A long time ago I wrote about how my partner Scot and I answered a marriage compatibility survey. The question was, Do you have a lot of friends or a few friends?
Scot answered that he had a lot of friends. I answered that I had a few friends. After writing about my overlapping circle of friends for three months, I am revising my answer to that question posed 37 years ago: I have a lot of friends!
At the time, the preacher explained our different perspectives from his observations of farm and ranch kids. He had seen kids raised out in the country as more isolated and having fewer friends, primarily because the opportunity to have friends was limited. Some of us lived in the sticks, tens of miles away from civilization. We grew up with siblings as our friends if we were lucky enough to have siblings. My husband grew up in a small town where he could go out his front door and find neighborhood kids to play with at any hour of the day or night. He grew up thinking these playmates were his friends, which they probably were by a broad definition.
But the conflict I felt when Scot and I compared answers didn’t arise from where we grew up—the conflict arose from how we defined “friend.”
Scot was an Introvert in the Myers-Briggs Personality Type assessment. I am an Extravert (yes, it’s spelled extravert.) And the measure of how many friends we have is influenced by this personality scale.
Extravert doesn’t mean talkative or loud—necessarily. And Introvert doesn’t mean quiet or shy—necessarily. The scale of Extraversion and Introversion is determined by where a person gets their energy. An easy way to determine your degree of E or I (Extraversion or Introversion, for efficiency’s sake, E or I) is by how you might answer this question:
If you have been attending a conference for eight hours, standing at a booth, listening to lectures, or walking on concrete floors to multiple break-out rooms, what would you do at the end of the day to recharge your batteries:
- Go to your room and watch TV
- Go to the bar and join your workmates for a refreshment and debrief
You will likely find one of the choices more appealing than the other. For Scot, he would for sure go to the hotel room and flip on the TV. For me, I would be at the bar with a cocktail and lively discussion about the day. This might be with workmates or a random person who wanders by. Scot might have joined us for dinner and joined the conversation, and I may have gone to the room to change into comfortable shoes—but the energy comes from very different behaviors.
Which explains our answers to that old question. As an Introvert, Scot did have a lot of friends, based on his definition of a friend. The people he surrounded himself with were extremely close, brotherly-level friends.
And I answered truthfully, too. I had few friends—but hundreds of acquaintances. As a percentage of the people I knew, I had only a few friends. I would draw in strangers into conversations and they would be in my orbit. They might even be Facebook friends. But only the closest to me I consider “friends.”
That’s not necessarily true for everyone, that’s just my reality.
As an Extravert, I am notorious for “thinking out loud.” I get jazzed in a crowd or at a party. In my youth I could go all night. And meetings where ideas get thrown out pump me up.
For an Introverts like Scot, those brainstorming sessions felt chaotic and non-productive. And parties were ok, but his strength was getting into one on one conversations off to the side, out of the line of fire. In those one on one conversations, he was as adamant, vociferous, and loud as I could be in a group.
I like being around other Extraverts because we’re always ready to charge up our energy out and about. But I know I can be better when I am with Introverts because they make me slow down, contemplate, consider, before jumping. The same things that make us opposites make us better, albeit crazy-making.
That’s the beauty of friendship—one size doesn’t fit all. And that’s the complexity of relationships—we get out of it what we put into it, but sometimes what we get out of it isn’t exactly what we thought we were going to get. And sometimes it’s far better than we ever could have imagined.