Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Guest Post: Married to an Extrovert

The topic I introduced on Saturday, "mixed" marriages between introverts and extroverts, has ignited a firestorm of feedback. Clearly this is a topic people want to talk about. So, to continue the conversation, I submit to you a guest post written by a friend of mine from college. Every now and then she and I run into each other taking solitary walks in Claremont. Her husband is one of the most extroverted, and awesome, people I have ever met.
About the author: Dana Schafer Forti is an economics graduate of Claremont McKenna College. After 8 years in litigation consulting, she left the corporate world to be a full-time mom. She lives in Claremont, California, with her toy inventor husband Mark, two lively sons, and a sweet baby daughter.

My house roars like Grand Central Station at the start of a three-day weekend. The international student we are hosting skips in from a day of shopping with three bubbly girlfriends. My husband Mark has turned the dining room into a film studio, where he is interviewing a panel of theologians for his latest documentary project. Our seven-year-old son chases his little brother through the house making piercing siren noises. I shift the fussy baby into one arm and use the other to open the refrigerator and stare. It’s almost dinner time—am I expected to feed all these people?

Mark sticks his head in. “Where’s the spare battery for the video camera?” I point to the telltale bulge in his back pocket, and he keeps going. “Oh, Jim’s flight was cancelled. He’s going to sack out on the couch tonight.” Mark glances around contentedly at what our home has become. “I just love this crazy atmosphere!” he exults and ducks back into the dining room, oblivious to the evil eye I’m shooting his way.

Maybe Mark built up an immunity to chaos growing up as the fifth of six kids in a noisy Italian household, or maybe he just has a high dose of innate extroversion. I, however, am screaming (but only inside my head, of course) for all these people to just GO AWAY!

The next day after the non-residents have cleared out, I voice my complaints to Mark. “But I thought you liked Jim and the rest of them,” he says. The fact is, I explain, I love each of these people dearly, but all at once and without warning had sucked my social energy reserves dry.

Mark and I still mystify each other after almost fifteen great years of marriage. He can’t understand why I love to sit and read for hours on end (or at least I could before having three children who constantly need juice refills and diaper changes and referee services!). Mark’s work often requires that he stand at a trade show booth talking to people eight hours a day for five days straight about his company’s products—and then taking key customers to dinner afterwards. What tortures one of us is pure joy to the other.

The essential part of marriage to an extrovert, I’ve discovered, is to understand his strange behavior and explain my own to him. My extroverted sister-in-law used to complain about her rude husband: he comes home from work, waves a quick hello to the assortment of her friends and neighbors chattering away in the living room and promptly retreats to his den. Actually, her husband is an introverted doctor who spends his days saving the lives of premature babies while dealing with anxious parents and a constant stream of hospital staff needing his advice. By the time he arrives home from “playing extrovert” all day, he simply isn’t able to hang around and chat with a bunch of near-strangers. When he explained this to his wife, she had a major “aha” moment.

So here’s my question: given the vast potential for misunderstanding and conflict between introverts and extroverts, why do so many of us marry our polar opposite? The old cliché says that opposites attract, but why?

In typical introvert fashion, I gave much thought to this issue. My conclusion? We seek the strengths that we lack. Whether consciously or not, we recognize our own weaknesses and look for a partner that can fill in the holes: someone who brings balance to our lives.

Tonight Mark is bringing balance to my life by taking the boys away to our mountain cabin. The baby and I plan to eat chocolate ice cream and fall asleep watching Alias reruns on DVD—I can’t wait!