Mrs. Shy Guy: when you have a busy social life but your husband doesn’t

You like to keep a packed calendar—coffee with friends, dinners out—but your guy prefers a quiet night in. What’s a mismatched couple to do?

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There are the guys who have poker nights. There are the guys who have regular basketball games. There are the guys who just regularly watch basketball together. And then there is my husband. He’s the guy who doesn’t really do anything with anybody (except me).

I have friends from grade school, high school, college, grad school, my first job, my second job, online message boards, from my kids’ school, from my family tree, and a few I can’t really account for at all, all of whom I try to see and talk to when I can. Meanwhile, my husband has a lot of work friends, but pretty much just one good friend, and he hasn’t seen him in a year or so.

When I was younger, this dynamic used to bother me more. My then-boyfriend would act like I was abandoning him the nights that we didn’t have plans together.

“What are we doing tonight?” he’d ask.

I am going out with the girls for dinner.”

His face would fall. “Oh. Well. I guess I’m staying in then.”

“Why don’t you call up Nathan? Leonard?”

“Nah. I’ll just do some work.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, it’s okay.”

Then I’d feel guilt-ridden and more than a little irritated that he didn’t have his own thing to do, friends to see, plans to make. It made me wonder if there was something wrong with him.

I figured that if I was doing something, he should be too—especially because if he had people to see and things to do, it wouldn’t make me feel guilty for leaving him with no plans, a shy guy who moved to my hometown of Chicago without the social network that I took for granted.

I set him up on a couple of “man dates” that went about as well as you could imagine. There’s a Chris Rock bit where two women put their men together and say “You like sports!” and the guys say, in dumb voices, “You like sports? I like sports.” Turns out that men do not always get along just because they’re both men.

 

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The demands of the calendar & the mass email

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized (from talking to other extrovert women with introvert partners) that it’s not so much an issue with friends as it is with planning. Many women plan their friendships the way they plan their dental appointments (not to mention their kids’ dental appointments). Making dates is simply part of the organizational territory. We’re used to putting things on the calendar and making them happen, and that includes our social time.

The men I know, on the other hand, seem to have much less experience with the mass email in which someone throws out some dates to hang out and it gets narrowed down further and further until the chosen date is selected. With my husband, the majority of social plans that involve him show up on the calendar and he magically learns that a plan has been made, a reservation has been placed and a babysitter has been booked. (Maybe he knows something I don’t.)

MORE TO READ: 15 ways to be the best mom friend ever

My closest analogy to the maintenance of friendships is the maintenance of dinnertime. Many mornings I ask my husband what he’d like to eat for dinner that night, and he’ll laugh and say “I can’t think about dinner—I just had breakfast!” Yeah, well, that’s all fine and good except that if somebody doesn’t think about dinner now, find a recipe and make a grocery list and do the shopping, by 6 p.m. we’ll be having a hangry panicky discussion about what to eat.

Friendships are similar. I don’t think he gets that adult friendships typically operate on a “I’m lonely and bored so I will manifest a get-together.” By necessity, we schedule it. Perhaps that takes some of the romantic spontaneity out of relationships in general—but romantic spontaneity is a lovely idea that doesn’t often play out in real life.

Introverts need extroverts & vice versa

A few things have changed since the first years I was so perturbed by our social differences. I’ve become more accepting of the fact that he’s a shyer guy than I am, and there’s nothing wrong with that—that’s just the way he is, and it doesn’t mean he’s sad about it. His social life doesn’t have to mirror mine.

We’ve also had children, which has made staying at home more of a necessity, not just because the kids are home sleeping but because we’re often too tired from a day of parenting and working to go out after. My husband will actively crave a night by the fire pit with a drink and the newspaper and I don’t begrudge him that.

We did have one illuminating exchange a few weeks ago, on an unusual night where he had plans with a friend.

“Are you sure it’s okay if I’m going out?” he asked me.

“I want you to go out,” I said. “I’m pretty sure it was my idea.”

“I’ll go out so you can have time to yourself,” he said.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Don’t make this about me.” I realized that he, unlike me, had a hard time claiming his wants, rights and needs as a social person. As a woman, I have gotten more used to claiming what’s mine. We’re encouraged and coached to say, “I want this, I need this, I deserve this.”

“Say, ‘I want to go out,’” I said. “Say it.”

“I’m letting you stay home,” he said.

Say it!” I said.

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He finally said it. And I finally realized that maybe one of the reasons he doesn’t go out is because he can’t “own” his socializing time the way I do. He’s far from a stereotypical gruff guy who can’t articulate his feelings and who believes in a “who wears the pants” home dichotomy.

But I do think there is a certain masculine pride that prohibits him from claiming the “me time” I have no problem enjoying (either on my own or with friends)—that if he’s doing something purely for his own enjoyment and not for the benefit of his business or family, then it’s a waste of time. While I am fine with his social life remaining the way it is, I do wish he would more confidently claim “his” time, if for the selfish reason that it will make me feel like there’s nothing wrong with me claiming my own.

My mom always says that in each relationship there has to be a talker and a listener, otherwise the couple either sits in silence or fights for the spotlight. Far from being a fault of his, as long as he’s happy, I’m grateful for my husband’s quieter social life. It lets me go out—and bring home things to talk about.

Claire Zulkey
Claire Zulkey
Claire Zulkey is a writer living in Evanston, Illinois. You can find out more about her at Zulkey.com.

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