Somewhere in your life there’s an extrovert that you think has it all together. Great family, great job, fun to be around. When there’s a party they are always having a good time – smiling, laughing and flitting around like a butterfly. If you work with them, they don’t ever seem to have any trouble at networking events and they always speak up in the Monday morning meeting. If they are your neighbors or parents of your kids’ friends, they always seem to be running the best family on the block. They are the first one you call when you feel like you just need to get out of the house and “do something” because they’ll always say yes. And they will help out with any side project or business idea you’ve got!
Here’s what you might not know…some of these people are extremely lonely. I’m not talking about the “I’m sitting at home alone in the dark brooding” kind of loneliness. Us extroverts don’t get like that too often because we get energy off of other people, so we just naturally get out and about, do stuff, hang out with friends and acquaintances, go to lunch with colleagues, or just talk to strangers if we have to. It is how we fill our emotional tanks.
The kind of loneliness I’m talking about is the kind where you realize the importance of deeper, rooted, more in depth relationships and then look around to find that you don’t have many. For extroverts who come to that realization, lonely takes on a much deeper, more difficult meaning. It becomes disconcerting because it doesn’t go away with more people, which is always our first response. It creates the same feelings that I imagine introverts feel at a 3 hour cocktail party with a bunch of strangers – How do I get out of this?
To be clear, this loneliness is not usually something that can be filled by a spouse or children. Those people are central to our lives and relationships with them are much more about interdependence and the deepest kinds of love than they are being “just friends.” My wife is the single most important person in my life. Period. Friend doesn’t begin to describe our relationship, and she is ALWAYS there for me when I need it, but she cannot fill my every need emotionally.
I’m talking about the kind of relationship where you wade through your extrovert’s small talk and conversation to get to the really mucky stuff going on in their life deeper down. The kind of friendship that has the patience to let you peel off all of their layers of extrovert protectionism until some of the soft and sensitive stuff starts to show up. The kinds of friendship that isn’t afraid to just cut right to it and ask them how things are personally, on the inside, because you don’t really care about the big deal they’re working on at the office or the kids’ latest exploits. What you care about is YOUR FRIEND. These are hard to come by for all of us. I’ve only got three of them in my life and they’re all in different states. They’ll read this and know who they are and probably call to make sure I’m ok. And we’ll talk about our upcoming trip together or agree that we have to find a time to get together – that’s the trick. These are the kind of friendships that get to the core quicker when you’re together, but they are challenging to dig into via text, phone call, or Facebook. We extroverts NEED these face to face moments because we’re so good at the bullshitting that it takes looking us in the eye and asking those challenging questions to get under the surface.
So when you run across your friendly neighborhood extrovert today, give them a hug and ask them how they’re really doing. You might be surprised at their answer and they might really need a friend. Or they might just want to go have a green beer – Happy St. Patrick’s Day!