Introvert Mondays: Friends, Acquaintances, and the Complication of Seminary Life

Surprisingly, I was very active in extracurricular activities in high school.  Band, youth group, cross country, theater, and other various clubs filled my evenings and weekends.  Consequently, I had a very large social group that I interacted with on a regular basis.  Often I would see this large social group nearly every school day.  I would interact with them without any problems when going to large get togethers.  However, within this large social group was a smaller group of people that I had a closer relationship with.  This small group was the people I sat with at lunch, the people I called as soon as we received our semester schedule so we could compare class times, and the people I contacted when I was bored during school breaks.  I categorized the smaller group as my friends and the larger group as my acquaintances.  One day I became aware of how I categorized my social group and started to question why I thought of the big group as only acquaintances.  I liked them and we generally got along, I just didn’t have the same level of intimacy with them as I had with my smaller group.  Why weren’t they considered friends?

Friends and Acquaintances
This separation between friends and acquaintances is actually common for introverts.  Sophia Dembling states in The Introvert’s Way, “First of all, [introverts] set the bar pretty high for friendship.  What an extrovert might call a friend, [introverts would] call an acquaintance,” (pg. 165).  I realize this sounds like introverts create their own exclusive friendship club that shut out most of the people they interact with on a regular basis, that’s not the case.  For me, I can socialize and have fun with people who aren’t necessarily on my “friends” list.  I may even know them well enough to enjoy talking to them about a specific topic.  They’re just not people that I would call when I feel like meeting someone for a cup of coffee or someone I would discuss a personal problem with.  Sophia Dembling explains what criteria she has to consider someone a friend, “For me, it’s someone I don’t feel alone with.  Who doesn’t bore me.  Whose life I connect with and who takes reciprocal interest in my life.  It’s someone I feel comfortable turning to when I need to be talked off the ledge, and for whom I am glad to return the favor,” (pg. 126).  Sounds intense, doesn’t it?  But remember, that’s what introverts do well–focus intensely on a subject or person.  However, for the sake of seeming less picky and cold, I have be working on relabeling my relationship categories to “friends” and “close friends” instead of “acquaintances” and “friends.”

Challenges of Friendship During the Seminary Years

However, despite my efforts to relabel my relationships, I still find that I start to struggle when I am only surrounded by acquaintances.  I need close friendships in my life, otherwise my inner world becomes trapped inside me without an outlet.  Naturally, my husband provides one of those close relationships that I desire, but we’ve found that he can’t be the sole provider of such a relationship.  However, creating intimate relationships often take time.  Laurie Helgoe, author of Introvert Power, explains, “Comfort in relationships is key for introverts, so time is an important factor in existing relationships as well.  Sometimes it just takes a certain amount of hanging out together before we feel safe enough to disclose the good stuff,” (pg. 126).  Every once in awhile I will simply “click” with someone, but for the most part I need months of consistent contact before I start to consider placing someone on my “friends” list.

Several of the books on introversion I’ve read do have tips on how to make new friends.  Generally the advice is helpful, albeit exhausting.  This process wouldn’t be so bad–everyone should occasionally make a new friend–except moves keep interfering with my friendships.  Every time I start making a close friend, one of us moves!  When my husband and I got married, I moved 350 miles away from my home.  I didn’t have any friends nearby.  It was hard and I was lonely.  About 6 months after our move, I started to get closer with a few seminary wives.  However, their husbands were a year ahead of my husband, so they left for vicarage that summer.  Once again, I found myself without any friends nearby.  It was hard and I was lonely.  Then I started the friendship-making process again and started to develop some close relationships during the year.  This past summer, my husband and I moved 650 miles away for his vicarage.  Once again, I found myself without any friends nearby.  It was hard and I was lonely.  Last month, I finally started to connect with a couple of congregation members and we’re becoming what I would consider close friends.  But this summer my husband and I will move again, so I’ll say good-bye to more sprouting friendships.  Even though we’ll return to a familiar town with familiar faces, I still worry about trying to jump-start relationships with people I haven’t seen in over a year.  I’m also tired of making friends.  Remember the children song that says, “Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver and the other, gold.”  Yeah, at this point it’s a bunch of B.S.–I would rather forgo making new friends at this point and just stick with the golden old friends I have.

In all fairness, friendships during the seminary years aren’t easy for introverts or extroverts.  I’ve heard comments from extroverted sem. wives that even their moves created a similar friendless feeling.  But sometimes I wonder if the extroverts in the sem. community are better at faking it until they make it.  Sophia Dembling again states, “I don’t suggest that true friendship is different for extroverts, but superficial relationships may be more satisfying for them than they are for [introverts], a better placeholder when true friends are out-of-pocket,” (pg. 128).  Even though people say the best way to make new friends is to hang out with groups that you may not know very well, I would rather stay home and forgo the discomfort of making small talk.  And don’t even get me started about ice breakers. . .*

Despite the constant moves, I am blessed to have several close friends.  Even though most of these friends live hours away, I still stay in consistent contact with them via e-mail and phone calls.  One  friend I haven’t seen in over a year and a half, but I still see her as a source of support.  Still, phone calls and e-mails can’t provide quite the same connection that hanging out over a cup of coffee or enjoying a movie together.  Consequently, this summer I will once again try to find the will-power to awkwardly try to form a deeper connection with the people around me and ask an acquaintance, “Wanna meet for coffee sometime?”  Wish me luck; my weary, friendship-making self needs it!

How do you make new friends in a new place?  Does anyone else feel fatigued after making new friends year after year?

*Question:  Has anyone ever started a friendship playing an icebreaker game?  I know I haven’t!


3 Comments on “Introvert Mondays: Friends, Acquaintances, and the Complication of Seminary Life”

  1. You may find that you cling to the wives in your husbands class who you are even a little bit close too and that you avoid meeting new ones, just because it is hard, and time is short. I would have considered myself an extrovert, but I sympathize with your words here. It is hard and it is lonely. My prayer concerning call is simply "send us somewhere that we will never want to move away from" because I want (for myself and for my children) to be done always having to make new friends.

  2. Katrina says:

    There's a lot of truth in what you said about clinging to the wives that you are already have some familiarity with. One of the suggestions that was often repeated in tips for making friends as introverts was to reach out to people you're already acquainted with–it's easier than trying to go into a crowd of strangers and come out with a friend. I think because of SWA, there are several women I've already made solid contact with and could possibly become closer to with a little more time. 🙂 But yes, I pray as well that my husband gets a call where we're satisfied and can stay for many years so I can stop making new friends all the time. I also keep telling myself that I'm on the home stretch: There are only two more major moves for us during the seminary years!

  3. […] I realize that I’m not the easiest person to get to know.  I’ve mentioned before that it takes a long time for me to consider a person a friend and that shyness and introversion make socializing difficult.  Between these two factors, I feel […]

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