I couldn’t take it anymore. I could no longer ignore my true introvert needs, like spending time alone instead of at his friend’s place.
Coming from a collectivistic culture like that of India — where you place the needs of your family or community before your own — is the norm. And, having never left the city of his childhood, it is easy to see why my charming, confident, and extroverted live-in boyfriend gets fired up to go visit his family. He also loves to go hang out with his large group of neighborhood friends every chance he gets. To him, he recharges by seeing them — it comes naturally to him.
He enjoys it when I go with him, too. Plus, his family and friends live less than a mile from us, making it easy to see them. Meanwhile, my own family and friends are scattered across different cities and countries — not surprisingly, this works for me since I’m an introvert.
Being a People-Pleaser Instead of Living My Introvert Truth
My boyfriend and I met at a time in my life when I was clueless about myself. Growing up, I had single-mindedly focused on my studies. So by the time I was an adult, I did not know who I was. I was constantly filled with self-doubt. I looked to people around me in order to know how to behave or act a certain way when in relationships and social situations. I’ve always had strong people-pleasing tendencies — common among introverts — which is probably why I decided to be the best partner I could be… but at the cost of driving up my anxiety.
For five years, I tried to be a “good” girlfriend. I went with my partner arm-in-arm to every social gathering and hangout possible. Weekends were indefinitely packed. When his friends invited me to chill after tiring work days during the week, I would not say no. (Another thing that’s hard for us introverts.) When I wanted to leave a party early, my boyfriend would innocently convince me to stay longer, and I would tell myself, “It’s all right, everyone’s having fun. There’s no strong reason for me to go home just yet. I shouldn’t be a party pooper.”
I justified everything: feeling anxious before going somewhere I didn’t really want to go; feeling agitated at not being able to leave when I wanted to; and becoming irritable for not having had enough time by myself that day. I thought I just needed to get better at controlling my “negative emotions.” Besides, I did have a good time once I was at the event. Until…
Learning to Set Boundaries as an Introvert
One day, it just happened: I could not take it anymore. I could no longer ignore my true introvert nature and needs, like spending time alone instead of at a friend or relative’s place. But I was afraid to set boundaries with the extroverted love of my life. I was not sure if he would still love me if I told him that my happiness and comfort were (mostly) in staying home — by myself and not “chilling” with friends and family endlessly. (He did, after all, love that I accompanied him everywhere.) Nevertheless, it had to be done. If he truly loved me, he would accept the person I am. Right? So here’s how I explained my introversion to him.
5 Ways to Explain Your Introversion to Your Partner
1. Openly share your feelings — and needs — with your partner (and without blaming them).
When I first told my partner how alone time was important for me to be sane — and how socializing was draining me — it wasn’t easy. One, I was not used to setting boundaries then. Two, it was difficult for him to not take my boundaries personally, and perhaps, understandably so — given that I had pretended to be a different person for half a decade. He wondered if I had begun to dislike his friends and family and thought it was probably a “phase.” But I stood my ground. I also clarified that my needs were specific to me and that they had nothing to do with him or his friends or family.
2. Let time work its magic.
Once I had poured my heart out, it was time for me to be patient. As best as I could, I tried to give my boyfriend the time and space he needed to accept the real me. I mean, it’s probably not easy for someone to wake up one day and see that their partner has become an entirely different person from the one they knew. I had also accepted the worst-case scenario: him wanting to separate, as we clearly wanted different things from life. I loved him more than I could handle, but that was the price I was willing to pay to retain my true introverted self.
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3. Establish a middle ground.
Fortunately, my partner began to accept and understand my introverted tendencies. We then decided to establish a middle ground instead of going to extremes. While I did not need to accompany him to every hangout, there was no dire need for me to avoid socializing entirely either. In fact, I like people, and I prefer hanging out in small groups for short periods of time (some might call me a social introvert or an “extroverted” introvert).
I willingly promised him that I would attend all important events, like weddings, birthday parties, and festival celebrations, and visit his family for an hour or two on alternate Saturdays. This gave me a much-needed sense of control over my schedule. (And I was finally able to set those boundaries I’d been so afraid to set before!) He promised to let me exit a party/gathering early — and without making a big deal about it (no more insisting that I stay “just a little bit longer”). Sundays were reserved exclusively for me-time — and he promised to respect that.
4. Educate your extroverted partner with videos, articles, and memes about what it’s like to be an introvert.
Since my true personality baffled my partner initially, I decided to increase his awareness of introversion, what it means to be an introvert, and the mislabeling of introverted behaviors or impulses as “abnormal.” (Hint: The dictionary definition of introversion is often wrong!)
I accomplished this by sharing relevant YouTube videos (I enjoy Frank James’ videos), articles from Psychology Today, and memes (Instagram has tons of introvert memes). At first, things he learned about introverts shocked him and became a cause for conflict. But now, they have become a source of shared humor. For example, he now finds my glaring avoidance of phone calls funny, jokes about how I want his nagging presence out of the house as often as possible, and frequently shares introvert memes with me. Most importantly, I’m glad that he was willing to learn more about me and my introversion.
5. Honor your boundaries, which will build your confidence.
After the initial hurdles, I realized that for my partner to respect my limits and needs, I needed to respect them first by not giving in to peer pressure. I needed to be assertive about when I wanted to leave a gathering, say “no” when I needed to, and be okay with disappointing people. Every time I disappointed a friend or a relative and the disappointment started to make me feel guilty, I wrote my thoughts down in a journal. Such entries were followed by friendly, non-judgmental advice I wrote to myself. Here are some things I wrote to comfort myself:
- “You do not owe your time or explanation to anyone.”
- “Those who truly love me will understand my needs. I do not need to force myself to be anyone else.”
- “It is not my responsibility to convince others to respect my needs and decisions.”
I also frequently read the Assertive Bill of Rights to remind myself that my way of life, and my opinions, are deserving of respect. (I discovered these rules in Judy Murphy’s Assertiveness: How to Stand Up for Yourself and Still Win the Respect of Others. I fell in love with these rules as soon as I read them. Apparently, these rules were first published in Manuel J. Smith’s book When I Say No, I Feel Guilty. I haven’t read this one.)
As time passed, my confidence rose; it became increasingly clear that those who loved me for my unique personality wanted to continue to be in my life regardless of whether I socialized with them — and as much as them — or not. Those who were not happy with the changes distanced themselves, and I respect their decision. I am tied to no one, and no one is tied to me.
Honesty and Being Yourself Are Key
My fellow introverts, remember to live your introvert truth: There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting more alone time than most people (we need it to recharge!) and with not wanting to “party” like the rest of the crowd. There is nothing wrong with finding phone calls intrusive or being in the position of frequently disappointing people simply by being yourself.
If you are someone who loves your own company, then that is truly the most precious gift one can ever have. Besides stating your needs, it is not your responsibility to make your partner or loved one understand who you are. Having said that, if you ever want to attempt to reveal your beautiful, real self to another person, I hope my story is of help. The only way to have a good relationship — introvert or not — is by being honest, open, and being yourself.
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You might like:
- How to Date an Introvert (Advice From an Extrovert)
- 7 Signs You’re in a Good Relationship as an Introvert
- How to Stay Married to an Extrovert When You’re an Introvert
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