Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Extravert Friend

All my life I’ve relied upon the kindness of extraverts.

In every social group I’ve been a part of there has been an undeniable center, the person everyone else thinks of as her best friend. In college it was Hilary. Hers was the smallest room in our student-ghetto house, but she rarely studied there alone. Located at the top of the stairs, it was invariably occupied by figures sprawled across beds, munching the inevitable chips and salsa while we talked about boys and dissipated all the pent-up silliness that accumulates during a day of studious endeavours. After graduation, Hilary served as bridesmaid in all our weddings, the token representative of the university years.

In my mid-twenties, the social convenor was Sheila. She functioned as the emotional center of a group my other friends referred to as "the dancing Baptists." All in various stages of singleness, we drank coffee, sang karaoke, and went to the beach, sorting ourselves gradually into increasingly stable twosomes. Sheila served as bridesmaid in all our weddings, and today her house is a common gathering place – the kind of house that has lots of toys for the kids, lots of room in the back yard for a barbecue, and a big kitchen table where the women can play Canasta while the boys duel one another at X-Box in the basement.

At no time in my life have I been the center of my social group. I lack the essential virtues: hospitality, comfy couches, a willingness to pick up the phone and organize get-togethers. I have plenty of friends, but these friends do not cohere around me. I do not possess the kind of gravitational force that organizes people into happily spinning orbits, circling one another in a friendly way but always depending on me to keep them connected. I am not that kind of person, but I have always been aware – sometimes acutely – of how much I need such people, how fully I depend upon their light and warmth.

The extravert friend is not without her flaws, of course. She can be flighty, unreliable – or she can be a guilt-tripper, the friend who periodically realizes how unbalanced the relationship has become and issues ultimatums. Dependence upon the extravert friend can be dangerous because when she moves on, she may take her posse with her. Even so, I think of my extravert friends with gratitude, thankful for their open doors, their friendly phone calls, the generous goodwill with which they hold all the rest of us introverts together and keep us from spinning alone into the coldness of space.

45 comments:

Veronica said...

My sister is one of those people. It was an occasional heartbreak to her in her teenage years that everyone expected her to reach out to them, and never thought that sometimes she needed to be the one invited.

slouching mom said...

I feel much the same way. As an introvert who surrounds myself with extraverts but who's never the host of gatherings (I think that would just about kill me, I being who I am), I try to be sensitive to the inevitable imbalances, even to the point of talking them out every now and then.

theflyingmum said...

I really would love to be the one hosting all the gatherings - though our house is small, it is cozy and we are dressing it up to be a gathering place. Our problem is propinquity: we are a good one to two hours away from all but one friend (a co-worker of TFH's.) Still, my hope is that "if I build it, they will come..."

JMA said...

Long live the extraverts! Without them, I might never leave the house (except to pick up the kids from school, of course). Speaking of which ....

Blog Antagonist said...

Oh yes, that's me to a t. Although, at times, I am very extraverted as well. It's a puzzle. Anyway...it must be exhausting to be one of those people. I'm happy with my status.

Beck said...

My house has been compared, quite kindly, to a train station - there's always someone over visiting. Having said that, I don't have a GROUP of friends - just lots of spares.

NotSoSage said...

Funny, I'm a typical introvert, but I have a core group of friends that we entertain on a weekly basis (the Tuesday BBQs) and I am often the one gathering everyone's availability for brunch on weekends. I'm not exactly sure how I fell into this role except that, when it started, Joe and I were the only twosome with a patio large enough to accomodate the group.

That said, I am not a hostess by any means: people are meant to feel comfortable in my place and do what they have to do to feed and water (or wine) themselves, after being pointed towards the glasses. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but working on it all seems a little too 1950s for my taste.

Um...so apparently this was all about me. Maybe I AM an extravert. :)

Christine said...

I, too, have lots of friends who I love, but don't necessarily cohere. It is weird because I love hosting and gathering people ( I am an extrovert that way), but don't do it much these days because of the weirdness that is often there between my friends who aren't really a group. I have a friend who is the center of her group and they seem so cliquish it is weird.

Kyla said...

I always thought of myself as an introvert...and always tested as such, too. But lately, shockingly, I am falling into the extrovert categories...not so much so that I am the social center (far from it), just enough so I'm not a silent wallflower. *lol*

But yes, indeed, we do need those extroverts with the gravitational force of friendship to pull it all together.

Lawyer Mama said...

Ooh, yes, I was the same way for a long time - always a planet orbiting around a sun. Now I find I don't have a core group after moving so often. Like Beck I just have lots of spares. About half the time I am the more extraverted of the pair.

bubandpie said...

Sage - Yay! We found one! "Not a hostess" is the perfect description of the extravert friend (even when she's not actually an extravert) - she's not the one with the upscale home and the stylish dinner parties - she's the one with the open door, the place where everyone hangs out. And yes, all that checking for availability, suggesting Sunday brunch - that's exactly the job description.

bubandpie said...

Flyingmum - I've probably placed too much emphasis on the hosting aspects of the extravert friend. The information-gathering is at least as important - even when friends are far-flung, there is often one person who is up on all the latest gossip, who remembers all the due dates and baby names and keeps everyone else posted.

Omaha Mama said...

I'm not either. I'm an extrovert in that I will talk to just about anyone about just about anything. I can't have hours long conversations. I have lots of friends. Yet there's this part of me that likes to be alone. Independent. I don't call a friend when I need to go shoe shopping. Or go on a walk. Then I realize those are the people who have so many friends - the ones who need a companion even just to run errands. I will never be that person.

This is an interesting topic indeed. What do you call someone who is both, and yet neither?

metro mama said...

I used to be this person but I've really fallen off the last couple of years. I forget birthdays, baby names, the works. There are so many people we "must have to dinner" but keep procrastinating!

Tye Anderson said...

never the life of the party...i beg to differ! It's all a matter of opinion...the next time "the gang" is together...(which, by the way...is few and far between anymore)just tell yourself..it's all because of me..it's all becasue of me....(feel free to click your rubie heals together - simply for effect)
and regardless...whether it is all because of you or not....you'll feel better...and no one else will know....unless, we find you standing in the middle of Sheila's living room on the table clicking your heals muttering to yourself....
but that would be hilarious...too.

bubandpie said...

Tyler - See? This is why I love you. And you're totally the extravert friend - just more for the guys' side of the equation these days.

c4cara said...

You are a Blog extravert though B n P. We all come here to bask in your bloggy warmth. So maybe it's just a platform thing?

AuthorMomWith Dogs said...

I flip back and forth. I'm essentially a loner who every once in a while has the gang over to fulfill my social needs -- and to force myself to give my house a good cleaning. The proverbial skip two stones with one throw. :)

Oh, The Joys said...

Interesting. Particularly because I am an extravert, a convenor, a connector, an organizer.

[Though NOT AT MY HOUSE- because I am not a cleaner - at least not if I don't HAVE to be.]

I can be all the things you acuse- perhaps not flighty, but... let's add self-centered, bossy and selfish. Because those are often true of the (me) type too.

NotSoSage said...

Another role for the gossip, I suppose.

I'm so glad that I don't have to throw stylish dinner parties. The woman at The Bay was so appalled when I refused to put china on my bridal registry. And authormomwithdogs has discovered my secret. Our house would never be clean if it weren't for our barbecues.

Suz said...

I have a few of these and love how they have an ability to connect people. I've always been a person of a few, close friends; I've met a few of these through my extravert friends.

Jen said...

In our group we have certain people who do the hosting by virtue that their homes can accommodate...and there are about 3 of us who make a concerted effort to plan the get-togethers. Then there are the rest who are content to just show up.

As for the hostesses house, we long ago gave up on formality. If you need something get it and if something needs stirring or the kettle needs to be put on you just do it.

I am not a good hostess in the sense that I feel compelled to clean as I go which means I am in the kitchen the entire time. It works out better if I am at someone else's house where I am can help tidy, but not take over.

Mommy off the Record said...

Yay for the extravert friends. You remind me not to take them for granted. Great post.

flutter said...

You know, you wouldn't think it but I am really an extrovert. I love to have people around me and to entertain and make everyone feel welcome and happy.

jonniker said...

I'll never be that person, either. Honestly, though--it's because I'm lazy and afraid of rejection, which is a little pathetic.

Mimi said...

Is it possible to be an extravert with little-to-no social skills? Because that's me.

When I met you, I woulda been happy to follow in the line you drew (owing to you're so damn clever and I LOOOOVE clever and all), and you're the introvert, me the extravert. Hm.

Still, I LOOOOOOVE hosting parties, and Pynchon was mad that when we had the Bloggy Ladies Get-Together I was more excited about that than going to Cuba ;-)

bubandpie said...

Jonniker - Laziness and fear of rejection - oh, yes, the twin demons of introvertdom!

c4cara - *grin* I DO think of myself as a blog extravert, but I'm glad YOU said it instead of me! It is all a format issue though - because I'm cold and harsh in email communications, as one of my online students was kind enough to point out on my course evaluation recently.

bubandpie said...

Mimi - Yes, it IS possible to be an extravert with few social skills (in fact, I have a whole theory that intraverts actually possess better social awareness than extraverts - and that awareness can often be crippling). But you're not one of them, silly. You and Mad make quite a wonderful extravert-friend team. (But ouch! It smarts just mentioning her name - I miss her!)

Luisa Perkins said...

You don't think we're all cohering around you? I've got news for you: you've become a virtual extravert (and we're all the richer for it). ;)

Bon said...

this was fascinating...as a window into both your history (love the 'dancing Baptists!') and into the introvert/extravert binary, which i've always struggled to find myself in, depending on who's doing the describing. you've given me pause to think perhaps i am both introvert and extravert...i loathe organizing things, taking the risk of putting myself out there to invite people, and often am quite happy in my hermitage, refusing to answer the phone 'cause i'd rather be blogging...but if people just show up, come to me...i'm delighted and happy and relaxed at the centre of things so long as they are informal and organic in nature. i like to make people laugh, i remember all the baby names, i tend to direct conversations...

i am so conflicted. :)

Jenn said...

"You look like an extrovert"

Someone once told me that when I said that I was an introvert at heart.

The extrovert is my alter ego. She wears those trashy heels and puts on lipstick.

That's why she hardly ever comes out anymore. It's too damn hard to walk in those shoes when all you're thinking about is how good a book and bed sounds.

Susanne said...

Like the blog antagonist I never know whether I am an intro- or extravert. And I always felt weird for not being able to pin it down until I read 10 reasons why creative people make us crazy.

One can be both at the same time.

And seeing all the comments before me I'd say that bloggers don't seem to be people who are in the midst of groups. Maybe we wouldn't feel the need to blog if we were.

jen said...

you know, it's funny, because while you may not be an extrovert, you are clearing the center of something in this place. i see it, others see it. it doesn't have to be loud and clamouring to still draw people in and around.

AnneK said...

Hmm, not to be nitpicky on a great post, I used to think it was extrovert/introvert. I did not know that it was also called extravert. But the dictionary.reference.com tells me so.

bubandpie said...

Annek - Heehee. The last time I used the term on this blog, I included a disclaimer: some insist it's "extrovert" (i.e. my husband), but I prefer "extravert" (which is an acceptable alternate spelling). I do think it's introvert with an "o," though I've been misspelling it here.

Lucy said...

A very interesting post. I have a friend like that who is (or at least used to be) at the center of my group of friends. Now, we're all close enough that we don't need her to coordinate quite as much. Which is good, since she's moving. Or maybe that's why she's moving. I don't know. I've been friends with her since high school and I always felt like I was orbiting her planet. She was popular and I wasn't. She was beautiful and I wasn't. She was sweet and thoughtful and concerned about people. I wasn't.

I think now that I'm older, I've become more of an extrovert out of necessity. Actually, I've decided that I'm an introverted extrovert. I love people and am energized by being around lots of people, but I'm terribly shy and going to a large gathering makes me sick to my stomach. Until I get there. Having a gathering at my house is even worse. Until is starts. My husband is the opposite. He was always the coordinator for parties. He's the one who wants to have everyone over and he's everyone's instant friend. He'd walk into a room of total strangers and within ten minutes he'd have ten friends. But he needs quiet. If he doesn't get downtime, he gets really stressed out. As he's aged, he's less outgoing and less interested in having lots of aquaintances and more interested in deep friendships. So he's an extroverted introvert.

Is that weird?

bubandpie said...

Lucy - I think you've put your finger on one of the difficulties surrounding the terms introvert and extravert: where you get your energy from is one thing, and levels of social anxiety are another.

I don't have a lot of social anxiety anymore, so I appear more extraverted, but I still need a lot of alone time, and I find larger social groups draining.

And based on the way you've described yourself, you seem like an extravert (gaining energy from other people) who DOES have social anxiety (at least beforehand). That's a tough spot to be in, isn't it?

PunditMom said...

Hear, hear!

painted maypole said...

i'm an extravert, and always dreamed I would be the one whom others gathered around, and yet I think we've never stayed anywhere long enough to develop that circle of friends. and I worry that my house is never clean (because it's not) My husband is an introvert, though, and I think it takes 2 extraverts to create that kind of home. But you prefectly described what I feel is missing... that kitchen table full of friends playing games and the BBQ going in the backyard...

Catherine said...

I saw that you had 39 comments here so, I wanted to chime in and bring you up to an even 40. :)

I know what you mean. And, although I'm an extrovert with NO hospitality skills, no couch, and refusal to initiate anything...I have found myself to be the person in the middle before. I think because of lonliness. It is nice when you can ride the waves of someone else, for sure.

mamakie said...

It's important to remember that extroverts are nothing without the introverts who mingle with them. I am an introverted extrovert - I love to organize and plan and host people at my house, but am totally shy and reserved in new surroundings. My best friend is my exact opposite and that's why we fit - I call her and say "what are you doing" and she always says "nothing" and it happy to do what I've organized.

One of the things I've found hard in the last few years is starting over with new friends in a new town - it's hard to open yourself up as an "extrovert".....but the rewards are worth it.

alpineflower said...

Delurking (sort of) to say that I was going to comment on this a few days ago but I didn't know what to say so I stayed home. :)

As in introvert, I made all of my friends in college through my (extravert) roommate who didn't have time to pursue anything deeper than a game of pool. Worked out pretty well, I have to say - some of my closest friends were her friends first. In fact Daddy-O, husband of In Te Domine (she introduced me to your blog), is a friend via that method.

bubandpie said...

Alpineflower - Welcome! The extravert-to-introvert hand-off is a wonderful thing. I notice it most at church where some people excel at greeting all the newcomers, introducing them around - but after awhile it's up to us introverts to develop the closer ties, because the greeters are off welcoming someone new.

Samantha said...

Okay I know this post is from years ago, and it seems that you have stopped blogging, but I'll ask anyway.
I would consider myself that sort of extravert friend (the positive definition, of course... I'm American), I definitely crave social environments. But my best best friend (from 5th grade to now, senior year) is definitely an introvert. And on top of that, not in an insulting way, but she's not neccesarily as quick as I consider myself/ my other friends. There's no way to say that and not sound like a jerk, sorry. Like, she's a smart girl, but she isn't confident in her own brain power, so she's constantly second guessing herself. But anyway. I almost never hang out with her AND someone else. It's always just her. If I want to be with a group of people, I can't be with her. I guess the problem is that she's very stubborn and very self conscious. Like she wouldn't even consider hanging out with me and someone she has never talked to before, while I used to try and be friends with people she is comfortable with, but I found them completely unstimulating company to keep. It gets frustrating after a while, and I feel like she's really been holding me back socially, as opposed to me proppelling her in that way. So I was just wondering if you had any opinions on the matter, since it's much different from the situation you describe.
Sorry for any spelling/grammar errors, it's 2:30 am and spell check is a little to much effort at this point.
Thanks,
Sam =]

Bea said...

Hi Sam - Most introverts find one-on-one situations easier to handle than group situations. A highly introverted person may prefer to operate exclusively on a one-on-one basis. An introvert who WANTS to do things in a larger group usually depends on the "extravert friend" to make that happen, as I described in this post - but I suppose not every introvert is actually looking for larger social situations.

I still have friends to this day that I prefer to see only on a one-on-one basis. Mostly that's because I have enough social interaction (both individually and in larger groups) to meet my particular needs, so I don't really want to bother trying to integrate into a whole other social group. If your friend doesn't feel isolated or bored with her existing level of social interaction, then trying to fit in with your other friends may just not be worth it to her. (That's my theory, anyway.)

Thanks for stopping by - it's fun for me to revisit posts from back in my heydey. :)