Jutta is pretty active on the dating scene (unlike me, who is focusing on other things and generally can’t be bothered with dating right now – more on this later). I admire her courage; she is often disappointed by guys who first seem to be interested in something serious, only to then turn out to be fuckwits. The last suitor was charming, communicative, outspoken; I was hopeful for her that it would be the right one. Instead, Jutta was told after three weeks of dating that he does not have the strength to be in a relationship; he is too busy dealing with himself and his life to have the energy for someone else.
Apart from the fact that you probably shouldn’t be on a dating site if you feel this way, it sounded very much like a cheap excuse: While relationships can be emotionally scary, especially at the beginning, they can give you so much more confidence and inspiration to overcome bumps which looked like mountains when you were alone. I understand that things can become too much and that it is easier to cut ties instead of facing your fears; this is something I have been trying to sort out for myself for quite some time now. But I have also been in long-term relationships, and I know that overcoming those first obstacles usually rewards you with amazing experiences on so many levels.
I would actually like to have a partner, and letting somebody in isn’t one of my issues. I usually don’t have a problem with emotional intimacy, provided it’s with the right person; I am rather open about my feelings and can put them into words. What I have realised in the last couple of months, though, is that I find other people rather … unnerving. Not all the time, and not all of them, but some experiences in the past months have led to a bit of a personal crisis, with me wondering whether I can ever be with somebody; I need a lot of time for myself, and I am not exactly great at communicating this need. It made me wonder whether me being so “me” is reconcilable with a partnership.
When I was younger, I always thought I was an extrovert, because I am outgoing, gregarious (to a point), like to chat with people, love to make them laugh, and generally enjoy human interaction. But in the last couple of years, I have slowly come to the realisation that all these attributes do not necessarily make me an extrovert; it’s just that I had connected being introvert with being withdrawn, shy, and socially awkward, and hence rejected this label for me. After reading up on the subject last year, I came across a definition by Hans Eysenck, whose theory states that extroverts have a slightly lower basic rate of arousal. They therefore need company, experiences, and risks to get excited. Introverts, on the other hand, find themselves overstimulated by things others find merely pleasant or engaging.
The definition made immediate sense to me: I sometimes don’t go to parties because there are more people than I want to handle (I know that I could handle them; I can switch on my “public persona”, which is the outgoing, entertaining one, quite easily, but it is rather draining doing this all day). I can happily stay in my flat for weeks or engage in things of the mind for hours, if not days. I do not crave human contact as much as other people do – I enjoy teaching and the everyday interactions of the outside world, but I am quite happy to be left alone for the rest of the day. I am not good with people who are overly emotional, and by that I don’t mean people displaying sadness, anger, or disappointment (which I respond to quite well – after all, I am getting teary-eyed at dog food commercials). People who emotionally exhaust me are people who are constantly asking for interaction, for emotional or mental feedback, people who are so expressive in their emotions that everything is “AWESOME!” or “OMG!”. 30 minutes with hyperexpressive people is all right for me; 2 hours are torture.
I mentioned this to my therapist about a year ago, and she asked me to do a personality test; according to the score, my personality type is INFJ. The description fitted me to a T, which made me rather wary (yes, I am weird like that). It is just a test, after all, and I know that these can be manipulated. So I did a similar test online, about two weeks after the first one, and got INFJ again. Lately, I started to wonder whether the outcome was influenced by my emotional state last year, which is why I did the test a third time last month, with the result still being the same. A lot of the statements about INFJs rang a bell, but this one especially: “INFJs may silently withdraw as a way of setting limits rather than expressing their wounded feelings—a behaviour that may leave others confused and upset”. This is something I have to work on, because walking away from things which stress me without communicating my discomfort is not doing me any good in the long-run.
All this “me time” and the difficulty to express myself under certain circumstances made me wonder whether I am able to even have a partner or a child; after all, you can’t just turn to your toddler and say, “Mummy needs a time-out for an hour or two”. The thought of me not being able to adapt to other people was rather depressing for me; I spoke to my therapist about it, and her reaction was very relaxed (after scolding me for my usual perfectionist, black-and-white view). According to her, she is sure that I will do fine with the right person and also that my priorities will shift once I have a child, so I shouldn’t be worried about it. She also mused about what kind of partner would be good for me: “I have actually always imagined you with some sort of scientist; somebody who is calm and down-to-earth, who thinks in a structured way and engages you mentally, someone who can deal with your emotional upheavals and understands that you regularly need some time for yourself … I don’t know, maybe a physicist.”
I just looked at her and thought wryly, “Maybe you should say that to him, not to me”.