Are Introverts Better Friends Than Extroverts?

The answer is yes and no — and, also, it doesn't matter.

Posted Jan 22, 2018

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Are introverts better friends than extroverts, because they invest more in each of their fewer friendships? Do they have to do most of the work to maintain friendships with social-butterfly extroverts? Or are they worse friends, because they put up walls to protect their private space?

Are extroverts better friends than introverts, because they are better at reaching out? Do they have to do most of the work to maintain friendships with leave-me-alone introverts? Or are they worse friends, because their need for so many friends keeps their relationships superficial? 

Yeah, maybe. To all of it. But it doesn’t actually matter what’s “better” or “worse.” What matters is figuring out how to make friendships between introverts and extroverts work.

Here’s the common ground, what both introverts and extroverts need in their lives: people who get them.

Introverts and extroverts do approach friendship differently. Introverts feel like they can only get quality time with people one-on-one, but extroverts can get their social needs met in group gatherings. Perhaps extroverts let more of themselves out to the world day-to-day and don’t have a pressure build-up of things they want to say, whereas introverts withhold a lot every day, but then need deep, intimate conversations to let themselves go.

The needs seem incompatible, but only if both parties are intractable.

I’ve heard both introverts and extroverts complain that they are the ones who must do friendship maintenance, with introverts feeling overlooked in the never-ending party, and extroverts feeling the burden of luring introverted friends out of their houses or their protective bubbles. Even one-on-one time can be fraught, with extroverts thinking they need to keep the conversation going, while introverts feel like they can’t get a word in.

Not all introvert-extrovert friendships are like this, of course, and not all the time. But some of them are like this, some of the time. Can those friendships be saved? Perhaps not all of them. Some friendships, like romances, just don’t take. But as the many introverts in close relationships with extroverts can testify, personality differences needn’t be a problem if there is mutual respect and adjusted expectations.

For example, re: adjusted expectations — My extroverted friends have mostly given up on inviting me to group events. If they resent this, they haven’t said so. I do get out to events my social circle attends a couple of times a month, which lets me schmooze with the social butterflies, but I rarely stay very long.

Ergo, I don’t spend as much time with my extroverted friends as other people do, and I don’t complain about this. As long as they fit me in one-on-one sometimes — it might be once a month or less — I’m good. I often keep in steady contact with these friends via text, which has become its own bandwidth of intimacy. And yes, I pick up the phone sometimes, especially for far-flung friends. These friends, in turn, forgive me if I sometimes don’t answer the phone if they call on a whim for a chat. (I will usually get back in touch and schedule a phone visit, in that way that I do.)

I also understand my own social needs and take responsibility for getting them met. That means reaching out to people when I want company, instead of waiting for others to make the first move. The benefit in that is that I get to connect on my terms, and that doesn’t always mean a quiet meal. Because extroverts tend to be game to go out and do stuff, they’re often good for lectures, museum exhibits, live music — fairly introvert-ish activities that also scratch their itch for being around people. Time to “visit” (as we say in the South) before or after the event usually allows some solid conversation, too.

Ah, but what of that conversation? Some introverts feel like they never really get equal talking time. First of all, admit it: You don’t really want equal time; you wouldn’t know what to do with it. If you’re like me (and I think you are), you see people chattering away on their cell phones on the street, and in the supermarket, and think, “What on earth do they find to say?” So don’t come complaining to me about equal time. We don’t need it. What we do want, however, is to feel like we got to talk about ourselves and our world, and that we were heard and understood.

In the magical rainbow world of introvert happiness, people ask us compelling questions that draw out the deep, interesting thoughts we quietly nurture in our fertile brains. In the real world, though, we often have to just blurt stuff out. That’s the secret to getting equal say: If you want to be heard, you have to say it. When your extrovert friend says, “So how are you?” you have to respond fully and generously. No platitudes, hinting, or vague allusions. Be real. Say what you have to say, and if the conversation takes a swerve back toward the other person, bring it back again. There's no shame in that. That’s what extroverts do, and it doesn’t bother them. Unless one of you is in a crisis and needs to hold the floor, it’s perfectly fine to let the conversation ping-pong — or tug-of-war — between all-about-you and all-about-them. Just play along.

Yes, of course, it’s also up to the extroverts to leave space for you — if they know that’s what you need. If the other person consistently blocks you from talking, then you have a few choices, one of which is letting the friendship go — always an option if a friendship doesn’t feed your soul. But assuming that you want to keep the connection, you can either have a heart-to-heart on the matter (“I feel like it’s hard for me to do much talking when we’re together”), or come up with a phrase to pop in every time you feel steamrolled (“Wait, let me finish this thought,” or “I heard you, I’m just formulating an answer”). In time, the two of you will train each other to take turns.

I imagine this post will inspire the inevitable “We are not our labels!” outcry. That’s fine, I get it. But labels are a handy shorthand for discussing the infinite variety that is the human experience. They can be useful for untangling confounding situations, like why two people who genuinely like each other might sometimes find their friendship uncomfortable. Yes, there are a million shades of nuance in the individual friendships between introverts and extroverts, but that’s where communication comes in. That’s what makes any relationship work.