If you’ve been paying any attention to the Internet over the past few years, you’ve probably noticed a term popping up over and over: introvert. But how many of us actually know what it means – and what it means for our relationships – outside of the cutesy results of Facebook quizzes?
Whether you’re looking for love and identify as an introvert, are an extrovert coupled-up with somebody more introverted, or have no idea what you are but want to better understand the quieter person you’re hoping to date, you can benefit from learning more about this often-misunderstood personality type. Even better, by diving into what makes introverts tick, you might discover benefits to dating them, befriending them, or being them you never anticipated!
What Is An Introvert, Anyway?
First, let’s clear the term “introvert” up. Though seemingly hundreds of Internet lists and quizzes – and popular opinion, for that matter! – might try to convince you otherwise, it doesn’t mean shy, antisocial, or anxious! While introverts can certainly exhibit those qualities – and while shyness and introversion often go together – so can extroverts. One does not necessarily mean the other!
So what does the term mean? For a true definition, we turn to writer, lawyer and “quiet revolutionary” Susan Cain, whose book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and subsequent TED Talk helped ignite the interest in these personality types when it was published in 2012.
Cain defines an introvert as “people who prefer quieter, more minimally stimulating environments,” and elaborates in her book that:
Introverts are drawn to inner world of thought and feeling [. . .] Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them [. . .] Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone [. . .] introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well. Introverts feel “just right” with less stimulation, as when they sip wine with a close friend, solve a crossword puzzle, or read a book.
So basically, the ideas of introversion and extroversion are all about how much stimulation you can happily experience, and what you find restful and restorative versus draining and tiring. What you find relaxing and what you find stressful can color and influence how you experience everything else in your life, after all!
Which brings us to dating.
OK, So What Does This Mean For Relationships?
Dating or befriend an introvert? Are you one yourself? Recognize yourself or your crush in the description above? Here’s what you should expect!
- They could be hiding in plain sight.
Our world needs both extroverts and introverts – balance! – but our culture tends to favor the louder personalities of extroverts, so many introverts have learned to pretend to be more extroverted to succeed in their jobs, make friends and, of course, find love. So if the outgoing blond you met at the bar suddenly retreats for a few days, he might not be playing games— he might be an introvert in need of recharging.
You’re more likely to meet them online then in a club . . .
Are you an introvert looking for somebody with a similar temperament to date? Online dating might be your best bet! Not only does it allow you to get to know people from the comfort of your own home, it’s an environment where you can skip the small talk and get right to the deeper conversations you love. And if you’re more of an extrovert or ambivert, online dating can open you up to a whole swath of people you might not of noticed in a loud bar where the noisiest people tend to command your attention regardless of compatibility.
. . . but it’s also totally possible to meet one out and about, and even strike up a conversation.
Remember, “introverted” isn’t a synonym for antisocial. Your best bet if you notice somebody at a party or at a concert – probably standing off to a quieter side – is to go ahead and be friendly! They’re human, too, after all. Your best bets for a good connection are to pay attention to their body language to see if they’re returning your favor – eye contact is a good sign! – and stick to more substantive conversation. This moment probably isn’t the time to practice your corniest lines!
When they say “I need space,” they’re NOT trying to break up with you.
At least, you shouldn’t jump to that conclusion. What they likely are asking for? Exactly what they said: space. Introverts need to recharge, and they need to recharge alone, but that need doesn’t mean they don’t ever want to see you or that they dislike being around you. Communication is key here! Talk to your introverted partner about how to spend your time as a couple. And introverts? Make sure you explain your motivations for taking a little “me time,” and let your more extroverted partners know when you’ll be resurfacing to socialize.
Don’t try to fix them— they’re wired differently, not badly . . .
Like any two people with differing personalities in a relationship — vegetarians and carnivores, scientists and artists, athletes and couch-potatoes, Montagues and Capulets — people at different places on the introvert-to-extrovert spectrum just need compromise and understanding. Unless your partner specifically asks for assistance in being or appearing more out-going, don’t assume they’re unhappy with who they are. Love them for them!
- . . . but they will make compromises for the people they love.
Introverts are used to acting like extroverts to survive in an outgoing world, and to pursue their passions. Another time they might fake extroversion, or brave more social situations than they’d normally prefer? For you, their more extroverted partner! Now, we don’t recommend trying to force it, but if your introverted spouse surprises you by organizing a big surprise party? Appreciate how much love really went into it for them!
- If they do act out of character, they may need to spend extra time “introverting” to relax.
Cain calls these extra sessions of retreat “restorative niches,” and extroverts need them, too— just a different kind! If you’re dating an introvert and know that they’ve been spending a lot of extra time stretching themselves and socializing, support them when they need to hide away for a little bit and come back to themselves.
They’re the best listeners, and cheerleaders.
Introverts vary in all kinds of ways, but something they all seem to have in common? They’re great listeners, and they’ll be your sounding board in a relationship. Even more, while they’re not spotlight-seekers themselves, they’ll be the first one in line to support you in a quest for stardom and be excited to see you at center stage. No jealousy!
- They think carefully before they speak.
Extemporaneous speaking tends not to be an introvert’s strong point. While that can be frustrating in some arenas, like business meeting brainstorming sessions, when it comes to conflicts, it’s actually an asset. You know that if an introvert says something, they’ve really thought about it— and they really mean it. Conversely, if you pressure an introvert to share before they’ve had time to think, don’t be surprised if it comes out disjointed, or if they later need or want to amend or fix what they said while under pressure.
- It takes them awhile to open up . . .
Part of this quality can be chalked up to shyness, sure – while not all introverts are shy, shyness is a common trait among them – but part of it is simply that they’re not big fans of small talk. Since small talk can be kind of essential to, you know, meeting people and building trust, this getting-to-know-and-trust you process can take longer with introverts. Most of them have had to deal with the misconception that they’re shy, awkward, anxious or even snobby, and that can make them slow to believe that you really want to get to know them.
- . . . but when they do, it’s totally worth it.
They might not be your go-to person for weather talk or office pleasantries, but if you want to have a discussion about your feelings, your deeper thoughts, your faith, your passions, an introvert will be an amazing conversation partner. All that time recharging and reflecting means they also have a lot of deeply-felt, and often surprising, thoughts and opinions to share, too.
- They’re primed to be dedicated.
Rather than juggling a large group of acquaintances and casual friends – just the thought is exhausting! – introverts prefer to have a small selection of close friends and confidantes. What that means for you, potential romantic partner? Utter dedication and true intimacy. While we’re not saying you’ll be the center of their world – that probably wouldn’t be healthy – there’s a good chance you’ll feel that way with all the care and love they can give.
- Sometimes, just being next to you will be enough.
You know how we keep saying introverts need to recharge after a lot of socialization? That’s still true even when they come home to somebody they love. While they might not always be up for a big chat about the day, that doesn’t mean they want to banish you to another room. For an introvert, quietly sitting next to each other on the couch while reading feels like real quality time.
- They feel a lot of feelings . . .
All that time introverts spend in their heads and in their own company? That leads to feelings— lots of deep feelings, which they think about a lot. Additionally, “high sensitivity” – which, like shyness, is its own separate trait – has a higher prevalence among introverts, so you have a greater chance of dating somebody with feels everything particularly keenly if you happen to be dating somebody on the introverted side of the spectrum.
- . . . but they’re not always good at showing those emotions.
Introverts might be emotional, but demonstrative they are not. (Confession from this particular introvert: I had to learn how to show excitement outwardly because I had friends who thought I never got excited about anything.) Either they don’t feel comfortable showing how they feel, they naturally keep their emotions inside, or they know that if they give into emotions, they’ll become a mess. No matter the reason, don’t take it personally if your introverted partner is a little stone-faced, and be very flattered if they show how they feel in front of you.
- They tend to be conflict-avoidant …
One emotion in particular introverts aren’t comfortable expressing? Anger. Their response to conflict and/or arguments is to withdraw, not engage forcefully, which can make it seem like they don’t care. Not true! In reality, they probably care a little too much. So if you’re having a disagreement with an introverted partner, calm, rational discussion – not yelling – is best.
- . . . but that makes them super nurturing.
If you want to rile up a team before a big game, a introvert probably isn’t your go-to person. (It’s a form of conflict, after all.) But if you need somebody to build you up after a loss, comfort you after you blow a job interview, or gently encourage you to do your best, an introvert’s your guy or gal! It fits with their preference for interacting with people in friendliness, not competition.
So there we are! Of course, we could keep going and diving into a deep analysis of dating an introvert, but these points should give you a good place to start. At the end of the day, appreciating that everybody’s different, that everybody has different social needs, and that there’s no substitution for clear, honest communication is key to a relationship with anybody and everybody.
Now, you share! Do you consider yourself an introvert? Have you ever dated, or are you dating, one? Do you have anything you’d like to add to this list? What about extroverts? Tell us what you think!