The Hardest Part of Loving an Introvert

an oak leaf floating on the surface of a dark pond
Image by Thomas Quine / CC BY

“Love is essential, gregariousness is optional.”

Susan Cain

*

“Whacha thinking?” I ask him.

“Nothing much. Just chilling,” he says.

And yet I know there’s more to it. It’s just that thoughts don’t translate into words as well as he’d like. It’s not easy for him to bring them up to the surface, where I can see them, too.

For me, it’s always been the hardest part of loving introverts. That murky blackness. The inscrutable facial expressions. Or lack thereof.

Extroverts are like quickly moving streams. Clear enough that I can see the bottom. I have to be careful not to get swept away, but if I stand firmly planted, it’s fairly straightforward to look into them. See the rocks. The fish.

I catch glimpses of the inner lives of extroverts, without meaning to.

I’m the same way. Like an anatomic model with the front panel open, my heart is displayed on the outside, visible to anyone who happens to be walking past.

The Hardest Part of Loving Introverts

It’s a terrifying kind of power imbalance, loving someone who can see so easily into you when it’s one-sided. And you can’t see back.

And yet I’ve always loved introverts.

But I only know you through your actions, your histories. You become known to me chiefly in hindsight.

I can’t read your face.

I don’t know what’s going on in your mind.

Your inner lives are mysterious. Like a dark pond. Unlike the quick clear streams of the extrovert, I can’t see to your fullest depths.

Most days, I don’t even know what’s swimming in there.

It could be anything. Harmless fish, sure. Or snapper turtles, sharks, piranhas.

But I have to step in. Love compels me to.

As Henri Nouwen writes:

Intimacy is not a happy medium. It is a way of being in which the tension between distance and closeness is dissolved and a new horizon appears. Intimacy is beyond fear.

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