As far as I was concerned, introverts were those sad or generous souls who somehow didn’t want to speak in public. I didn’t quite understand it, but that was just fine: More stage time for me.
My first year of college, I exploded onto campus. I wore bright neon hats at sharp angles and talked loudly between classes, eagerly awaiting validation that wouldn’t come. People began to mutter about me: That Lev Novak would not shut up!
A girl I briefly dated at that time finally reached her limit and snapped that I didn’t have to talk all the time.
She meant it icily, but I took it as a staggering relief. At some level, I thought I did.
Years went by, and I adapted. I went from parody of a loud person to kind of loud. The amount of rap battles I started dropped sharply. But I still felt antsy, fueled by a jittery need to be heard.
Then I dated an introvert.
Leah is the most charming person in every room and has the sort of beauty that would make Helen of Troy puke in shame. My friends will disinvite me to dinners and parties if she isn’t coming, and my parents’ voices raise two approving octaves when they talk about her.
But it wasn’t always so easy.
When we first started dating, I was confused and worried, projecting my extrovert tendencies onto her. At times I hounded her, craving attention and being hurt by its absence. I paced and panicked over late-returned texts, read into pauses and tried to talk over lulls. She, in turn, could be quietly anxious and distant, nervous to text first and unsure about my totally awesome plans to crash a stranger’s house party.
We liked each other, but we were wary: Could an ESFP (extrovert, sensing, feeling, perception personality) and an INFJ (introvert, intuitive, feeling, judging personality) overcome their differences?
At first, I was afraid. I knew we came from different sides of the emotional spectrum. I’d imagined that if we’d get along, it wouldn’t be sincere. Rather, I imagined some bickering, partisan compromise that would make me feel less like myself.
However, as we dated I learned that I was joyously wrong. I became someone more well-rounded, and our differences became opportunities for growth. When you live as yourself, you take your routine for granted. But with a new pair of eyes, the world becomes larger.
With Leah, I became better at listening, braver, kinder, happier and more open-minded. My playlists and palette expanded. My life with her grew broader and brighter.
Together, we found ourselves more in tune with the other sides of ourselves. With Leah in my life, I found meditation and exercise, quiet respites of reading beside her, and a peace in myself I never knew I craved. And she, in turn, learned that she can party well with dear friends, and that those friends become dearer with each successive shot of tequila.
It’s an uneven trade, but I’m a lucky guy.
Still, there can be hiccups: Sometimes I’ll be restless when Leah would prefer to stay in and recharge, and we still have wildly different ideas on how fun an enormous surprise party would be. But love doesn’t mean finding someone who’s the same as you; it means finding somebody who makes you better. Compatibility isn’t defined by your Myers-Briggs type.
More than an obstacle, our different perspectives have brought us a closer, richer life. When I’m with her, I don’t feel like a performer, searching and shouting for attention. There’s no need. With her, I’ve found something deeper: an easy calm, a quiet peace and the company of my favorite person — something both introverts and extroverts can enjoy.