Benjamin Franklin wasn’t kidding when he wrote, in Poor Richard’s Almanac, “Fish and visitors smell in three days.” Especially if you are an introvert and live alone 99% of the time. Even when the guest is your best friend of forty years.
Since I moved to Albuquerque several years ago, Jane, whose idea it was to write this article, has been spending Christmas with me. I usually go to visit her in Denver in the spring or fall. When the subject of introversion came up, it was obvious to me that I was an introvert, but I had never thought about whether or not she was, too, and how that might affect our relationship. She fits all the criteria, certainly…but she also likes to talk more than I do, and never runs out of things to say. As entertaining as that can be, I am simply not used to talking or listening so much during a day, much less for several days in a row. It can distract me, and drain me of energy, especially if there is something else I need to be doing or thinking about as the host. Let me tell you how we have worked things out by understanding and accepting our introverted natures.
If you are an introverted host:
- Remodel your garage into a guest suite. OK, that’s probably not feasible for everyone, but that’s what I did. I figure the more privacy my houseguests have, the more privacy I have too, and the more I can tolerate – er, I mean enjoy — their company. Plus this way I don’t have to share my bathroom either.
- You don’t have to spend every minute with your guests. Really, you don’t. If they are tourists with their own car, I like to point them in the right direction and say, “Have a nice day, I can’t wait to hear all about it at dinner!”
If you are an introverted guest:
- Don’t be shy about saying you’d rather stay in a hotel, if that’s the case. Some people are offended by that, but I’m not sure why as long as you aren’t asking them to pay for it. Make sure to tell them sincerely how much you are looking forward to spending time with them, but also make it clear that you need time alone to recharge your batteries because you are an introvert. If they look at you funny, this is your chance to educate them on the subject.
If your host is introverted:
- Jane knows I start my day slower than she does, so she sometimes goes out to sit in the hot tub with a good book and a Diet Pepsi while I check my email, drink coffee, and wake up in silence
- Do offer to help (e.g. in the kitchen), but don’t insist. It could be that your host is using that time alone in the kitchen to unwind in silence after a long day together.
If your guest is introverted:
- If you can’t dedicate a whole room to your guest, consider putting up a screen in the corner of the room where they will be sleeping so that they will have a place to retreat and recharge.
- Jane is over-stimulated by shopping malls, superstores, and crowds. So I shop for anything we might need (even if it’s just groceries) before she arrives. I ask her in advance what special things she might need and get those while I’m at it.
If you are both introverted:
- This is when it gets easy, because you both know how the other feels.
- No matter how early I rise, as long as we have no specific morning plans, I let Jane sleep as long as she possibly can. She’s on vacation, after all, but this also gives me time to myself. Of course, this is easier the more private your guest room is.
- Stick to mutually desirable activities and don’t try to do too much in a day.
- Declare an afternoon “me-time” so you can both recharge however you see fit (i.e. napping or reading). Then neither of you will be cranky at dinnertime.
- Work out a mutually agreeable signal, or just say, “No more talking, OK?”, if you need to suspend the conversation and concentrate on something else for a few minutes (or longer).
- One of the things we implemented long ago is something we call “The List”. The List is where we jot down topics of conversation that we don’t want to forget to address during our visit. We keep in touch between visits, of course, but some topics are best discussed in person or in depth. This way we can feel free to declare, “No more talking, OK?” without the other person worrying that we might not get to their favorite topic.
As with any relationship, every situation is different, and the key to guest/host relations is communication. You can read more of my tips for making guests feel comfortable in my blog article: Is Your Guest Room Guest Worthy?
This year Jane and I were both a little sadder to part than usual. While definitely looking forward to getting back to normal, we weren’t quite as anxious as usual to retreat to our respective homes and introverted lives. And she was here for four days!
How do you deal with having, or being, a houseguest? Let us know by leaving a comment!
Hazel Thornton is a professional organizer and genealogist based in Albuquerque, New Mexico; creator of The Clutter Flow Chart Collection; and author of Go with the Flow! The Clutter-Clearing Tool Kit for an Organized Life. Visit her online at www.org4life.com.
Back in NJ I was frequently invited to family parties at my neighbor’s home. I did two things to keep my sanity: 1. I brought my camera so I could wander around and take photos without having to sit with anyone unless I wanted to. They often asked me to take photos for their albums. 2. When I had enough people, I told my hostess that I had enough and needed to go home. She was fine with it and was never insulted. When I have people over for dinner or BBQ, I would retreat to the kitchen to do the dishes to get away from all the talking. When asked if they could help, I told them why I preferred to do it alone. Honesty is my policy. I have found that my mother and I share a tendency to limit togetherness. She will disappear into her room and I am relieved to be alone for a while to read or watch TV. No one is ever upset. My only problem is being in a group who talk about politics endlessly. I am polite but squirm. In the past with another group, I would pull my book out and read it at the table or if I was really squirmy I would sit at the bar and read. Again people understood.
Good strategies, Ann! Glad you have had friends who understand.
I am soon going to be retiring and my husband and I will be moving to Florida. Unfortunately, I know all of my siblings will want to visit and most of them will probably rent near us. I could probably tolerate a 5 or 6 day visit but longer than that, I’m telling them, “you’re on your own” I.e. rent your own place. How do you keep family at a distance? I have been away from them (2 states away) for 30 years of my life, now it seems they all want to live near one another, but I do not.
Hi Joy, have you retired to FL by now? Or not yet? Funny you should ask this question. Here’s why: My family has been spread all over the country, with one of my 3 brothers living in NM, for decades. Over the last 10 years three relatives (me, aunt, dad) have moved, one by one, to be near him and each other. I asked how he felt about it and he said, only half jokingly, “Paradise lost.” I guess what saves us all is that we are all single introverts, so it’s not like a big crowd when we get together, and no one really sees more of anyone else than is mutually agreeable. Would you really mind if your siblings lived nearby as long as they had lives of their own and were not staying with you? Here’s a trick: My dad, brother, and I have a weekly standing breakfast date at a restaurant. (And I see my aunt weekly at our mutual volunteer job.) If one of use can’t make it for some reason, that’s OK, and the other two still meet. This way, we ‘re not always wondering whose turn it is to plan something, and when it will be, and no one has to host, and it’s only as long as it takes to eat breakfast and visit a little. Do you think that (or something like it) would work for you?
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Fantastically soothing post for those if us who get all anxious just seeing the words “guest room”. Thanks for detailing the nuts and bolts of how to enjoy hosting the people we love and still honoring our own needs.
Hi Lucy! I love that you found it “fantastically soothing”. 🙂 I think the more we talk about introversion, the easier it is to say to others: “Goodnight, you can stay up as long as you want, but I’m going to go to bed now.” Or whatever.
This is great stuff! I once declined an invitation to stay with someone because I didn’t know whether I’d have my own room and didn’t want to ask. I wish there was a good way to bring this up, because I might have missed out on a good trip.
I’ve done the same thing, Janet. I think it would be totally insulting to ask, “Will I have a room to myself, with a door that closes, and is it nice?” and then decline if the answer doesn’t satisfy you! But these days I think it might be more acceptable to say, “I really appreciate the invitation, but I’m an introvert who really needs her me-time. I’d love to see you, though. Is there a nearby hotel you can recommend?” Maybe they’ll say, “I know exactly what you mean! That’s why we have a charming guest cottage out back!” It’s not just about the quality of the lodgings, though…it’s about all that time that extroverted friends and family want to spend with you! Yikes! Sometimes they want your company right up until lights out, and first thing in the morning, too. They might feel it’s not as fun if you are staying elsewhere, but I don’t see why their feelings should trump ours. If we make it about us, and our introverted needs, rather that about them and their possibly substandard lodgings, I think we’ll be okay!
I wish I’d thought of that! I’m sure it would have been a lovely trip (I had no plans; she invited me when she found out how seldom I travel) but I couldn’t get past the thought of sleeping on a couch in the rec room and waking up to find her kids staring at me. For me, it’s more about the privacy than the me-time, but she knows I am an introvert, so it shouldn’t have been that hard to be open and honest.
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