Trying to promote family unity often feels like I’m a drum major, gleefully leading the marching band down a parade route, only to turn around and find that the other members of my family have dispersed among the crowd.
You see, I live with introverts who crave alone time and prefer one-person projects.
They have to leave the house for jobs, school, and volunteer work. Consequently, when they get home, they retreat into various corners of the house. Their need for family time might at best reach 10 minutes per day. And they don’t co-ordinate; all of us are rarely together during the same 10 minutes of each person’s “family interaction” time.
Yes, I do respect introverts. I admire them. I’m even drawn to them.
I admire their power of observation, their depth and complexity. I’ve learned to give them space. I often go places without my family members because I crave more social interaction than they do.
After reading Carl Jung’s theories on archetypes in the late 1980s and studying the theory behind the MBTI, I finally stopped trying to get introverts to come out of their shells. I have accepted that introversion is a valid way of being in the world and not a sign of insecurity.
I’ve refined my “book learning” understanding of introverts by recently finishing Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. This affirms much of what I have intuited by living with introverts: they have strong responses to external stimuli, so they need time to process and decompress.
However, when it comes to family life, I want to be more than housemates with my spouse and children. The four of us need to actually do things together from time to time, even if it’s just sharing a meal. Bribing them with food (if their schedules and energy levels allow) is the most effective carrot to dangle before them. However, I often have to beg in order to get the others to play a game, go to a movie, or even go visit extended family. I’ve started going on vacation alone because introverts get prickly after just a couple of hours sharing a car ride, a plane ride, or a hotel room.
Even if the others want to “do their own thing,” I like to have a line of communication.
From time to time, I call a meeting for family scheduling. The moans, groans, and even the eye rolls are audible. I try to be fast and efficient so that my introverted family members can crawl back into their laptops, books, and musical instruments. One family member counters: “Do we have to interact? Can’t we all just be alone together?” The two most introverted family members actually ask me to relay messages back and forth with each other, even if they are both home at the same time. I’ve started texting information about family matters (from the next room) in order to reduce the tension I feel when I talk to them face to face.
I think that introverts haven’t considered this side effect of our mixed-type relationships. Because I am the one who almost always initiates calls, texts, emails and the one who pitches ideas for getting together, I am the one who risks the rejection.
I’m fatigued. Over the last year, I have actually for the more part stopped taking initiative in communication with friends.
If I don’t call some of my introverted friends, it might be a year later when they hype themselves up to contact me. Some have even scolded me: “Why haven’t you contacted me?” Again, I don’t think they recognize that they are subcontracting risk, vulnerability, and rejection.
I’m not saying that introverts have to accept my every invitation. But I am saying that if I have 40 introverted friends, family members (immediate and extended), coworkers, and ward members who reject my overtures for communicating or socializing 3 out of 4 times, then that level of rejection starts to sting. Intellectually, I understand. Emotionally, sometimes it’s hard to give myself pep talks again and again. “Karen, don’t take personally all these active or passive messages of ‘leave me alone.’”
Actually, I have starting telling myself, “Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” I’m spending more time alone.
But seeking more alone time isn’t entirely new for me. I was an introvert from birth until the last couple of years of high school. I played alone at recess in elementary school. I wrote poems and stories. I had imaginary friends. I lunch time in the library reading books. Of late, I’m tempted to return to my old self. There is an ease to entering my own little corner of the house.
I might trim back time with gal pals, ward members, and coworkers now that I’ve hit the wall in extending myself. However, if I don’t promote family time, I will merely be housemates with my family members.