To the Extroverts in My Life: I Love You But I Need Alone Time

an introvert with her extroverted friend

I love being with you, my extroverted friends, but my body needs downtime — and I’m no longer apologizing for that.

“What are you doing this weekend?” she asked, as we drove back together from the comedy show.

“I’m not really making any plans,” I replied.

I could practically hear the eye roll when she shot back, “Of course you aren’t!” She was angry. I was “free” for all intents and purposes, but I didn’t want to hang out with her.

“I haven’t had time to myself in so long,” I tried anxiously to explain, wanting her to respect my need for space. “I’m exhausted.”

But she was an extrovert, and to her, it was personal. The fact that I wanted to stay home rather than spend time with her made no sense. She didn’t understand that my heart had been beating out of my chest for weeks, my nerves were on edge, my thoughts were racing, and I was on the verge of crying most of the time. All because I’d overexerted myself socially, because I had friends who needed my time and energy. And I’d given it, because I loved them, but I’d become a nervous, sad wreck of a person as a result.

Without Alone Time, Introverts Crash and Burn

We’ve heard it before: Introverts just want to be alone. Though this isn’t always true, and it reduces us to an “antisocial” stereotype, we do need a lot more time alone than our extroverted counterparts. Even if we are sociable, friendly, and outgoing, exhibiting extrovert-like behavior at times, if we don’t carve out enough time alone, introverts crash and burn.

And it’s not a pretty sight.

What my extroverted friend didn’t seem to understand was, if I had hung out with her, I wouldn’t have been any fun. Without my recharge time, I become a negative, irritable, bad friend who is just counting down the seconds until I can get the hell outta there. Not because I don’t love my friends; rather, I cherish the deep connections I have with them.

I turned down her invitation because my body physically needed to recharge its depleted energy. Sometimes that takes an afternoon, sometimes a whole weekend or more. It depends on how much I’ve exerted myself socially, but in all cases, my body needs that balance.

“We’re just so different,” she said. “I don’t get it.” The rest of the car trip was spent in relative silence. I was upset that she couldn’t understand and accept me — and that I was trying so hard to give time to her (to the point of exhaustion), yet it still wasn’t enough. She took my need for downtime as a rejection of our friendship.

How to Handle This Type of Situation

The hard thing is, when we introverts are met with the kind of reaction that I received from my friend, we may be tempted to respond in unhealthy ways. We may resort to people-pleasing or agreeing to socialize past our (completely valid) limits. We may retreat inward, feeling hurt and misunderstood, perhaps even withdrawing from the friendship or cutting it off completely.

In order to maintain healthy relationships, we introverts need to work past these knee-jerk reactions, and instead set firm boundaries with the extroverts in our life. We need to explain our needs as introverts, and help them understand why we are different. Most important, we need to become comfortable saying no if they still push us for more. It all comes down to mutual respect for one another, regardless of our differences.

(Here’s how to set better boundaries when you’re a peace-loving introvert.)

3 Ways to Explain Your Need for Alone Time

So how do we introverts communicate our need for downtime to extroverts? Here are three explanations I’ve used that I hope will help you too.

1. “I’m wired differently than you.”

For introverts, needing alone time is not a choice, it’s science. Essentially, it boils down to the neurotransmitter dopamine, according to Dr. Marti Olsen Laney. In her book, The Introvert Advantage, she explains that introverts have a lower dopamine threshold compared to extroverts, making us “quiet ones” more sensitive to its feel-good effects. Extroverts, on the other hand, are less sensitive to it, so they may need more dopamine hits to get their fill. That’s why “exciting” situations like big parties or networking events can be draining to introverts — we fill our social quota quickly then are ready to head home.

(Read more about the science behind why introverts love being alone.)

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2. “My alone time hobbies recharge my energy.” 

I have a lot of hobbies and interests, which is a pretty common “affliction” for an introvert. My creative fire comes to life when I’m alone; I feel more like the “real” me when I’m reading or journaling than when I’m at a party. So, allowing enough time to dedicate to my hobbies is vitally important. Trying new recipes, listening to podcasts, playing with my camera, and walking in nature are what I spend all day dreaming about, and they’re the activities I long to return to when I’m done with work. But I can’t do them when I’m tied up socializing, and that thought makes me panic. (What if I never get through the stack of books on my bedside table? Eek!) Time is fleeting, after all, and there is so much territory to mentally explore. Even more important, these activities aren’t just “hobbies” — they’re how I recharge my energy as an introvert.

3. “Sometimes I need time to just be.”

I’ll be honest: I love people, but I love being with me more — and I don’t think it’s wrong to feel that way. When I’m on my own, I don’t have to watch what I say. I don’t have to spend my energy trying to be bubbly and fun. I don’t have to be the listener or help anyone with their problems, or feel their pain (which, as a highly sensitive person, is something I can’t switch off). When I’m on my own, I can do whatever I want to do. I don’t have to accommodate anyone, or even consider anyone else’s needs.

I just want to think about me sometimes. When I spend time alone, I can be my silly self and not feel judged. I don’t have to strain to find something to talk about — I can just be. With myself, I’m at ease; it’s like coming home. It’s comforting and easy. 

And I think everyone needs — and deserves — time like that.

I love being with you, my extroverted friends, but my mind and body need downtime — and I’m no longer apologizing for that. It’s my life, after all, so I get to choose how to spend it. I just hope that you’ll stick around and love me for who I am, even when I’m in introvert hangover mode. Because, dear friends, I may not be down to hang out every weekend, but I promise I’ll always stick around for you.

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