Defending the Introverts, Defining Mutuality

If I had to put money on the table next to what I thought was a primary barrier to women building new friendships, I’d put it next to a mistaken view of what mutuality means.

Sure, lack of time will be listed as a more common excuse, but when a woman decides to be more proactive about fostering healthy friendships around her, the fear of unequal give-and-take can stall many budding friendships before they have a chance to get started.

Our Fear of Unequal Give-and-Take

We use language like “the ball is in her court” and “I don’t want to impose” and “I invited her last time so this time I’ll wait to see if she reciprocates.” We justify our wait-and-see approach by reminding ourselves that we sent the last email or initiated the most recent plans, and we conclude that we’re always the ones doing the inviting.   Not this time, we say. This time it’s her turn.

A beautiful sculpture from Tolla entitled "Give-and-Take" reminds us that balance doesn't mean we're both on the same side, doing the same thing.

While we may not call it a fear of rejection, we are in part acting out of that fear. We don’t want to come across as desperate. We don’t want to feel like we’re putting ourselves out there all the time, unsure if it’s wanted.  We’ve been told we don’t need to put up with any behavior that isn’t perfectly mutual. We want to feel like they like us too.  We want to feel wanted. We definitely don’t want to be the ones who give more than we receive again.  So we protect our egos and wait her out.

In the meantime, our budding relationship never gets momentum so it never really happens.  And we’re left complaining that no one out there seems to be interested in a mutual friendship.

Our Misunderstanding of Mutuality

On Friday evening I was sitting in a room with two friends.  Both lean toward introversion when it comes to interacting with people.  (Which means they have amazing people skills but being around people can cost them more energy than it gives them.) I was basking in the glow of how intimate those relationships felt, both of them so able to engage in deep, beautiful, meaningful conversations.  Their questions were thoughtful, their intuition spot on, and their love so genuine.

But if it had been up to either of them to get the three of us together it wasn’t likely to have happened. I initiated.

As I had the week before.

And as I had the week prior to that.

The truth is that there are just many, many people out there who have so much to offer a friendship– but initiating and scheduling may not be their forte.  That doesn’t mean they don’t love us or want to be with us.  And it certainly doesn’t mean they don’t have other meaningful ways to give to us. It just means they aren’t going to assertively send out the invitation. Or if they do, it won’t be as frequently as it might be for some of the rest of us.

This is not limited to introverts.  Take any self-awareness inventory and there are always types of people where scheduling and initiating will not come naturally for them. I’ve been studying the Enneagram which has nine types of people, and three of the types are withdrawing types, which means they tend to step back or retreat when there is stress (which any new situation can cause.) So that’s at least a third of our potential friends who won’t be out there trying to schedule time with us.

Even beyond personalities and types, we know that we all have different love languages.  Someone with the love language of quality time might tend to be more aware of reaching out with invitations than someone with the love language of gift giving.

Just add stress and busy-ness to any of our lives (even those of us who are extroverts, schedulers, and assertive types) and we may not reciprocate in the way you want, when you want.  But that also doesn’t mean we wouldn’t make great friends who will give to you in other ways!

What Does Mutual Really Mean?

As I sat there Friday evening thinking how lucky anyone would be to have these two individuals in their lives, it occurred to me how few people will get that opportunity if they only build a friendship with someone else who reaches out an equal amount.

Mutuality cannot be confined to 50/50 scheduling.  Equality doesn’t mean sameness.  Being in a give-and-take relationship doesn’t mean we give-and-take in the same ways.

For those of us who live with someone– we know that having someone else divvy up the household chores doesn’t mean we each vacuum half the room and cook half the meal. It means I tend to track our finances and he tends to make sure dishes don’t pile up in the sink. Balance doesn’t mean we split up every chore, but that we both contribute to the overall picture.

Somehow, in friendship, we have elevated the scheduling and initiating “chore” to becoming the litmus test for an equal friendship.

What we risk if we wait for equal initiations is missing the gift that introverts or non-initiators can bring to our lives.  And we risk feeling rejected if we wrongly attach that meaning to their lack of initiation.  And worst of all, we’re still left without the friendships that we crave because we just sat and waited, allowing the momentum to falter.

Give. Give. Give.

I am all for balanced friendships.  I don’t want you to feel used.  I want you to be in a relationship that feels mutual.

But if you are a GirlFriend who is good at initiating– then do it. Generously. Invite her five times in a row.  Be the one who is okay calling to start the conversation. Give where you’re best, knowing you will be blessed by how she gives to you in different ways. And know how lucky you are that you have the ability to give in a way that starts friendships!

And if you recognize that you’re someone who struggles to initiate– then at least be sure to tell your friends/potential friends how much you appreciate it when they do. Express your gratitude, lest they ever feel that you’re not interested. Tell them what it means to you that they keep calling. Recognize that this gift they give is a necessary ingredient in the building of a friendship.

What we need is a little less judgment of each other and a little more hopeful curiosity to discover and appreciate who the other person is.


I blogged on the perceived imbalance in give-and-take friendships for a two-part series for the Huffington Post: In Friendship, Do You Give More than You Receive? and Six Ways to Bring Balance to Your Relationships if you’re interested in more reading on this subject.

This entry was posted in Consistency, Defining Friendship, Difficulty & Challenges, Fears, Judging Others, Love Languages & Types, Making Friends, Our Mistakes, Strengths and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Defending the Introverts, Defining Mutuality

  1. Eydie Watts says:

    I have tears in my eyes….Thank you so much for this.

  2. Sara says:

    There you go again Shasta! Sometimes I wonder if we are lost sisters…haha…no really, these are my thoughts exactly…you hit the nail on the head once again. Thank you!! Thank you because I need to hear this.

  3. Maggie says:

    Thanks for this wonderful post. I’m an introvert who finds it very hard to initiate when friendships are new or if I feel insecure about the friendship in any way. I know this has probably prevented some friendships that could have been great from ever getting off the ground, but I’m learning to break through my fear and initiate more. Another important thing about introverts is that extroverts need to understand that if we go into our “caves” during stress or illness and they don’t hear from us, it’s not because we don’t like them, it’s because we simply don’t have the energy or resources at that time to give to the relationship, and if they are patient we will be eternally grateful when the difficult time has passed.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      I smiled at your use of the word “caves” but knew immediately what you meant…. I can go into mine too! And I love that you can communicate to your friends not to take it personally…. To actually know what we each need and learn to ask for it from our friends takes great maturity. Thanks for posting!

  4. ally says:

    I am an introvert and also, for the most part, I enjoy my own company. It is hard for me to relate in a group of more than 2 or 3. I am much better on a one-to-one basis. I have been no good at making friends and as I look back on my early friendships, I realize that they were initiated by the other person. I am so glad that they happened. So, yes, thank you for defending the introvert.

  5. Fascinating post, Shasta! I fall on the cusp of extrovert / introvert so I can relate to both sides of what you’ve written here. Some days I just want time to myself to get things done and relax. Others I am chomping at the bit to gather with a group of friends. One thing I’d love to add to this discussion is that everyone, no matter who you are, introvert or extrovert, has some responsibility (as a grown up) to adapt and stretch at least a little beyond what comes naturally to us. Also we need to offer understanding and give a little slack to the variations on the spectrum. And let’s not forget that the care and feeding of any relationship is still a two-way street. My new book The Intentional Networker goes into this a little in terms of connecting and reaping the value of business relationships. Eager to read some of your other posts and consider your insights. Thanks!

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Welcome to the conversation Patti! I whole-heartedly agree with all your points– we should be willing to stretch and love each other outside of what comes naturally! We just shouldn’t take personally the fact that not everyone else is wired with the same inclinations and abilities as we are (and they offer us tons of things in different ways!) So nice to meet you and congrats on your new book!

  6. Kristal says:

    I am one of those quintessential extroverts and typically someone who ends up doing most of the planning in my friendships over the years. There have been times that I felt some small disappointment in always being that person, but over the years I have realized that planning is actually something I enjoy and the gift of time that I receive in planning time with friends makes it all worth it, no matter how many times its up to me. 🙂

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Oh thank you so much for leaving this comment! What great modeling. I do think most of us enjoy it as long as we don’t take it personally, or hold those expectations for others.

  7. Fran says:

    I like where you said “not everyone else is wired with the same inclinations and abilities.” I am an introvert, and I also lack social skills. My mother was introverted, I suppose, and also didn’t want to get close to people outside our family (due to some devastating losses when she was young that affected her ability to trust others). So I had no role model for adult friendships. I would like to initiate, but I don’t know how, so I have the inclinations, just not the abilities. I am working on that, though. Thanks for helping people see that initiating doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Oh thank you so much Fran for sharing your experience. It’s so good for us to keep remembering that everyone has a gift to offer to our friendships, even if it’s not initiation. I love that you can own the inclinations, rather than trying to pretend it doesn’t matter. (Also– in January I will start my next cycle of my 21-Day Journey of Friendship program– watch for it as that one-month process really teaches a lot about what friendships we have, what we want, and how to move toward them– if you’re interested!)

    • Diane says:

      I too often lack the social skills to dive into the conversation. I would like to overcome my shallowness and delve deeper, but I know not how! Like you, my mother was introverted. I did not have the role model for adult friendships either. Like mother like daughter? Yikes!!!!!

  8. Amy says:


    I appreciate this post so much. I shared it with my Bestie, who is an introvert, and I am an extrovert. We are very much opposites in about every way possible. Your post opened up a frank discussion between us about how amazing it is we even get along, but it’s all about the give & take we are willing to grant each other, and work with and appreciate our differences rather than let them hurt our friendship. Outside of my immediate family, she’s the best thing to ever happen to me, and I appreciate your insights that sparked our own discussion. I love your blog!

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Amy- thank you for leaving this comment. What a gift the two of you have, as evidenced by the fact that you could engage in a conversation like you did. Love it! And thanks for affirming how meaningful a friendship can be, even if we’re wired differently.

  9. Diane says:

    Innie or outie. Everyone needs friends!

  10. Lorraine says:

    your blog is amazing!!!
    i am new here. young lady, 22, this really helps. Just wanted to say thanksc:

  11. Cynthianne says:

    As always, this is an insightful and lovely post, Shasta. As an extrovert who’s often guilty of keeping score when it comes to “initiating” activities with friends, I needed this gentle reminder.

    But I have to admit there are other issues at work for me here. While I tend to be very social, I’ve struggled in the past with people who are too pushy and smothering — people who try to force a close friendship too quickly. Because I’m sensitive to that, I try to avoid showering friends with too much attention, especially at first. I respect their personal boundaries and try to get a sense of how much contact a new friend wants — or doesn’t want.

    Admittedly, when I’m always the first to initiate get-togethers with a friend — more than two or three times in a row — I tend to back off totally. Just like you said. But I will reconsider, now that you’ve got me thinking. Thanks again!

  12. Jennifer says:

    I really like this post. I was actually digging around the blog looking for something that might answer this very question for me. I often feel like if I initiate two or three times, and then they don’t initiate back then they probably didn’t want to be friends with me so I back off. I’m a member on the site and I wonder why I’m the only one reaching out to make new friends, no one has contacted me first. I need to remember that I shouldn’t keep score and they are probably in the same boat as me sometimes. Thank you for this post.

  13. Kierra says:

    I am an outgoing extrovert who thinks that my balance would be a shy introvert. I kind of do not want anyone like me. I would love to have someone who I can pour into and vice versa. My weakness (thinking things through rationally) could be her strength and great for our relationship. Her weakness (standing out in a group and being verbal) may be her weakness and I can step in for her. I am sure we will find meaningful things in common or of interest as well.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Kierra– I love that you can see how fabulous various combinations can be. Here’s holding hope with you that you find the friendships with women who admire you and don’t want to change you, and who you can do the same for…. xoxo

  14. Rachel B says:

    I’m introverted, but I tend to do most of the initiating in my relationships. When it comes to good friends, I definitely can get frustrated sometimes, feeling like they must not like me as much as I like them, and I always have to remind myself that some people are just oblivious to the concept of planning! When it comes to new friendships, that’s scarier, however, because I really *don’t* know yet if the other person likes me. I also hate small talk, but have a hard time moving past it with people I’m just getting to know. I need to work on that!