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Thursday, April 27, 2017 12:12 am

Caveheart

PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON
Amy Alkon
I’m a woman in my 30s. I love parties and talking to people, and thank God, because I attend networking events for work. My boyfriend, on the other hand, is an introvert, hates talking to strangers and loathes “shindigs.” How do we balance my longing to go to parties with his desire to stay home? – Party Girl

Taking an introvert to a party can be a challenge. On the other hand, if it’s a Fourth of July party, you know where to find him: hiding in the bathtub with the dogs.

I actually have personal experience in this area. Like you, I’m an extrovert – which is to say, a party host’s worry isn’t that I won’t have anyone to talk to; it’s that I’ll tackle three people and waterboard them with sangria till they tell me their life story. Also like you, I have a boyfriend who’s an introvert. For him, attending a party is like being shoved into an open grave teeming with live cockroaches – though, compassionately, it also includes an open bar.

This isn’t to say introverts are dysfunctional. They’re not. They’re differently functional. Brain imaging research by cognitive scientist Debra L. Johnson and her colleagues found that in introverts, sensory input from experience led to more blood flow in the brain (amounting to more stimulation). The path it took was longer and twistier than in extroverts and had a different destination: frontal areas we use for inward thinking like planning, remembering and problem-solving. So introverts live it up, too; they just do it on the inside.

Extroverts’ brain scans revealed a more direct path for stimuli – with blood flowing straight to rear areas of the brain used for sensory processing, like listening and touching. They also have less overall blood flow – translating (in combination with a different neurochemical response) to a need for more social hoo-ha to feel “fed.”

Sometimes, you’ll really want your boyfriend there with you at a party – for support, because you enjoy his company, or maybe just to show him off (kind of like a Louis Vuitton handbag with a penis). But understanding that “shindigs” give his brain a beating, consider whether you could sometimes take a friend. When he accompanies you, maybe set a time limit and be understanding if he and the dog retreat to the den.

Sure, mingling makes you feel better, but pushing an introvert to do it is akin to forcing an extrovert to spend an entire week with only the cat and a fern. Before long, they’re on with the cable company. Tech support: “What seems to be the problem?” Extrovert: “I’m lonely! Talk to me! Have you ever been arrested? And do you think I should go gluten-free?”

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