When I took the Myers-Briggs test in 2011, things suddenly began to make a lot of sense. It revealed that I rated fairly strongly on the side of introversion, which was a bit of a shock. I, like so many, incorrectly assumed that introversion was synonymous with shyness; since I’m writing an article for the Martlet’s sex issue a second year in a row, that’s pretty clearly not the case. Introversion and extroversion measure the amount of energy one loses or gains, respectively, from socializing with other people. Extroverts are the social butterflies; they’re the ones who thrive in customer service or sales jobs where they get to interact with people. Introverts, on the other hand, relish their solitude; they may have many acquaintances, but very few close friends, and it’s extraordinarily rare that they’ll find someone that they want to keep around them for extended periods of time.
Needless to say, when you’re a strong introvert, dating can be a bit of a minefield; we truly do operate by a different set of rules, and they may seem antithetical to the entire process of dating. After many years of painful, awkward trial and error, I’ve gotten a lot better at vocalizing what I need from a potential paramour, and I’d like to share those tips now. Introverts want love too; they just may want it from an initial distance.
The Initial Approach
An introvert can be tougher to spot in the wild than you may think; people are often shocked to find out that I’m one. But one place you may end up finding introverts in abundance is on the Internet. Online dating is a godsend for introverts; exchanging messages takes the pressure off of socializing and getting to know someone. You can control the flow of the conversation, leaving and returning to it as often as you need to, and you don’t have to put on your public mask or expel very much of your precious social energy reserves. If you do meet an introvert in person, don’t be put off if you speak for a few hours and then they leave the party without you. Meeting strangers is exhausting; we’d prefer to take your number, recharge our batteries for a few days, and then call for a coffee date. As a general rule, introverts want to get to know who you are on the inside before they see what’s inside your pants.
The Early Dating Phase
Introverts inevitably put up a barrier between the most intimate parts of themselves and the world around them; it’s not something that is damaging them or needs to be broken down, it’s simply the way they protect themselves from complete mental exhaustion. Introverts have a handful of very close friends with whom they’re far more comfortable, but those sorts of relationships take months or years to establish. Dating involves going from being relative strangers to being pretty intimate—physically, emotionally, or both—in what is generally a relatively short period of time. For introverts, this cognitive dissonance can be extremely destructive.
So what’s a guy or girl to do if their crush is socially guarded? Take time—lots of it. Let a month or more pass in which you just hang out together, sit on opposite sides of the couch when watching a movie, and don’t expect a kiss at the end. Dating an introvert is like making friends with a cat; you need to let them come to you, on their own terms. But if you’re patient, they’re well worth the wait.
So you’ve managed to land the introvert of your dreams. How do you make sure they stay happy?
I got the shock of my life last year when my long-distance boyfriend dumped me, unable to deal with only visiting every few weeks. I never in my life expected that I’d be better at long distance than my partner, but it turns out I relished the freedom that came with having my own space. My boyfriend was one of the few people I actively wanted around more often than not, but nonetheless, I loved being my own person. Dating an introvert means giving them lots of space; their native state is one of solitude, and they’ll still need time to themselves even if they love you dearly. If you live in the same city, expect to spend a few nights alone each week. Develop separate interests so that your introvert can have their own sense of self and cultivate that solitary identity. If your introvert is reading a book while you’re in the room, they’re not giving you the cold shoulder; they’re showing that you’re important enough that they can have their cake and be alone with it too—the best of both worlds. Needless to say, moving into a one-bedroom apartment together is ill-advised; go for two, and make the second room into a study or office where one of you can be alone sometimes. The introvert’s ultimate sign of love is that they’ll actually prefer having you around.
If this sounds difficult, don’t despair; introverts are awesome. We process more information, on average, than extroverts do; we are less dependent on external stimuli to feel good, which means we don’t need to go to the latest clubs or the best parties to feel on top of the world. While we may not talk a lot, we listen very well, and when we have something to say, we’ve usually chosen our words pretty carefully. Don’t forget: nothing says “I love you” to an introvert like “want to hang out and read books all day?”