When your partner is more popular than you

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Photo: Cultura/JPM

Recently, I was confronted by a troubling realisation: I think my partner might be more popular than me. 

The notion struck me on return from an overseas trip, where we attended back-to-back weddings, he – at least to begin with – in a ‘plus-one’ capacity. 

But after a few weeks of relentless partying, socialising and touring, I came away in need of some alone time (and detox), while he returned with a posse of new pals – a series of holiday bromances, if you will. 

Everyone loved him, and not just the blokes. His warmth and easy-going nature charmed the socks off one and all, young and old. Rarely would a day pass without someone sidling up to me to sing his praises.

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At first, I was quietly chuffed. It seems only natural to want your partner to be liked by your friends. But with hopes and dreams laid bare, summer plans formed and phone numbers exchanged, the love fest culminated in a jarring statement via the lips of an old friend – “You’ve certainly done well for yourself there.”

(I’d always secretly harboured a belief that it was he who had been lucky in love!)

Am I jealous? I wondered, abashed, as a hazy memory of school-ground ostracism stirred in my mind. What if my friends really do prefer him to me?

And so, I sought counsel, drawing comfort from the thought that a psychologist, surely, was ethically constrained from calling me ‘childish’ and telling me just to “get over it”.

“It's OK to have jealous feelings,” Jasmine Sliger reassured me. “It’s only when we compare ourselves to others, especially our successful partners, that it can bring us undone.”

Hmm. Perhaps, I was in trouble. After all, he is highly successful in the art of making friends.

In the early days, I reveled in the fact that my mates had embraced my new beau. I could release him into a crowded room, join my throng of wine-guzzling girlfriends and he'd fend for himself, and . . .  well, thrive.

But six years on, I sometimes find myself gazing longingly at couples who hover together at events and retire at a respectable hour, while we practice what could be described as a ‘check-in’ system. He’ll pop by to see if I have any cash to buy his new friends a round of drinks, for example, or kindly reassure me that if I need to leave before him he’ll quite understand.

And these days, I do. As Sliger explains, reserved people prefer to be energised by concepts and ideas, while extroverts are energised by people and actions. As my partner continues close-talking conversation with new, inebriated pals, I’ll hail a cab as my introverted self begins to tire of the chatter.  

“There's often one person who's more of a party animal than the other,” psychologist Amanda Gordon tells me. “Opposites do attract and while there may sometimes be risks associated with beginning a relationship with someone so different to yourself, don't panic – differences are also really exciting and should be celebrated." 

It’s about working together, Gordon says, to create a relationship that works for both partners.

Perhaps being popular is more closely tied to personality types than I had originally imagined – a reassuring thought. If an extrovert is happiest surrounded by others, it’s no wonder they’ll gain friends quicker than a quieter soul hovering on the fringe.

“The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting,” writes Susan Cain in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. “For some, it's a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk… Love is essential, gregariousness is optional.” 

Time will tell if a ‘fear of missing out’ will prevent my partner from dragging himself away from the party when a car arrives to collect us as our wedding reception draws to a close. He assures me that his own wedding will be the exception that proves the rule.

The not-knowing is simply the cross I bear for falling for an extrovert. And I think I’m – finally, maybe – OK with that.

(Oh, and all those new pals...Well, they're now coming to our wedding.)

17 comments

  • Popularity depends on the person. Without wanting to generalise, I've observed a person who desires popularity for no particular reason, uses it as a tool to feed ego, possibly due to insecurity - a need for validation. So if you see popularity as a means to perhaps run a business, that to me fares better than self-validation.
    On a side note, to be honest, as an introvert who can do fairly well - but would prefer not to fake - with extroversion, I feel relieved that my significant other is a natural social butterfly who is able to make friends and connections with anyone - and when I say anyone, its from barrister to barista, with so much ease. I feel relieved because I dislike forging non-personal relationships. It feels insincere. Hence, I try to approach every person genuinely, even if I know I might not see that person again.

    Commenter
    La Luna
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    January 16, 2014, 10:19AM
    • Now...I think I'm going to offend the writer here, but the obvious bit that seems to be missing here is that her partner appears to be ignoring her and taking her for granted, regardless of how much she thinks he is very popular with other people.
      If I was in the writers shoes I would make myself a little less available for the partner and his friends, and spend some time doing what I enjoy.
      While it's true that opposites may attract, and one may be very very social, while the other is quieter, I feel two people can live their lives quite happily together working around this.
      And because the writers partner is doing "his" thing, than it stands to reason he should'nt be upset for his partner to do "her" thing if he is a reasonable person, and if she wants to do quieter activities then so be it.
      Being "popular" is hard work the way I see it, having to keep "friends" happy etc...quite often when hard times hit the "popular" crowd that hang around disappear in a puff of smoke.
      Quieter people need to understand that although they don't feel "popular" when it comes to
      the "crunch" they may find they have a lot more admirers from afar and friends than they thought they had, and sometimes more hidden "friends" than the popular people in my old experience.

      Commenter
      BC
      Date and time
      January 16, 2014, 11:41AM
      • I had this with my ex husband. We used to joke that he was the perpetual "last man standing". I went home many a night solo, waiting for him to come home when he'd finished up socialising. He'd go off and chat to everyone but me. Come back for cash and to check momentarily I was ok.

        I honestly wish I'd left him sooner. The fact you are pondering whether you'll leave your own wedding before him ... I feel sad for you.

        I now have a partner that sees me as the best bit of any event / party / social gathering. I find that pretty darn cool. But each to their own.

        Commenter
        Abi
        Location
        At Home
        Date and time
        January 16, 2014, 1:44PM
        • So you need to be the centre of attention for your partner? Instead of being your own person capable of independence. I find that pretty darn sad. But hey, each to their own.

          Commenter
          Freddie Frog
          Date and time
          January 16, 2014, 3:28PM
      • A couple I know are both pathologically extroverted were the last to leave their wedding reception, other than the staff. I know because I left just before them.

        You need to find a way for your partner to understand this, that you need quiet time, and you need him to be with you quietly sometimes.

        Commenter
        Brett
        Date and time
        January 16, 2014, 2:45PM
        • Give him Susan Cain's book mentioned in the article. I've read it and it's a fascinating read. As an introvert, I finally felt like I was normal. And she does describe and interview a few introvert/extrovert couples in it and talks about the difficulties they face and importance of compromise in their relationships. In fact, I recommend the book to everyone, introvert or extrovert or anywhere in between.

          Commenter
          Kit
          Date and time
          January 16, 2014, 6:50PM
      • If your partner has more time to spend with everyone else instead of with you, it's time to re-consider if you are the most important person in his life at all. It doesn't sound like he is very interested in you. If you marry him, be prepared to spend the majority of your married life alone and despairing, because you will always come second to him talking and spending time with everyone else - and THAT is NOT a partnership.

        Commenter
        Sydney Chick
        Date and time
        January 16, 2014, 3:26PM
        • Sydney Chick, you are so right there. I was married to someone like that and in the end it drove me insane. I didn't get married just to be on my own. Don't get me wrong, I didn't want to be joined at the hip but you need some sort of balance. I have a partner now who respects that I'm not an extrovert. When we go to outings he always makes sure I'm by his side. Sometimes we do drift but that's ok. And we always go home together at a reasonable hour knowing that neither of us need to be the last one standing.

          Commenter
          Loops
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          January 16, 2014, 6:54PM
      • This is bit of a first-world problem isn't it? But the extrovert/introvert question is interesting. I think E/I couples tend to be better balanced, and as long as the E partner takes good care of the I partner, the I could probably adapt to being the less popular one.

        Commenter
        Screen
        Date and time
        January 16, 2014, 4:28PM
        • So you think people in developing nations don't question and struggle with personal relationships? That's rather racist of you.

          Seriously, pulling the 'first world problems' card is often a really snide way of undermining people's concerns and experiences, and it belies quite a lot of ignorance about what the 'third world' is really like as well.

          Commenter
          Hazy and Dolorous
          Date and time
          January 16, 2014, 9:51PM

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