Extroverted Introversion? Introverted extroversion?
April 18, 2005 1:44 PM   Subscribe

Going through a major life/social shift, how do you find the balance between being social and well, "me time"?

So, I know everyone is somewhere between "Hell is other people" and "No man is an island," but how do you find that balance?

If I stay at home and avoid social interaction, I get stuff done, but I soon feel lonely and I end up surfing LiveJournal and MetaFilter and all that desperate for human interaction.

If I go out and am actively social, at the end of the day, I feel drained and rather icky. And I end up having work and school and house cleaning and the dog and all that to attend to.

Is there a trick to mastering it? How do you find that perfect spot? Advice? Ancedotes? Books? Tell me to stop whinging because it's a universal human condition?

(Details: Online surveys peg me as both an extrovert and an introvert. My ex-husband arranged all the social things up until now. I've never lived alone before. And I can't ever progress in THE SIMS because of the friends points stuff.)
posted by Gucky to Human Relations (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I tend to go through cycles. I'm a strong introvert though, so I lean towards staying at home and doing my own thing. I have to make an effort to get out, but I make sure I don't overdo it and leave time to recover from outings and to have enough alone time.

For every weekend where I have a major social outing, I need another weekend that I spend at home quietly.
posted by ursus_comiter at 1:51 PM on April 18, 2005

I love talking to people and being with people -- sometimes. People who don't know me very well would call me an extrovert, but there's nothing I dislike more than other people!

That said, there's no trick to striking the right balance, because the right balance is a personal thing. I do not go out of my way to find social interaction, but I don't turn it down when it's offered, either. For each day I have plans with other people, I try to have a day when I will be on my own (or at least just with my SO). So if we have plans on Saturday with other people, we'll normally spend Sunday by ourselves at home. Went out Friday night? Stay in Saturday night. If we have plans Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I feel wiped out starting the workweek because there was no down time. We tend to pack all of our "time with other people" in during the weekend and leave the weeknights for ourselves to do things around the house, run errands, get catatonic in front of the TV, etc...
posted by suchatreat at 2:00 PM on April 18, 2005

I tend to highly value "social" and "alone" time--for me it is not the amount of time or the balance but rather the extent that I am (or perceive myself) to be in control of the time--I am equally comfortable saying to friends "enough, I am going upstairs to read" or calling a friend and inviting them to a movie but making it clear that the invitation does not include dinner--For instance, I never go to a party with out being in control of my exit (or means of transportation)--our best friend drops over 4-6 times a week--the joy is that there is no notion of being entertained or needing to entertain--the same with a group of us who have coffee together every week end--talk, read or stare off in to space--no obligation other than to be civil and thoughtful Take Care Frank
posted by rmhsinc at 2:14 PM on April 18, 2005

My apologies, Gucky, I don't have an answer. I am on long-term disability with no need to balance work time with leisure. With all the time in the world, I still find it hard to balance pursuing my own interests, attending to my responsibilities as a non-custodial father, socializing with my friends, and going out to meet new people.

I truly wish I had an answer for you, because then I would have an answer for myself.
posted by mischief at 2:27 PM on April 18, 2005

I value the quality of social time more, rather than the quantity.

I'm also a strong introvert, and would rather spend time at home. However, there are times when I do want to go out and spend time with friends. When presented with a social outing, I balance it against what I like to do. I'm liable to have a lot more fun if I'm attending a sporting event (I love sports) or having long conversations over coffee than attending a movie or a 'Whoo! Whoo! let's get DRUUUUNK!' house party. Even if the social interaction gets draining, I'm still having fun because I'm doing an activity that I enjoy.

So, I'd suggest heading out to find something that you like to do, and see if you can make a quality social event out of it.
posted by spinifex23 at 2:46 PM on April 18, 2005

Gucky, I don't know if I can help you, but I'm both an extrovert and introvert, too, and I also tend to feel drained after social occasions and definitely like to space them out. One thing that helps a lot is having a few friends who totally understand one's strangeness, who don't get upset if you don't phone, or if you turn down invitations, but who still manage to hang in there.

I'm usually pretty explicit about explaining how undependable I am, and how I'm semi-antisocial, but also that if they can deal with that, how we'll probably always have a really good time when we are together (true. it's great fun to be with me — but when I feel smothered, I just withdraw). It works for some people, and that's really a godsend for me. I love all my friends, but the ones who can totally deal with this freeform friendship concept that I have are like gold to me. And then, also, once that relationship is thoroughly de-stressed in my mind, it turns out that I'm much less reluctant to see these particular people, even when I'm not in a mood to be generally social.

It may be that you are extra-empathetic, extra-obvservant and in tune with what's going on with others, and this is what causes a kind of psychic overload as a result of too much social activity. If so, go ahead and limit it (without falling into the trap of avoiding it entirely, which is easy to do!), but use the same skills to pick out friends and possible friends who are comfortable with a more a-typical friendship, and they will be your lifeline.
posted by taz at 2:47 PM on April 18, 2005

It's a universal human condition, but that doesn't mean that dealing with it doesn't suck from time to time. My apologies if I'm reading too much into this, but if you're dealing with a recent ex, that will exacerbate whatever feelings of lonliness/hating-the-world you are already dealing with in the normal course of events. Also it's much different planning events as part of a team than it is as one person. I've found it much easier, for example, to invite a bunch of friends out for drinks if I'm saying "hey come out with us" than "hey come out with me" because I think people feel if they let you down in the latter case they might be leaving you on your own. As a result, for some reason, the casualness of the first invite makes it more likely to succeed.

I moved from a big city to a small town two years ago and went from having a ready made social scene to really having to make my own fun. I'm pretty extroverted, my partner is on the borderline, somewhat like you. I sometimes get ootchy to go out and do things, he rarely does. What works for us is planning. At some level if I know I'm doing something in a few days, I don't mind not doing anything this evening. In the city, I had a hard time staying in on a Saturday night because I had the feeling of "missing out" on something fun. I don't have that as much here, and I suspect it was just a fake anxiety-related feeling in the first place.

So, when we are feeling social, or even if I am feeling social, a lot of times we go in for human-contact activity that isn't that involving but is interesting. So we'll go see a lecture, or go to a rummage sale, or see some music at a coffeehouse. All of these things are low key enough and open-ended enough [rmhsinc's idea of always knowing your exit strategy is key for not overdoing it, that and being able to say "I'm done, I'm leaving" in a way that is graceful and effective] and usually cheap enough that they're good for trying out without the time committment of dinnerandamovie or the social overwhelmingness of a party or a bar.

Regular small contacts with people is also a good way to not feel desperately hungry for people. Volunteering locally, joining a book club, even going for a regular walk and a stop at a coffee shop where you know/like the people can give you a weekly thing to do that balances the time without other people in between. Monthly coffee/food date with a friend, or now that the weather is nice, a trip to a farmer's market combined with a good meal and/or some exercise in the sun does wonders for the spirit.

At the end of the day, there isn't a perfect balance, but there is one that works better for you. For strategy, I tend to save up all my chores and do them in one awful half-day and then do little social things usually as I said above and sometimes have guests for the weekend, so I guess I'm a bit comfier with binge/purge social settings. Weeknights I rarely do anything except little house projects, watch movies and email/IM/phone other people. Keeping in touch in ways that are not exhausting makes me feel more connected to people and yet still in my own space. Sorry this is a little longish, I wish you the best of luck finding a new balance.
posted by jessamyn at 2:49 PM on April 18, 2005

Wow. I have to say I feel exactly the same way. And I'm still figuring out how to deal with it.

I've recently realized that the drained and icky feeling only comes from hanging out with people I don't know or like all that well in environments I'm not that comfortable with. Not that I dislike them, but when I'm casually hanging out with good friends I don't get that feeling.

Here's an anecdote for you: I left a party early to come home and answer your AskMe question.
posted by grouse at 4:13 PM on April 18, 2005

I will second both jessamyn and grouse - it seems like balance can be found with a combination of flexibility and knowing the right people. I'm more introvert than extrovert, but there are certainly times when I all of a sudden just need to be with people. Of course, that's difficult when you haven't cultivated enough friendships and everyone else has plans already.

It seems to work for me if I make plans with several people for several small things during the week (ie: lunch or a quick drink after work) and then one or two larger things on the weekend (dinner and a movie, an afternoon at the zoo, etc). Then I have the rest of the time to use for myself. And I need a lot of that "self" time.

Make sure you have people you can contact in different ways - I have a couple people I only know through AIM chatting, I have several long distance friends I can call, I have friends in the city I can visit or go out with. That way, depending on what type of or how much social interaction I need, I have a few options. Some nights I just want to have a conversation over AIM, some nights I want to go out for a beer, some nights I just want to stay in. :-)

Mostly, give yourself a little time to figure things out and meet the right people. Definitely join something that is both useful and friend-making like a class or sport. That helped me a whole lot.
posted by bibbit at 5:53 PM on April 18, 2005

What you experience now will likely change as you get over your loss. Go with the flow. When you are recovering from loss social interaction really helps so I would tend to favor it somewhat even when it seems upfront that it will be tiring. When you have had enough don't be afraid to go home. Good friends won't care. On top of forcing myself to have some social interactions, even when it bored me, I also found that imposing structure helped. I was never so organized, ate a better diet, nor had a cleaner apartment. Partly it compensated for the lack of control in my emotions, partly it helped to distract and limit the times in which I would fixate on my own emotions. Balance is the key, but where that balance lies changes as you change in response to a major life change. In the end you will be stronger, but the journey can be a bitch. Godspeed.
posted by caddis at 9:26 PM on April 18, 2005

I'm a pretty strong introvert, so my rule of thumb is for every one night out, I need two nights in. (That's a lot better than what I used to be, when even one night out per week was barely tolerable.) Don't feel guilty aboout needing time for yourself - you will be in much better shape for the nights out if you keep your schedule balanced.
posted by lilboo at 6:58 AM on April 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

To second Jessamyn somewhat, I find a good strategy is regular short-ish activities. I have a once-a-week date to watch the OC and chat for a bit with one friend. I swim with a team twice a week, which is slightly social but is also focused on something other than socializing. These two things have been very important in helping me feel okay about not going out & doing big stuff.
posted by dame at 7:39 AM on April 19, 2005

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