a semi-frequent clash before the pandemic that was covered up during quarantine because no one could go anywhere. This became clear bit by bit, as we were working in the same limited space (my husband likes to chat during the working day; I like to hide my face in a computer in a quiet room), but most of the time, my preferences won out.
Now that we are re-emerging into the world, the shock is back, and I realize that it is extending to our children as well. Our little one is more like my husband, while our oldest daughter is more like me. She and I aren’t afraid to see people, although sometimes we have to socialize – and always need some downtime to recharge our batteries. The more outgoing pair can be on the go indefinitely, with fewer recharges needed. None of us are at the extreme of introversion or extroversion, but there is tension when trying to understand family activities.
When I started talking to experts about dealing with our differences, the first thing I learned was that not everyone agrees on the definitions of ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’. and defining the terms is essential if you want to assess your own family dynamics. Kenneth Rubin, professor of human development at the University of Maryland, who has studied social withdrawal for decades, said that “people are throwing up terms like ‘shyness’ or’ introversion ‘or’ preference for loneliness’ or ‘l ‘anxiety’ in one big box, when in fact they’re all quite different. “
Shyness is being reluctant in social society. In preschoolers, said Dr Rubin, shyness is based on fear of the unknown; with older children and adults it is based on the fear of being judged. Social anxiety is “shyness on steroids,” as Melinda Wenner Moyer put it in our guide to dealing with shy children. “It is a diagnosable disorder characterized by a fear of being watched and judged by others that is so intense and persistent that it disrupts daily life,” she writes.
Introversion is a preference for loneliness, and is sometimes defined as the loss of energy from social situations, while extroversion gains energy from social situations. “I really like energy as a shortcut for talking about all of this,” said Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. “I tell people to imagine themselves with company they really enjoy and think about how they feel about two to three hours away. As an extrovert, you want the party to last. As an introvert, no matter your social skills, you start to feel like your battery is drained and you need to recharge it. This definition resonated with me – after about two hours of socializing, it’s like a switch flipped inside me and I needed to take a break from people, even if it’s only five minutes into the day. bathroom staring at my phone in silence.
So how do you know if your family members are shy or introverted, and how do you make sure everyone gets what they need, socially speaking? Here are a few tips.
Determine the preferences of each family member. For children, start by observing them as they interact with others. If they’re anxious or disoriented on the playing field – they always stay on the outskirts instead of jumping into the fray no matter how long you’re there – they can be shy, Dr Rubin said. If, like my oldest daughter, they need a lot of cuddling to leave the house, but like to engage once they’re in an activity, they’re probably introverted.
For adults, ask yourself this question, Ms Cain said: “Imagine if you had a whole weekend to yourself with no social, family or professional obligations. How would you spend your time? The answer will reveal how much you really enjoy socializing and how obliging you feel.
Working to understand each other’s nature and preferences through observation and discussion may seem obvious, but “it’s not at all obvious,” Ms. Cain said. “Most families have unspoken and unrealized expectations of what is the right way to be,” she said. So, if you are an introvert in an extroverted family, or vice versa, your needs may be overlooked or misunderstood.
Discuss the plans in advance. It’s essential to discuss what weekend activities you could do as a family and let everyone express their opinions, said Kristine Nicolini, assistant professor in the journalism department at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, who wrote his thesis on introversion and the dynamics of family communication. You could agree to have two social events on a Saturday, but allow time off between play dates and barbecues.
It’s also worth being aware of family dynamics when socializing, Dr Nicolini said. Outgoing family members can invite their more introverted siblings or spouses into conversations to make sure they feel included, she said.
Divide and conquer. Doing different activities to satisfy introverts and extroverts every now and then can help give everyone what they need, Ms. Cain said. My husband could take my youngest daughter to her favorite park, while my older daughter and I will stay home to putter and read. Everybody is happy. With us as a couple, my husband will see friends after the kids are in bed, while I stay at home and watch TV and fold the laundry. We are both living our best lives.
This does not mean that we always avoid conflict. Free time, especially when we’re dating without our kids, is a zero-sum game. I prefer to spend this free time just the two of us, whereas he prefers to spend time with a larger group.
Sometimes we compromise by going out to dinner alone and meeting friends later. Sometimes I get home before my husband, but I’m slightly annoyed about it. In a strange way, the pandemic made me thankful for returning to those old irritations; I find them comforting, like an old itchy blanket. I’m so glad we can socialize again.