October 29, 2006

"The Two Introvert Problem"

I almost never read advice columns, but I felt this one from Salon too good a title not to read.

Someone writes in:
I prefer spending time alone to light dating -- it's less tiring. That said, I enjoy being in serious or steady relationships. Right now, I'm single, but am very interested in a friend of a friend. He's very intelligent, thoughtful, funny and unique in all the right ways. He likes me too -- he has made it obvious to our friends and, in his way, to me, too.

The problem is that we have pretty similar levels of introversion. We're both more comfortable talking about highly complex theoretical issues (he's a Ph.D. student, and I'm a theory nerd) than we are doing the verbal waltz promoting typical flirtation. As a result, we are painfully awkward around each other. We've both tried to have get-to-know-you conversations, but the interactions end up being painfully stilted -- even when we're both inebriated... Is there a solution? Like a library date where we both read books and occasionally throw each other shy glances? Do I just need to swallow my fear, step out and express myself even though it's about as comfortable as walking naked through glass wool insulation? Or is it really true that an introvert needs to date an extrovert, a serious person needs to date a lighthearted one, etc.? Am I whispering up the wrong tree?
I'm really digging this idea of a library date, but the advice columnist replies:
Apparently what we have here is an area of human interaction -- courtship -- so completely colonized by extroverts that even an intelligent and thoughtful person such as yourself is only dimly aware that there might be alternatives.

And yet there must be alternatives. Otherwise, introverts would never reproduce. And I refuse to countenance the notion that these alternatives just take the form of painfully awkward reenactments of extroverted styles... Now, it's true that introversion is not the same thing as silence at all. It's not that introverts don't like to talk. What I'm suggesting, though, is that introverts must find ways to insulate themselves from the effects of a crowded, draining world, and one of those ways is to consciously resist the felt pressure to chatter. I would encourage you to explore the boundaries of what is permitted to two people who simply like each other and want to be together. Why should you have to pretend to be extroverted?
The column goes on to make a (possibly ironic?) comparison between the way dating rituals are entirely dominated by extroverts to the way society has been constructed under gender and racial norms of male whiteness, but I think the point is interesting—why should introverts feel they need to, when dating each other, conform to a pattern or mode of behavior which both find discomfiting and dull?

I don't know, honestly, but this all reminds me of a joke I once heard: how can you tell if an engineer is an extrovert?
If he looks at your shoes.

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