As an Introvert, My Need for Alone Time Is About Me, Not You

Extroverts, trust the introverts in your life. “I’ve reached my social max” is a good enough reason to leave the party.

The transition to adulthood is full of ups and downs — you learn how to do your own laundry, visit the bank, and cook something other than ramen noodles. The thing no one warned me about, though, was that I was going to have to relearn how to interact with my own parents. 

Moving from “child under their roof” to “adult child who can make her own choices” wasn’t easy for anyone involved. I wanted my own space and full use of the freedom I finally had. They, on the other hand, wanted to make the three-hour drive from their house to my college apartment as often as possible. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents, but as an introvert, when my parents and brother showed up at my apartment, crammed into my matchbox room, and didn’t leave for hours, I wanted to scream.  

My weekend, which was supposed to be full of introvert-time to rest and store up energy for the week — something we “quiet ones” cherish and need to be happy — was suddenly full of draining situations. I was exhausted all week, living more like a hermit than the fun-loving college student I wanted to be. 

‘You Can’t Come to My House’

After that year, I started to set boundaries for myself:

  • “You can’t come to my house.” 
  • “I’ll only spend a few hours with you at a time.” 
  • “I need to rest, Mom.” 

I overcorrected, refusing to give my family any of my precious introvert-time, hoarding it all away, and coming out with a guilty conscience for disappointing — and often being downright rude — to my family. 

My extremely extroverted mother was having none of it and pushed right back. She tried to do it in a loving and respectful way, but all I felt was her invading my space even more so.

I Offended My Mom With My Introversion

I eventually got the impression that my mother didn’t trust me to tell her when I was ready to spend time with her. In her mind, my needing alone time was an excuse to avoid her, that I wanted to be alone more than I wanted to be with family. So she had to push against my boundaries to get any time with me at all. 

I remember trying to explain to her that I would love to have the energy to spend all day with the family because I love them and love time with them. I would love to not need to spend a day alone after having an overly draining few hours. I would love to live like a fun-loving college student more often than a hermit. 

I needed her to believe this, though, and trust that I wanted to spend time with her, so I set my boundaries for my own sanity, not just to avoid her. 

I Offended My Friends With My Introversion

In my experience, sometimes there is a massive issue of communication between introverts and extroverts. Extroverts have a tendency to assume that introverts needing alone time is a personal issue and they get offended, that my leaving a party has something to do with the host. 

From an extroverted perspective, that makes perfect sense, but as an introvert who loves people, it is a constant fear that I’ll accidently insult an extrovert with my introversion. 

There have been dozens of dinners and parties and movie nights that I had wanted to leave, not because they were boring or horrible, but because I had become drained while there. No matter how wonderful the company, I’d no longer be able to have, or be, a good time. 

At each of those events, however, I sat and waited silently until I could come up with a feasible excuse to get out of there instead of just suddenly disappearing. 

Here is my question, though: Why isn’t “I’ve reached my social max” a good enough reason to leave? I think it’s an entirely valid reason and should become a socially acceptable one. 

As introverts, I think we need to tell the truth in social situations more and more. We can do this by taking five minutes to inform the possibly-offended extroverts that it is in no way about them that we need to go home; that it’s not an insult, and we’d love to get together another time. If we “quiet ones” did this, I think society would begin to shift into a more introvert-friendly place. 

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How to Ask Your Loved Ones for Space

To my fellow introverts, your introversion is not an affront. It isn’t wrong to tell someone you need space. You are who you are, and needing more time alone than the person next to you is not a weakness. 

To my extroverts out there, trust the introverts in your life. You may need to draw them out of their shell sometimes, but believe them when they say they need rest and when they say they care about you. We do. It’s not possible to read minds, but work with them to understand and set boundaries. 

Through trial and error, I have found a few ways to ask family and friends for space:

  • Have a conversation beforehand: Before you’re out of social energy, take some time with your loved one and explain your personal needs and boundaries. Affirm their position in your life, that they are loved and appreciated by you, and tell them what it looks like for you to need space. Maybe you need to take a walk around the block — alone — or just relax in your room for a bit. This way, after a 10-minute conversation, your loved one is able to look out for you in a new way. 
  • Try sandwiching: If you are in the moment, drained and needing an escape, try sandwiching. This is usually a technique for giving constructive criticism, but I think it applies here as well. Instead of saying, “I really need some alone time” and leaving, try validating the person you are with beforehand and afterwards. Say, “I loved hanging out today, but I’m feeling pretty drained and need some alone time. I would love to get together again sometime next week, though.” This clarifies that you don’t have an issue with the person you are with and will make both of you happy.
  • Practice makes perfect: If asking for space is stressful for you, take some time to practice. Prepare a go-to phrase that you can pull out when you’re drained, such as the one I used above. You can also practice explaining your need for alone time to a trusted friend. Take your time, and if it doesn’t come naturally right away, don’t be discouraged. Or you can have someone call you at a certain time; if you’re ready to leave, that’s your out. 

Although my mom and I still have to find balance in our relationship — she still likes to barge into my room when I’m home, interrupting my alone time — we’re working on it. And I am not always brave enough at social events to simply say, “I need to go be alone,” but I’m working on it.

For now, though, when I’m at an event, entirely drained, and I don’t know how to leave, I text my mom, asking her to call, and she doesn’t hesitate to bail me out.

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Written By

I’m a senior English major at Texas A&M University and an introvert who is forever trying to balance a love for people with the need to be alone. I write and read in my free time and am convinced that anyone who claims to dislike hot tea hasn’t had the right blend.