I’m mindlessly scrolling through Facebook when a desperate message pops up. It’s from one of my most extroverted friends, who just started dating an introvert. When I talked to him a week ago, everything was going great.
“She says she needs time alone,” my friend writes. “It’s been a few days, and I haven’t heard from her. I should text her, right?”
“NO,” I dash off. “If she said she needs space, give her space!”
He didn’t like that answer.
Ouch, This Hurts
My friend is not the first person to ask me a question like this. As an author who writes about introversion, I get a few emails a month from panicked extroverts who are wondering why their introvert went dark on them. The story is always the same: An introvert and extrovert start dating, there’s tons of initial contact, everything is going wonderfully, then suddenly the introvert backs off.
First let me say that if this is happening to you, I completely understand why you’re panicking. I’ve found myself in this situation a few times, and it’s always ball-of-hot-lava-in-your-stomach scary. You wonder if you said or did something wrong. You really, really like this person, and you’re worried that this beautiful connection is slipping away.
The worst part is you feel hurt and rejected. If your introvert likes you, they’d want to spend time with you, right?
Yes… and at the same time… no.
Introverts Can’t Function Without Alone Time
It’s hard not to take it personally when someone says they want to be left alone — especially when you’ve been enjoying their company so much. But this is normal for us quiet ones. Introverts’ brains are actually wired a little differently than extroverts’, and as a result, we have less of a battery for “people time.”
Whereas a night out on the town might be fun and exciting for you, it comes at a price for your introvert. Because of the way the introvert’s brain processes stimulation, we’re more sensitive to noise and activity. Although we may have fun hanging out with you, there’s another part of us that gets tired.
For some introverts, too much “people time” may even result in feeling physically unwell. This has been dubbed the “introvert hangover.” Some introverts report getting headaches, feeling dizzy, and feeling physically fatigued after lots of socializing.
When we ask for alone time, it may feel like a slap in the face. Please try not to take it personally. We’re trying to manage some very real symptoms we’re feeling.
What to Do
Like my friend, your first reaction may be to bombard your introvert with texts or calls until you get through to them. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT do this! When you really hear what they’re asking for and abide by it — even if it doesn’t make sense to you — you show respect. Your introvert may even be testing the waters, seeing how you deal with their need for alone time. For them, this need will never go away, so they are looking for a partner who deals with it well.
Here’s what I’d recommend:
- When your introvert asks for alone time, tell them that you completely understand. Agree that you’ll give them space by not texting, calling, or trying to set up plans for a little while.
- Here’s the most important part: Ask them to initiate contact when they’re ready. That way, you won’t be left wondering if or when you should text.
- Back off!
If you haven’t made some sort of arrangement with your introvert about them initiating contact, and it’s been a long time since you’ve heard from them (like a week or two), it’s okay to send a “check in” text. Something casual like, “Hey! Just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing.” Try to keep it pressure-free.
Is Our Relationship Ending?
I’m going to be completely honest. If your introvert’s request for alone time keeps stretching on and on, with no real end in sight, it may be sign that the relationship is in trouble. That’s what happened to my extroverted friend who I mentioned at the beginning of this article. The introvert he was dating broke up with him after requesting more and more space.
At this point, you may be tempted to say, “Aha! See! I knew the ‘I need space’ line was just an excuse. The introvert is about to ghost me.”
I can’t speak for all introverts, but I’d argue that for most of us quiet ones, it’s not an excuse. It may, however, be the first inkling in an introvert’s mind that something isn’t quite right with the relationship. Introverts need time alone to process. Pulling away for a bit means introverts can really sit with their feelings and figure out how to proceed.
If an introvert uses alone time as an excuse, then cuts off all communication with you, that’s an immature move — and you deserve better.
But most of the time, this isn’t the case. When my introverted boyfriend and I first started dating, we talked to each other on the phone every day, for hours, for weeks. (He lived in Mexico at the time.) Then, we both felt the social exhaustion set in (not to mention we were both falling behind with our work and personal projects). We agreed to take a few nights off.
After that alone time, we were right back at it, talking on the phone. Today, we live together and are happily in a committed relationship.
If your introvert jumps right back in after a bit of alone time, I’d wager that they are into you — they just needed some time to recharge.
The most important thing is to show your introvert that you respect their needs. If you do, they’ll return to you, over and over, and deeply cherish having you in their life.
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Read this: 9 Secrets of Dating an Introvert
Learn more: The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World, by Jenn Granneman
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