by Amy Alkon
Q: I’m trying to take a break from dating and work on myself because I keep ending up with really jerky guys. I’m an extrovert—very social and outgoing—and I find it hard to just chill by myself. I get bored and lonely. I want to pick better guys, but I hate being alone on a Saturday night with a phone that doesn’t ring.—Conflicted
A: There’s nothing like that thrill of finally getting a text on some Saturday night—and then realizing that it’s just your grandma playing with her new iPhone.
Trying to embrace solitude sounds so adult and profound and good: “Yes, I’ll just be staying home making popcorn and watching TV with my existential crisis.” But as great as it is that you’re trying to retool your man-picking practices, this home alone thing might not be the best idea for an extrovert—a person who thrives on human contact, along with novelty and excitement. That’s how the psych literature defines an extrovert, but simply put, you’re a party animal—the sort who hurries to join in all the fun, as opposed to an introvert like my boyfriend, who, upon arriving at a party, will ask: “Do we really have to go inside?”
There’s a lot of inconclusive research on introversion and extroversion that’s breathlessly reported as conclusive. However, what seems clear is that extroversion isn’t just a preference; it’s a biologically driven personality trait—a consistent pattern of behavior that appears to come out of your brain’s being far more “sensation-seeking” than an introvert’s. Studies by psychologist Richard Depue and others suggest that extroverts get a “reward system” buzz from socializing that introverts don’t, and then have memories from it pop up like little infomercial pitchmen, urging, “Call now! Go after that buzz again!”
And while introverts’ brains are easily overloaded by stimuli—stuff going on around them—extroverts’ brains are far less sensitive to it, so they tend to need more of it. More people, more hubbub, more new and exciting experiences—to the point where a hot date with the accusatory stare of the cat can tempt an extrovertess to do something arrest-worthy just to shake things up and maybe get grabbed by a man.
In other words, think of your brain as a pet tiger that needs to be fed—with people and excitement. An important point to note is neuroscientist Wolfram Schultz’s finding that unpredictable rewards seem to be the most satisfying for the brain—maybe even three or four times as buzzy as those we see coming. Consider that your attraction may not be to bad guys so much as to the unpredictability and excitement they provide.
You can get your excitement—and the social mosh pit you long for—by spending weekend nights with like-minded friends. Trade off with them on planning the evening’s activity, and surprise one another with what it will be: Repo man ride-along? Cattle rustling? Danger tag (trying to outrun muggers)? Feeding your need for adventure should help you hold out for a man who’s exciting in a new way: In how he does what he says he will and even shows up on time—and not just by telephone from Mexico to tell you how to wire him bail money.
Q: I’m an attractive woman with “bitchy resting face.” Friends tell me to smile more so men will find me more approachable. I do notice that men like the happy, ditsy girls. It’s only in fashion magazines that the “ideal” girls are scowling.—Frownie
A: Of course the girls in fashion magazines are scowling. They’re in wildly uncomfortable shoes, and they haven’t had a hamburger since childhood.
The thing is, happy resting face can come with problems of its own. Social psychologist Antonia Abbey found that men can misread a woman’s mere friendliness “as a sexual come-on.” This seems especially true of smiling—to the point where 12 female Safeway workers filed grievances over the supermarket chain’s “smile-and-make-eye-contact” rule, which had led a number of male customers to believe that these women wanted to bag more than their beer and Cheerios.
So, conversely, yes, you may be missing opportunities with guys who mistake your “I want to have sex with you” scowl for an “I’d like you to go drown yourself” scowl. But really, all you need to do is be conscious of the power of a smile and, when you like a guy, look right at him and turn it on—kind of like flashing your brights. You’re basically putting a sign on the door—“Open for business! Come on in!”—correcting the message sent by your default glare: “Closed for renovations. And there’s a vagrant living in the hallway who may stab you.”