The human brain is incredible. It works so hard to make sense of the myriad of stimuli that we encounter. It’s a master of efficiency, streamlining its process by creating rules that help us quickly understand the objects, events, and individuals we encounter.
One of these great efficiencies is the false consensus effect, a cognitive bias through which people tend to see their own choices and judgments as relatively common and appropriate. Or, said more simply, we tend to think the way we think is normal and mostly shared by those around us.
This shortcut saves our brains a lot of work, but of course, this assumption doesn’t always pan out. When we unthinkingly assume that others think, believe, behave, and react as we do, what pieces of their perspectives do we inadvertently gloss over? What aren’t we noticing that we’re not noticing?
All The Plans
I met my husband—then boyfriend—in Phoenix in the fall of 2011. In a typical week, we would spend one day together with just the two of us and two or three days with other friends or family.
Nine months into our relationship, I was offered a job in Chicago that I couldn’t refuse. Much to my surprise, he decided to join me. After a few weeks of living together, he asked a question I’ll never forget:
“Do I have to go to all the plans?”
It took me by surprise. What did he mean? Why wouldn’t he want to go to all of our plans? He, like me, had just moved here and didn’t know a soul. And it wasn’t as if the pace had changed; this was about the same amount of social plans that we had while we were in Phoenix.
Upon talking further about this, I learned two key things:
- Back in Phoenix, he would rest and not see anyone between plans with me.
- I know very little about what it means to be an introvert.
Thus began my quest to understand introverts. I read various articles on the topic including the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Instead of dismissing our Myers-Briggs types that verified our extrovert and introvert statuses, we talked deeply about the distinction.
I also talked to other extrovert/introvert couples about their experiences and needs. During one of those conversations, an introverted friend of mine expressed she felt the world assumed and rewarded extroversion. Just look at the response to the question, “How was your weekend?” when you describe lots of social time with friends or gatherings with family versus staying in to read a book.
Finding the Center
My husband and I set a couple of ground rules to be more thoughtful of his introversion.
First, we’d have two plans per week: one during the week and one on the weekend (with the caveat that if there are two must-events in a weekend, we could talk about it. I mean, we can’t miss a wedding or engagement party of course!).
Second, he could freely play video games or read after work. I would understand that this is the unwind time he needs and not guilt him for it.
Sometimes, when we had more social plans than what we agreed upon, he would need a lot of time to recharge. On a philosophical level, I understood this. It made sense given what he shared. But did I get it? Did I fully empathize or understand? Not quite. But still, I was trying. Our balance isn’t always perfect, but it’s usually enough.
Flipping the Script
During our first week of sheltering in place, I harnessed my extroverted nature and, much to my husband’s dismay, filled our calendar with virtual plans with family and friends. Video chats and remote watch parties slid into the empty spaces left by canceled dinners or museum days.
While these virtual hangouts are nice, I quickly realized that it was hard for me to adequately fill the void of interacting with people face to face. Never before had I realized just how much hugs from family, board games with friends, or smiles from strangers at the grocery store meant to me. I felt exhausted, and it wasn’t possible to recharge in the ways I’m used to.
I feel that for many extroverts, myself included, this has been our first taste of what it may feel like to not get energy in the way we need.
Many of the introverts in my life have talked about how sheltering in place hasn’t felt as hard for them. Several of them have said they feel relieved of the pressure to do things with people all the time, or that they feel people are more respectful of their boundaries when out in public.
I hope that I’m able to take a piece of this moment with me to better understand the introverts in my life. I hope I’m better equipped to connect authentically with the people I love in ways that give us all what we need. And I hope this experience helps me challenge what my brain assumes to be true of everyone simply because it is true of me.
I can’t wait to spend actual time with my family and friends. And, now that I finally understand my husband’s need to recharge, I’ll certainly think twice before piling on the plans.
Jeremy Viland-Rose is a Galileo regional Director. When he’s not leading his team or fine-tuning camp operations, he loves to play with his daughter, go for runs, and watch anything Bravo.