Balance and community for introverts
August 21, 2015 8:30 PM   Subscribe

Introverts: What does a harmonious social network/community of friends look like to you? How have you gone about identifying and tweaking that balance?

I'd like to learn about the different ways balance and harmony has been meaningful for folks, especially for those who have very geographically spread out connections. To borrow Laverne Cox's wonderful concept, I'm interested in possibility models -- ways introverted folks have made life harmonious and happy, and perhaps made decisions to prioritize fewer, but richer connections with others.

For me, I've spent a lot of my twenties gathering information about what's important and ways of living that aren't necessarily for me. I find myself living very far away from most people in a new part of the country, and it's a mixed blessing. On one hand, I get to spend a lot of time alone while also putting deliberate effort into cultivating my long-distance friendships, while also focusing on my couple of friends within 2,000 miles. I've discovered how much I love hosting visiting friends and communicating via writing. On the other, I've been perhaps too over-eager to maintain lots of friendships over social media, and I find myself totally burnt out by all the emotional labor I'm doing in these relationships. There's just way too much to keep track of, all of a sudden. I think I would like to move back to where my family lives (MA) and/or where many friends live (NYC). There's also the area I went to school, and where many folks I could potentially reconnect with live (MN). But I'm also trying to give here (WA) an honest shot, to keep building up connections, etc. In short, I'm ready to acknowledge that "okay, a few good people in my day-to-day life, combined with dear, far-flung friends, would be the perfect balance," but I find that every route towards that requires either a move or a lot more proactive social effort.

One big factor is parenthood. I'd like to adopt a child within the next three or four years, possibly as a single mother, and it would be wonderful to have a few close friends and my mom and sister to draw on as a support network. I'm willing to be a lot more proactive to make this work, and I think the combination of motherhood, strong family ties, and again a few well-maintained friendships would be perfect. Or not, you know, perfect, because who knows what happens in life!?, but something I'd like to pursue in a deliberate way. I feel like I'm closing in on what's important to me, but I still am trying to put some of these pieces together.

So what has worked for you? How have you balanced cross-country friendships, Internet-mediated friendships, family, parenthood? What priorities or everyday practices made this work for you?

posted by elephantsvanish to Human Relations (7 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I'm pretty sure I got this link from Metafilter, but I'm not sure exactly which thread: How to Build a Support System.
posted by wintersweet at 10:12 PM on August 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm very introverted, but keep a social life that feels full to me. Here's what it looks like:

For my far flung friends, we've developed rituals. For instance, with one friend, we talk on the phone every weekend (and have for a decade.). Once a year he comes to visit me for a weekend the mountains. For another far flung friend we text and Facebook occasionally, and I see him once a year (at least) on a recurring job related trip that takes me near where he lives. There are two more far flung friends that I do a decent job of maintaining a strong relationship with through similar methods.

I've lived where I do now for 6 years. It took 2 - 3 years here before I had two guys that I consider good friends. One lives a few doors down from me on my block, and we share similar age as well as interests in running, craft brewing, pinball and skiing. So we've become close. My other close local friend is a work colleague with whom I also have a set of shared interests.

The process of 'building' these friendships is slow. It reminds me very much of Feynmann's descriptions of meeting /making friends in his autobiography, "Surely you're joking..." It works for me, but would be much harder if I moved more frequently.

Good luck.
posted by u2604ab at 8:28 AM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm a socially awkward introvert. I really dislike free-floating social events where I don't know anyone and where in order to meet people I will have to make small talk with strangers, so festivals and pub nights are generally out.

I do pretty well in structured environments where I have a task to perform. So my solution has been to find volunteer groups, classes, or paraprofessional groups that I'm interested in and commit to one or two. It takes me a while to get to know people this way, and I sometimes set myself little challenges ("I'll say hi to a new person tonight and ask them a question about themselves") to push things along. Sometimes I meet a potential friend and things just click, sometimes I slowly become familiar with the other faces and even though I don't gain a best friend from the group I do feel more connected to my community and it's nice to run into people I know at the grocery or whatever.

As far as parenting goes: I'm not a parent, but it's my understanding that once you become a parent you automatically have this tie with other parents and will be invited / obligated to socialize and get involved to some extent.
posted by bunderful at 9:05 AM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

...but it's my understanding that once you become a parent you automatically have this tie with other parents and will be invited / obligated to socialize and get involved to some extent.

Eh, thus far I'd say that the option becomes available, insofar as you know people with kids (or who really like them), but if you're already understood to be a massive introvert, your friends don't expect that to suddenly change. For me it's been like acquiring any other shared experience: it adds another dimension to the relationship, but doesn't totally redefine it. It's about on order of (forgive me, little baby, when you're old enough to read the things I said about you on the Internet) when I got into Doctor Who and all of a sudden could geek out over it with friends who'd been politely sticking to other topics up until then. I do get the sense that it'd be easy enough to make new acquaintanceships based solely on our mutual possession of babies via play groups or what have you, but I don't personally have the emotional capacity for that right now. All of which is to say yes, OP, you should build the relationships you'll want to enjoy with your child now, because when you need support, it's much easier to be drawing upon an established well of goodwill and familiarity, rather than worrying about balance in the give-and-take of a new friendship.
posted by teremala at 12:02 PM on August 22, 2015

I find this question exhausting. I don't think there's one right way to be an introvert: I'm reminded of this every time a friend I'd pegged as remarkably socially confident & successful comments on the trials of being an introvert, and then again every (less frequent) time somebody reacts to me as if I'm one of the cool kids. In particular, one's preferred mode of communication has very little to do with introversion vs. extraversion: some folks love social networks, some folks love telephones, some folks love texting, and you can pick your favorite or mirror your friend's favorite as you will.

A bit more briefly: I don't think there IS one best practice. What works for you now might not have worked for the you of two years ago, and might fail for the you of two years hence.

That said, I've moved a lot in my life, and in my experience the thing that's most useful in building local social connections is habit. Is there a way you can meet (a reasonably consistent group of) people you like every week, or every other week? Would you be able to bring a baby to that meeting?
posted by yarntheory at 7:58 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

The baby issue really turns this question on its head. For me, at least, I had *vastly* underestimated the amount that dealing with a baby/young child depleted my emotional introvert energy. So if the question happened to be "how do I maintain my introvert sanity while also working and having a baby/toddler/preschooler," I'd say build a support system, highly emphasize down time (go to the gym after work, get a babysitter so you can go sit in a coffee shop or library with a good book, get a baby carrier so you can hike in the woods with a sleepy baby on your back, move near family so you can have a "Wednesday nights are Grandma nights" tradition, or whatever is in your power to give yourself some emotional respite from tiny fingers poking you in the nose every waking second you are with your little one).

If you are figuring out life with no kid, I agree that it's pretty individual, and just do whatever feels right to you. If you want to try making a go of it where you are, then my type of introversion would lead me to trying six months of doing something with small groups-- meet ups, book club, lunch with favorite coworkers, supper/cooking clubs, yoga class-- and by then I'd probably find a person or four I clicked with and I'd likely switch to lunches, coffee, cookouts with them and be perfectly happy with life. And then filter my social media so that I only followed the people who make me feel happy instead of drained.
posted by instamatic at 5:39 AM on August 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

From what I have observed, a support system, or voluntary babysitters will be worth it's weight, not in gold (price per kg!), but very, very close to it.
The introvert time you will need most, will be breaks from your child, while they are with trusted caregivers.
posted by Elysum at 7:43 AM on August 29, 2015

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