Dating can feel like a performance, which can be off-putting for introverts, who desire deep and authentic connection.
Dating in online swipe culture can feel especially challenging for us introverts, given our temperaments. (And dating’s never easy anyway, with or without an app — even though there are some great ones out there, including ones based on your Myers-Briggs personality type.)
Many introverts, myself included, feel the pressure to reduce descriptions of ourselves into neat, compact, and self-marketing little bundles. We might feel like we must be “on” in order for people to feel attraction or connection — which can take significant energy. We may also feel discouraged from being our authentic selves and experiencing our usual human range of emotions. In essence, dating can feel like a performance.
Like all people, though, we are deserving of love and connection. Here are some things to keep in mind for any introvert navigating the world of modern dating.
7 Dating Tips for Introverts
1. Come prepared with good questions.
Often during first-date conversations, people are merely reacting more than truly responding — even though many ideas, especially more complex ones, take time to process. We introverts may not feel we have time to do this under the pressure of a first-time interaction, where silences are viewed as the awkward conversation killer to be avoided at all costs. We’re not in our element, and our best qualities — the ability to be thoughtful, methodical, and listen — feel less appreciated and validated.
To avert this, come prepared with questions that you think could lead to interesting conversations. (After all, we introverts love to plan and think before we speak.) That way, you can go from small talk to deep talk. For example, if they’re a preschool teacher, ask something like: “What’s something your kids did today that made you laugh?” Or if they posted photos with their cat, you can say: “What’s Alistair’s quirkiest habit?” Or if they lived abroad, try: “I’m curious to hear about the food over there! I’m such a foodie. What are some of their staples?”
I love hearing stories like these and I generally love sharing them, too. Asking specific questions also shows that you’ve paid attention to their profile and/or what they’ve shared with you prior to meeting.
So have your questions ready in the back of your mind so that you’re not just defaulting to programmed fall-backs or a generic script when the conversation reaches a lull.
2. Choose an apt environment.
Many people, especially introverts, can draw upon an understanding of environmental psychology to optimize their experience in social settings, dates included. Awareness of environmental factors can lend insight into why we might be feeling or behaving a certain way.
Introverts tend to thrive when in low-key, low stimuli environments — which put us at ease and encourage us to be our best selves.
Personally, I usually leave loud, distracting environments. While I can hold my own in them when I’m with friends or people I know well, when I’m with someone I haven’t yet established a relationship with, those environments elicit more anxiety (and dating is anxiety-inducing enough!). My voice doesn’t carry, my system feels overactivated, and it’s harder for me to connect with my date. I’m distracted from responding in a truly engaged way, not to mention it’s also harder to read and respond to my own internal thoughts.
Knowing this about myself, I purposefully suggest places with ample comfortable seating, minimal noise, and calm lighting, as to minimize the chances for system overload.
Some people feel more comfortable when facing a window or when their back is to a wall so they can scan their surroundings for potential threats. Pay attention to how you feel in certain spaces so you can become more familiar with your own environmental triggers. And if any of the factors are within your control to modify, then do so. (For instance, I once asked a date to switch seats with me because the mirror behind her was distracting me. She was understanding and receptive to this.)
3. Practice grounding techniques.
If the environment is loud and you can’t escape it, naming objects (and their physical characteristics) inside the room can help bring you out of your head. You can say these things to yourself to help you get grounded. For example, maybe you see a plant with long green leaves between two bottles of Smirnoff on the shelf behind the bartender’s head. Or you notice an orange candle flickering on the black circular table next to you. Or you see that there are purple cushions covering the vintage wooden bar stools.
By focusing on the concrete, you’ll clear space in your mind and be in a better place to take in what your date is saying.
4. Do a shared activity to get out of your (overthinking) head.
At the beginning stages of forming a connection, two people are guarding this precious little flame (our hearts and souls) that burns within us. Connection happens when the two flames come together — but both people’s shields have to be down in order for this to happen. Lowering those shields can be hard for introverts. (It is for me, at least.) Plus, we introverts love to overthink: Are they having fun? Are we talking enough? Did they laugh at our last joke? So doing something helps remove some of this pressure.
Focusing on an external activity can help — you can focus on the activity, which takes pressure off the date itself. One time on a date, we dug for acorns in Sonoma (to help with the replanting of trees after the historic fires). Other dates have included kayaking, picking blackberries, and petting cats at a cat cafe. Picking an activity you’re passionate about will allow you to be more comfortable, which will make you feel more confident and at ease. I find I’m less worried about how I’m coming across when I’m genuinely enjoying what we are doing.
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5. Consider other ways to meet someone — so the connection can grow more organically — aside from dating apps.
I’ve relied on dating apps since the age of 18 (since, as an LGBTQ person, it’s difficult to meet other gay people “out in the wild” — I often blend in and pass as straight). Yet, on apps, I often feel the pressure to make quick decisions about whether or not I’m attracted enough to someone. Plus, it’s harder for the slow-burn attractions to grow.
Other ways to meet someone may suit you more as an introvert. Generally, groups and communal activities (like a friend’s birthday party) can be a way to meet people without the pressure to feel attraction right away. The connections can unfold more organically that way.
Meetings such as these also carry the added advantage of not having the “checklist mentality” built into them. As Relationship Expert Esther Perel said on Tim Ferris’ podcast (in an episode about intimacy and emotional baggage), “I think most of the dating that involves a checklist is doomed. It’s anti-romance, it’s anti-story, and stories are the ways we live our lives. Often we find that people match all the items on your list and the feeling isn’t there, because the feeling is something that emerges through interaction, through shared experience, through the creation of a shared story together.”
6. If you do meet on an app, don’t spend too much time communicating over text or email before meeting in person.
When I first started online dating, I spent a large amount of time exchanging personal information back and forth in lengthy messages with prospective partners before meeting.
It’s hard because, if you’re anything like me, you not only love writing, but find immense catharsis in it. Writing is a refuge for me; it’s a medium that affords me utmost control and a place where I often feel I can be my authentic self. (I’m more comfortable writing versus being in an overstimulating public place with a brand new person.)
That said, getting to know someone through writing naturally appeals to me. After several negative experiences, though, I’ve learned that resisting this impulse leads to less disappointment later on. The way I’ve come to see it is that the amount of time dedicated to written correspondence is directly proportional to the amount of disappointment you’ll feel when things don’t work out (or when the person is not who you thought they’d be).
I do believe you can learn a lot about someone’s values and inner world through written correspondence. Sometimes writing eliminates some of the superficial distractions that stand in the way of knowing others on a deeper level. One problem with it, however, is that you only see the other person’s words, with no action(s) to back them up. In person, you can get both. There are things like body language, tone of voice, or just someone’s general aura that images and text on a screen can’t fully capture. Even if you seem to be hitting it off in writing, it’s hard to gauge whether that will translate into in-person chemistry.
So limit your pre-first-date communication and try to meet sooner rather than later.
7. Be aware of fantasy relationships.
Experiences have taught me that practiced too early on (before trust and a foundation have been established), excessive written contact can also fuel the engine of fantasy relationships.
Introverts tend to have rich fantasy lives — it’s one of our superpowers — so often we fill in the missing spaces and unknowns with our own details. This can lead to feeling letdown when the in-person counterpart fails to match up to whatever idealized version our mind has concocted. For instance, in writing and on the phone, maybe you bonded over what you thought was a shared passion for dogs. But then, in person, it becomes apparent that their interest is only passing and tepid, and that they only volunteered at a shelter once.
Perhaps we’re more likely to think the best about someone and mold them into who we want them to be rather than see them for who they really are. But this can backfire for us down the road.
Introverts, what dating tips would you add? Let me know in the comments below.