Everyone who meets me thinks I’m an extrovert. In some ways, it’s to my credit; I’m great at being friendly and welcoming and putting people at ease. But it doesn’t always come easily, I definitely need to recharge, and I hate when I’m constantly booked with social stuff. Many people don’t know this about me, because they mostly see the friendly, chatty side. It’s actually worked to my disadvantage in some places, such as when I worked at a big tech company before I became a full-time Heartographer. :) I was a little too bubbly, friendly, and enthusiastic for the no-nonsense, Data Is King vibe which is often more valuable in a tech culture.
However, it’s not as simple as placing people in the “Introvert” or “Extrovert” box. Heck, my husband and I have some close friends who identify as introverts, but they attend our industry’s networking event far more frequently than we have the social energy to do, and they also go out to the neighborhood pub, enjoy drinks out, and make new friends there. I have no idea how they do this, because I’ve only accompanied them maybe twice and felt awkward and nervous in that setting. Everyone is different, and the binary of two boxes is a bit outdated. For example, I’m firmly a flextrovert. There was a great discussion about this in The Washington Post as well as on Episode 10 of QUIT! if you’d like to read more. Just look at Zuckerberg here! He’s a great example of a learned extrovert, at least as far as what we see in his media presence over time.
Why am I talking at such great length about all this? Well, partly because I was fascinated by this NPR article about opportunities for young adults with autism in the tech industry. I don’t mean to make light of the trouble and frustration that autism brings to many people’s social and professional lives; it’s a struggle for everyone I know who is affected themselves or is close to someone with autism. But I do think there’s a case to be made for recognizing the silver lining, and/or for being strategically supportive of embracing the traits that autism highlights. People with certain types of autism are so much more precise than I am, so much more analytically minded, so much better at solving certain kinds of problems and clearly communicating only the necessary information to do so. I appreciate that this article highlights some of the ways in which autism combined with a technical education can help shape someone into an incredibly effective employee in certain fields. There are still some challenges, of course, and many commenters elaborated with stories from their own work lives.
Many of the same principles can relate to dating. I’ve advised singles who are on the autism spectrum, or who suffer from fairly severe OCD, or who are quite introverted and have trouble reaching out to people in person. Heck, I myself hated in-person dating when I was single! Even though I’m a flextrovert who’s comfortably open and talkative when the need arises, it was never easy or natural for me to meet other singles in person. So I can’t IMAGINE how hard it is for someone who works even harder than me to “turn on” those extroverted behaviors in order to facilitate a positive interaction. I think the internet is a real blessing for folks who aren’t all that outgoing, for whatever reason. But you HAVE to stay true to your own personality, even in your online presence, and you have to understand how the internet can help you rather than harm you.
WHAT NOT TO DO:
- Don’t go nuts seeking out singles events, mixers, or speed-dating things if you’re introverted or shy. Why set yourself up for failure if you know that setting would feel uncomfortable and potentially stressful? I could never quite stand to do those sorts of things when I was single, either. And any time you slap “for singles!” in the event title, in my experience, it makes it 100000 times more awkward. (Note: this is not a data-driven claim, haha. But you get my drift.)
- Don’t intentionally craft a username that references a super outgoing or social type of personality. If you happen to pick a username that could be construed as outgoing because it’s a reference to a character you love in your favorite book, then that’s not so bad; just make sure the rest of your profile reflects a clearer snapshot of how you actually are socially.
- Don’t select profile pictures that indicate you’re a super outgoing kind of person, if that isn’t accurate. It’s fine to have a pic or two in a social setting, but for example, if you know that you don’t particularly respond well to alcohol and you don’t like to drink or go to wild parties, don’t include a shot of you yelling and holding up a margarita while wearing a sombrero. You’re not doing yourself any favors if you put out an image that attracts personalities who are drawn to Sombrero Guy and who won’t respond well to your actual self when they meet you.
WHAT TO DO:
- Be up-front yet charming about being on the spectrum, or being somewhat introverted, etc. Realistically, you don’t want to waste time with people who are truly seeking extroverted partners, and there are LOTS of singles who are going to match your personality vibe. Trust me. They’re just sometimes as nervous as you, so they might not be super obvious at first.
- Be positive about the potential negatives. Popular sex advice columnist Dan Savage often says that people who are kinky should present their kinks as fun icing on the cake; as features and benefits rather than bugs (if you’ll allow me to revert to Big Tech Speak for a minute, haha). If you present your OCD like a negative trait, that’s how it’ll be perceived. Find a way to be charming or positive about it—make a self-deprecating joke that highlights a benefit of your unique make-up. For example, brag in your profile that you’re great at meticulously scrubbing the dishes immediately after a meal, or that you’ll always happily defrag your date’s hard drive, or get playful and outline some of the ways in which you’d be an excellent accessory in the coming zombie apocalypse. (Yes, I know zombies are kinda done now, but you get my drift!)
- Cater unabashedly to your needs. There’s nothing wrong with painting a picture of your ideal date as something quiet with clearly arranged parameters, such as a reservation at a corner booth with high seats so you can focus on your date without being visually distracted.
- Plan ahead to manage your triggers. If things like not knowing whether someone might come back to the house with you or not is stressful, well, prep for a date by researching some options if you find that calming. Wash your sheets/tidy up/whatever just in case if you think that might be in the cards. If you’re carless, save transportation schedule info or taxi service numbers in your phone, or pre-register with a service like Uber so you’ve got a plan in place. Read Metacritic reviews of movies to see if they’re likely to trigger something unpleasant in you that you’d rather not deal with when you’re still getting to know your date. The better you know yourself, the more effectively you’ll be able to pre-plan so you don’t become as anxious in the moment.
If you still feel fretful about trying to meet someone, consider hiring a consultant like me. Even if I may seem like an extrovert the first time you meet me, I promise that I have more empathy about all these challenges than you might think. A huge part of my own comfort and confidence has grown out of being paired up with another flextrovert, who gets how I am and appreciates all facets of my personality, even the ones that want to curl up and hide sometimes. You can find someone who gets you, too. I swear they’re out there! ♥