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    Thinking Through The Introvert Advantage {What Does “Friend” Mean?}

    January 14, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    The Introvert Advantage:
    How to Thrive in an Extrovert World

    by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.

    In this Facebook generation, folks are playing fast and loose with the word friend. One can “friend” someone, as if friend were a verb {it’s not–the word befriend denotes the action of becoming a friend}. One can have 500 “friends,” most of whom one never sees in person, and some of whom, quite possibly, one has never even met.

    Facebook, though I know that some have found it to be a handy tool for keeping in touch with those real-life friends who moved around the world to become missionaries, or those family members who insisted on living all the way across the country, is extroversion taken to epidemic proportions.

    Dr. Laney, as I mentioned, has a couple quizzes in her book to help introverts identify themselves. One of the marks of the introvert, according to one quiz, is that an introvert does not think of a casual acquaintance as a friend. When I contrast this with the picture she, in the early pages, briefly paints of the extrovert, as a sort of butterfly, flitting from flower to flower, sampling conversations rather than sustaining them, I can’t help but think that she is discovering something that is wrong within the extroverted culture {Laney believes that America’s culture is extroverted, by the way}, rather than just a this-works-for-introverts and this-works-for-extroverts sort of issue.

    Near the end of her book, in the chapter Nurture Your Nature, she writes:

    Extroverts…consider almost everyone they know a friend.

    She contrasts this by saying that

    [Introverts] believe all relationships have to be “deep” and “meaningful” in order to be authentic.

    The word friend cannot, simply can not, mean “everyone the person knows.” But does this mean the introvert is correct? Do only “deep and meaningful” relationships count as friendships?

    Let’s Ask Mr. Webster

    I adore retreating to my trusty Webster’s 1828 Dictionary as a way of transcending my own time and place in history when it comes to words and how they are used. Back then, this was the definition of friend:

    FRIEND, n. frend.

    1. One who is attached to another by affection; one who entertains for another sentiments of esteem, respect and affection, which lead him to desire his company, and to seek to promote his happiness and prosperity; opposed to foe or enemy.

    This actually sounds to me more like an extroverted definition, but lets compare it with the definition of acquaintance, for the sake of clarity:


    1. Familiar knowledge; a state of being acquainted, or of having intimate or more than slight or superficial knowledge; as, I know the man, but have no acquaintance with him. Sometimes it denotes a more slight knowledge.

    2. A person or persons well known; usually persons we have been accustomed to see and converse with; sometimes, persons more slightly known.

    The contrast here seems to be between an affection which compels future, deliberate contact, on the one hand, and simple basic knowledge of one another, on the other hand. The fact that two people know each other’s names, and, when they see each other in public, they greet each other and have a brief conversation, does not make them friends. However, if they schedule lunch for the following week, and they begin to seek each other out, and gain a true affection for one another, it probably does make them friends. Notice that there isn’t necessarily a whole lot “deep and meaningful” about this.

    Could Both be Wrong?

    As an introvert, I wanted extroverts to be wrong. I’m being honest here. I don’t take the term friend to quite the extreme of requiring all friendships to be “deep and meaningful” to qualify, but I also don’t bestow the term on many people. And I wanted that to be Right.

    However, comma.

    After looking up definitions and thinking a bit, I think the case may be that while extroverts are under-defining friendship, introverts might be over-defining friendship. Reading on, I see that Dr. Laney agrees, and goes so far as to encourage introverts to broaden their horizons and have a few more friends.

    The Differences Between the ‘Verts

    There was a day that I believed that extroverts were promiscuous with friendship. They couldn’t possibly be real friends with that many people. This was my thinking.

    However, comma.

    I think I was underestimating the dynamic power of extroversion. Though I firmly believe that extreme extroverts have some definite character issues going on {I’ll come back to that thought sometime, so just follow me here}, for the most part extroverts are just good with people. They are good at having friends and good at being friends. I, for one, have learned much about friendship from the more extroverted people in my life.

    One of the things I had to realize was that just because I couldn’t maintain x number of genuine relationships didn’t mean that a certain extrovert I knew couldn’t either.

    If you are like me, then you have probably reached or superseded your maximum capacity for friendship. What I mean is, you have reached the point where you have trouble being a good friend to the friends you already have. You might have a number of unreturned emails sitting in your inbox–emails from people you have a genuine affection for. You might have people you wish you saw more, but life and energy levels and details get in the way.

    I do not relish parties, but I find myself throwing more of them simply because it is an expedient means of seeing more of the people I care most about. I don’t have the time to see everyone individually at this stage of life, and I’d rather see some of my closest friends in a group rather than not at all.

    Does this make sense?

    To bring this back to the extrovert, I think that an introvert needs to come to an understanding that though an extrovert has a maximum capacity for friendship, also, this is probably more defined by time than by energy. What I mean is, most extroverts can probably handle as many friends as they have time for, while most introverts can probably only handle as many friends as they have energy for.

    The capacity for friendship is coming from a different place, depending on what sort of person you are.

    Introverts at Church

    I was speaking with an acquaintance a while back. She asked me which church I belonged to, and when I replied she mentioned that she had tried to attend my church, but she just couldn’t do it because it was so large. She had no complaint about doctrine or anything else important, it was just size.

    And I thought about that and then replied that I am probably only comfortable because I grew up in this church. It is my home. Just as I don’t get increasingly uncomfortable as my own family grows in size, I don’t get increasingly uncomfortable as my church grows in size.

    However, comma.

    Because I am introverted, I would probably never choose my church if I was in a strange city looking for a church, because the size would be daunting. Which brings me to a question: Is it possible that the larger a church becomes, the more likely it is to attract extroverts? If so, I wonder what this means for the church.

    Another issue to think about is the small groups movement. I consider this a vast extroverted conspiracy.

    Okay, so maybe that was an exaggeration.

    However, depending on what a church determines a small group is for and about, it’ll make a difference on who joins small groups and why.

    For instance, once at our church, we were told that small groups can meet the need for Christian community. The reality is that our church is large and folks really can come on Sundays without ever becoming an active part of the Body by actually attaching to the Body.

    However, I also struggle with what I mentioned before: my own capacity. I feel I have reached mine, that I often do not do justice to the friendships I already have, that God would have me become a better friend to my existing friends, rather than getting involved in some other activity. I already am not serving as well as I’d like in the roles I already play.

    Many introverts probably have to face this about themselves, if they are honest.

    I was talking to my husband about this recently. Our membership in the church means that we must be active members, and being part of a small group is considered standard active membership. One of the things we have discussed is trying to nurture the Christian community we already have, the part of the Body to which we are already irrevocably attached, by forming our own small group.

    However, I can also see some drawbacks to that approach, especially if one of the purposes of small groups is to become attached to a larger group of people. Some churches would say that this is exactly the point, and then one must wonder if this means that one must convert to extroversion in order to join those churches.

    Of course, if someone was to form a very intimate small group, one must also guard against cliquishness. All Christians are called to the practice of hospitality; not just extroverts.

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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 19, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    Emily, what you said about your friendships makes perfect sense to me. I have a number of old, old friends that feel like family and are simply irreplaceable, and then there are the newer, as you called them “casual” friends. And then there are acquaintances–people whose names I know and can say “hi” to when I see them.

    I remember in college feeling a ton of pressure to include everyone in every activity. I lived in a dormitory, and the floor I lived on was full of friends. I think that, in that time and place, including everyone was the best thing; hurt feelings would have been detrimental to the situation.

    However, comma.

    I found that this sentiment followed me, and I often would do nothing because I couldn’t handle including everyone in what I was doing. I had just gotten married, had a new baby just a year later, and I was tired. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t take a nap in order to keep up with everyone else.

    Over time, I had to become comfortable with the fact that I couldn’t juggle all of the balls that some of my friends could and still fulfill my basic roles as wife and mother well. I had to become comfortable with not being in the know for everything that was going on, not being able to see everyone I even wanted to see, and so on.

    Sometimes I still think about Facebook wistfully. There are announcements made there, and I won’t know that someone had a baby until a month later because no one tells anyone anything personally anymore. But what I’ve realized is that I need to serve God the way He has called me to, and accept that others are called differently, and also created more dynamically than I.

    Focusing on Christ and what He calls me to (rather than everyone else to), has helped me immensely. It is exciting to serve God in the way He created me to serve Him, and I wonder how often I missed out because I was trying to fit the mold of someone else.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 19, 2010 at 5:13 pm


    I can see how an introvert could harness Facebook as a tool for being more involved in a friend’s life. This is sort of how I used Twitter when Si was sick. I didn’t have the time, and especially not the energy, to communicate everything that was going on. My cell phone was ringing off the hook; people were running up my bill since I have a pay-as-you-go plan with only 100 minutes total! I appreciated all of the love and support, but I was overwhelmed, and spending my energy and time communicating the same exact thing over and over made it difficult for me to have the energy and time I needed to spend making decisions for him and also simply being with him.

    Twitter solved that problem, while giving friends and family what I believe they deserved, which was knowledge of what was going on. I am not on Facebook, but I could see how it could serve a similar function.

    NO PRESSURE, BUT…I would love, love, love for you to perhaps write a post or an extended comment explaining what a “more introspective culture” would look like. What was it like for you to live within one? Were you more energized by that sort of environment? Or was it more that introversion was more normal? I am very curious about this as I have not traveled very much at all.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 19, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    Emily (LUYH),

    Sorry it took me so long to respond to this comment, but I wanted to tell you that I think this is why it would be helpful to maintain a more absolute definition of friendship within the culture rather than the arbitrary introverts-define-it-this-way and extroverts-define-it-that-way.

    Now, obviously, we will still distinguish between the friends who feel like family and the friends who are more casual, but I would think it would be very hurtful to have a friendship with someone–a friendship according to the absolute definition–that was only considered a friendship by one party.

    I must confess that I have injured extroverts in just this way in the past. And, to be honest, I was so attached to my definition of friendship that I considered it to be their problem, though I see now that it was my problem.

  • Reply Emily January 15, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    I was disappointed to discover that the book is not obtainable within my library system, so I’ll just hop on the bus over here, Brandy!

    I bought an old framed print at an antique store for my daughter last year that states, “There are no strangers, only friends we have not yet met.” That is Anna Rose’s philosophy of life in a nutshell. Everyone to whom she says, “Hello!” is automatically a friend to her. That is such a foreign concept to me. It takes me a long time to make what I would call a friend. I probably have more than a small dose of shyness mixed in with my introversion.

    Speaking of the small groups…we have been going to a Bible study at the home of some close friends for about a year and a half. Due to various circumstances, the group suddenly started to grow, and every week I was confronted with more strange faces. It was very difficult for me, and I began blending more and more with the woodwork. With so many “extroverts” contributing to the conversation, I just got lost.

    I confess to not understanding extroverts and their enormous collections of friends. My oldest son has about a million facebook friends. I have many what I deem acquaintances, some close friends, and many casual friends, if that makes sense. The close friends are almost like sisters to me, the others are those women whose company I enjoy and with whom I am comfortable. Acquaintances are people I see on a regular basis, but with whom I have not had the opportunity (or sometimes even the inclination) to pursue a deeper relationship. Some people you “click” with instantly and you know that they will become a friend. Does that make sense?

  • Reply Jennifer January 15, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    I REALLY am enjoying the series and the things I am getting to think about, so please keep writing the way you are writing..this extrovert is not taking offense. : ) I just like the dialogue.

  • Reply Jennifer January 15, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Ooh, Brandy- sorry! I meant the author of the book, not you. I know you 🙂 Sorry to be unclear.

  • Reply Lift Up Your Hearts January 15, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    As someone more extroverted, it’s painful to me that introverts tend not to consider me a friend when in my mind, they are certainly my friends. I have a couple of friends I’m especially close to, with whom I share the intimate details of my life and for whom I feel immense affection, but I also have a lot of friends who are more casual in my life.

  • Reply Rahime January 15, 2010 at 9:55 am

    I too have a difficult time considering casual acquaintances as friends….and mentally sometimes for me it is a challenge for people to transition into the “friend” category.

    I am continually astounded at this difference between ‘Chung and I. The fact that I even have categories for “friends” and “acquaintances,” I think would be foreign to him. Everyone is a friend. The shear number of people he is able to maintain meaningful relationships with (not necessarily interacting on a weekly basis or anything like that, but still actual friends) is shocking to me when I feel like I do such a horrible job of keeping up with the 3 friends I have. 😉 I often think I need to make a friend or two in the area around my home, but the thought of having one more person closely involved in my life, one more person to “keep up with” is almost overwhelming. In fact, part of the reason I love facebook is that it enables me to keep in touch with the broad base of people in our lives without completely draining my “people-time” reserves.

    I think there’s a tendency as you alluded to a few days ago to associate introversion with shyness/reticence and extroversion with being outgoing or talkative. I like that Laney defines the ‘verts in terms of energy.

    I’d have to agree with Laney that American culture is, and Americans as a whole are, extroverted. I think that’s one of the reasons it’s always been more stressful for me to live here than ‘most anywhere else I’ve been. I would love to live somewhere more introspective.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 15, 2010 at 5:35 am

    I do not look down on extroverts, just to clarify! I hope it didn’t sound that way.

    Now, I think there are some problems with being too extreme either way, but that has to do with some other issues, I think, not being some sort of ‘vert.

    To be perfectly honest, I have always admired the ease with which you seemed to be able to maintain relationships with so many people. I have, more than once, wished I had the energy to keep up with you!

    I have personally had to combat the overdefining of friendship, which I mentioned I think introverts are prone to. I think this is a bad thing to do, to make something more than it needs to be. It makes an introvert less likely to invest in a new relationship at all. And even though I think I’m beginning to combat that, I see it in myself all over again as I reread this post, for I’m talking about having reached a “maximum” but that sounds like I’m not necessarily open to what God has for me, which is, as I tell my children, naughty.

    I love your ramblings, friend.

    And I do call you friend, you know. Always have! 😉

  • Reply Jennifer January 15, 2010 at 3:38 am

    “There was a day that I believed that extroverts were promiscuous with friendship. They couldn’t possibly be real friends with that many people. This was my thinking.”

    ..I remember that day : )

    I am enjoying “reading” about myself through the lens of an introvert! It seems though, as if the author looks down on extroverts…is that me? What do you think? Thank you for more thoroughly working through the definitions of “friends” and “acquaintances”. I am not sure if I have met a person that I would not call my friend, in thought or conversation! This is an interesting thought for me to chew on. There is no possible way for me to have a “deep and meaningful” relationship with half of the people I would call friends (for time constraints, as you realistically point out). It just seems natural for me to call them friends. Why, I wonder? I am chewing on this.

    I think that one of the reasons for this is that I really try to actively pursue new people I meet in my life, often to my mental and emotional strain. I don’t necessarily like this about myself- I simply feel compelled to do so! If someone shows an interest in me, I want to reciprocate with time and affection. I’ll restate, that now as a mother and wife, I am not able to do this as much as I used to, nor do I desire to as strongly. I think I care less about what people think…than I used to. I am beginning to me more comfortable being me. I first see myself as a chosen child of God (humbling), then a wife, then a mother, and then someone who can be a friend to many.

    Thanks for entertaining my ramblings. As you can tell, I am enjoying this series.

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