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Recluse Endangerment

I’ve been seeing this wonderful man for three years. I’m 29, he’s 41. Although he says he loves me immensely, and deems me the person most important to him, I mostly feel single. He never accompanies me to functions (weddings, Christmas parties, etc.). I’m independent, and love hanging solo with friends, but sometimes I’d like him to be my date to something. His response: “I just don’t do functions.” I get that. He’s an introvert. In his defense, he threw a big birthday party for me, and says I’m always welcome to invite friends to his place for drinks. Still, I feel I’m kept low-profile, and it hurts. My friends have pronounced our relationship dysfunctional. So, despite all the fun we have, I wonder if something’s very wrong and I’m compromising my needs.


You know those party games where people ask, if you were an animal, what would you be? Well, if your boyfriend were a party animal, he’d probably be something between a deer in headlights and roadkill.

There are people who need people and there are people who need fewer people. Or, as Bukowski put it, “No [I don’t hate people]. But, I seem to feel better when they’re not around.” The image of the introvert is negative: Norman Bates, Ted Kaczynski, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Howard Hughes with Kleenex boxes on his feet. But, for many, being introverted is merely a social preference, not a disorder. This probably goes for your boyfriend -- unless it stops him from getting to the grocery store and he starves to death, or he’s so “not a people person” that he’s compelled to get them out of the way with an ax.

Frankly, your boyfriend sounds like mine. I go to a monthly writers’ dinner that people would, as the saying goes, give their right arm to attend. My boyfriend would actually gnaw off his right arm to get out of it. While I thrive on human contact, it’s more in his nature to stay home alone in the dark reading about Stalin and listening to Penderecki’s “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.” When there is a social gathering he needs to attend, his life dream is to be mistaken for a shrub and left outside beside the porch while the party flames on.

How does this reflect on me? It doesn’t. In fact, I kinda brag that he’s antisocial. Of course, I don’t have the equivalent of Alvin and the Chipmunks weighing in on my relationship, leading me to wonder stuff like “Does he love me enough to be miserable for me?” If you sincerely can’t deal, you’re with the wrong guy. Otherwise, what do your friends know? After all, the boyfriend who’s supposedly keeping you “low-profile” threw you some huge birthday bash, and you don’t complain that he only takes you to out-of-the way restaurants frequented by drunks and the bowling league.

It’s possible you can sometimes get the guy to compromise. But, pick your parties -- maybe your best friend’s wedding, maybe not the housewarming for whatsername from Accounts Receivable. Set ground rules; like, you’ll leave by a certain time, and you won’t leave him stranded with some blowhard. Just don’t get carried away and start expecting him to lead the hokey pokey line. Remember, the question for him isn’t just “Honey, wanna go to a party?” but more along the lines of “Honey, wanna go to a party or be locked in a small cage and gnawed to death by ferrets?” (Uh, he’ll need a little more time to mull that over.)

Posted by aalkon at December 26, 2007 1:57 AM


Also, 29 to 41 is an important age spread. Most sane men lose the will to live around 37 or 38. After that we're just waiting to die, and we know that one more bubbly party won't bring order and decency to a world that doesn't care. It takes women even longer to reach this critical stage of zen awareness. It's a biology thang.

Posted by: Crid at December 26, 2007 5:49 AM

Boy Crid, what a depressing thought. Waiting to die before you even turn 40? I don't think so.

Posted by: Renee at December 26, 2007 6:10 AM

She is still in her excitable 20's. This scenario will continue unless she is truly accepting of his reserved personality. As time marches on I have lost the motivation to party, party, party - especially when its for a "whatsername" occasion. I have had several relationships with this issue, at some point, the women in my situations wouldn't/couldn't balance out the entire relationship - like driving an hour to be with someone and still get complaints of not going out enough or trying to save money together but still upset that we don't "do anything". After all is said and done, it seems to me that the women I have experienced this with have not actually been independent as the letter writer insists she is.

Go out and have a great time, instead of trying to meet your fantasy quota of togetherness and share the time you are both willing to joyfully experience.

Posted by: kbling at December 26, 2007 6:46 AM

"My friends have pronounced our relationship dysfunctional."

The coven has spoken.

I've been in more than one relationship that was getting along just fine, moving from passionate infatuation to "hey, we might just have something here," when it came time to meet the girlfriends. Sometimes they genuinely have concerns if a guy is good enough for their dear friend but others just resent that a member of their clique has been co-opted by an outsider. Sometimes their own bitterness at failed relationships poisons them against the notion that anyone can be happy. And sometimes, they just like meddling and seeing if they can screw with things. Later, they can rationalize, even to themselves, that it was never meant to be.

Friends are essential to a happy life but knowing who your friends are is yet another skill driven into disuse in what Harvey Mansfield calls "the entire enterprise of modernity." Friends should be more than just the knot of people who are acquainted with you and yet still speak to you. And your happiness should mean something to them.

You can only tell so much from a letter; it might be that LW and this guy aren't quite compatible. But it also might be that it's her relationship with her circle of friends that is dysfunctional.

Posted by: martin [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 26, 2007 7:19 AM

Actually, my first words to her when I e-mailed her back (her question came via e-mail, like most I get) were "Screw your friends!" She was really relieved to read that.

Posted by: Amy Alkon [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 26, 2007 7:27 AM

The more people there are in a relationship, the more complicated it becomes. Key-riste, it's hard enough with 2 people in a relationship!
If your friends aren't happy for you, I'd question the authenticity of their friendship. YMMV o_O

Posted by: Flynne at December 26, 2007 7:53 AM

Granted, it is one of the commandments of a booty-call relationship that Thou Shalt Not Meet the Friends. But this isn't what's going on here. For one, he says he loves her, and secondly, it's not even that he doesn't want to meet her friends - otherwise he wouldn't invite them over - the guy just doesn't like big crowds. For her friends to cry "dysfunctional!" because of that, I think they sound like a bunch of bubble-heads.

Posted by: Pirate Jo [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 26, 2007 9:49 AM

Question: Could he be married? Has LW met his friends and family, ever?

If LW knows his family members and has met friends and a couple of business colleagues, then great. Otherwise, maybe that's why he doesn't want to be the man about town. A married man has been known to risk throwing a big birthday party in a part of town where no one will find him just to throw a gal off track.

Posted by: jennifers at December 26, 2007 10:04 AM

Tricky one, this. As a huge mid-40s introvert myself, and getting more so as I "mature", I can understand the boyfriend's behaviour. If LW has a nice open chat with him maybe he can reassure her on this score. Unless he's refusing to be seen with her in public at all I don't see this as a relationship deal-breaker. I have both introverted and extroverted friends and I've resigned myself to the fact that we'll never really understand each other on this score. So a word of advice on LW's friends - they may well have her best interests at heart here. Or they may all just be extroverts. Either way hope it works out for you!

Posted by: loopychick at December 26, 2007 2:10 PM

> Waiting to die before
> you even turn 40?


> As time marches on I
> have lost the motivation
> to party, party, party

Like that.

Posted by: Crid at December 26, 2007 4:43 PM

Most of the people in my extended network of friends (ie, the group I go out with on weekends) don't even believe I have a boyfriend--they've never met him. He, too, is an introvert, and I care about him too much to allow him to drink the amount of alcohol necessary for him to tolerate my friends and the places we go to.

So, I make my plans for the weekend and then plan a movie or something with him (nice thing about introverts is that they usually enjoy the oddball movies I tend to like).

Some of my friends think this is weird/dysfunctional, but I've got the longest-running relationship out of all of them.

Posted by: sofar [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 26, 2007 6:56 PM

You've got the right idea.

Posted by: Amy Alkon [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 26, 2007 7:14 PM

I have my own definition of "introvert" and I didn't make it up. An introvert is not someone who doesn't like others, but rather, someone who is drained by the effort of being with others. While an extrovert is someone who is energized by being with others. So many times, I have dreaded my wife's family parties, only to realize afterward, that, hey, I had a good time - that was fun. But it's hard work for me.

Posted by: jonathan [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 26, 2007 9:13 PM

That's how my boyfriend is, because I can't stand to see him miserable, so I'm very, very careful about what I bring him to and what events I attend alone. At Thanksgiving, we actually went out two nights in a row, but after each night (although he grumbled a little before), he left feeling he had a great time...and even reminded me a bunch of times to bring our copy of Michael Gondry's film Human Nature to the people who had us over the evening of Thanksgiving.

Posted by: Amy Alkon [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 26, 2007 9:19 PM

"I care about him too much to allow him to drink the amount of alcohol necessary for him to tolerate my friends and the places we go to.

sofar, I think I'm in love with you, just a little. That was well put.

Posted by: martin [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 27, 2007 6:34 AM

I just discovered this site, and it's great! I have to agree about the extrovert/introvert comment. It's true, introverts are energized by being either alone, or with two or three good friends. Extroverts, on the other hand, are energized by being in big crowds.

I'm a big introvert, and big parties with more than, say, six or seven people are extremely draining for me. I try to avoid them, but sometimes I do have to go. You're right, it can be fun, but it's also a lot of work. I think that if I didn't occasionally go out, I'd turn into a hermit.

Posted by: Bad Kitty at December 27, 2007 9:16 AM

Thanks so much. This is actually my syndicated column, and the way I earn a living is if it runs in papers...so I'd be most grateful if you'd request it from your features editor at your local daily or the editor at your local alt weekly, if you have one.

PS Those of you who live in LA, this would be a good time to request that they run my syndicated column in the LA Times, since the response to my tiny op-ed has been pretty great!

Posted by: Amy Alkon [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 27, 2007 9:19 AM

I think this woman is way too young to suck up and deal with this. i wish I could agree with everyone here, but if I had a 29 year old friend whose 41 year old boyfriend was a consistent no-show, I'd say, why don't you find someone who does want to be a part of your life? This guy is not just shy, he's not interested. Consider how he says that while he doesn't want to go out and socialize with her she can always have her friends over to his house for drinks. Come now. That sounds more like someone who doesn't really want to be put out, or is controlling, or a 41 year old cranky pants, or someone who is taking an innocent victim with him in not admitting that he as a problem. A birthday party that he threw is nice, but it's kind of telling along these same lines. Consider this: he's saying he hates parties, but he had no problem throwing one. A true introvert might suggest dinner with the best friend, or would gladly consent to evenings out with one or two other people. I don't think he's entirely honest about whatever his damage is.

If she has friends of long standing who are saying this doesn't seem right, I say, listen to them. Far from saying "screw your friends" I actually think that true friends will have your best interest at heart and are a valuable sounding board. In cases where I've rationalized a boyfriend's questionable behavior, it has been important that friends have tried to point out that I was making excuses when I really needed to make objections.

Honestly and really, 29 is way too young and the world too big and wide for LW to think that this is a good match. I'm sure he seems so mature and reasonable but she should respect and listen to her own sense (leading her to write a respected national advice columnist) that this guy is not a keeper.

Posted by: susan [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 27, 2007 1:25 PM

I am in my late 20's dating a man in his mid 40's. My boyfriend is definitely more of an introvert, while I still enjoy going out and having fun. When we get together it tends to be an evening in: cooking dinner and watching old movies cuddled up on the couch. At first I wondered what was wrong that he didn't want to take me out like men my age had, that instead he really wanted me curled up next to him laughing at the antics of the Marx brothers or having a passionate debate over something completely absurd. But I soon found that I was able to get to know him better in that setting and was more comfortable with him than I had been with previous men, even my ex-hub. And, since he's an introvert, when I tell him I'm taking a weekend for me to relax and unwind, he totally understands and doesn't get jealous, just says to call when I'm feeling more myself. And I still go out with friends, I just learned that he would rather not join us and that's ok. It took a bit to find that equilibrium, but I am rather glad we did. This guy is good to me and I would rather watch Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf at home with him than go to the bar with any other guy.

Posted by: SarahBeth [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 27, 2007 1:30 PM

I think that's great SarahBeth. But this is a woman who is involved with a man who has refused to accompany her to life events like weddings and once-a-year gatherings at holidays. He may have 11 years on her, but "I just don't do functions" is inflexible, babyish, and doesn't cut it when your significant other of three years is asking you to be her date to a wedding. Amy Alkon's bf may not like social functions, but I sense that they have a sense of give-and-take, not "I just don't do functions." I don't even think introversion is a problem, as introverts can be delightful, thoughtful people and eager to accommodate by showing up at the big stuff. This guy sounds like he never accommodates her. She can do better.

Posted by: susan [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 27, 2007 6:07 PM

I know that he doesn't do functions, so I try to keep functions he attends to a minimum, so it never comes to the point where we have to discuss it.

People generally don't change, so it's best to get somebody who meets your needs in the ways that are essential to you. As I mentioned in the piece, I thrive on social interaction. My boyfriend does not. This isn't babyish or inflexible of him, it's just the kind of person he is. If I needed a guy who was Mr. Gladhand, I wouldn't be with Gregg. And if Gregg were Mr. Gladhand, he wouldn't be Gregg.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 27, 2007 6:26 PM

Susan, you are right that "I don't do functions" should come with a few disclaimers, and that weddings and holiday parties should be among them. The LW definitely needs to talk this out with her boyfriend since this bothers her. However, I also think that friends should stay out of other friends' relationships. I don't tell my friends who to date and they return the favor. If she's questioning the relationship based solely on her friends, then she needs to listen to what is going on in her head, not theirs.

Posted by: SarahBeth at December 27, 2007 6:35 PM

He does not want to be serious.

If he accompanies the girl to functions, people will think that they are in a serious relationship and begin wondering when they will get married. She will wonder, too.

By avoiding meeting the extended network of relatives, he avoids expectations of commitment and keeps the relationship low-key.

If that is what the letter writer wants, ok. Is it?

Posted by: Nicole [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 28, 2007 12:54 PM

Nicole, after all the hard work I did explaining introversion, you leap to this assumption?

As for somebody else's guess, the guy isn't married. I didn't include that in the question, as I don't have piles of room, but he is not married.

Their relationship isn't conducted in secret (mine isn't either), but my boyfriend doesn't like to be out in crowds of people.

Nicole, nowhere in there did it say he refuses to meet her relatives. Frankly, though, many adults do not have close relationships with their parents or families and live across the country. My parents are in Detroit. My sister Caroline is in San Francisco. Gregg and see them infrequently. Like maybe once a year.

Posted by: Amy Alkon [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 28, 2007 1:04 PM

Speaking as an introvert, I first would like to thank all of you who GET IT. I don't hate people. Large groups drain me.

And yes, there are "life events like weddings and once a year holday celebrations." But whose wedding? My sister's? I'm there. My significant other's cousin's daughter's wedding? Count me out. And as for the holiday celebrations, there's my family's get together, and his office party. Very different parties.

I'm sorry, Nicole and Susan, but there are those of us for whom the social gathering is torture. Being in a room full of noisy strangers is a nightmare and has nothing to do with my feelings for my guy. (Although if he insisted on social occasions on a weekly basis, then it would start to affect how I feel about him.)

Plus with the LW, I get the feeling that she was starting to take relationship cues from her friends instead of her heart. As Amy said, when she told the LW to screw her friends, the woman was relieved. Just because a relationship is a little out of the ordinary does not meen it is disfunctional.

Posted by: Robin at December 29, 2007 6:41 AM

Just because a relationship is a little out of the ordinary does not meen it is disfunctional.


I just celebrated my five-year anniversary with Gregg. One reason why is that I get who he is and don't try to force him to be somebody else.

Imagine if the tables were turned in this case, and most people were introverts and the guy were writing that his girlfriend loved to go to parties. I'd advise him to stay home if that pleased him and let her do what makes her happy.

Posted by: Amy Alkon [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 29, 2007 7:06 AM

I'd like to thank you for putting my mind straight. I used to think that I just hated people, but it's just being around large gatherings of unfamiliar people that sends my mind into a tizzy.

I think I'm more comfortable with being called 'introvert' than 'misanthrope'.

So, how do I find a woman like Amy that will put up with my not wanting to go clubbing and socializing?

Posted by: brian at December 29, 2007 10:54 AM

...but there are those of us for whom the social gathering is torture...

Yes, indeed...and speech class is the equivalent of a firing squad!

Posted by: Doobie [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 29, 2007 3:03 PM

It is a nice occasion when someone speaks out in a way that shows an understanding of us introverts. I recently had a weekend with a group event on Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening. I had to walk out of a goodbye dinner (they are moving overseas for the rest of their lives) for two of my good friends because I couldn't take it any more. I needed a week of sitting by myself in my apartment to recharge from that weekend.

I left the family Christmas gathering a day early because I was so drained. And my family is highly functional.

I actually have to plan my social calendar around my introversion knowing that by the end of a long week of interaction I'm usually ready to gut the next person who tries to engage me in idle, pointless chit-chat. Gouging the wrong person's eye can have negative long term dating and business ramifications.

It has been my experience that many women view introversion negatively and take a guy's desire to be reclusive as a slight or insult to them. I've had more than one relationship end because I just couldn't be the extrovert that she wanted/needed. Fortunately I've learned to stop trying.

Posted by: Dale [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 29, 2007 7:40 PM

Thanks so much, Dale, for saying so. Means a lot.

I think women who are terribly troubled by this -- for reasons other than "My friends think it's weird!" tend to have problems of their own; namely, they lack self-worth and personal autonomy, so they need another person as their crutch.

I went out for drinks with two women last night -- both of them documentary filmmakers and TV producers (doing TV between doing docus), and both are happy, very developed people who are like me in being able to be alone (I talked about this column at dinner). Women like that are women for you. Not those who are looking for somebody to "complete" them.

My message to those types: If you're incomplete, get complete, and THEN start dating.

Posted by: Amy Alkon [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 29, 2007 9:10 PM

If you're incomplete and get married, you're finished!

Posted by: Doobie [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 30, 2007 12:23 AM

I've found that the key to whether or not a man values you is not how much he interacts with your circle of friends, but how much he wants you to interact with his. He could show up for every little social function of hers, be the life of the party and impress everyone, but if he never invites her along to one of his then that is "dysfunctional". In that case there really is no real relationship, except on the womans part, and people like Susan and Nicole don't see that until it's too late. When he's ready to move on, they wonder what happened.

I'd give anything to have a man whose worse trait was that he didn't like socializing. "Do better"? Huh. If you wait for perfect, you wait alone.

Posted by: Jaynie59 at January 1, 2008 6:48 AM

Ah, but what if a man doesn't really have friends? Be careful about producing a relationship dysfunctional because it doesn't fit your preconceived notions of how people should be.

Posted by: Amy Alkon [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 1, 2008 6:51 AM

OK, I'll amend it to say that you know he has friends and co-workers and social functions of his own that he never invites you to.

A man doesn't have to be married to only take you to out-of-the-way restaurants and bowling alleys.

Posted by: Jaynie59 at January 1, 2008 8:02 AM

Amy's right. If a woman has her own thing going, why can't a guy have his own thing too --- even if it is hanging out at home posting on an advice columnist's blog. ;-)

Posted by: Jeff at January 1, 2008 1:24 PM

Some "introverts" likely have social anxiety; limiting interaction is how they cope with it.

Within this subset are those who wish they were extroverts.

Posted by: Doobie at January 1, 2008 1:39 PM

Works for me, Jeff!

Introverts are generally not out jawing it up with a crowd of homeys. They're home relieved not to have the demands of the crowd upon them.

Posted by: Amy Alkon [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 1, 2008 1:44 PM

29 is not too young. Women shouldn't think that spending their 20's tramping around, waiting for marriage until their biological alarm clock is about to start ringing.

And screw the friends. Women are notoriously bad at giving advice that suits their own purposes. Want to keep partying with the girls? Discourage your girlfriends from settling down.

Posted by: Smarty at January 1, 2008 6:05 PM

As an introvert, you all are correct when you realize socializing is "work" for us. However, I have found such work necessary to still be able the call myself human. So, I disagree with those that imply that if you don't enjoy it don't do it. It is important that introverts work on their socializing skills by occasionally getting out. My experience is that I generally enjoy such gatherings as long as they are limited (and alchohol is served ;-)) as it really is "work". I have even made real friends from such adventures! All relationships are about give and take and it is important to "bend" a little to learn about aspects of life that your significant other brings to the party. This is how you avoid the premature death at 40.

Posted by: shy [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 1, 2008 6:20 PM

Hmmm...I made the mistake of allowing my partner to pick and choose which of my friends I could see. Sadly she also allowed her friends to define who I am. Net result - after separating I was completely alienated from an existing social network.

Never again.

Posted by: gwallan [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 16, 2008 6:13 PM

My husband is an introvert, and as a result I am becoming one too. And I like it! The older we get, the more we enjoy staying at home and puttering with our hobbies a lot more than trying to make idle conversation with people who don't share our interests. We do enjoy going out to dinner and concerts, but by ourselves. It is now even becoming a chore to spend time with people we like with whom we do have things in common. We still do eat out very occasionally with one other couple, but that's enough.
So, introverts beware -- this is your future! It's not so bad, but God help us if we ever need a friend to help us out of a jam!

Posted by: Pussnboots at January 23, 2008 10:21 PM

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