Ah, Myers-Briggs and children’s literature. The most natural combination in the world.
But really now. The connection will make sense eventually, I promise.
The Velveteen Rabbit, a heartwarming children’s story by Margery Williams, is about a stuffed rabbit who is loved by a little boy. Think Toy Story, but with scarlet fever. (Read the whole thing. It’s delightful.)
My favorite part of the book is when our hero talks with an old toy horse about how toys become Real:
“Real isn't how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn't happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time.”
So, here’s my thought: extroverts sometimes have a problem being Real.
Now, extroverts are not shallow people. This is a common misconception, probably because we sometime say stupid things when processing out loud (instead of processing internally first and only saying the things that sound really smart). And also because introverts will often see us as melodramatic and attention-seeking. Really, though, extroverts are capable of deep thoughts just like introverts.
We sometimes struggle, though, with shallow relationships. And with projecting a shallow image of ourselves so that everyone will like us.
Not all of our relationships are shallow. It’s just that extroverts tend to have a wider social circle. More likes on their Facebook statuses, more people they wave to on the sidewalk, more friends to invite to parties. And, well, you just can’t be best friends with everyone, right?
As an extrovert, I want to have meaningful conversations with people, to care about them, to ask them how they are doing and really mean it, to write letters, to remember what they told me last time we talked…but it’s hard because I know so many people.
The common response to this is a warning that you can’t spread yourself too thin. You have to choose a few close friends and family members and invest most of your time and emotional energy there. And that’s probably true in general.
But if I followed that advice consistently, there are a lot of super cool people I never would have been friends with. That’s right, I’m talking about you, person I put on my hit list (of complete strangers I wanted to be friends with). And you, person who keeps responding to my letters even though we didn’t know each other super well when I was physically present. And you, friend who I met almost entirely through long Facebook conversations.
What I’ve learned is that, as an extrovert, I don’t need to focus on having fewer friends. I need to focus on making friendships Real. According to our storybook formula, a Real friendship…
One: Is not based on the practical benefit that person can give me. If our only connection is the occasional exchange of witty comments, or a shared dislike of a particular class/subject, or mutual friends who we can talk about, that’s fine. It’s just not Real.
Two: Means I’m not afraid of being hurt. I’m not afraid to ask questions, take risks, and share stories. To let the other person in, even in small ways like admitting it’s been a hard week. People in general, I think, are afraid to love deeply. (And here I’m talking about friendship as well as romantic love.) It’s a terrifying risk. What if you care more about the relationship than the other person? What if you have to say goodbye? What if your lives change and you drift apart? Courage says the risk is worth it because we were made for Real relationships, and anything else seems hollow and half-hearted.
Three: Takes time. And effort. But not as much as you would think. It can mean telling someone one thing you appreciate about them. Or seeing something in a store that reminds you of a friend and getting it for them. It can mean writing a quick Facebook message, asking how that test went, saying, “Wow, I never thought of it that way before,” apologizing, supporting their side in a debate, telling them when they’re being an idiot, giving hugs, sharing credit, and not checking your cell phone when they’re talking to you.
Maybe not all friendships can be Real. But it can happen to more than you think. (And it should go without saying that when you do these things, you must be sincere. Because people can tell the difference.)
So, extroverts—and maybe introverts too—don’t be afraid to let your many friendships turn Real. There’s something magical about it. You can almost believe that all relationships were meant to be Real before we messed things up. And maybe that that’s the way they all will be someday after things are set right.