Advice Goddess

Larva of the Party

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The Advice Godess

Amy Alkon

I love to dress up and go socialize with people. My boyfriend, however, can only smile friendly and chitchat for about 20 minutes before he seats himself in some corner and starts reading the host’s books. Last time we went to a dinner party, I found him alone in a room petting the owner’s dog! I do introduce him around and encourage him to be more outgoing. I think if he’d just make more of an effort to talk to people, he’d have a better time. He says he’s not miserable but just can’t do social stuff for long. I love having him with me, even though he’s kind of not actually with me. So, can it work with a self-proclaimed introvert and a party girl?

— Social Butterfly

It’s a party! You’re in your element, making the rounds, meeting tons of new people, racking up invites to parties after the party, and your boyfriend’s, well, probably in that little crawl space under the host’s stairs.

Sartre once said “Hell is other people at breakfast.” An introvert sees no reason to narrow it down to a particular time of day. My own introvert boyfriend is charming and fun one-on-one, but his favorite kind of party is one that’s canceled, and his preferred RSVP would be something Ving Rhames said on the set of “Out of Sight”: “I don’t want to talk to anybody I don’t already know.”

Ever since Freud decided (sans evidence) that introverts were repressed, narcissistic trolls under the bridge, extraversion has been considered the ideal and introverts have been seen as socially stunted. Introversion is also wrongly conflated with shyness, but shyness is fear — and shame-based — quite different from seeing no reason to say anything to strangers unless you or they are on fire.

More and more, research points to a strong biological basis for personality. Brain imaging shows distinct differences in introverts and extraverts. Studies by neuroscientist Debra L. Johnson and others found that extraverts, who get energized from external stimulation such as meeting new people, have increased blood flow to rear areas of the brain for sensory processing (listening, touching, watching). Introverts, who tend to be more pensive and introspective and are easily overwhelmed by too much external stimulation, showed more blood flow altogether (indicating more internal stimulation) over more complicated pathways with more activity in frontal regions for inward tasks such as problem-solving, reasoning and remembering. Put that together with a Chinese study adding evidence that introverts get socked with a higher level of cortical arousal from stimuli, and you get the idea that urging introverts to be more outgoing is a bit like urging scissors to be more like a stapler.

So, can it work between you and a boyfriend who probably researches the host’s wallpaper so he can dress to blend into the background? Well, maybe — if you’re independent enough to show up to most events without him as Your Date(TM). There will, of course, be times when it means something to you to have him there, and the compromise then is his to make. Be sensitive to his feelings. Try to get there early (when the houseplant-to-guest ratio is greatest), and be OK with him eventually slinking off to read “The Life History of the Dung Beetle” or talking to the dog (who’s sometimes the most interesting person at the party).

(c)2010, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., Suite 280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (www.advicegoddess.com)

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