I'd love to spend SOME time with you.... Introverts and dating?
April 6, 2016 8:00 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to hear from other introverts about your experiences with dating and burn-out. Is having it at all (or even a few months in) a bad sign for long-term compatibility? Or just a sign that the relationship is moving too fast for you? Or do you set strong boundaries on your time and just trust that the right person will understand?

I'm an introvert and if I spend too much time with people I experience pretty serious "burn-out", an over-stimulated kind of exhaustion that leaves me wanting to barricade myself in a room alone and stare at a wall. (I usually end up reading or playing video games). It gets better as I get more comfortable with someone, but this process can take a while.

I recently started dating another introvert and while he is really into me (to the extent that he doesn't feel his usual burn-out) I can only hang out with him for about 7 hours max. Sleep-overs result in being extremely burned out the next day. I'm starting to wonder if this is a sign that he just isn't a good fit for me. It's easier for me to go into a relationship where I start out with a crush on the person because then the burn-out doesn't happen, but I haven't had the best luck with those types of relationships either!

Just curious to hear other peoples' experiences.

posted by seraph9 to Human Relations (19 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Bring up your personal space needs early and often.
Propose dates that are things like "come over and sit on the couch with me and we'll read, separately, for a few hours."

Anyone who's the right person to date you will be ok with the parameters you need to set. You just need to be honest.
posted by phunniemee at 8:17 AM on April 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you like the guy and he respects your need for space, then trust the process that you know about yourself to happen (you get more comfortable and you need less decompression over time). I am a hardcore introvert and I have found my solo-introversion to expand to include my partner, most of the time. I still need time away from him, but it's nothing like the time I need away from everyone else on the planet.
posted by headnsouth at 8:18 AM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

I agree with headnsouth -- I've been in a relationship with another introvert for about a year and a half and over time, my 'bubble' has increased to include her most of the time, so that we're talking about living together and I don't feel stressed about that. But at first I definitely felt the burn-out/weariness that I associate with being with someone else for too long. It didn't go away for something as long as an overnight visit for probably five or six months. Your partner may not be quite as introverted as you and can adjust quicker. As long as he's understanding about it, and you do feel like it's getting better over time, I wouldn't say this is necessarily a red flag.
posted by possibilityleft at 9:02 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

My experience is that when there's a difference in levels of interest, I'm more likely to burn out because I'm spending energy trying to manage my anxiety (whether about leading someone on or coming on too strong). This doesn't have to be a relationship killer, but does take a lot of energy. So as someone with limited social energy, I have to decide if that's how I want to spend it. As with most things, sometimes it's worth it, and sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's successful, and sometimes it's not. It works out best with people who are respectful and willing to put in the time and effort for in-depth discussions about how things are going.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:06 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm an introvert, the beau is even more introverted than I am. One thing we did early in the relationship keeping things moving turtle-slow for the first year or so. We liked each other, and the feelings were mutual, but we both respected each other's needs' for space and quiet time, and gradually, we found that we were able to learn how to "introvert together", enjoying being in the same room together, but otherwise doing our own things.

We've been together for a bit over four years now, and we still keep our own separate spaces within our apartment, just so we know we have spaces in the place where we can chill out in if we just need a break from each other.

He burns out a little faster than I do, and it's not a sign that you're not a good fit for each other or anything--you're just different, with your own needs and wants, and it's tough to figure out how to share space with someone in general, I think. Introversion makes it even more tricky, but not impossible.
posted by PearlRose at 9:33 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm someone who straddles the introvert/extrovert line. I'm perceived as an extrovert and I can be very socially engaging, but social activities wear me out and empty me of energy. My partner is even more introverted than I am and is definitely perceived that way. What I've noticed is that both of us get tired out by other people, but we don't really get tired of each other. We do have needs for space and time apart, but the way we feel with each other is very different from the "drained" feeling we get from other people. I agree with EvaDestruction that this has something to do with level of interest (we're both really interested in each other), but I think it also has to do with the related dynamic of chemistry.. for whatever reason, my girlfriend and I really like spending time with each other more than with most other people.. we don't fully understand why, but that's how it is.

Everyone's different, but I think you sort of have to ask yourself: Would you be fine continuing to date this person but not having sleepovers? (If so, you simply need to communicate this and see how they respond.) Or would you rather date someone you feel comfortable spending more time with?
posted by Gray Skies at 9:37 AM on April 6, 2016

My ultimate definition of a long-term partner: "someone I can be alone with."
posted by Melismata at 9:39 AM on April 6, 2016 [8 favorites]

How much of your burnout is about being on your best behavior and/or constantly evaluating your behavior to ensure that the dates are going well, and how much of the burnout is just from straight interaction? One side is about not being at-ease\natural and might be a sign for a different conversation about the vibes you're giving each other. The other side is more about structuring the dates so that interaction is perhaps a bit less intense or constant.

For the latter, most of my partners have been great with either some activity that precludes constant interaction or "being alone together" as part of our dating -- like, "hey, let's take this class together where we can both focus on a craft without talking but then talk about it after the class is done" or "let's go on a long bike ride to a park for a picnic" or "let's go to a bookstore and maybe wander around separately for a bit, but then find each other intermittently when we find a book that we want to tell the other person about."

I've been living with my significant other for a year (and was cohabitating with another for six) and in each case we do set boundaries for alone/recharge time and it's been totally healthy. My current partner and I know when the other person gets home from work and is a bit depleted, and we know well enough to, say, leave each other alone until dinner's ready, then check in then. Boundaries work well especially if it's thought less of a way of keeping someone at bay and more as a way of defining a framework where, when you're permitted in side the boundary, you know that everything is safe and good.
posted by bl1nk at 9:44 AM on April 6, 2016

I get grumpy without time to myself to recharge, time to run errands and get my weekend or evening chores done around my house, and likewise my boyfriend has lots to do and not much time to do it. I think it's mostly the nature of dating as adults with full time jobs and separate households, it's a big change in how you spend your "free" time to be in a relationship and if you don't take care of yourself you get that burnt out feeling.

The solution has been for me to identify what I need time to do and figure out when I'm going to do it, and I let him know, and we agree on a rough time to get together with a plan of what we'll do (e.g. make dinner together, watch a movie, go out, etc.), just having good boundaries so that I'm not always at his place or always tagging along with his errands which was tempting in the beginning. If we're both free all day on a weekend I might go to my place to make food and relax and clean a bit while he runs errands or plays music and then we reconvene after a few hours, on weeknights we each take time to shower and relax a bit separately, maybe get a couple of chores out of the way before we get together, that way we're both excited to see each other and not feeling so stressed when we do - quality over quantity. We do sleep over with each other and I find it less taxing than I did in the beginning but it takes time, just lots of compromising to let each other do what makes each of us happy and not take it personally.
posted by lafemma at 9:47 AM on April 6, 2016

"I need alone-and-recharge time. My max amount of time that I can really spend with other people is x, with you it's x + y, and that's a really hard limit. I like you lots! You're great! I can spend that max amount of time with you, and then I need to be alone. How do we make this work?"
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:56 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

My wife and I are introverts, but have only suffered burn-out our first weekend together because we were together 60 hours straight, didn't sleep, and had constant activities the entire weekend, including overnight. That would burn out anyone, I think.

Otherwise, are are just completely compatible. I have dated other introverts and had burn out almost daily. I concluded that person just wasn't for me. When I met the right person, burn-out ceased to exist, even being introverts. (Now that we have kids, too, I just spend a lot of time in the bathroom. Cliche, but truth behind it.)
posted by TinWhistle at 9:58 AM on April 6, 2016

A followup to my comment above: communication is really important, not just in the beginning where you're explaining to the other person how introversion works in your world, but ongoing.

And self-awareness is a big part of that, lest your sudden boundaries hurt the other person. I live with my (extroverted) partner but last week I nearly cried when he suggested we pick up a few groceries together on the way home from a social event. Grocery shopping is *mine.* I took a deep breath and modulated my cringing reaction so he wouldn't feel rejected. There are probably still a lot of things like that whose value I don't even realize until the poor guy stumbles on them. Ongoing communication (with others and with yourself) will help you set comfortable & somewhat flexible boundaries.
posted by headnsouth at 10:22 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you have two questions here - general introvert dating burn-out, and your current situation - so I'll answer them separately.

General: initially, as an introvert, burn-out for me feels more like a sign of bad communication than anything else. Assuming that other people will understand the particular needs of an introvert who burns out after period of time X is an unreasonable expectation, and for the most part folks will not understand the setting of strong boundaries - and worse still, may well misinterpret them and take them personally. That said, even when I've explained to folks what I need/ why I need boundaries on time, they usually agree and then invariably start to push on those boundaries shortly after (not understanding that every push is in fact a push in the wrong direction) and to make matters worse, it makes me feel bad about myself, repeatedly having to take on the boundary enforcer role like some strict parent. Of course this then leads to frustration - which can be directed toward the time-boundary-pushing misunderstanding partner and toward myself in equal degrees - which typically results in me placing an excessive bias on the time boundary aspect of the relationship, which in turn masks my ability to assess where we are with the more basic - love, trust, compatibility etc - relationship requirements. The only way I've personally found around this is dating folks who live further away, to the extent that time boundaries are built into that type of relationship.

Current: what I'm hearing is an assumption that because you're both introverts, you're both on the same page with regard to time boundaries, yet it doesn't sound like you are. Given that introversion is a pretty broad spectrum, maybe it's worth you guys doing Myers-Briggs tests to hone in on your particular flavors of introversion and find your similarities/ differences? Personally, I've never dated an introvert, but while I think I'd find it a huge relief to date someone who understands burn-out (vs explaining it like I'm an outcast from another planet), I think I'd have to be mindful to try to separate that (substantial) relief from the nuts and bolts of whether the other signs lead to the possibility of a successful relationship.
posted by 7 Minutes of Madness at 10:35 AM on April 6, 2016

You are the only person who can answer your question, but here are some questions that might help you think through whether it's just you being slow (which, let me be clear, is a-ok: go the speed that works for you) and needing lots of space (also obviously fine) is "just you", or if it indicates some lack of chemistry/compatibility/fit that will ultimately lead you to always feel like it's not quite right.

What have your most successful relationships looked like? By successful here, I mean that the relationship had good times during which you were happily getting all or most of your dating relationship wants and needs met with a minimum of relationship things that detracted from your happiness and satisfaction.

You say the process usually takes a while. How does this compare to other times you've met/gotten to know new people (for friends or dating)? How does it compare to the process with the people who you're happiest to have in your life?

Ignore your head; what does your gut tell you?
posted by spindrifter at 11:39 AM on April 6, 2016

Listen, there is something to be said for being in a relationship with someone who is slightly more into you than you're into him. In my opinion, it sure as heck beats the other way around. If you have a history of pining over Mr. Unavailable, I would not be too quick to kick this guy to the curb. "Crushing" on people never worked for me and I gave it up entirely around age 25.

That said, I have dated genuinely needy guys before, which is definitely very draining. Usually this neediness stems from emotional unawareness and/or past hurt or neglect by others. It is useful to contrast infatuation with love. Infatuation is a selfish, giddy feeling, like being high on drugs. He will just want to get his "fix" of you, to make himself high. Whereas love is a self-sacrificing, deep, noble type of bond in which the other person puts aside their selfish desires sometimes to make you happy or make your life easier.

I think given enough time it will become clear which he has more of.

I think I need more specific information on what he's doing- does he need lots of touch? Does he interrupt your chores? Does he need to talk and have you listen? Etc.? Because if he's literally just sitting there, quiet, totally out of the way, not looking at you and not expecting anything, would that drain you at all? I doubt it. He's doing something that's contributing to this. You can probably negotiate a compromise if you try. One of the nice parts about him being more into you is that you have more leverage to negotiate. So just tell him "George, you know I think you're great, but I need you to go in the other room while I take this bubble bath/make dinner/do this spreadsheet. I will see you in 30 mins. Thanks!"
posted by quincunx at 1:29 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am you! Ask for what you need! Explain to him what is going on and that you have to work up to spending more time together, if that's the case.

I remember once I went on a great first date and the guy was trying to get me to hang out with him again first thing the following day (?!) and I recall thinking, "oh my god we just met, even though I am having a great time with you right now, I'm not giving you my whole weekend and I'm certainly not giving up the one day I get to spend time alone this week. Christ."

Had I kept seeing him, I've got no doubt he would have needed me to explain, very directly, what I need. Because to him that invitation was not an imposition, but an expression of interest/enthusiasm he probably thought I was thrilled to get!

Totally invite your guy over to hang out near one another while you are doing separate things. Or nap together. The introvert's dream date. Fuck, I wish I was in a park right now laying in someone's lap while we both read different books in silence.

In any case, though, your gut is right. If you talk about it with him and some time passes and you still feel drained and imposed upon, or irritated at a gut level, I think that's a clear sign and you should follow your instinct.
posted by zdravo at 2:26 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you might need to talk to him about it. It seems like you know your "difficulties" but you might want to talk to a therapist just to figure some basic things out. I went to a therapist a few months ago and learned a lot about my self and why I do certain things in my life and my love life.
Hope it will work out for you!
posted by Krislarsson at 7:10 AM on April 7, 2016

I'm an introvert and if I spend too much time with people I experience pretty serious "burn-out", an over-stimulated kind of exhaustion that leaves me wanting to barricade myself in a room alone and stare at a wall.

I experience exactly the same thing, so I unashamedly class myself as an introvert (though my tolerance has grown significantly over the years).

For a year or so ending about 10 months ago, I dated a girl who I'd put in the same category. That situation differs slightly from yours in that our tolerances basically matched: we didn't burn each other out and seemed to fall into a natural, comfortable rhythm where we both were happy. Downtime could happen in the same room at the same time: I'd waste time on Reddit (I know) and Metafilter (yay!), and she would waste time on Youtube and occasionally ask various wild questions as a way of thinking out loud... mainly about cooking, sometimes about technology, but none that I minded in the slightest. (The cooking questions tended to end empirically and usually deliciously; the technology questions I could either answer quickly and laconically, or resulted in extremely drawn out debates, much to my chagrin and her credit, since she won a bunch of them, and I'm meant to be the putative expert.)

Anyway, such an idyllic circumstance was perhaps doomed to end, which it did when her visa expired and she returned home for good. That's my experience; now to relate it to your situation.

I've been in relationships with people who are certainly not introverts. These have had varying degrees of success, but there's always been an underlying element of tension to which I could not reconcile myself no matter what I tried. I'm not sure if that's what you're describing when you say "It's easier for me to go into a relationship where I start out with a crush on the person because then the burn-out doesn't happen, but I haven't had the best luck with those types of relationships either!" but this point is probably worth your consideration.

Additionally I want to note that with this most recent, most comfortable, most enjoyable relationship (which perhaps shouldn't have happened for myriad reasons but which also almost certainly kept me alive in the most literal sense possible) - with this girl, issues related to boundaries and how much energy one partner was willing to expend and how much one partner was feeling uncomfortable or slighted - these issues were easy to resolve. I don't think that's a direct consequence of us both being introverts, but that definitely helped. It's been harder when I've dated non-introverts.

To be more direct regarding two of your questions:

Is having it at all (or even a few months in) a bad sign for long-term compatibility?

No, I don't think so - but the usual, universal relationship deal-breakers apply. Is your partner leaving the country for good, without you? And so on.

I can only hang out with him for about 7 hours max.

I'd encourage you to see that as a great positive sign, with room for even more positives to come. Of course I don't know your exact situation, but a few years back that's roughly double the amount I could get early in a relationship without feeling severely burnt-out. I think the main thing to consider then is how easily you can both accomodate each other's tolerances... if you can both tweak a few things, perhaps you can find a very happy medium.

Best of luck!
posted by iffthen at 2:29 PM on April 7, 2016

Thanks everyone, I found all the answers helpful.

It sounds like I need to learn to set stronger boundaries regarding my time and communicate them honestly. It's a relief to know this isn't an indicator of long-term incompatibility. Whether or not things work out with this guy, I'll know how to handle this better in the future!

(Regarding current guy, he has been very understanding in general so I think if I explain my burn-out to him he will respect it. He's not clingy, but he is very much into me while I am still unsure and, as EvaDestruction points out, I think that could be a factor here. It IS awkward and anxiety provoking when there is such a big disparity between the levels of interest.)
posted by seraph9 at 5:22 PM on April 8, 2016

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