It was 9AM when I came through the door. I had started by meeting a friend for brunch the day before, then gone on to an afternoon pub session with some pals. That turned into a cheap Italian dinner out, followed a sweaty club night, all concluding with me catching the tube home on a misty, Autumn morning. As I got into bed, my boyfriend Sam was just waking up. At opposite ends of the sleep cycle, we had a little cuddle, and he gently mocked my rambling account of the previous 24-hours, before getting on with his day. This is not an uncommon Sunday morning occurance in my house – but we’ve not always managed such blissful domestic tolerance. They say opposites attract – and they might well be right. But opposites successfully negotiating wildly differing appetites for socialising, all within a long-term relationship? Not such a recipe for success. If this sounds painfully familiar, you’ll likely also recognise the feeling of frustration it can bring to a relationship. This is one area in which it can be hard to compromise: you either go to the pub, or you don’t. Dragging someone out who’d rather be at home with a good boxset rarely ends well for either party – but who wants a partner who prevents them from seeing their friends or having fun? It seems like a lose-lose situation.
I like to gather people around me. I like making connections, forging friendships through dancing and drinking and rattling around in the bewitching half-light of dusk and dawn. My boyfriend likes one-to-ones, deep friendships and doing stuff as a couple. He wants nights in; I want all-nighters. We do often go out together and have a lovely time, but it has been known to go wrong… my social butterflying makes his occasional social anxiety flare up. Instead of reassuring him, I flit.
We’re far from being the only couple in this predicament. The clash between introverts and extroverts seems to be incredibly common in modern relationships. “A third to a half of the population are introverts,” points out Susan Cain, author of Quiet and giver of the influential TED talk ‘The power of introverts’. “Introverts feel most alive [in] more low key environments.” Extroverts, meanwhile, cannot help but crave external stimulation. And, as you’ll know if you’re the party animal half of a couple, when that stimulation comes in the form of drinks and drugs, you potentially have a toxic situation.
“I was much more into big nights than my boyfriend,” Gemma,* 27, tells me about an ex. “It was a sore point from very early on, when I went to a festival without him and took drugs, it totally freaked him out.” His disapproval ended up creating “quite weird behaviour in me”, she adds. “I just felt like he was spoiling my fun, which made me feel selfish, and then I felt bad for being selfish, and so on.” But sometimes, the socialising isn’t just a laugh – it comes with the job. Harriet, 29, always ends up in the pub with colleagues; they work intense hours and travel a lot. “I am more sociable than Sean anyway, but my work makes me way more sociable – there's drinking every night that leads to close friendships and sometimes not calling home or responding to text messages for hours. I love it, but I am more careful now. It definitely contributed to some difficult situations. I'm much more conscious of making sure I touch base.”
Denise Knowles, a counsellor for Relate, a national charity offering relationship counselling, recognises the appeal – and the trickiness – of mis-aligned couplings. “In the beginning of a relationship, it’s often those differences that draw a couple together. The problems come about when they don’t want to do the same things and become really quite resentful…” Being honest about what you’re up to, and checking in with your partner, is an important foundation if you’re ever going to turn "mismatched" into "happily matched". A night spent worrying about a loved one’s welfare can – understandably – turn to indignant anger. However much fun you’re having, there’s always time for a badly-spelt text saying, "Don't wait up’". Not that an apparent mismatch is always a bad thing. Stevie, 29, says she actively seeks out people who balance her: “I tend to go for people who are more grounded and less impulsively mischievous when it comes to unexpected all-nighters and party crawls. I like being with someone who has a more readily operated off switch. In my experience, partying to different levels isn’t a problem in itself at all; the difficulty only arises when one or both of you wish the other one were different.” Denise agrees that this acceptance is crucial: “Difference is one of those things that can be very enhancing in a relationship – it gives you both something to talk about! You don’t have to do [the same things] – but listen and show some interest, and be pleased that your partner’s having a good time.” Finding joy in your partner’s hangover may not be easy – but learning to laugh at how totally dissimilar you are can take the sting out of it.
And even if compromise seems difficult, it’s worth making the gesture, Denise says. “The [mismatched] couple have to become very creative. It’s not impossible – but obviously sometimes it can be very draining on the person who’s really having to make the effort.” For people who find large groups difficult, for example, socialising can be “something they have to try very hard at. It’s something the partner who’s having the compromise made for them needs to really appreciate.” Gulp. She’s right. It can be easy to forget that my idea of megafun might actually be someone else’s hell. Unsurprisingly enough, Denise agrees that the key is to talk. Chatting properly when making plans can help; Sam and I now make sure we discuss, days before an event, whether he’s going to come out with me – or not. That way we’re less likely to snipe when we’re out, or suffer the aftermath. I went to three festivals this summer without him; I don’t think he viewed my muddy Doc Martens with the slightest bit of resentment. But I’ve also had to learn to give more importance to quiet time, and to actually schedule them in. We may be opposites, but I’m still definitely attracted enough to my opposite to clear the diary for him. Well, just as soon as I’ve slept off last night’s party… *Some names have been changed