What is an introvert? #456 & #457: Communication Expectations

Doctor Who on the phone.
“Hello Bruce? I have these ideas about the nature of the universe and advisability of vigilantism that I’d like to talk through with you.”

Hello Captain Awkward team!

Since I started college, my mother has been driving me crazy regarding calls home. Specifically, the frequency of my calls home. I am introverted and don’t express attachment and affection openly. In the beginning of college, if I didn’t call every single day to reassure her I was not dead in a ditch somewhere, she’d go crazy. If I don’t pick up the phone when she calls within the 3rd ring, she thinks I’m ignoring her. She once even called campus police to report me as missing, all because I took a prolonged sleep to recover from an allnighter and didn’t think it was that big of a deal to call her! She’s gotten a lot better now but calls every 2 to 3 days is still very demanding for me, especially during midterms when I barely even have time to eat.

If I don’t call her for a week, she’ll get angry and then refuse to pick up her phone when I do call. So then, I don’t bother to call her (it’s immature behavior in my opinion) until she caves in and calls me, all upset because “You don’t love me anymore and don’t call me!” Gee I wonder why. I told her to get texting (she doesn’t have it) or check her email since I like reading over talking but she says those mediums aren’t good because “They aren’t as human as talking on the phone. Also, if you were kidnapped, texts and emailed could be falsified by your kidnappers so I won’t call the police in time to save you!”

I’d rather be able to call her once a week, which is more reasonable for my schedule. She, however, sees this as me not appreciating and loving her anymore. She has a great fear of being a failure as a mother (I’m the eldest child) since she had a horrible relationship with her own mother. I’ve tried to reason with her but she just complains and whines about how I don’t love her enough to take the effort to call her. Her solutions are also ridiculous; she suggested I call her every time I use the bathroom, which is gross to me and a bad idea for a klutz who has dropped phones into the toilet multiple times.

It doesn’t help very much that I hardly see her since my school is far away. She also doesn’t understand I don’t run in crowds that would likely get me kidnapped. Since I am currently going through a bout of being ignored, do you have any suggestions for improving the situation once she gives in and calls me?

Hello, Tired Introvert:

First, being introverted and “preferring not to express attachment and affection openly” are two different things.

Introverted = You need a lot of time alone, and being around people too much can sap your energy. If you are around people for long periods of time, you will likely need a lot of alone time to recharge.

Not expressing affection “openly”= It’s own separate thing. Consider it a preference, or a habit. A tendency. You don’t like to talk about emotional stuff. That’s not a good thing or a bad thing, it just is. But it’s not because you are an introvert. Neurotypical introverts (this one included) can express themselves just fine in words, get along with people just fine, make friends just fine, and even have highly interactive jobs just fine. We just need to balance those interactions with plenty of alone time to recharge. It takes practice sometimes, or doesn’t come naturally sometimes, or is downright hard and scary sometimes, sure, but it is a skill or mode of expression that can be learned. This isn’t just for you, Letter Writer, but I don’t want to see any more “I am an introvert, so I can’t ________” questions.

Let’s get to your actual question, which is about how to set boundaries with your mom.

You can deliver this script in the form of an email, if you like.

Mom, we need to come up with a new plan for how to handle phone calls, because the way things are now is really stressing me out. I want us to be able to catch up and be involved in each other’s lives, but I need it to be a more scheduled, regular thing and not cause so much anxiety and fighting. Let’s schedule a weekly time to talk. _____ day at _____ time works for me.

She’ll probably reply with the usual “YOU DON’T LOVE ME” stuff.

Say, “Wow, that’s really not true. But I’ll talk to you on _____ at ______ time.”

Then call her at the agreed-upon time. If she sulks and ignores you, say “Well, mom, I was really looking forward to catching up. I guess I’ll call you (next week) at (usual time).” And then do it. If you have time, send her a periodic text or voice mail or piece of physical mail to let her know what’s going on as well.

And don’t pick up the phone any other time she calls. Let it go to voice mail. If your phone allows you to set things so her calls automatically go to voicemail, turn that thing on. “She thinks that if I don’t pick up by the third ring, I’m ignoring her.” Yep, you’ll be ignoring her.

If she calls 10,000 times and you pick up on the 10,001st time, you’re teaching her that it takes 10,001 calls to get your attention. If you do want to respond somehow, email her later that day- “Got your phone call, sorry, I don’t have time to talk – what’s up?” Lesson: You won’t talk on the phone at all hours, but you will respond quickly in case there is an actual emergency.

If she calls campus police to check on you, let them check. Say “I’m fine, but my mom freaks out if she doesn’t hear from me every day. Sorry she bothered you.” It’s not the end of the world. Checking on students for worried parents is part of their job.

The kidnapping thing….just….wow. I mean, she is right that voice verification is considered Proof of Life, but her anxiety about you being far away is HER anxiety, and she needs to find other ways to deal with that and channel it.

One time when I was studying abroad, I went on a solo trip during a school break and my mom freaked out about the fact that I was going to be traveling alone. And then I said “Everyone on my program is leaving for the break, so if I stayed here I would also be alone.” Kind of broke her brain, that one did. She used to also do bed-checks at very early morning hours, to make sure I was actually sleeping in my bed when I was supposed to be. Since this was in the ancient era before cell phones, she would call on the shared phone, which would wake my roommate up as well as me. Since this was also in the days before caller ID, my roommate had the great idea to treat it like an obscene phone call. She blew a whistle into the phone and then said “STOP CALLING FREAK, WE DON’T WANT TO SUCK YOUR FEET.” (The gross thing is, we *were* getting obscene phone calls. Some guy would call the Georgetown freshman dorms pretending to be your roommate’s dad, and then it would get…icky).

Parents worry, and depending on how long you’ve been at school your mom might need some time to adjust to you being away, but making a plan to check in regularly and then sticking to that plan (and texting her/emailing her in advance if the plan is going to change) should go a long way to settle her down.

She won’t like it. She will resist, and do everything she can to test the boundaries, and you’ll probably hear a lot more mean/anxious/guilt-inducing words, but eventually I think she will figure out that her kid loves her and will call her once/week for a meaningful amount of time and use email the rest of the time. Your mom is a grownup, and she can figure out how to deal with her anxiety/fill her time/find meaningful human contact on her own.

Also, “I’m worried that I’ll be a failure as a parent, so take my calls all the time and reassure me that I am not” is TOO MUCH to put on your kids, jeez. Maybe a trip to the student counseling center is in order for you sometime when you get a moment, because that is a lot of outsized expectations to digest.

Batman on the Batphone
“Yeah, this is kind of an emergencies-only line.”

Dear Captain Awkward,

I find myself in an unusual position. I’m a person who is extremely extroverted, talks a lot, discusses all my feelings, needs, wants, and typically hashes things through with my “Team You” to handle my life’s issues. I wear my feelings on my sleeve, want to make friends with everyone and their rubber duck, and am generally an explosion of silliness and glitter.

My problem, however, is that for the first time, I’m dating an introvert. A SHY introvert! Earlier in life, I figured out that I may be overwhelming at times. Usually I can pick up on cues with introverted friends of mine, and tend to pipe down/give them space. However, because this is a romantic relationship, I’ve run into issues that I haven’t run into before.

It’s very difficult to know my partner’s feelings. He tells me that he finds great difficulty in articulating his thoughts, and tends to stumble over his words a lot. He has mentioned that he’s had issues in previous relationships because he has times where he “shuts down.” And let me tell you, Capt’n, I’ve experienced it once, and it was horrifically painful. I felt like he didn’t care anymore! I kinda cajoled him into talking about it, because goshdarnit, you can’t not talk about problems! He says that it’s not that he doesn’t care anymore, it’s just that he gets an overload of stimuli at certain times and he becomes irritated because of it. The best solution I could come up with was for him to give me a code word when he’s in this mood, and I can just vacate and give him his space. He didn’t want to do this though! He said he didn’t want to hurt my feelings by indicating that he wants me to go away (which is how he feels this solution would come across).

He is currently seeing a therapist and is getting medical treatment for his depression. He has a lot of issues that he’s working through, this particular issue included.

He genuinely is a sweet, funny, and caring person, but I struggle with not knowing his moods or mindsets. I’ve asked him to talk to me more, and he tries, but I know it’s out of his comfort zone. 

I understand that since he is an introvert he may well have different needs than me. I’d love to have some tips about how to make sure someone is getting what they need even when they don’t really tell me (and how to get what I need too!). What can I do to help my extreme extroversion and his introversion/shyness work together harmoniously?

Extrovert McExtroversion

Dear Extrovert McExtroversion:

I think the code word was a great suggestion. I mean, which is worse – telling you he wants to be alone for a bit to cool off/figure out what he wants to say using a prearranged signal, or totally shutting down and making you play guessing games about his moods and what he needs? He might not be good at using all his words, but one word? He can’t give you one word, or like, a hand signal that says “Circle back to me in an hour?” Option One probably won’t hurt your feelings. Option Two is actually hurting your feelings and making things harder for you.

By not giving you that, he’s basically setting you up for what he (says that he) least wants: A period of guessing games where you try to suss out what’s going on and ask him a lot of questions and he gets more and more shut down and avoidant.

Also, to echo the first question from today, being an introvert and being avoidant of emotional conversations (or being an extrovert and good at emotional conversations) are not the same thing. Obviously you can be both introverted and have trouble communicating about emotions. You can be extroverted and talk about everything except emotions. Having trouble understanding and communicating about emotions can be part of being non-neurotypical and require real help  to figure out and navigate when relating to other people – it can feel like and be an actual disability. But introverted tendencies do not cause and are not even directly correlated to trouble with communication skills.

I’m glad your partner is working with a therapist and trying out some stuff, and one of the things he should maybe try working on is recognizing when he gets in “don’t talk to me” mood and sending out some kind of clear signal that you can respond to.

I totally get the difference between being a processor who shows their work in figuring out emotional things and being someone who considers quietly and would prefer to speak aloud only when a decision has been made. It’s like if The Doctor were dating Batman. The Doctor needs to let Batman know “I want to hear what you have to say even if you aren’t sure about it, ‘haven’t decided yet’ would be an acceptable answer if that’s where you really are with things” and Batman needs to let The Doctor know “Hey, could you think out loud somewhere else right now? I have important brooding to do.”

I realize I just picked two of the least emotionally healthy characters in pop culture for that example, so for a less dysfunctional example, I give you this great post by Commander Logic about how showing more of the work doesn’t always mean *doing* more of the work.

You asked for tips. “I’d love to have some tips about how to make sure someone is getting what they need even when they don’t really tell me (and how to get what I need too!)”

I’m hoping readers can help here, because my tips are:

  • Behave normally – like, be nice and kind to him, tell him when something is working and when something isn’t, ask him how his day was, tell him how yours was, tell him when you appreciate and enjoy something, and treat him as you would like to be treated. If you do that, are you enjoying the relationship? Then it’s working.
  • If you feel like he’s avoiding something – doesn’t really want to talk, being really monosyllabic, not wanting to be touched, seems upset (I’m picturing a cat hiding under the couch here), ask him once: “Is there something you want to talk about or anything I can do?” and if there isn’t, go do something else with your time. Call up Team You, go out, get those needs you have met elsewhere. That communicates both “I care enough to try to pick up your signals” and “I don’t need you to fill my every need” and also “So if there is something you were really wanting to happen or on your mind, you can just tell me.” If this starts to feel lonely and depressing instead of caring and like taking a needed break from each other, maybe this isn’t the relationship for you.
  • I don’t know how often you hang out, but schedule some time together that is not talkative. Reading together in the same room. Watching a movie together. My best roommates ever have understood that mornings = quiet time. A few weeks ago, Commander Logic and I had a very awesome chatty lunch where we caught up. Then we went to her place and each disappeared into our work, speaking only very occasionally over the course of three hours. It was great.
  • Assume that if there is some deep-seated need he has that he will find some way to communicate it to you. I think it is very productive to be polite and considerate and respect people’s stated boundaries. I think it is very unproductive and exhausting to try to read your partner like he’s the weather or a Magic 8 ball or a palm and try to perfectly anticipate his needs. If he’s not saying stuff, then assume there is no Stuff. If he’s loudly Not Saying Stuff (by sighing a lot and obviously hoping that you’ll ask him about Stuff, and then claiming there is No Stuff when you do ask), then still assume there is No Stuff until he tells you WTF the Stuff is.
  • Get your needs met by asking for what you need. “Partner, when you’re in shut-down mode, it feels really scary to me and I am afraid of saying or doing something to make it worse. Can you give me some signal – a code word, a gesture – that tells me that’s what’s happening so I can clear off for a bit? That would make me feel a lot better and give you the space to process. Also, when you come out of that mode, it would mean a lot to me if you would seek me out and show me some affection.” It sounds like you are already good at this, so, keep awesome-ing.

Commander Logic has good advice on how to start speaking up when it’s hard for you here, and I know in comments she has posted the Occasional Check-In “Name that Need!” Ritual that she and HusbandLogic do when they get crungry (cranky + hungry) or flaily and words start to fail them:

Are we….hungry? Tired? In a kissing mood? Wanting to talk? Wanting to be quiet? Needing to use the bathroom? Too cold? Too hot? Coffee? Whiskey? Coffee with whiskey in it, then makeouts, then sleep? Awesome! Name that need!

Sometimes the Self is a tired, cranky toddler and needs to be coaxed gently to the table and fed for its own good, and a partner can help that. Sometimes what I have to express out loud is “I am too hungry to make a decision about where to eat, please just pick something and I will be grateful” or “I am having a lot of feelings at the same time right now, need more time to process, let’s change subject now.” Once in the early stages of dating I sent my boyfriend a text that just said “FEELINGS” and he texted back “Returned, with interest” and I smiled the whole rest of the day.

Your boyfriend is a person, not a project, and you are neither his parent or his Pygmalion. The whole relationship shouldn’t be about you coaxing affection and conversation out of him. That’s not an introvert/extrovert thing, that’s a do we fit? thing. So if it’s mostly working, let it work. If it’s mostly not working, ask for what would work for you and see if he can find a way to get you there.

Recommended resources about introversion:

242 thoughts on “What is an introvert? #456 & #457: Communication Expectations

  1. Sorry, nothing useful to contribute, I just have to say that this:

    It’s like if The Doctor were dating Batman. The Doctor needs to let Batman know “I want to hear what you have to say even if you aren’t sure about it, ‘haven’t decided yet’ would be an acceptable answer if that’s where you really are with things” and Batman needs to let The Doctor know “Hey, could you think out loud somewhere else right now? I have important brooding to do.”

    has got to be the best crossover ever.

        1. Mine too, I took the plotbunny and ran with it! Probably in the spamfilter/moderation 😉

          1. Sorry, that was supposed to read ‘Standing Ovation’. Unfortunately I got clever and put it in pointy brackets and forgot WordPress automatically deletes bits in pointy brackets from comments. Anyway, the general message was meant to be: Utterly. Awesome.

        1. I love you so much right now. Seriously, you are my hero and you need to write more crossovers with Doctor Who. You got the voice EXACTLY right.

  2. LW1 – wow, that sounds like some stressful relationship there. My mum also went through a ‘you’re far away and when we don’t hear from you we don’t know if you’re dead in ditch!’ phase including phone calls daily that magically happened to be five minutes after I’d got into bed, no matter what time I did that. I also hate talking on the phone, particularly when I’m depressed (which was a big problem then, and why my parents were so worried about me) and so the whole thing got really upsetting for everyone involved. I think your mum definitely needs to back off, but I anticipate a HUGE amount of DRAMA when you try and instigate 1 call/week. Can you compromise with a twice a week email saying hi and telling her stuff that you’ve been up to? I’m strongly seconding the talk to a therapist advice too.

    LW2 – I do not think you have ‘dating an introvert’ problems. I think you have ‘dating a person who is bad at communicating their feelings’ problems. These are not the same thing! I am an introvert, but I am fairly good at communicating when I need alone time and when I am up for talking time. Things that helped me figure out how to communicate that: realizing that I was not fun to hang out with when I was dreading every moment of the interaction and creating expectations that I WILL disappear and take some down time when I need it, and that this is non-negotiable.

    Talk to your BF, and make it super clear that what’s happening right now is horrible for you. Because it is! You, like LW1, are carrying all the responsibility for whether your interactions go well, even when they could (fairly easily!) make that less of a burden for you. If code words stress him out, could he have coloured cards? Red card for ‘please give me some space and alone time’, orange for ‘quiet time together please’ and green for ‘totally up for interacting’? But if he doesn’t show willingness to change on this, I would personally find that really really tough, and it would make me not want to be with that person.

    1. OtherAlice: From the sound of it, LW1 is going to get a huge amount of drama if she tries setting *any* boundaries on the number of calls. I don’t think attempted compromises such as setting the boundary at twice a week vs. once a week are going to make any difference to that. That would work if she was dealing with a nice reasonable ‘you want X, I want Y, can we look at how we can compromise?’ situation, but the problem is that tactics for those situations don’t work when you’re actually in a situation where the other person’s attitude is ‘I INSIST ON X, IT MUST BE X, HOW TERRIBLY INCONSIDERATE ARE YOU FOR DOING ANYTHING LESS THAN IMMEDIATELY GIVING ME X, DRAMA DRAMA DRAMA’. LW1 is going to be stuck with going through all this however she tries to handle it, so she may as well at least set the boundary where she wants it rather than go through all the dramz just to set a boundary that she isn’t even happy with.

      1. Seconded. If LW1 actually wants to write her twice a week, they should go for it! It’s about what LW1 wants. But as you already lined out, it won’t change a thing, if LW1 tries to compromise because omg, they are setting a boundary, how EVIL! (That is sarcasm.)

    2. Yes, this is definitely a communication problem, not an introvert problem!

      The difference between you in sociability may be affecting things, but only because you can’t put yourself in his shoes and figure out what he wants. But you know what? That’s not something he should be making you do anyways.

  3. My partner and I are both introverts with depressive tendencies, but we handle our sad-times very differently. I am someone who deals with problems by talking about them; I work things through as I go, either through conversations with other people or a lot of internal chatter. When I’m upset I do sometimes shut down a bit or want to be alone with my sadness, but a lot of the time I also want to talk about it too after I’ve spent some time thinking things through. I feel like most of the time I can at least identify part of what’s bothering me, even if I have no idea *why* it’s bothering me so much.

    My partner, on the other hand, tends to withdraw and become even more quiet than usual when they’re upset. They’re much less likely to have a sense of what the problem is, which is fine – just different from how I feel. It took me quite a while, in the beginning of this relationship, to realize that “I’m sad so I’m spending time quietly working, distracting myself, and not having anything to tell you when you ask what’s up” didn’t mean “I am tired of being with you and you are bothering me by asking if you can help.”
    I still struggle with this sometimes, especially if our downswings line up and I feel less able to handle much of anything, but I’ve come to realize that we process things very differently and that’s ok.

    Both of us get a lot of value out of quiet time snuggling together on the couch while we either do our own thing close to each other (laptop work, reading) or watch tv together. It helps both of us feel close and mutually supported and has been a huge help when one or both of us aren’t feeling our best.

    1. Can I just say that I have recently discovered earplugs and white noise apps, and they are awesome?

    2. I need to express this to my kids and boyfriend, only my time is getting home after work, not in the morning. I’m concentrating on dinner and decompressing. Need quiet solitude, if only for about 20 minutes.

      1. The spouse sometimes comes home from work and says, “I’m cranky, so I’m sending myself to my room.”

    3. The whole “morning = sacred quiet time” is a big part of why I’m a morning person. Mornings when no one else is awake and I can putter in blissful solitude and silence and drink tea for a while almost always lead into Good Days.

    4. Not a clue. I learned to sleep with earbuds in. Boring podcasts are my friends. I don’t function in the mornings for about an hour after I get up; I warn people once or twice, then I just let myself be a silent broody wet blanket until my brain starts working. I try not to actually be mean, but I have more than once turned to someone who was chattering at me, summoned up all the coherency I had right then, and gritted out, “Stop. Talking.” They will either figure it out, or they won’t.

      I also tend to answer people in not-English when I’m woken up unexpectedly. Often in swear words. That’s a separate issue, though.

  4. I’m also someone who “shuts down” occasionally, which has sometimes caused problems with partners. What reliably makes things even worse, though, is when my partner insists on making my depressed moods All About Them, like I’m being a terrible partner for not showing them how much I care right in that moment. LW2, I know it’s a very bad road to go down to say “You must abandon your own needs and let your partner’s take priority!” but if your BF’s shutdowns are only a once-in-a-while thing, and he’s already getting help for it, is it really such a bad thing to let his needs take priority over yours, just until the shutdown passes? Can you reassure yourself that he really does still care for you (or at least, that this is Not The Time to be questioning whether he does or doesn’t) and that he’ll be back to his normal self before too long?

    Also: Talk to him when he’s *not* shut down to see if he has any advice on how you can recognize his moods and what you can do to help when it happens. Presumably, he knows himself a lot better than you know him, or we know him.

    1. I cannot begin to describe how much it breaks my brain to have my partner go into shutdown mode. If he would just say “I need some space, I’ll let you know when I’m feeling better” (which is basically what the OP has asked for) I *would* feel shit about it (because we live in each other’s pockets) but I would also have a freaking boundary I would be able to respect.

      Bearing in mind that obviously I do back off when he’s acting like this but this has lead to painful, painful confusion in the past and goddamnit I was raised in counsellors offices so lack of communication burns me.

      Having someone refuse to talk to you/snap at you/refuse to acknowledge anything is wrong even when asked in as many words/go from being comfortable with you to flinching away from being touched sucks SO MUCH and I think it’s really unfair to characterise wanting someone to just SAY “yep, I don’t feel too great, and I’d like personal space for the next few hours” as “insist[ing] on making my depressed moods All About Them”.

      /touchy subject. 😛

      1. I can see this 100%, hrovitnir. I don’t deal with the silent treatment. That, to me, is a non-negotiable indicator that now is time to break up.

        TELL me you need time, space, silence, a marathon of Supernatural, whatever. In some way indicate that YOU need space and I can then both respect that need and request, and also not make it about me.

        Johanna, I do see what you’re saying, but don’t think that respecting someone’s need for cave time is antithetical to setting up a system for telling your partner you need time. Within a partnership like the one described, the LW needs to know that something is up, that hir partner needs space, and the partner needs time and space. A simple indication of that seems respectful to both.

      2. Exactly. The motto isn’t “Use Your Words When You Feel Like It”. Part of what makes us adults who behave like adults is choosing to say “Hey, I need a day or two to myself because Sadness” instead of shutting people out and making them guess what’s wrong. After all, you’ve clearly shown that you’re willing to respect the cave-time when it is needed; apart from generally trying to be aware and kind, the onus is on them to articulate their needs.

      3. Seconded. My first ex did that, only in his case it wasn’t a depression thing (or at least; not entirely, I suppose that possibility was there), it was a manipulation thing – he’d get pissed about some little thing I’d done and, instead of telling me, he’d just shut off and refuse to talk to me until I’d figured out what it was and properly atoned for it in some way. But regardless of motivation or reasoning behind it, having someone act like that to you can be enough to ruin *your* mood for a good long time, and I would imagine that in that situation, reassurance that it has nothing to do with you can make all the difference.

    2. Johanna: When I’m overwhelmed I have the instinct to shut down as well, to ignore everyone else including my partner and retreat into my head to sort out my thoughts. But I’ve learned that if I don’t 1) Signal that I need and space to time to myself, and 2) Show some affection, even a silent hug, if not say “It’s going to be ok.” in some way, and 3) follow up when I’m ready to talk about it – that it’s stonewalling my partner and really scary and unfair to him.

      If I’m reacting to him for example, I might take a page from the Captain and say, “That’s your jerkbrain talking, and I don’t want to talk to it. When you’re back, we can talk again.” *hug*

      If I’m not reacting to him, I might say, “I need some space and time to work out what I’m feeling. But it’s going to be ok. I’ll come talk to you when I’m ready.” *hug*

      I think my partner needs to know that even when I retreat into myself that I am not upset with him, and even if I am that it’ll be ok and I still feel affection for him. He needs to know what’s happening and what he needs to do – even if that’s step back and give some space. That isn’t too much to ask for, and it’s my responsibility to communicate what I need.

      LW2: I think you deserve at least that much communication and signs of affection from your BF, it’s not fair of him to stonewall you; and if he has deep problems communicating his emotions and needs in the moment then he needs to actively work on them with a therapist. Be there for him, support and encourage him and offer to do what you can to help, but ultimately you can’t fix this for him.

  5. LW1 – Hey, are you secretly my sibling? Because we apparently have exactly the same mother, right down to the parental-insecurity. Except in my case I’m the baby, so I got a lot of, “When your brothers were this age, they were in trouble, so obviously you must be in trouble.”

    I did exactly what the Captain is suggesting here — scheduled interaction once a week and ignored everything in-between. Now we’re a bit more relaxed — I call at other times in the week, for example — but I still have zero problem ignoring phone calls if I can’t talk. Everybody (not just my mother) now knows that I don’t answer the phone unless I feel like talking, but I do check my messages. If it’s an emergency, tell me it is in voicemail (or text me) and I’ll get to it ASAP.

    it works pretty well.

    One other thing that might be helpful: Is there anyone else in your family you can get on your side with this? In my case, I had an older brother who would step in to mediate sometimes: “No, mom, I promise she’s OK, I talked to her earlier this week.” Maybe if your mom feels like other people are watching out for you, she won’t feel like the entire responsibility of “MAKE SURE KID IS OKAY!” is on her shoulders?

  6. I’d like to just note, for the codeword thing: only offer this if you *really mean it*. If you can genuinely handle “grapefruit” meaning “please go away”.

    I get overwhelmed/overstimulated as an ASD thing. I have had well-meaning allistics tell me that they really truly don’t mind being told when they need to leave me alone . . . .only to feel and act hurt and rejecte when I actually took them up on it. (This may be part of your partner’s unwillingness to take this route: he may intuitively feel that there is no way you could actually be happy with being told to leave him alone, even if it’s phrased as “grapefruit”.)

    If you can make it work – and I have with other people – then it’s a great solution. But LW, as the extroverted/whatever party, be really sure it really won’t hurt your feelings before you put it in place.

    1. I agree with this.

      I’ve been burnt before when I was told, “Just tell me when you need quiet time!”, and I did, and then I got hurt “I feel rejected” responses when I did. (Which always feels like a double slap in the face–not only do I not get the quiet time I need, suddenly I have to take care of someone else’s wounded feelings, which is particularly hard and complicated.)

      It’s made me leery of that as a solution, although with time I’ve become able to use it with people I trust.

      I think it comes up sometimes because Extrovert Partner says, “If you need alone time, just say grapefruit!” without necessarily thinking about all the situations in which it might be used. Then Extrovert Partner feels that they really really really need to talk about [how their mom hurt their feelings/what their boss said at work today/whether their friend meant to snub them or it was an accident/something else important and pressing], and they won’t be able to process and work through their feelings if they don’t, but it’s a day where I have to say ‘grapefruit,’ and they have a hard time hiding the hurt/disappointment, and/or the feelings build up until they ASPLODE.

      With my current partner, I’ve expanded it so that I don’t just say “grapefruit,” I say, “grapefruit; if you really need to talk about this, maybe call Ethel or Fred?” (Where Fred and Ethel are close friends of my partner who are likely to be up for hearing about mom/boss/friend.) It both provides my “I can’t talk now please” boundary and usefully redirects.

      1. I’ve found that it’s basically impossible to not feel hurt when someone grapefruits you, but that it’s okay to just work in a program to fix it afterwards–like, they tell you to go away (nicely!), you go away and feel hurt for a little while, (AWAY FROM THEM NOT IN THEIR FACE), and when they invite you back they act extra-lovey and cuddle you bunches and make sure to tell you with words that they still like you. You are going to feel hurt when you get rejected. But you can manage those feelings (“I am feeling rejected, but that is not a reflection on reality, and when partner feels better they will make sure I don’t feel rejected anymore and it will be okay” or whatever internal script helps you cope) and heal them afterwards. It’s a whole lot easier than ACTUALLY being rejected because your partner is sick of you and doesn’t want you in their face anymore because you’re annoying and why did they ever like you?, which is what happens if you don’t go away when they need you to.

        1. Exactly. Even though it hurts to be grapefuited it hurts a thousand times less than what comes of trying to keep going at it, when they really need space. I have been grapefruited once and, yes, water escaped my eyes as I left, but I was also grateful that he asked for what he needed and felt less anxious than I would have if I just had to sense that he didn’t want me there and didn’t like me.

          Also, related but not the same, my partner sometimes disappears. He stops answering phone calls, texts and so on and it is simply horrible for a person like me with a slightly anxious attachment style, who also needs extra security after a destructive relationship. I have asked my partner to tell me when he needs space, when he needs to disappear for a while, and he has said he can do that, that he will ask for any space that he needs and that I don’t need to worry about him disappearing for a month without a word again, because he says won’t, but then he disappears without a word anyway or he says that he wants so talk at Time and Date, but then doesn’t show up and is just gone and it always makes me freak out internally. He hasn’t been gone for very long since the month thing, but just like the three first days and nights of the month that he was gone were the worst, when I couldn’t sleep etc, I instantly get super anxious when I notice he’s disappearing again. I can’t know that he won’t be gone for a month or forever. In his case depression is involved, which makes it harder, but I still need some kind of stability to be able to live this relationship.

          If he could say that he needs some space (especially if he could give me a date and then check in again at that date to say if he still needs space or if we can go back to interacting) AND if he could act like you write, “when they invite you back they act extra-lovey and cuddle you bunches and make sure to tell you with words that they still like you” I think it would be way easier to handle. I wouldn’t have to constantly doubt his love and devotion. It could potentially be some sort of middle-way maybe between his need for space and my need for emotional closeness, love and security (=daily contact according to my… lizard brain maybe?). Thank you for those words. I will ask him for it when he comes back from his hiding place.

          1. Ow, that sounds unpleasant. 😦 I actually do this as well – every now and then I just crash utterly and part of that is that I’m no longer able to initiate communication + will avoid it if I can (e.g. not pick up the phone). And I, too, will do things like tell people “I’ll let you know when this happens!” only to… not… just because when I’m *not* undead (this is my personal metaphor for what this feels like) I have trouble really comprehending that yes, it *is* that bad, I *am* that unable to send out an e-mail going “sorry zombified :(” to my mother or whoever. And just… with things like depression, it’s very easy to gloss over difficulties you have going “everyone can do this! this shouldn’t be a big deal! I’ll do it NEXT TIME!” and not realise this is actually something you’re incapable of.

            Something I’ve tried which might be helpful for your partner is to draft an e-mail during my good phases saying “I’m sorry, I’m not doing well right now, will contact you once I’m better” so I can just send it off with a click during my bad phases and don’t have to actually formulate anything. However, this might not work (it doesn’t work as well as I’d like for me, in fact), or he might not want to do it.

            Honestly, I think you might have to do the traditional Captain Awkward exercise: what will you do if this doesn’t change? What will you do if he’s unable (or unwilling, w/ev) to give you a warning when he vanishes? Is this an acceptable cost of the relationship for you? Because it sounds like it’s really making you suffer, but at the same time I wouldn’t count on this being something he can change.

          2. As the “graperuiting” partner in my relationship, this is actually really excellent advice. My partner craves close contact and affection when she’s upset – I desperately need quiet time to unwind myself (and sort out what is true emotion and what is sneaky jerkbrain. Yay coping skills learned in therapy!). When I need that time I tell her exactly this: “Out of spoons, need an hour in the spoon factory.” and then I go and do what I need to.

            And she has a sad about it because it really is hard to be told “I can’t give you what you need right now, please go away”. But when I am done I go shower her with goofy affection and we both feel much better for it. It really does help that we have a script for how to manage needing different things, and that it’s something we both find kind of funny.

            At first we didn’t have this plan, and I would just go and be quiet and she would do variations on “What’s wrong/are you okay/did I do something?” and honestly, it just made both of us feel even worse. It took a while to figure out how to negotiate this, and a while to convince myself that I CAN find the last dregs in me to tell her what I need and trust that she’ll respect that.

            I also think that the affirmation and affection that comes after the quiet time is important for both parties (your mileage may vary of course). You deserve to know you are still loved and that everything is alright LW2, and at least in my experience, having that affection and reassurance when I rejoin the world is a very positive thing.

          3. Actually it was the pre-drafted email I was asking for after having read something here about an editor who would give hir writers a standard email to send if they for some reason were unable to meet their deadline, so that zie could avoid having to chase writers who, because of shame, would pretend like everything was fine right up until the deadline. I thought it was a wonderful thing for an editor to do and I also thought that maybe a pre-drafted email was something that my partner could use when he was feeling less communicative. I suggested it, but he said he didn’t need it. That he was perfectly capable of telling me if he needed space. This time I guess he did, a little bit, but combined with a promise he didn’t keep.

            We had had a rough time last time we met, where I needed to address this very issue and he couldn’t handle talking and I ended up feeling trapped and retreated into my shell because I just couldn’t fake things being fine, I couldn’t cuddle with him and “talk about the weather” without addressing the fact that I was super insecure about if I could even call him, how we should communicate when not together, if he really did like me or maybe just wanted someone to cuddle with etc. If he could have given me the extra love with words and actions, like CheckeredFoxglove describes, when we met after that time and the previous time that he had vanished, I wouldn’t have had to sort of try to ask for it (and not get it) and if he could have apologized for not picking up the phone or returning my calls or at least somehow recognized my feelings instead of just brushing them off, I could know that he at least cares about how it hurts me, even if he can’t act any other way.

            Anyway, that morning he suggested that we should video chat in the evening. I waited for him online, but he didn’t show up. He texted me later when I had gone to bed already saying “Too much angst. Let’s talk tomorrow.” That was several days ago and I haven’t heard from him and he won’t answer. It’s really hard to be “stood up”, but at least I had a clue that he didn’t really want to talk. I didn’t want to talk that evening either really, because I felt I would rather be alone by myself than alone in conversation with him, which I was still afraid would happen since I wasn’t convinced he actually wanted to talk.

            If we are unable to change this situation then I would have to leave, because as you say it is really making me suffer. Something has to change. Maybe not exactly as outlined here, but this is very emotionally draining. I really do not want to leave though. It is an awful thought. I really, really hope we can come up with something that works for both of us.

            Gah, so much text! Sorry. Anyway, thank you so much for your perspective.

        2. For me, whether it hurts to be grapefruited depends entirely on whether I feel essentially secure in the relationship. If I am with someone who withdraws when I need them to engage, I have a terrible time. But those people are not good at saying grapefruit.

          Now I am with someone who engages most of the time, and I feel totally secure in the relationship. Now, when I get grapefruited, I understand on a deep level that it is not about me, it is about his needs.

          So what I feel is usually pretty neutral.

          For me, feeling secure is key.

          1. EXACTLY.

            Partner and I regularly need our alone time (two introverts, dontchaknow) and – honestly? Hearing “grapefruit” – or in our case “I need some introvert time soon, hun,” – does not upset me in any way at all. Like. Not at all. I’m not even sure that I can empathise with how it *would* (though obviously I sympathise).

            We’re both there for each other in emergencies/really bad times though, and we often schedule larger blocks of introvert time in advance. It keeps us sane and happy.

        3. You make a really good point. I think it’s likely (and totally okay) that someone will feel hurt when they get “grapefruited.” Then again, it’s inevitable that people in relationships will hurt each other sometimes. When you have two people who have conflicting needs in a particular situation, one of them will not get their needs met, and it will hurt.

          The key is being mature enough to put one’s own needs aside when necessary (and not punishing the partner for it later). I’m usually the partner who needs to say “grapefruit,” and I really appreciate when my spouse sets aside his desire for attention to let me have some space. On the other hand, sometimes I want to say “grapefruit” but it’s clear that my partner really needs me, and I can put aside my need for alone-time to help him out emotionally.

          I think it’s essential that the LW’s partner be free to say his code word and have that respected, and have LW put her needs aside for a while so that he can meet his. On the other hand, she should feel confident that when she really, truly, needs him, he will put *his* needs aside for a while to meet hers, as well. Neither of them should abuse this, but I don’t think a relationship can be healthy without that kind of give and take.

    2. “I get overwhelmed/overstimulated as an ASD thing. I have had well-meaning allistics tell me that they really truly don’t mind being told when they need to leave me alone . . . .only to feel and act hurt and rejecte when I actually took them up on it. (This may be part of your partner’s unwillingness to take this route: he may intuitively feel that there is no way you could actually be happy with being told to leave him alone, even if it’s phrased as “grapefruit”.)”

      I am an allistic person who BSODs occasionally in times of high stress, and this is why I really like autistic people. Because if I tell them, “You need to tell me if I need to go away for a while. I won’t be mad,” or if I say, “I have lost my ability to can, I will talk to you in three hours when I’m better, I am not upset with you,” they BELIEVE ME.

  7. LW1, my mother once called and asked my roommate if I was dead, so, I know in part where you’re coming from. Once we established and held the line on a weekly telephone call, the angst got better over time. Good luck finding a balance.

  8. Introverts tend to have a hard time talking about their personal feelings and experiences, as compared to talking about things that are not-them. It’s a lot more natural to discuss outside things. My friends and I are introverts (we have introvert parties where everyone brings a book or laptop) and we spend a lot of time talking about fictional characters, what exploded recently on the internet, or what we recently learned in school.

    Extroverts, on the other hand, tend to enjoy talking about themselves and other people. So what do they ask introverts about? Themselves (which is harder to talk about) or other people (who are not their primary focus). So LW2, maybe try asking your boyfriend about more removed things: instead of “How was your day?” go with, “Did anything interesting happen?”, or substituting “What are you thinking about?” for “How are you feeling?” You’ll get much the same information, just in a way more compatible for your boyfriend’s brain.

    I’m a giant Meyers-Briggs type nerd. Like, I was super excited about getting trained to administer it. So I could burble about it forever. But the big thing is: this system is Jungian. It’s not a “trait” theory, where you can either introvert or extrovert (as a verb) , but never both. After all, another pair is “thinking” vs. “feeling”, and we expect everyone to be able to do both, even though they might focus on one most of the time. It means there’s one method you tend to really own and use a lot, and one you define as “not-me.” But part of the work of becoming a fully individuated adult is learning to understand and experience your “shadow” functions, to explore and develop the parts of your personality that don’t come naturally. It’s just a bit more tiring, so you get more energy from working in a way that’s natural to you.

    1. from one Meyers-Briggs type nerd to another, well said. How many times have I argued with people who only took some test online at a shoddy website and don’t understand that it’s not either or. I am strongly introverted on the scale, but through my communication classes and really focusing on “people” skills you would never know I was an introvert unless I tell you. In fact when I tell people that they do not believe me, I guess that means I’ve done well. It does drain me when I’m with the talking inconsequential stuff people. The upside is finding someone who talks about things that matter. Hell, I can get fueled up talking about serious topics or sharing something beautiful. But please don’t talk about shopping or your hair products unless you’ve researched something and it is awesome and I should try it. OK, that went weird but I’m leaving it. 🙂

      1. No one ever believes that I am quite introverted! It wasn’t until I had a pro administer & interpret a MB for me at my old job that I understood why — yes, I’m quite extremely introverted, but I am also quite extremely Not Shy, and so people would see not shy + kinda loud + cracking 45 jokes per minute + in a job that means dealing with lots and lots of people all day and think “wow, what an extrovert” and…no. After work I always needed to hide in a cave to recover emotional energy like you would not believe.

        But yes. There are common clusters of characteristics, and uncommon pairings, and things that are similar on the surface and different underneath — and the online tests that repeatedly insisted that I was in the exact middle of introvert/extrovert were, in retrospect, not set up to distinguish the nuances of the differences in situations like mine.

        1. I have a hard time convincing people that I cannot just peoplepeoplepeople all the time. I do some minor work in the entertainment industry — on the talent side, so on stage/in front of a camera — and I bet most people who saw me there would have no idea I spend most days at home in my pajamas in front of a computer, doing less flashy kinds of work.

      2. Yes! I’d love to have that test done properly! I never understand how people are so focussed on black and white; pure introvert vs pure extrovert, pure endomorph vs pure ectomorph, health is salads and slimness, intelligence is letters after your name and… I am almost excessively obsessed with what seems realistic, weighed carefully internally, and that is usually very grey.

        Anyway. I’d be very curious to take the test partially because thinking VS feeling is excruciating. It’s almost always impossible to tease the two apart for me. I analyse everything, am in love with logic, yet ultimately what feels right is interwoven with this analysis. What intuitively seems correct.

        *cough* Carry on with your far more informative posts. 😀

        1. “I never understand how people are so focussed on black and white”

          That’s why I tend to find the online versions of those tests more frustrating than informative: I’m always thinking “Well, it really depends on the _situation_, and the _people_ involved, and whether I’ve had a snack, or enough sleep, or, or, or…”

    2. I don’t think that introverts have a hard time discussing themselves or others. Some of the most introverted people I know are people who are really great at dissecting their own emotions or offering insights into others’ behaviors and will even bring it up by themselves. Some introverts I know would rather discuss anything else. That’s more a personal thing than a how you get energized in terms of socializing thing.

      1. I’m a psychotherapist and write extensively about my feelings, so I agree that it is something introverts can do, and do very well. It is usually especially something they do well with one or a few people, instead of with a large group, although it’s not that they can’t.

        It’s because introverts more naturally work through their personal stuff internally first; to express it externally or communicate it to people takes more energy and processing ability. It is harder than talking about things that are not their inner processes. So if, for an introvert, talking about what they are feeling is difficult, talking about related things (what happened, etc) is an easier route in.

        The other place you see the difference is if you’re, say, stuck on a plane next to a stranger for three hours and you strike up a conversation. The introvert certainly may choose to chat away, but is more likely to talk about external or abstract things, instead of leaping straight to personal experience.

    3. I don’t know a lot about psychology, but I’m seconding this from personal experience. I am quite the introvert, but social skills don’t come that naturally to me, I literally had to train myself in small talk etc. Which was a really really painful process. But forcing myself to go to parties and interact with others has made me realize that I actually like social gatherings (especially if there’s music and dancing, not so much if I don’t know a lot of people there.) And talking about inconsequential stuff can be fun, since I am a person who can find anything interesting.

      So now I’m going to scuttle off to research Jung (well, actually, go to sleep.)

    4. One of the things I love about the Myers-Briggs, although it’s often used incorrectly, is that it gives us a vocabulary to talk about our different modes of operating and can make something that seems like a personal problem or issue into something less personal. As an ENTJ, the MB helps me stay patient and calm with people. Win-win.

  9. I don’t want to see any more “I am an introvert, so I can’t ________” questions.

    For some reason, this was really good for me to hear. I’m an introvert and have a lot of introvert friends, and one of them in particular uses that phrasing a lot. It’s been bothering me for a while and I couldn’t put my finger on why. I know it’s because I’m an introvert and usually I can do the thing she says is impossible because of her introversion, but beyond that I couldn’t figure out what it was about that phrasing that upset me. Other than that I hadn’t said anything about it because I’d feel like a jerk for contradicting her.

    Anyway, thanks for these paragraphs on introversion, it made me feel a lot better.

    1. I like thinking of what I can/can’t do socially in terms of how much I have left in me. Somewhere I heard it talked about in terms of running out of spoons, and I’ve written about it in terms of having a reservoir.

      Other than that I would remind you that no two people experience introversion the same way. The Susan Cain book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” was helpful in framing my own introversion and getting a better handle on what are realistic expectations for me.

      1. I’ve found that ‘reservoir’ metaphor useful sometimes. In a different anecdote, I once had to explain to a socially anxious friend why I didn’t feel up to going to a party where she was hoping I’d come and be her social-anxiety-support-friend. “Why wouldn’t you want to come? You don’t have social anxiety!” No, but I had run out of socialising fuel in my tank on that particular day, and didn’t feel like I could face several hours in a room full of people without retreating to a corner and wishing I could go home – which, aside from making me unhappy, would make it near impossible to give my friend the support she wanted.

        I will look up that book, though. Thank you!

      2. “Other than that I would remind you that no two people experience introversion the same way. ”

        Yes, indeed. This is because no two people are the same. There are many other factors that can influence the stress of social interaction, even if the person themselves labels it as simply ‘introversion’. It could be that it compounds the introversion, or vice versa, e.g. sliding scales of social anxiety, general anxiety, depression, ADD, an undiagnosed hearing/sight problem, non-neurotypical personality, traumatic associations, physical illness, etc.

        Yes, introversion shouldn’t be used as an excuse, or misunderstood as general shyness as it often is, but no two introverts/people are the same.

        And I find the spoons metaphor useful, too. I often don’t know how many spoons I’m going to have left each day till I’m all out.

      3. *nod* I tend to express it as spending extrovert points. Like, a seminar with an active discussion section, even one I enjoy a lot, takes x extrovert points; dinner with my grandmother takes y extrovert points; lying on the floor with my laptop and my best friend on the couch reading takes z extrovert points. And I only have q extrovert points for a given period of time. When I run out, I run out. I can get more by spending introvert points! Which usually involves locking myself in my room with my books and my music and NOT DEALING WITH HUMANS.

        And then I can interact with the world again!

        1. Very few people seem to realize that extrovert points are spent whenever there are other people around, even if they’re not directly interacting with you. I have one friend who can become furniture and doesn’t bother me at all, but with everyone else the offer, “Oh, I can just sit over here and be quiet!” is met with, “Sorry, but that doesn’t count. You’re still breathing my air.” I need a door to close, or I go out of my mind.

          1. I’m introverted. My virtual brother (we met online nearly 10 years ago) is extremely extroverted. He’s not “People” to me most of the time, and I can put on a good People-facing face and socialize like an extrovert well enough (and then I need to go home to wind down for about an hour per hour of talking with People until I can sleep) that he didn’t really properly realize that I’m not that way with everybody, and that not all introverts are all right being alone with him.

            Then he and his boyfriend moved in together. His boyfriend is also introverted. His boyfriend seems to have needed door-closed time.

            They seem to be working things out all right, but at first it was a comedy of errors.

    2. For me, it’s helped to distinguish between the introversion/extroversion axis (whether you are drained or energized by social interaction) and the socially adept/socially unlearned axis (whether you have mastered the various skills of social interaction).

      I’m a (reasonably) socially skilled introvert, and I have a couple of socially unskilled extrovert friends. I can make small talk, communicate, meet people, and perform other social “skills” pretty well, but it exhausts me; a week all by myself sounds like a delight, and it takes a very long time for me to feel lonely. They crave interaction and feel awful if they’re alone for a few days, but in a group of people they have no idea what to do, what to say, how to meet people.

      My social skills aren’t inherent or anything–I worked hard and consciously to learn how to introduce myself to people, how to make small talk, how to turn small talk into a more meaningful connection (if we both want that) or how to politely break off (if the small talk isn’t leading anywhere I want to pursue), etc. It’s a set of learned skills, not an inherent ability.

      So yeah, it bugs me when aforesaid friends sigh heavily and say, “I’d love to hang out with people every day, but I’m just not as extroverted as you, so I can’t.” I always want to snap: I’m not an extrovert, and in fact hanging out with people ‘every day’ sounds like a nightmare! I just cultivated some particular skills; I’m not lucky, I worked hard at it for years.” But there’s no graceful way to say that. (And my less-aggressive statements of, e.g., “I know small talk is hard, but you can learn to do it, and it makes it a lot easier to meet people–and you’ll have a real connection with some of them” get brushed off.)

      (I’m not talking about non-neurotypical people–actually, my non-neurotypical friends generally are the ones who are most open to viewing social things as a set of learnable skills, probably unsurprisingly.)

      Whew. Vent over. That felt good!

      1. Thank you for your venting! I think that’s it – I have good social skills, but I had to learn them, and exercising them still takes concious effort and uses up energy. It’s frustrating when “I can’t” sounds a lot like “I don’t want to learn”.

        1. I have found that the “I can’t = I don’t want to learn/just don’t want to” thing is pretty endemic in, um, humans. Because, for most folks – yeah, you can cook. You could damn well learn, and perhaps you’d never be a gourmet chef, but anyone can do a respectable pasta sauce with some practise, seriously. This sort of thing is pretty widely applicable.

          Most specifically…uh…the people I don’t get on so well with. It seems to be a hugely used excuse. I think this might even be why people don’t understand those with depression/anxiety/etc – if I say “I have terrible anxiety, I can’t leave the house today” then non-anxious folks will often think (or sometimes say!) “Of course you can, don’t be silly! You’re just lazy/just don’t want to.”

          I think this conflation of can’t/don’t want to is SUPER HARMFUL and I prefer not to associate with people who have it.

          I also find that neuroatypical folks/folks who have got good at managing their mental illness/chronic illness/disability have a really great handle on the definition of “can’t”, and also on how to work around their can’ts in the way that healthy/neurotypical folks don’t seem to in a lot of cases.

          1. Actually, as someone with depression, anxiety, and adhd, this is something I struggle with a lot. I’m constantly wondering what I am capable of doing, because I honestly don’t know. Could I clean the house today? I suppose so. But my inertia, lack of energy, and anxiety about cleaning make it extremely unlikely that I will do so. I don’t know how to successfully get past those things in order to do the things I need to do, so I say “I can’t,” but I’m never sure if I really can’t or if I’m just making excuses. I beat myself up about it all the time, too. I’m okay at setting boundaries with others about what I am and am not willing to do, but with myself… that’s another story.

          2. Emily, I struggle with similar ideas around “can’t”. I am theoretically capable of a lot, including walking on a broken foot for a few days, forcing myself to go in to work when I’ve just sustained major personal losses, and other things that are possible to do without collapsing but are still actively harmful to me. “Can’t” feels like a strong word to me and when the barriers/harms are mental, especially, it’s really easy for me to minimize them. It’s easier to see “oh, walking on my broken foot hurts it more and will delay recovery” than “with my current mental reserves, I will drain myself of energy if I do [these things that are currently really hard].”

          3. Thoughtful Ninja: I think a big part of the reason people dismiss anxiety or depression is also that we use the same word for the kind of mild emotions that people overcome on a day-to-day basis to get things done (“I’m feeling some anxiety about getting this project done on time”) and around actual cripplingly disabling illness. Conflating such different things isn’t helpful – it’s as if we only had the word ‘windy’ to describe everything from a breeze to a hurricane, and people who’d had their homes flattened by hurricanes were trying to explain to people outside the disaster zone that the reason they had to cancel coming into work for the week was because of the wind. It just wouldn’t get across the scale of the problem.

            I sometimes think we still ought to have the word ‘melancholia’ for describing depression.

          4. Notemily–I think part of the problem with that is, when you have active depression, you really are only capable of so much, but WHICH THINGS you do are negotiable. So, yeah, you could clean the house–but if you do, you can’t go to work. Really, it’s one or the other. You can do any of these things, but you can’t do all of these things, and it complicates the meaning a whole lot, especially when other people are really invested in getting you to do something.

      2. “I’m a (reasonably) socially skilled introvert, and I have a couple of socially unskilled extrovert friends. I can make small talk, communicate, meet people, and perform other social “skills” pretty well, but it exhausts me; a week all by myself sounds like a delight, and it takes a very long time for me to feel lonely.”

        ME TOO! I work in a field that requires a lot of use of people skills, and I’m pretty adept at them, but I am an introvert. So I will do five days being socially ON 10-12 hours a day and then just be done with people for a while once I shut the door behind me at the end of the day.

        I am so glad that the Captain clarified that being extrovert/introvert is not necessarily the same as having good/poor people skills, or even being incompatible with the opposite type. I had this boss who had us all, for funsies, take the Myers-Briggs personality test, and out of the whole group of us (about 25 employees), I was the sole Introvert (INFP if I remember?). AND OH MY GOD. No one else cared, but that boss did, and thus for the rest of my term of employ there, any conflict she and I had (howmever so small) got dismissed as “Well, you’re just an introvert, so of course we don’t agree.” I got shut down like that A LOT. Ironically, I was always the most vocal employee in terms of standing up for the rest of us. And at my new job (because of course I left), my tendency for introversion is not a problem since it doesn’t affect my ability to do my job and do it well.

        (Still sorta frosts my butt to think about it, though.)

        1. Would you mind if I used this comment as an example for a rant on how wrong people get the MBTI? It’s so perfect, but I wouldn’t want to single you out if it made you uncomfortable.

        2. >> Ironically

          I suspect that wasn’t irony but cause and effect. But omg what a horrible boss!

          1. Yeah, I’ve made that connection, too. My introversion might not have been a problem if I wasn’t also the ad hoc rep for my fellow employees when it came to a problem we all felt needed addressing (the general idea was that I was best able to broach the subject calmly and civilly).

      3. Introversion/extroversion is not the same as level of social skill… absolutely this plus twelve gold stars and a rhinoceros.

        I am also an introvert who possesses reasonable social skills. I get so cranky when people assume introvert=shy or socially awkward. In conversation with a new acquaintance of mine, who also knows my sister, I was explaining that one of the major differences between my sister and I is that I’m an introvert and she’s an extrovert. She exclaimed, “But I feel so comfortable around you!” and I’m thinking, “good god woman, not every introvert is creepy or something.” I get so irritated when introversion is used to describe social awkwardness or creepiness, because the vast majority of introverts probably navigate the world just fine.

        1. Agreed! I am an introvert who assumed for the longest time that I was an extrovert, as I am chatty and social and like being with people… but if I don’t get a good dose of quiet alone time, I get cranky and tired. Before I figured this out, I’d end up hanging out with my friends, enjoying it on a social and mental level, but wondering why I was getting so wired and tired feeling as the time wore on. I was also regularly surprised that other people had so much trouble being alone; it’s not only never bothered me, it’s often something I seek out.

          I think the most amusing example of this happened on a long expedition once; most of the group was very extroverted, and we were all sort of in each others’ hip pockets for weeks on end, with no other people around, and about a month in I just HAD IT. We’d stopped for a day-long break, and as soon as camp was set up I informed the group that I was going to Go Over There and BE ALONE for a few hours, and that if they didn’t let me do it, I was going to rip off some heads. Because we were in an area with dangerous wildlife, we had to stay in sight and earshot, meaning I could, if I concentrated, hear them being puzzled over my actions, but they let me alone for several hours, and I was SOOOO much calmer for it.

          (The best thing about my husband is that he’s quiet and low-key and understands the need for solitude and quiet time (he’s more classically introverted in personality) so I can get a mix of social and quiet by just reading or surfing the net in the same room. But even his company is sometimes too much, and we’ll do things like move to separate rooms, or one of us will go for a walk, or something.)

        2. Particularly irritating since *that’s not what Jung meant and he SAID SO, many times.* Seriously, people.
          For me, introvert/extrovert is best explained by the recharging metaphor: introverts ‘recharge’ by being alone, extroverts ‘recharge’ by being with others.
          It makes the most sense to me in terms of my own life (I’m a HUGE extrovert and my partner’s quite a strong introvert and it’s taken me a while to wrap my head around our differences), and I think it also kind of falsifies that ridiculous stereotype quite neatly, that social skill would have anything to do with it. As in, if someone told you they found swimming really relaxing and energising you would never say “Oh, but you’re not that good at swimming”? Not relevant at all.

      4. You ranted so I don’t have to, I even took communication courses and it drives me batshit when I say I’m an introvert and they say “no way”.

      5. Where were you 10 years ago when I really really needed to hear this?! I’m a classically socially inept introvert and I struggled with this for years because I got caught in the mire of ‘social skills are innate and can never be learned’. I’ve kind of realized my error now that my social skills are slowly improving.

        How did you go about learning your social skills, if I may ask? Because I’ll take any hints I can get.

        1. Another introvert in a very social field here. When I was in High School, theater helped a lot, as did joining a forensics(ish) club in college. So maybe sign up for an improv or public speaking class?

          And part of it is just practice. There’s a brilliant comment somewhere on this site (which I can’t seem to find) that encourages you to look at personal interaction as a game, where you get +10 for initiating small talk, +5 for asking a question about someone’s life, and so forth.

        2. For me, interacting socially on the internet is much easier–once I figured out that I could in fact be social, it just took me a bit more processing time and was easier when I could be alone (but still talking to people), I started deliberately trying to notice the patterns I used on the internet when chatting (if someone says x, I say y, okay) and to transfer them into my physical-world interactions. It worked pretty well for me!

        3. Work customer service, especially retail or restaurants. This isn’t actionable for a lot of people, because they already have jobs. But you have to be up, and cheerful, and helpful, and present, and make random small talk with strangers ALL DAY LONG.

          Barring that, the thing that really made me want to learn was being in a room for a seminar and every single person in the room was uncertain where to go and what to do. I got so frustrated of the uncertain-puppy huddles, so I just put on my outside voice and started asking questions of everyone: “Do you know where to go? Hey, are you the teacher? Man, I have no idea what’s going on, do you?”

          It was actually far less mortifying than I would have thought, because I knew I was being slightly ridiculous, I knew I was showing ignorance, and I also knew that every other person there was wondering the same thing, and that the morning would progress faster.

          So now I have this public persona when I deal with strangers, which is a bit more keyed down from that, but she’s really good at commenting on obvious things, and being nice, and complimenting little things, and making herself act the fool just a bit, and it helps so much. I’ve never had anyone tell me I’m being too loud, or taking up too much space. I’ve never had anyone react poorly. And the more I practice, the easier it is.

          1. Work customer service, especially retail or restaurants. This isn’t actionable for a lot of people, because they already have jobs. But you have to be up, and cheerful, and helpful, and present, and make random small talk with strangers ALL DAY LONG.

            I had a couple of customer service jobs. I got fired from both for sucking at helping customers and I also developed what I can only assume was psychosomatic foot pain. I thought it was from standing all shift, and to be fair this was corroborated by a podiatrist, but at my current job I stand more but I don’t have to talk to customers, and I have no foot pain. (To be clear, this wasn’t “my feet hurt, gosh a foot massage sounds great. Now what was I doing…” sort of pain, this was “god please please make the pain stop I can’t stand for another second but I am not allowed to sit for another hour oh god what am I going to do it hurts so bad” pain.)

            The sucking at helping customers probably was exacerbated by having no job experience and not really understanding the Customer Mindset. But that foot pain was killer, and the idea of meeting new people all day long makes me frickin exhausted just thinking about it, so I’m not doing any more csr work ever unless literally my only other option is starving in the streets.

            Sooo YMMV on how helpful that is.

            It will definitely increase potential jobs though, which would be lovely… *wistful look*

          2. @Molly Moon, because apparently we’ve nested as far as we can go.

            Fair enough! It worked for me because it helped me perfect the persona I’d already learned, and because it helped me fully realize that no one cares if you’re awkward for a full two minutes. But that’s just what worked for me.

            In all honesty, I’m never doing customer service work again either unless it’s that or starving in the streets. It is exhausting, and the demands are stupidly over-the-top. But I’m grateful for the experience.

        4. I took a business communications class. I got really into the MBTI, it appealed to my logical self, I read about the types and how I could strengthen areas if I tried. It also helps you understand others. Another thing that helped was to be conscious of body language, mirroring to some degree helps you with this. Another important thing, learning to truly listen to people – to shut down the “auto-mind” that starts formulating a response before the other person has finished speaking. You have no idea how much this matters, nor how much you do this until you pay attention to it.

        5. Along with what others have said about practice (which is, of course, the most important thing)… the one thing that was most helpful for me to understand was realizing that I don’t have to be scintillating in every social interaction.

          That may sound counterproductive (you got better at social skills because you don’t try to be as good at them?), but I realized that what was paralyzing me and causing me anxiety in a lot of casual social situations was this idea that I had to be interesting, funny, deep, or all of the above in every interaction, however light. Since I wasn’t confident that I could have them hanging on my every word or rolling in the aisles, I just said nothing and hid.

          But one of the beauties of small talk is that nobody expects you to be fascinating. It is totally okay to talk about the weather! It is totally okay to ask someone a routine question about their weekend or whatever! In the situations where small talk is most useful (acquaintances, people you don’t know or don’t know well, social events for professional reasons, people you’ve just met), those are perfectly fine things to talk about. They put nobody on the spot, they’re not likely to go anywhere contentious or difficult, and, most beautifully, they can lead from Small Talk to Big Talk.

          (I always get a little sad when I people who are down on small talk. Yeah, the weather isn’t as interesting as, I don’t know, Kierkegaarde or Doctor Who or the life cycle of the banana slug. But since you usually can’t just leap into a conversation about the above with a perfect stranger, small talk is really useful. It smooths over social awkwardness, it’s useful for networking if you’re in an occupation that requires that, it makes it possible to have pleasant interactions with almost anyone if you’re stuck at a dinner table or in an elevator with them, it provides a way to get to know people so that you can get to Big Talk, and it also lets you figure out whether this is even a person you want to get to Big Talk with. And it’s applicable in situations from the very casual to the very formal and all between. It’s not the most exciting tool in the social toolbox, but it’s super-useful.)

          So you can literally keep a little list of topics that are generally okay in your culture for small talk. “The weather” is a cliche but it’s useful because everyone is competent to talk about it, and there’s almost always something to say (even if it’s “crazy good weather we’re having lately, huh?”) Other easy ones are “how was your day/weekend” and the like. When I lived in LA, amusingly, “how did you get here?” was always an easy fallback. (“I took the 405 to Figueroa.” “Oh yeah, is that faster than going by 110?”) At work conferences and other events where people usually have to travel to, “how was your trip?” is a good one, or “so, where’d you come in from?” Stuff like that. If you aren’t sure what good ones are for your area/culture, pay attention to someone else who you think is pretty socially adept and watch for what they talk about.

          The most important thing about small talk is that it doesn’t need to stay on the small topic, because obviously you can’t talk about the weather forever. If someone says something that points to another topic, go ahead and take it. If you ask someone how their trip was and they say, “The flight was delayed but I had a book to read, so it wasn’t so bad,” you can ask what the book was. One of the best conversations-with-a-stranger I had started as a talk about the weather, but she mentioned in passing that she’d been surprised to see that the water in the troughs had frozen. I asked “oh, you keep animals?” and it turned out she had horses–and I love horses and used to ride seriously, and what could have been a deeply awkward and boring work lunch turned into an hour talking about her horses and her dressage experience.

          Obviously not every small talk turns into something interesting, so the other skill I’d recommend mastering is “getting out of the conversation.” Often I think those of us who are introverts and/or socially anxious panic at the idea of being stuck in a conversation that is boring, terrible, or going nowhere. But again, it’s okay to be a teeny bit stilted and have a line read. Very few people are going to take it amiss if you say, “Well, it was great to meet you!” with a smile and then vamoose. Or, “I need to go get another cup of coffee/get some water/check in with my boss/whatever, but it was a pleasure meeting you!” Or if you’re in an airplane seat and can’t actually move but want to stop talking, “I need to catch up my reading/do this thing on my computer/get a nap in before we land, but it was nice to talk to you!” Just because you started the conversation doesn’t mean you need to be stuck in it for the rest of your life.

          So that’s my suggestions from one introvert to another: don’t feel obliged to be fascinating, learn the power of small talk, come up with a list of safe small talk topics so you don’t ever have to feel like you’re standing there in hideously painful silence, keep an ear open for ways to turn small talk into deeper talk if you so desire… and always have a pleasant closing phrase ready in case you don’t so desire.

          Hope it’s at least mildly helpful!

          1. I love this! I actually really like small talk, because it makes me feel socially adept, plus it’s how I usually end up finding For-Real Friends. Also, I have to confess, I find Kierkegaard (and philosophy generally) to be mind-numbingly dull. I would much rather be able to say, “Oh my gosh, I love your shoes!/Where did you go skiing?/Isn’t it nice outside today?”

          2. I want to marry your comment, especially after having met someone who resented small talk.

            I got good at small talk when I moved into a boardinghouse. There were always transient people, most of whom were students and many of whom were not from the US. “What are you studying?” “How long are you here for?” “How’s the weather?” (that one turned out unexpectedly hilarious when someone asked me what it was like that day, I said it was warm and she nearly froze walking out the door. Never ask an Alaskan if it’s cold out. We won’t lie, but suck at judging cold for someone from Manila.)

            Small talk gives you a baseline of things to talk about. It’s elevator talk, party talk, new person at the dinner table talk.

        6. I am a not particularly socially skilled introvert on the autism spectrum, so throw in some communication weirdness and an inherent awareness that I need to learn these things by learning them–they’re never just going to turn up.

          What’s worked for me is being awesome at a thing that I enjoy talking about. I make really great jewelry, and (very hesitantly) gave selling at a local artists’ market a try. I can talk with potential customers about what I make and do, and it’s helped me get more comfortable making segues with strangers about other stuff, too. I’ve actually been doing the market for about a year now, and it’s going really well. When I feel overwhelmed, I pull out a book and read at my stall (which fits in fine with the other sellers at this particular place).

          I think going out and doing a thing I am good at helps. It doesn’t have to be mercenary, but just having to interact with people about something you enjoy.

        7. @Dendritic Trees, a few things have helped me. “What Does Everybody Else Know That I Don’t?”, by Michelle Novotni, is specifically for people with AD(H)D. It includes an assessment you can give to people you really trust to help you figure out your specific gaps.

          Second, an audiobook which I think was “The Art of Small Talk” by Deborah Fine.

          Third, and this applies mostly to emotional communication and I have also been pleased with its application in work settings, is Nonviolent Communication (book by Marshall Rosenberg) and workshops in NVC. The workshops I attended were usually marketed as Compassionate Communication. The first skill you learn is identifying and separating feelings, need, and strategies for meeting those needs.

        8. I learnt them by codebreaking. Humans can be cryptanalytically deciphered like anything else. Languages, enzymes, physics, whatever.

          I have also learnt the hard way that this is not a useful answer for a lot of other people, who didn’t happen to cram cryptanalysis into their heads during the time they thought they hated other humans. Oh well.

      6. My gosh, I love this thread and I also very much love this comment.
        It’s not like I didn’t know what you say here before but the “axis” metaphor is a great idea to also communicate it to other people.

        However, I’m wondering right now: Does being a loner fall on the introvert axis or would you say it’s something else?
        I don’t have many friends/people I’m close to and I’m very happy with it, but I’m not sure if that has to do with introversion (or is it just “Introverts can have many friends but they can also have few friends. So can extroverts.”?).
        I have very good social skills, I talk a lot and am very friendly and open and helpful and most people perceive me as very funny and outgoing, but once they get to know me even a little better it’s all like “What? You haven’t seen your good friend in three weeks and not met up with anyone else, either? What are you?” because apparently I give off the vibe that I have tons of friends and hang out with someone every day (god, exhausting!).

        So is there a third “having friends” axis or is that just something else entirely?

        1. That sounds like introversion to me! I don’t see some of my close friends for looooong stretches, nor do I wish to speak on the phone with them every night. It is exhausting. But they stick around, because they know I am not being introverted AT them. And because when I can devote time to them, it is quality time in which we do ALL the bonding.

          I’ve also heard that even people with many acquaintances have few people that they really connect with in a close friend sort of way. So it may just be that you have cut out the acquaintances part.

        2. An introvert can have few friends or many, the main characteristic is how much time you spend with friends total. I think most people on the introverted side of things tend to have fewer friends because it’s hard to keep up relationships with too many people at one time.

          Being introverted is whether or not being around people is draining or energizing. For an extrovert going weeks without meeting friends would be awful and depressing. For an introvert (which it sounds like you are), it might leave them recharged and ready to see people again. I think the only time I’ve ever really missed social interaction was when I was working alone, living alone, and knew nobody in town… for three months.

        3. I think number of friends tends to be an effect rather than a cause? This is a generalization, but: an extrovert may have an easier time of things with many friends, since extroverts tend to need a lot of social interaction, and it’s easier to get enough social interaction if you have more friends (more friends = more opportunities, on any given day, to hang out with someone). Also, if you enjoy social interactions, you’re probably more likely to go to social events, where you’re more likely to meet more people.

          On the flip side, introverts may have smaller social circles both because they circulate less on average (and thus meet fewer people), and because it can be difficult to maintain a larger social circle if your social energy is limited.

          But there are definitely exceptions, introverts with lots of friends and extroverts with just a few. (I, personally, have a small number of very close friends, plus a large circle of people who I am friendly with and enjoy hanging out with once in a while, but who I don’t think of as friend-friends–not because they’re not good people and worthy of friendship, but because I already have my social energy spread as thin as it will go and I don’t have more to spend on deepening those relationships.)

          1. Absolutely right. I’m kind of a ridiculous extrovert (as in, I was never happier than when we were travelling with my husband’s two sisters and the four of us shared a room every night for a week or so to save money), but I’ve got a fairly small circle of friends and I tend to prefer hanging out in pretty small groups. It’s cause as well as being *really extroverted* I am also *really intense* so I like to really *be* with the people I’m with and love (God, I sound a tiny bit terrifying here I gues :-)).

          2. I am the introvert who knows all the people! Thank you, internet. I meet a few people at a time, hang on to all the ones I find nifty (perhaps a side effect of having lived in a small town and rarely having more than one close friend at a time, and then there was the year that my pet hen was my best friend), and carefully monitor that I’m not getting overloaded with interaction.

            Then I’ll meet another cluster of people and get to know them, and hang on to the nifty ones, and figure out what week to schedule dinner with my brother so that it doesn’t burn me out for the people at work. I can basically do one thing with People in person a week, if that, aside from work, but I can chatter on the internet all year and very rarely does that burn me out.

      7. “So yeah, it bugs me when aforesaid friends sigh heavily and say, “I’d love to hang out with people every day, but I’m just not as extroverted as you, so I can’t.” I always want to snap: I’m not an extrovert, and in fact hanging out with people ‘every day’ sounds like a nightmare! I just cultivated some particular skills; I’m not lucky, I worked hard at it for years.” But there’s no graceful way to say that. (And my less-aggressive statements of, e.g., “I know small talk is hard, but you can learn to do it, and it makes it a lot easier to meet people–and you’ll have a real connection with some of them” get brushed off.)”

        THIIIIIIIS. I used to be horribly, horribly shy and socially awkward. I couldn’t make a phone call to the pizza joint for the life of me! I spent several years learning how to relate to people in a small-talk kind of way, and now I don’t find it terribly hard to strike up conversations with strangers! And I get so resentful when I have friends tell me it’s so easy for me, they could never do that, they’re jealous. (Or worse, when their significant others tell me that when I’ve noticed that my friend is acting off.)

        I worked hard for that skill, and it was not easy for me. You too can learn this. I have very little sympathy for you. It is hard! I know it is! But don’t sit there and tell me it’s because I’m naturally better at it, because I’m not.

        1. Social skills don’t always come hard though. I need tons of alone time to unwind after hanging out with people, and find groups of more than 4 to be overwhelming. But social skills/politeness/conversation come easily and instinctively to me, and I’ve never had to work hard at learning them. I can make small talk with strangers on the bus, get along great with coworkers, whatever. I am not at all shy, and frequently have deep conversations with complete strangers.

          So for me, yes, it IS easier than for some people. But ironically it’s something I don’t feel the need for as much, because I don’t WANT to hang out with people all the time! I have trouble enough keeping up the friends I’ve got, and don’t really want to deal with more.

      8. Yes! “Introvert” does not equal “shy/socially awkward/socially anxious,” and I get really tired of a particular friend using the “I’m an introvert” excuse for being completely maladroit in social situations–after all, there are plenty of socially awkward extroverts in the Michael Scott mold.

        I’m an introvert (in that I need plenty of alone time, and it takes a long time for me to feel “lonely”) who grew up in a big extended family, which is a great trial-by-fire for learning social skills and how to make conversation. Of course I make awkward gaffes sometimes, like everyone does, but that’s because I’m an imperfect human, not because I’m an introvert.

    3. I think that lately, the introversion/extroversion ‘thing’ has been getting a lot more notice, which is good in a lot of ways! But, most of the people writing about it online (that I’ve seen anyway) are writing from the perspective of being an introvert in an extroverted world, so there tends to be a lot of focus on stuff like ‘how to care for your introvert’, and explanations that certain behaviours aren’t rude, it’s just because the person is an introvert! This can go a little too far sometimes in my opinion–I mean, I would never think someone is excused from, say, interrupting other people or being pressurey for hang-out time because they’re extroverted. So, it’s still rude for someone to make plans then bail the day of three times in a row due to introversion, you know?

      1. I do totally agree with this, and being introverted is *definitely* not an excuse for being a jerk, but I would just add that I feel like our society is very very much more calibrated for extroverts than for introverts. So for example, the behaviours you mentioned, pressuring others to hang out with you etc., *are* in fact in many ways societally tolerated, whereas the desire to be alone is culturally perceived as almost deviant. Again, not that this is a license for introverts to be jerks, but just to point out that often they do face a lot of difficulties and pushback just for trying to live the life that suits them.

  10. Thank you for clarifying the difference between “introvert” and shy/bad communicator.
    I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “You’re an introvert? But you’re not shy at all and such a good public speaker!” Maybe this confusion is due to the way our hyper-extroverted and fastpaced culture characterizes all preferences for quiet and solitude as defective, so any avoidance of other people for any reason is lumped into a big conceptual basket labeled ANTISOCIAL.

    I actually feel that one-to-one communication is an introvert strength, as we tend to be more careful listeners and slower to blurt things out. Most introverts I know are very communicative indeed in writing and in personal contexts.

    1. Yes, exactly! I can speak to thousands of people (and have), I can mingle in a crowd, I can network and make small talk. It exhausts me, but I can do it. And some of my non-introvert friends crave interaction a lot more than I do, but can’t do those things. ‘Socially skilled’ is a designation entirely separate from the introvert/extrovert thing. (And it drives me bonkers that people insist that I must be an extrovert because I’m fine in front of a crowd. They should see me the weekend after….)

      1. Oh, yeah, stage fright is completely different. I’m a withdrawn introvert, but I can turn on the charm even in groups of people I know by just deciding it is Stage Time. My best friend is as extroverted as can be and can’t stop seeing all those people as individuals and trying to manage each interaction on the fly, which she understandably finds completely overwhelming.

    2. Same here. I’m very introverted, in that my preference is to be alone and I regularly need time to myself to be *off.* However, I’m also a professor and I mostly teach large classes of 150+ students, have well visited office hours, and am friendly and pretty socially adept.

      I’ve found that a lot of people I know have trouble reconciling those two parts of my personality–that I can be *on* and be very good at it, but it is completely exhausting and after I just need to not talk to, interact with, or even be in the presence of other people. And it actually causes some conflict in my relationship with the husband. He’s also pretty introverted and likes to be alone, but he’s fine being alone in the same room as me and/or the kids and just ignoring us, whereas when I need to be alone, I want him to take the kids and just leave for a few hours.

  11. Not all extroverts want to talk to people all the time, either. I once told a partner that I get cranky when tired and to just please leave me alone, minimize contact when needed. Even when I put it in the simplest form possible, it still took several tries for my partner to get that just because wellslept me likes to be social, that doesn’t equal an all access pass. Tired me want’s to be alone in her dungeon, thank you very much.

    1. Yes, this is me exactly too! Comically, my partner is the opposite and when he’s tired he likes to ramble in a stream of consciousness way to anyone who is listening and gets sad if he realises I’ve switched off. (Over the years, we’ve come to an accomodation so I can say “Sorry, I’m too tired for this,” and he’ll say, “Yeah, I’m talking nonsense aren’t I.” So even though we both keep doing it, we know it’s not intended badly.)

      1. Ahahaah. Your partner and I may be separated at birth. I’m an introvert, but if I’m tired my mouth will not stop moving. If I’m not talking I’m eating. I’m not sure which my co-workers prefer.

    2. Yeah this.

      I’m an extrovert. I also have ADHD that occasionally acts up in such a way that real-time communication works about as well as a really bad cell phone connection, only the faulty reception is my brain.

      I don’t like subjecting other people to me when I’m in that state, except for Spouse, who a) knows this about me and b) is remarkably patient about dealing with it, in ways that most people are not. Sometimes (like at work) I have no choice and I have to try like heck to fight through it and then I just have no energy at all to deal with real-time interaction left.

  12. Also on the topic of “I’m an introvert so I can’t ______”: I highly, highly recommend “Self-Promotion for Introverts” by Nancy Ancowitz. The bad news is you still have to network and such; the good news is that there is advice that doesn’t basically consist of “Get a complete personality transplant.” The majority of career and networking advice is written by extroverts, for extroverts. Learning there were other ways to go about it really, really helped me stop beating myself up and thinking I was never going to get a job ever.

    1. I am having one of those moments where I didn’t even realize I needed this book until I found out it existed. Thanks!

  13. *sigh*

    I am the parent of an 18 year old semi-adult (she would be the first to tell you that she’s not a full-fledged adult yet, but I still treat her like one) child.

    I do NOT call her every day, or every hour every day, to make sure she’s okay. I realize we still live in the same small town, but that doesn’t mean I’d see her every day.

    It’s important TO ME that she have her space, and that she learn how to function as an adult ON HER OWN. Without me hovering, being a helicopter mom, and having to have a say in her decisions, or have her reassure me that I’m the Best! Mom! Ever! because I CARE enough to hover relentlessly.

    LW1….your mother is refusing to accept that you are, in fact, an adult. You are going to have to take charge here, and make it obvious that you are, in fact, an adult, and that includes using the script of “I will call you on X at Y time once a week/every other week, and you will leave me alone when I do not call you, or I will be forced to ignore your calls.” And then not taking her calls, explaining to campus police that your mother is not happy with you because you are taking a break from her relentless boundary-pushing so you can, you know, do what you came to college to do, which is study and attend classes, and take midterms and finals, and you know, eventually graduate.

    If you don’t put an end to this now? It will only get worse. And be prepared for it to get worse for a little while, as she steps up her borderline-stalking efforts to MAKE you talk to her even though you a)would prefer not to do so, and b)it is massively inconvenient for you to do so. When she figures out that you are serious when you say you will ONLY talk to her on the phone at Y time on X day of the week? She will either accept it and move on, or she will start making threats, particularly if she is offering you any sort of tuition assistance.

    Be prepared to make your OWN life without her help. Mr. Butthurt’s parents like to try dangling a mythical “inheritance” that he’s supposedly getting from his grandparents through them (and that is not how it was supposed to work – I’ve read the paperwork and had an attorney friend explain it to me) in order to make him come to his senses and abandon his wife and daughter (that would be me and the aforementioned 18 year old), and put them first and let them dictate his life. Mr. Butthurt is more interested in being an autonomous adult rather than the mythical money that he assures me he’d never see anyway, because his parents favor his sisters, and they have likely also spent any and all of his inheritance on themselves (long story). So, he has told his parents on numerous occasions to put the “inheritance” where the sun does not shine. He is more interested in being an adult with no strings attached to his money than placating them. There is a lot to be said for taking this approach to overly controlling parents.

  14. As a Very Big Introvert who married a Very Big Extrovert, I’ll add that something that helped us was talking about this stuff when neither of us was in overwhelm / falling apart / needing to cope mode. When I’m overstimulated or otherwise Overdone, problem-solving just ain’t gonna happen, but when my wife knew that if A happened, I needed B, it was much easier for that to happen.

    It also helped for us to learn more about extroversion and introversion. If he doesn’t know much about it, it’s easy to fall into the belief that introvert needs are Wrong.

  15. LW1 – My only suggestion here is to let your mom know what you’re going to start doing right before you do it. That way if she complains about you ignoring her calls, or not calling her enough or whatever, you can say ‘I understand you don’t like this, but I really can’t do this right know. It’s why I let you know ahead of time what I could manage.’

    LW2 – I’m similar to your boyfriend in that I can’t give a sign to ‘go away’ – not because I literally can’t, but because it would end up spinning me into a cycle of basically self abuse and degradation that it’s actually lead me to self-harming. Admittedly, this is tied into some personal issues, and I’m not quite at the level your boyfriend is [my response to over stimulation, etc, is saying ‘I have to go’ and spending time alone], but it’s still bad enough that I wouldn’t be able to ‘give you’ a sign of what needed – particularly since when I’m at the point where I’d need to, I’d probably already be in a very bad head space, that doing so would just make worse since I’d feel like I was hurting them – despite whatever they said.

    I’m not saying it’s cool to you, or that it’s totally the only reason he could have said what he did – just that there might be going on with why he doesn’t want to do that than ‘I want you to play a guessing game’. This is something that you’d really need to talk to him about, and ask *why*. The thing is? You’d have to actually listen to what he says in response, and be willing to accept that it may very well be something he just can’t give you for reasons that have nothing to do with you, and that you/he can’t change. It’s possible that there might be some other way you two could work around it, or it’s possible that this relationship might just not be the right fit for you two because your needs are two different. But, this is something that you’d really need to talk over with him if you have to have a signal.

    1. So, can you discuss with your partner, at a time that you aren’t shutting down, what shutting down looks like and what you need when that happens? Because if shutting down looks pretty identical to normal quietness, how is your partner supposed to know how to handle it?

  16. “Sometimes the Self is a tired, cranky toddler and needs to be coaxed gently to the table and fed for its own good, and a partner can help that.” YES. So true. Thank you!

  17. LW1, many vibes. It sounds stressful.

    But you’ve just left home, it’s really natural for you to want to enjoy your new independence and not having to answer to your parents all the time, regardless of whether you’re introverted or not. This sounds like an issue for your mother that she has to deal with, and CAs advice for scheduled phone calls is great.

  18. LW2, as a pretty hardcore introvert, I wanted to mention one reason your partner might not be willing to say “I can’t interact now.” (Besides the thing mentioned elsewhere in the comment thread where he may have been burnt by people who said that but didn’t mean it before.)

    Many of us who are introverts were raised to feel that introversion–needing alone time, preferring quiet, needing space to think, etc.–was somehow dysfunctional, “crazy,” or broken behavior. Sometimes worse; shortly after Columbine (when I was in high school), I got the sense that introverted behaviors were perceived as potentially murderously dangerous! I faked willingness to interact socially a lot that year (with real negative consequences on my mental health), just because I didn’t want to be perceived as a sociopath.

    So to some extent, it can feel threatening or dangerous to admit, “I can’t deal with people right now, please go away.” Almost as if I was admitting I was a criminal.

    Now, I want to clarify that it doesn’t make it okay for your partner to yank your chain or make you play guessing games. You deserve to have clear and honest communications, absolutely, even if clear and honest communications are difficult for him. That is your right, and I do not mean to undercut it.

    The reason I’m saying it is that it might help you to understand why someone might be hesitant to say ‘I can’t interact right now, please go away.’ Especially since understanding can help overcome that barrier and get safe and clear communication going. I know that, for me, reassurance that my partner wasn’t going to think less of me as a person or think I was disturbed or damaged for needing alone time was a huge, huge help in my being able to clearly express boundaries without being terrified about reprisal.

  19. I don’t really have advice, but may I just say – thank you so much for the definition(s) as to what makes an introvert! I believe this is not the first time the hallmarks of an introvert were mentioned in this blog and it has helped me understand myself so much better. It’s also a perfect example of why Using Your Words is so important. Seriously, using my words when it comes to my introversion is one of the most helpful things I have learnt in the past year or so.

    Actually, I think that LW 2 has got it down perfectly. I am an introvert who also happens to completely shut down when having reached a certain stage of hungry or sleepy. All I want for people around me to do when I have reached that stage (or a stage of people-oversaturation, when I desperately need to be alone) is listen to what I tell them to do with me. It’s my job to do so, to tell them to feed me *now* in case of people very close to me or, more often, to just leave me alone to figure it out on my own (and no, I’m not always able to do that, but that is something for me to work on, not for them to figure out). I would like them to trust me with myself and to not worry too much, because I know myself best and have learnt how to handle hungry/sleepy/overwrought me. And if I don’t know what to do for a while, that’s ok too, but more importantly, it’s my problem to deal with and believe me, it’s not gonna get any better with another person fussing about me. Which is well-intentioned of them. But. To me that means that I can’t completely focus on helping myself because there is another person whose feelings/thoughts/presence I have to mind and think about. (Yes, I’m slowly recovering from a lifetime of managing-others’-emotions and feeling-responsible-for-the-atmosphere-in-the-room.)

    Unfortunately, I don’t think many people are okay with being told I need alone time, resulting in me not telling them way too often, with bad consequences for myself because it usually means I let myself go to shut-down stage. I think my family, with whom I’m very close, are the only people who can really, truly deal with it.
    Because extroverted is what everyone is supposed to be, people take “leave me to myself for a while” to mean “I don’t want to be with you, therefore I don’t like you”. So may I just say that I think LW 2 is awesome for suggesting to hir partner to use a certain word when needing alone-time. To me, personally, that is what I am working to achieve: Using My Words when it comes to how I want others to deal with shut-down situations and others Heeding My Words.

  20. LW1 – My mom was nowhere NEAR as bad as your mom, but some further strategies that helped me wean her off of calling me a) outside our weekly call and b) during working hours:

    When she called during working hours, I would pick up and immediately ask in my most worried tones “Is everything okay?!?” Occasionally I’d channel my Olympia Dukakis in Moonstruck and say “Who’s dead?!?” Mom would be taken slightly aback, and then I’d remind her that We Talk On [Day] so when I get a call at work, I instantly worry. Also, personal calls at work: EMERGENCIES ONLY.

    LW2 – I drive Myers-Briggs administrators NUTS, because I’m what I’ve decided to call a Selective Extrovert. I can recharge with My People, or I can recharge on my own, and I’d prefer either about equally. But I am wholly drained if I’m supposed to be social with strangers, or otherwise Not My People.

    I can WORK a room, don’t doubt, but that’s not about preferring to.

    To your problem, though, I’m also an out-loud processor (with people I trust) married to an inside-my-brains processor who retreats when things get stressful. The best questions I’ve been able to ask are:
    1 – Do you want to talk about it, or just be mad for a while?
    2 – Anything I can do? (and then accepting “no” as cromulent)
    3 – Do you need to be alone?

    And then I’m available if he needs me, but I go do my own thing.

    Acknowledge the bad, accept when you can’t fix it, and trust that if there’s something you can do, your partner will tell you what it is. Good luck!

    1. Selective Extrovert=best term ever for that. I’ve been reading all of this and going “but I’m neither AND both of those descriptions”. It seems like every time I take a Myers-Brigs test, I get a different result, depending on my situation.

      I do the “what’s wrong” worried voice thing when my mom/siblings call me at work too. My mom used to be really bad about calling me during work, but that helped cut it down considerably. as did working for a year in a place with no cell reception, and a shared phone. I’m in a new job now, but it (conveniently) also has bad cell reception.

      1. I also feel like I’m introverted in some ways and extroverted in some ways. I can also recharge with my people or alone. One of my favorite ways of recharging is going dancing in a somewhat introverted-extroverted way. I interact with my chosen people and sometimes strangers, but I also have my own dance space where I completely let go of everything and dance like there’s no tomorrow, sometimes with my eyes closed, sometimes more connected with my friends.

        Right now I do freelance work from home and I feel like that working from home is limiting me, because I need other creative people around me to feel inspired and energized. At the same time I like to create my own little bubble with headphones on. I have never lived alone and wouldn’t want to. I need people, but also to be able to close my door and to sometimes have the apartment to myself.

        I am totally the person “Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups [that are not my chosen ones] and maladroit at small talk” from the linked Rauch article, but not the one “Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate” as long as it’s a fun party with lots of dancing, my kind of people and no alcohol/drugs. The wrong party and the wrong people, though, can take me even days to recover from, which I do usually both alone and with my chosen ones. I need a lot of alone time and a lot of both half-social and social time. I have tried to take online Myers-Briggs tests and they never seem to be able to handle this.

    2. I’m keeping “Selective Extrovert” in my vocabulary, because that describes me to a T. The more I trust and feel myself around a person, the more likely I am to recharge around them.

      1. I think I’ve said it before, too.

        My recharge preferences, in approximate order:

        1) Hanging out with My People and chatting.
        2) “Alone but around people” – usually this takes the form of “I need to wander a bookstore for a while and then sit down and have a nice coffee and something by myself.”
        3) Actually Alone.
        4) Interaction with Random People that I don’t yet know if they are My People or not.
        Way at the bottom of the list) Dealing with Not My People.

    3. I’ve had occasion when taking MBTI tests to say “well, yeah, I can do that, but it’s because I’ve learned how to. Before I learned this skill, I would….” I’m mostly an introvert, but have learned to work a room and can be very social when I need to be.

      It’s one of the problems I have with the MBTI, but it’s pretty minor in the grand scheme of things.

      1. Me too. When I’ve done reasonable on-line versions, there’s part of my brain going ‘well in this particular situation I would… but this other almost identical situation with one or two key differences, I would…’ when there’s no clue in their either-or statements to work out which situation they mean! The term ‘Selective Extrovert’ is so apt.

        I test ISFJ, and there’s no question about being IJ, but whether I’m more thinky or feely is up for debate. I guess that’s the point of the shadow functions though?

    4. Just weighing in to say that the day I learned the word “ambivert” I kind of stared at my computer screen for a while and said “OH.” I could never answer introvert/extrovert questions because I usually lie somewhere in the middle, and it’s not constant – a few months ago I was way more extroverted than I am at the moment. I’d never realised that was a thing you could BE, though.

  21. LW1 I know all about the boundary-swamping mother. Mine used to freak out if I didn’t answer when she called, or she would get upset if I couldn’t talk right then more than briefly because I was going out. She used to show up unannounced at my house and got very upset when I asked her to call first. When she finally accepted that she had to call first, she would call from the end of my street (and she lived an hour’s drive away, so there was plenty of pressure not to turn her away). When one day I did tell her she couldn’t come over, she was very very upset.

    She needs to accept that you’re an adult, that she can’t monitor you all the time, and that she no longer has unlimited access to you. The Captain’s advice on boundary setting is fantastic – I wish I’d had the same advice when I was university age and could have dealt with it then, rather than slowly and messily years later.

    Lay down the rules now. Stick to them. Let her be hurt and angry and upset and say things like “WHY DON’T YOU LOOOOVE ME?!” Stick to your guns through this awfulness and she will probably calm down. She will

  22. I think my phone just ate my post, but if it didn’t I apologise for the double up!

    LW1 I know all about boundary-swamping mothers. My own would get upset if I didn’t answer the phone, or if I didn’t call her enough, or if I had to go after only a brief conversation. She would show up at my house unannounced, and when I demanded she call ahead first, she would call from the end of my street (she lived an hours drive away, so imagine the pressure to let her visit). I managed to get her to stop only by ruthlessly enforcing the rules. Turning her away at the door. Hanging up if I had to go. That kind of thing. She still to this day refers to me as a touchy person who has “special rules” that she has to follow – but she does follow them.

    The Captain’s advice on setting boundaries with her is fantastic, and I wish I’d known when I was at university and not had to figure out years later that she wasn’t a weather event I had to just deal with, but a person I could actually set limits on. Your mother needs to accept that you’re an adult, and now’s a great time to start. She will be upset and rant and rail and say you don’t love her, but if you just stick to your guns and wait it out she will get over it. Maybe this is just separation anxiety, and she’ll calm down and become a normal mother again. Maybe she has major issues and will always have trouble with boundaries – at the age of 35 my own mother still doesn’t seem to think of me as an adult, and I have to enforce boundaries at every interaction. But whatever the case, learning how to do this now will be really useful for you. It’s this amazing secret trick that once you know it seems so utterly obvious – you don’t have to be controlled by other people’s emotions. Sure be nice to people when it’s reasonable. Be kind and caring. But when it’s not reasonable, it’s OK to ignore it and arrange things according to your own needs.

    1. “She still to this day refers to me as a touchy person who has “special rules” that she has to follow – but she does follow them.”

      Oh boy, oh boy, oh *boy* do I look forward to the day when this is me.

  23. LW2 – I have a bit of a issue with the idea that people HAVE to talk about their problems. Sure, talking out problems works for a lot of people, but for me (and your boyfriend, it seems) it’s even more stressful. Personally, I need time to think about things by myself, so that I feel like I can have a rational discussion about it rather than getting super upset. Even then, I still might not discuss the problem with people unless it directly involves them (be warned, this may or may not include ‘my being unhappy makes you unhappy, therefore you are involved’).

    I support Capt. Awkward’s, advice; ask once if there’s something they want to talk about or do. If no, don’t push! It doesn’t mean he doesn’t care for you, but being forced to talk about something when you’re not ready to can breed more unhappiness and resentment.

    Hopefully you can find a solution that fills both your needs. Good luck!

    1. Though there’s also a difference between “I will make you party to my inmost thoughts on this” and “I will let you know what is going on and what my general attitudes and objectives are.” LW2 needs his/her boyfriend to at least send up a signal flare to say “I am angry about this” or “I am happy but tired.”

      As an introvert, I don’t “talk about” my problems with many people as much as give status updates on where I’m at. I want to make a statement–“I’m sad because X”–and if I’m tetchy or tired, I really don’t want them to poke at me, demand more information, or try to fix it right away, because I’m not presenting the information as a form of extroversion. I’m stating a fact, because the person is important to me so I want them to know how I feel.

  24. LW1, The “kidnappers could fake emails/texts” sounds **exactly** like something my mother would say. What I would point out to your mom is that a kidnapper could also hold a gun to your head and force you to tell your mother over the phone that everything’s fine. That’s why domestic abuse services tend to have some kind of innocuous-sounding safe word/phrase for emergencies.

    Also, if you’re female (I’m assuming you are but I could be wrong), it’s statistically way more likely that the person hitting/raping/murdering you would be someone you know, not a stranger jumping out of the bushes, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

    My mother did the excessive phone call stuff too, except that my college was in my hometown. She once called a locksmith, lied and said my apartment was hers and that she had lost her keys, and was literally going to have the locksmith take the hinges off my front door (illegal much?) because I didn’t call her for three days during finals week. This was only stopped by the fact that I got home from work about twenty minutes before the locksmith got there.

    She also did things other commenters have mentioned above, like call my job when I wouldn’t answer my phone, etc. and when I told her that that was not okay and likely to get me in trouble at work, she replied with, “Well, you better answer your cell phone when I call you then, hadn’t you?” This was not just a me thing, she did the phone call thing and ignoring-boundaries stuff with many other people, family and not.

    I would strongly recommend the captain’s advice and will also caution you that the push-back from your mom on this might reach gigantic proportions for a while, but it’s worth it to set boundaries, and hopefully this is something your mom will be able to get over so that you guys can have a better relationship in the future.

    In my case, I have not been on speaking terms with my mother for 5+ years (for this and other reasons), but definitely part of it was because she could not respect my set boundaries.

    “I don’t run in crowds that would likely get me kidnapped”

    Anyone can get kidnapped, raped, and/or murdered. I get that you’re probably not, say, running an illegal drug empire/in a war zone/[insert situation in which you’d likely be in imminent mortal danger here], but there’s not some secret “100% Safe From All Violence” club. This stuff can literally happen to anyone.

    1. Wouldn’t the people most able to raise the alarm if you get kidnapped be… other people at one’s campus or place of residence, who will notice quickly if you go missing? I realize it’s emotional code for “the unspeakable emotional tension of feeling my kid doesn’t love me”, but so far as real live kidnapping goes, the actual response is, “I’ve given your number to my friends, so if I go missing, THEY will call YOU.”

      1. You’d think so, yeah. Realistically, people you live with or work with would be the best people to count on as far as noticing you’re missing, because they, you know, see you every day or close to it.

        I think it’s also emotionally code for “You don’t live with me and are far away and that scares me.”

      2. Definitely the co-workers. My father came home from work with a story a few years ago about how one of his co-workers (who was 80-something at the time because he didn’t want to retire) didn’t show up to work. The entire office was worried and elected a person to go to his house to make sure he hadn’t died (luckily he was fine, just sick, and had forgotten to call in).

      3. Seconding the giving your mother’s number to your friends/room mate and telling her about it. My current flatmate had only ever lived at home before and when she moved in her parents were quite anxious, but I think that because I made a point to take their number in case of emergencies they felt a bit more secure.

  25. LW2: I would just like to be a cheerleader for you a second! Hurray for you! You put effort into relationships! You’re friendly, warm and kind! That’s a good thing. As CA pointed out, most of the “personality traits ascribed to introversion and extroversion have nothing to do with them. I am an extrovert and I have plenty of introverted friends who are just as friendly, warm and socially adept as I am. More, often.

    I want to encourage you because extroversion has basically become a dirty word. Mention you are an extrovert in online blog communities and people are horrified – shouldn’t I be off killing kittens or trying to hug people or something? 😉 People often try to shame “extroverts” – as a woman, I have definitely gotten the “you’re too loud” criticism. Patriarchy doesn’t like women to take up space or have opinions and this is something that is perpetuated in nerd communities A LOT. I have found that extrovert is used often as a coded insult to make racist, classist or sexist remarks. It’s another way to re privilege white, upper middle class (mainly) men in progressive circles.

    I know that there is a whole lot of societal construct telling you to take on All The Emotional Work in your relationship and to Make All The Compromises for a Man. And add that to the general notion that Introversion is Better or more specifically Extroverted People Are Big Dumb Animals And Introverted People Are All Einstein Reborn – you may feel like you should be bending on everything. I’m sure you have a great list of wonderful things about your BF and he may be a wonderful guy. But if you have to spend your entire relationship hiding your super awesome personality and trying desperately not to step on his toes, then don’t feel like you HAVE TO be in the relationship. There are lots of amazing wonderful people who will want you for you and not (intentionally or unintentionally) make you feel bad about yourself.

    1. This. A million times, this. I’m sort of introverted, in that I love me some Me Time, but also people! I like small talk, and people talk, and relationship talk. I make faces at other people’s babies, and sometimes talk to (amenable) strangers on the subway. It’s like being the princess in “Once Upon A Mattress” who sings really loudly about how “[she’s] always been SHY!” I find that with sometimes, it earns me a bit of derision for being empty-headed and shallow. It’s okay though, because I ditch those people for other, nicer people. You deserve to be treated nicely, LW2.

    2. It’s really interesting to get an extrover’s POV on this subject, because I’ve always gotten the feeling that introverted people are viewed as being weird, antisocial, and awkward (also how many times do the neighbors say, “but he/she seemed so quiet?”). I think American culture rewards extroversion, although I hadn’t really thought about it in a gendered way – maybe it’s more that it awards extroversion in men, not in women? One of my friends is an extrovert, and the only difference I see between us is that at the end of the day, she likes to recharge around other people and I like to recharge by myself.

      1. I think the difference is in loudness v. extroversion–women are expected to be quiet and listen more than they talk and not have opinions and are Unserious if they party a lot or whatever, but they’re still absolutely expected to be 110% On Call at the drop of a hat to do any amount of emotional/service work for other people at any time and without complaint. Just QUIETLY.

        I peg “should be able and willing to do support work for other people at all times” and particularly the idea that Women Are Nurturing And Derive Their Life Energy From Serving Other People squarely under “extroversion”, even if we are supposed to do it in a docile and unobtrusive fashion.

        1. I agree–I think that the idea that women will be tireless and gracious in emotionally supporting their partners, caring for their children (elders, etc.), being The Hostess and responsible for visitors and guest, volunteering, and always Being There for their friends is a set of expectations that’s really common for women, and also de facto expects a certain degree of extroversion. Just, as you say, quietly.

  26. LW2, you sound like me and your boyfriend sounds kinda like my husband. I am exploding with pep and I like to be around people as often as possible, whereas he prefers to be alone or with just me. We even have the same communication issues–sometimes I have no idea how I feel about something unless I’m talking about it, while he would prefer to quietly muse to himself until he’s sorted it out. This sounds more like a conflict between a feeler and a thinker, but it’s not uncommon for extraverts to be more feely and introverts to be more thinky.

    We’ve been married for seven years and I feel like we’ve worked out a pretty good system. When there is an issue that needs to be discussed, there is an understanding from the beginning that we each have the right to process it in our own ways. For us that means he gets to go off by himself for a set amount of time (sometimes 30 minutes, but sometimes up to two hours!) to ponder and I will do something to distract myself (usually play on the internet because I can get some socialization there). Then we reconvene and we talk.

    I feel like this works because it’s a reasonable compromise. That time when he’s off sorting himself out kind of sucks for me, because I have FEELINGS and I need them unpacked NOW! But it would suck for him to have to talk about his feelings before he gets a chance to think about them. I can get through whatever length of time he needs to be alone because I know that eventually I’m going to get to talk about it, and he can get through helping me process my feelings because he had time to charge his batteries, so to speak. I’ve found that it works really, really well. There just has to be a commitment to both parts of the process.

    1. “sometimes up to two hours!” I’m laughing because if your spouse was like me you’d not be happy cos you could have to wait two days! glad you have found a common ground 🙂

    2. This sounds like a nice idea. I might try something like it with my boyfriend, who is somewhat like your husband and LW2’s boyfriend.

      Actually, what I might try is saying “I need to talk about x at a time when you are ready.” Then he can think about x for whatever time is needed and then we can talk. It would probably take days, but it would be reasonable really, because by the time I bring something up I have usually been thinking about it a lot, but I also need to think about things a lot out loud. Since I often can’t do that with him I sometimes talk to my closest friends, aka my siblings, about it or write online.

  27. LW2: This sounds like something that happened when my husband and I started dating. He’s an extrovert and I’m an introvert, and sometimes I would just really really badly want him to go away somewhere very far away where I wouldn’t even have to hear him. And at first I tried to suppress that, because I was worried about hurting his feelings, and I didn’t want him to think that I didn’t love him. Eventually, when I DIDN’T want alone time, I told him that sometimes I wanted alone time, and that it wasn’t because I didn’t love him etc., and we decided that if I wanted alone time I would just tell him and he would go away. Doing this while I wasn’t constantly thinking “go away, go away, go away” was much easier, because I wasn’t fighting myself at the same time. And “I need some alone time” became enough of a code phrase that he’s been using it recently, as well. Also, we have “code behaviors” — things that I can do if I’m feeling asocial enough to not even want to say a sentence — like wrapping myself in a particular blanket or sitting on a chair that’s turned completely facing the window. Then he knows not to talk to me and to leave me alone, and that I’ll emerge as soon as I can.

    Anyway, the point of this is just that maybe you should make sure to try and talk about this at some point when he’s feeling sociable and happy, so that next time when he isn’t both of you will be prepared.

  28. LW2, one possible suggestion — I, too, have a partner who gets very quiet at times. He’s clearly unhappy, and does not in general want to talk about it. I tried guessing games, and that sucked. I tried Totally Ignoring It It’s Not Happening, and that sucked (a monosyllabic conversational partner is No Fun). Now, I ask either or both of “Tired, or grumpy?” and “Want to hang out, or want space?” The first question is by far the most common, because usually the answer to the second is “space pls”.

    It’s an easy kind of question to answer — two options are already provided, and can be referenced in monosyllables. He’s welcome to add clarification or another one, but those are the most common things that explain Bad Mood. It doesn’t hinge on ‘are you okay’, which can be a hard question to answer. It’s also all the information I really need to decide what to do next — if tired, I can stop worrying and offer tea or something. If grumpy, I can ask if he wants to talk about it. In the likely event that he wants space, I’ll go pick something interesting to do, something so engrossing (and in a different room) that I don’t have to think about his being in a bad mood, because I can trust that if it’s something I can fix, he’ll ask. More likely, he’s working on fixing it himself.

    I dunno — it doesn’t instant solve bad moods, and it still requires learning how to let it go. But for me and my relationship, it’s been a helpful way for me to feel like there’s some feedback I’m getting, and not smother him with questions. Things which helped included having a conversation when he was _not_ in a bad mood about what kinds of things he needed there, and how they were similar/different from the ones that I need. And the big big thing is trusting him– that if there’s something he needs, or something I’m doing that hurts him, he’ll say something about it.

    Good luck!

  29. LW1: Oh man. I think I was blissfully oblivious and kind of impatient with my mother when she went through this phase. I had a habit of leaving my phone in my purse so when I’d finally fish it out for the evening there would be calls and anxious messages all over the place. I’d just call her back at bedtime (if she hadn’t broken down and sent me an ‘are you dead?’ email that would remind me to check earlier) and be like, “Did you need something? Okay? No? Still alive. Promise. Just busy. Bed for me.” I think she once drove from the neighboring town to park herself outside my apartment and make sure the light was on before leaving again. She was well-aware of her own anxiety, and she finally got to the point where she would handle it by doing her ‘anxiety relieving’ things without involving me until she weaned herself off them. One of my mixed-blessing personality traits is to be contrary and generally uncooperative with demands. Pretty much nothing I did would soothe her anxiety appropriately, so she just had to adjust.

    LW2: My roomie and I have had to hash out communication several times in the years we’ve been living together. One of them was because she’d been joking that I was cranky all the time.

    I am terrible at communication, especially when I’m sad and/or hungry, and I have very poor ‘context switching’. For example, if I’m doing… pretty much anything that requires concentration and she interrupts me, my instinct is to hiss and use nonverbals to indicate ‘go away’. We had to work it out that she can/will give me an ‘early-warning’ notice that I’m going to be disturbed and I don’t have to reply unless I can be pleasant. Not having to reply is awesome, because by the time she comes back for actual interaction I am usually in pretty good mood and ready for civilized decision-making.

    I think it’s really bizarre that I have to buffer a bit before I can interact, but discovering that particular fact meant that I am no longer ‘constantly cranky’, or at least I don’t seem like I am since she no longer has to deal with my spike flares.

    There’s just… no normal for this sort of thing, only what works. I mean, hell, I’m the only person I know who needs a heads up of, ‘I’m going to ask you for a decision in 15 minutes’ to actually be capable of decision-making without being incoherent and confused or grumpy and frustrated.

    Some of the fallout from our discussions are ‘if my door is closed, don’t fuck with me, I’ll come find you’, and ‘I will inform you when I am hungry or tired and am more likely to be unpleasant’, and ‘food is always acceptable, just don’t expect me to respond until after I have devoured it’.

    Anyway – I think my point is that I and my roomie had to have a sit-down hash-outs to establish that I either have to find my ‘you’re awesome, I’m cranky, leave me alone’ sign (Really. I lean hard on nonverbals when I’m upset and my roomie doesn’t speak ‘grunt’ or ‘snarl’), or I have to loudly announce that I’m unfit for company and hole up in my room. Admittedly, I get angry more often than sad, but the principle is the same for both for me. My roomie and my friends just have to trust me that I will seek them if I need a shoulder to cry on. The conversations that led to me laying down my expectations and theirs, however, were the really important part.

    1. Were we separated at birth?

      I am Not Neurotypical, though I haven’t been to enough therapy yet to figure out exactly how. Still, I often wander around doing chores with headphones in, and if someone tries to talk to me I will listen once (in case of emergency) and, if they try it again, my first instinct is to yell “FUCK OFF” and ignore them.

      I have tried to communicate this to partner with…ah, mixed success. She’s trying. I am trying not to have a stupid emotional outburst over something so trivial.

      Thoughts are that this might be a dyspraxia thing with me – I say this only because I have a few or the other neurological symptoms in the mild version, and also because it runs in my family. I get very focused on what I’m doing, and have this thing about Finishing When I Decided I Would, and if I have to stop before then I feel very…odd and unhappy and off balance, so this would be why interruptions suck for me.

      Go you for developing a system. Partner has been really great about helping me to identify patterns and finding ways around, e.g, the sudden urge to shout, throw something and then cry because I’m overwhelmed and overwrought and I can’t find my headphones. (I don’t and have hardly ever acted on these urges, but my level of distress definitely is Not Normal and comes through rather obviously, even though I don’t raise my voice much or cry or make any kind of violent body language).

      Also, that is exactly what I did with my mother. She was less good at working through her stuff, though, so it didn’t end as well.

  30. RE: The phone call mom

    This is an unpleasant behavior that will be reinforced if it is rewarded and extinguished if it is not. Answering the phone when your mom calls or reassuring her later on that nothing was wrong and that you are fine are both reinforcers of her unpleasant behavior. The only way to extinguish this kind of behavior is to stop reinforcing it, cold turkey. That means that when your mom leaves hysterical messages or calls the campus police, or otherwise communicates in an overbearing and obliterative manner (which is what this is really about: her need for reinforcement is all that matters, and your own needs are irrelevant), you completely ignore it. You only communicate with her either when you initiate communication–not in response to her over-the-top attempts–or when she communicates with you in a pleasant and appropriate manner: like she calls at a normal time and says, “Hi! Just calling to say hello!”

    Another really useful phone strategy is to force yourself to *never* answer the phone when she calls, and to *only* talk with her on the phone when you call her. When someone like this realizes that the chances of you answering the phone when they call is zero, they dramatically reduce their calling frequency.

  31. I really think the depression is more of an issue than the introversion when it comes to shutting down and shutting out people. That can cause all kinds of comm issues and has nothing to do with introverted/extroverted needs.

    1. Agreed. That is the case with my boyfriend anyway, and with me at times, but usually not with close people, just people with whom I would feel a need to pretend to be fine.

  32. LW1, I suppose this is a terrible idea and inappropriate and probably mean, but…
    When you told us your mother suggested you call every time you go to the bathroom, I started wondering how long that would last if you got up to pee at, say, 3 am and took her at her word.
    The fiendish part of me thinks it would be funny (eventually) but the sensible part suggests it’s not worth your trouble.

  33. LW1- You mention that you dislike phone calls and really prefer texts or emails. Would it be possible to convince your mom to use skype (assuming you like to skype)? As someone who absolutely hates talking on the phone and is therefore usually distracted and unenthusiastic on the phone, I do much better on skype. This really helped with communication when I was in my first semester at college- my mom got to see me, and I was much more forthcoming and excited to talk, because I wasn’t counting down until the phone call ended. We also had scheduled chats, as opposed to me always telling myself I would call home tomorrow, which was nice.

    (Another nice thing about skype is that if you aren’t logged in, your mom can’t call your skype account, which might be helpful in reinforcing boundaries. Or it might just give her another communication method to bother you with. YMMV.)

  34. So I am wondering… if I want to have a “code word”, does something like “please leave me alone now” work? I think if I could find a good one this would be a great system to use, so people will back off when I don’t want to talk, not have hurt feeling because I ignored them, maybe come back later.

    1. It’s the kind of thing that you’d need to negotiate with the person you share the code word with. It’s not a magic phrase that will work on anyone; it’s a specific agreement you have with a person who knows you. The meaning and understanding is more important than the actual word.

      Though IMO “leave me alone” and similar have some really bad associations for people. A lot of people really need to get their cope on to deal with being shut out, so not triggering that feeling of being unwanted can be important. It’s why the suggested code words are not-usually-emotional things like “grapefruit”. It’s something you work out with someone you know and who’s really interested in understanding you more.

      With strangers I tend to say things like, “I like talking with you, but I’m overwhelmed from so many people and my head’s swimming. I think I need to spend some time alone doing [activity], and after about [amount of time], I’ll come back and join you. I don’t want to be rude or make you think it’s because you did something wrong; I’m just not at my best right now, and I know with a little rest I’ll enjoy being with you more.”

      With friends I go, “Sorry, introvert moment; can I get back to you (opt: in [timeframe])?”

    2. I use, “Not now.” It’s important for me to emphasize that I’m rejecting the timing, not the interaction itself. Having a very short phrase also helps me because it makes it easier for me to say.

    3. What I find, as a deeply antisocial person, is that “I need to go be by myself for a while” or something similar works pretty well. It frames it in terms of something I need (solitude) instead of something the other person is doing wrong. Saying it in a pleasant tone of voice usually helps, too. Otherwise, I’m more inclined to go find an empty room and lock myself in it until I’m capable of being social again, which people tend to take the wrong way. :/

      My husband is perfectly happy with that, but he’s also an introvert who needs a lot of space. I’m not sure how it translates to someone who’s very extroverted, but I generally fall down on the side of direct communication.

    4. With friends, or acquaintances who get it, I will often use, “It’s been great, but I’m all peopled out now. See you / talk / catch up at time point X?”

      I generally despise verbing nouns, but everyone I’ve used “peopled out” with has understood right away.

    5. So I am wondering… if I want to have a “code word”, does something like “please leave me alone now” work?

      This is part of my workplace culture [we’re a small tech company] — the phrase, “I do not have the bandwidth for [for your thing] right now. [opt: can I/I will follow up by email in [timeframe]?]” basically means “please leave me alone for a while”, without reaching the point of shouting “I NEED QUIET ALONE TIME NOW OR I WILL BURST INTO TEARS.”

      So basically, maybe not: “please leave me alone now” since that can conjure up bad feels, but a phrase that expresses the same thing, in terms understandable to the person you’re talking to.

      (Incidentally, my friends know that they can say “Boo, please stop talking.” and that will get me to shut my face and stop causing them stress from running my mouth, but not hurt my feelings. Because I have told them that they can, and was truthful/determined that being told to stop talking would not hurt my feelings before putting that out there as an option.)

  35. LW2, you sound lovely and awesome but, as others have suggested, you may need to decide whether you can be OK with not getting a ‘go away’ signal from your partner. Mine just cannot do it, for various reasons similar to those already shared by others. Sometimes I bring him a snack or a blanket, when it’s clear he’s ‘gone past hunger’, or really needs to nap, but either way I just tell him where I’m going to be and to come get me or drop me a text if he wants company. However, I’m an introvert and I love to do this – I get to be on my own (yay) and I feel good for looking after him. I can understand that it may not feel good for everybody.

  36. The negative connotations of introversion in society have led to me camouflaging the fact that I’m drained or overwhelmed by using my social skills. It’s an automatic response and not productive (because it means my withdrawing seems to come out of the blue for those around me), but a result of the common misconception of introversion vs. extraversion as shy vs. outgoing. Unfortunately this false definition also exists in German (I’m from Switzerland). It feels rather demeaning/patronising to have people basically not believe me when I say that I’m really introverted, just because my social skills are good.

  37. LW2, you guys sound like my husband and I in the beginning stages of our relationship! I’m not an extrovert, but I do like to talk/analyze/hash things out, while he just shut down. Like, *literally* ignoring me, staring straight ahead. Especially if I was unhappy about something and wanted to talk about it. It was infuriating, and crazy-making, because I’d start out all calm and reasonable but his ignoring me would turn me into a crying, emotional wreck. Then he felt justified in shutting down.

    Over the years, he learned that just shutting me down is a very hurtful thing to do. I think he was that way because he has a very moody, narcissistic, capricious, alcoholic mother who would fly into screaming/emotional sessions and he would shut it out, because there was NO talking to her. His father uses that same tactic to deal with her.

    But I think what got him to really see how that defense mechanism hurt me was one day, I told him that I am not his mom. I asked him if I have EVER been as abusive and relentless as she’d ever been. He was forced to admit no, and that by treating me the same, he was basically saying my needs were as irrational and out-of-bounds as his mother’s during her drunken rages.

    That was over 15 years ago, and things are much better.

    On the flip-side, he is the type of person that you *must* state clearly from him what you need. He doesn’t get nuances and hints. In my youth, I would have tried to throw hints out there and gotten resentful when he didn’t respond, like if I was having a bad day and wanted a hug. Now, it’s different. Just the other day, I marched up to him, put my head on his shoulder and said, “I’m feeling very emotionally needy right now and you will remedy this with cuddlings, no?” And of course, he’ll laugh and wrap his arms around me and we’re both happy.

  38. LW1, I will reiterte a few of the things other commenters have said and include my own experience here. I’m an only child, which, if you have an overprotective parent, is kind of like being the eldest child, except said parent can’t get distracted by your younger siblings. When I went to college, my mother’s behavior became similar to yours, though she never called campus police in search of me. Sometimes these phone calls were to “hear the sound of your voice,” or she wanted to update me on the latest news from great-uncle Phil who I’d met once when I was 8, or that she’d just found a story in the newspaper she thought I’d be interested in so she was calling to make sure she had my school mailbox address correct (and end up tellimg me all about the article, sometimes getting it to read over the phone to me), or that she’d just been sitting on my bed for the past half-hour and crying because I was far away. In other words, they ranged from “How are you?” to “Why are you hurting me by not living here anymore?” and of course there was no way to tell what kind of phone call it would be before picking up. If I didn’t pick up, that meant passive-aggressiveness from her the next time.

    As others have said above, your mom’s anxiety is hers to deal with, and to paraphrase one of our favorite sayings around here, you are not going to college away from home AT her. In this situation, she is not behaving as a responsible adult, but you still can. I completely agree with what the Cap’n and others have said about setting boundaries and sticking to them, no matter if she responds by much wailing and gnashing of teeth. We are each of us responsible for setting our boundaries with others, and also for our response to the boundaries others have set with us. I experienced good results from being firm about boundaries and setting one regular time a week to call and talk with her. That phone call was usually a long one, but it also became the only time we spoke during the week, and that balanced out to be acceptable for both of us, after a period of several months of her pushing against it. I very much agree with the commenter who suggested not picking up when she calls and you being the one to call for your weekly chat, to reinforce that you are being consistent and straightforward about communicating with her. I would also disagree with the commenter, entirely for the caveat they themselves mentioned, about possibly communicating with her over Skype. In my experience, the narrower the channel of communication was, the fewer options my mom had for pushing its boundaries, and it was more helpful for me to be consistent about communicating. Because college does get very busy awfully fast, and imo the primary reason one goes to college is not to figure out their relationship with their family.

    That brings up another great suggestion from another commenter: enlisting others to help reinforce your boundaries. Perhaps a family member, or even a close friend of hers, who has already had their kid go to college? If you have a good relationship with your siblings, maybe they can help too. “Oh, I’m sure LW is fine, Mom; they’re probably having a great time at college!” If your mom ends up meeting any of your friends or your SO (either you bring them home or your mom comes to visit at school) they can help too. Once, when my parents were visitng me and we were out at dinner with a few of my friends, I had set a little plan up ahead of time: Friend 1 quick-dialed Friend 2 under the table, and Friend 2 took out their phone, looked at it and sent it to voicemail, and said to the table in an unconcerned, friendly tone, “Oh, that was my mom, but it’s not the regular time of the week when we talk, and I’m having such a good time with all of you, I’ll talk to her later.” Though she never brought it up, after that I saw a small but useful improvement in my mom’s attitude towards my boundary-setting on phone calls. And trust me, if you talk with your college friends about it, you won’t be the only one struggling with a parent who is having a hard time with your transition from kid to adult.

    I’ve been out of college for a while now, and I still have a once-weekly regular phone call with my parents. For us, it has turned into a regular and welcome habit, and though my mother can still be overprotective at times, my setting communication boundaries has helped her remember I’m an adult with my own choices to make. I wish you the all the best and extend many Jedi hugs!

  39. Honestly, in the case of the first letter I don’t think the writer’s response to his mother’s demands on him have anything to do with being introverted or how he express affection. Her demands are unreasonable. An extrovert not deeply enmeshed with her would feel the same way. Only their objection would be they need time to spend with their own family and friends, not time with themselves. The only solution (as you suggest) are boundaries, which she will not like. And the writer will just have to accept that she won’t like it. Grown children don’t talk to their parents everyday in most Western cultures. Parents don’t expect their children to take responsibility for how they feel. She is being immature and selfish–demanding her child be her caretaker.

  40. LW2, I was in your position just recently. Having this letter/comments to read might have been helpful, but things were not meant to be and this communication difference/issue only made that more clear. The beginning of the end was when he did the “shut down and not even give the equivalent of a code word” thing at a time when I desperately needed his support (death in my family). A partner who does this may not be able to help the way they are, and bless yours for going to therapy to get help with depression and communication skills (I don’t think mine was willing, though I did bring it up). But if the end effect is that you don’t get what you really need from the relationship, walk away. Even if it’s not fair.

  41. “The best solution I could come up with was for him to give me a code word when he’s in this mood, and I can just vacate and give him his space. He didn’t want to do this though! ”

    Piggybacking a little: what CAN one do when there is a problem, one person proposes a not-insane compromise or solution, and person #2 says “No.” and leaves it at that? You can’t force someone to change their behaviour, you can only change yours. No matter where person #1 turns for advice, the received wisdom is this same solution. But person #2 thinks it’s stupid and is unwilling to countenance it, and in the meantime the initial underlying problem persists. Is there anything that can be done other than persons #1 and #2 living with the problem or severing contact?

    1. If there’s a third alternative, it involves person #1 changing their own behavior in a way that makes it possible for them to live with person #2’s behavior. Are creative solutions available?

      If not, then I think living with the problem or severing contact (to whatever degree that’s necessary) are the only options.

    2. Well, yes. The alternatives of “deal with it” or “leave” are what you arrive at after you have tried to communicate. In this case, Person #1 suggested one solution that person #2 rejected. The next step, as I see it, is to pick a good time, when person #2 isn’t shutting down and person #1 is peaceful and comfortable. Talk about it. Mention how this behaviour is painful, ask if there are any ideas how he could handle it, ask if he needs time and want to come back later, ask if there is anything in your request that triggers something else. Well, basically, ask them to respect you enough to cooperate in working out a way to have both of your needs met.

    3. In a non-specific situation I think it depends on whether Person #2 has acknowledged that there is a problem to be dealt with in the first place. If they haven’t then that’s where I would start the conversation. I don’t really do scripts but maybe something like “I know this doesn’t affect/bother you as much as it does me but this is something I really want us to deal with and I’d like you to be on board with that.”

      If Person #2 is already there but just doesn’t have any interest in the specific solution put forward (even if every other source agrees it’s the best one) then I think it’s entirely reasonable to ask them to suggest an alternative. They don’t have to come up with one on the spot but let them do some research of their own and get back to you. I think the important part is that it’s a discussion rather than one partner doing all the work and the other shooting them down.

  42. Just wanted to say thanks to the Captain (and Awkward Army members) for her excellent comments about introversion vs. extroversion. As a therapist in training, I hear these words from patients a lot. They have become so laden with meaning that they originally were not meant to have and people really seem to think that being an introvert or an extrovert is the one and only thing that defines how they conduct every single social interaction they have. I know introverts who want to discuss every emotion they have pretty much all the time and extroverts who avoid those types of conversations at any time and at any cost. I know socially adept introverts and socially awkward extroverts. Knowing whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert can be really helpful, because helps you know what will drain you and what will charge you up, but there’s a lot more to personality than that.

    1. As an extreme introvert who is not shy in the least I approve this message. I’m actually a full-blown schizoid personality but it’s easier to make excuses to avoid people rather than attempting to politely explain that you’d like everyone to just f*ck off. Hell, if I were just all-around shy it might be easier for people to accept it, but trying to navigate social situations when no one says what they really mean is just tiresome.

  43. I echo all the commenters that have said LW1 is going to probably get DRAMA when attempting to define boundaries with Mom. My mom is an extremely anxious person (partially genetic, I’m much the same way, but also partially untreated and unmedicated) and had the habit of projecting those anxieties onto everyone around her.

    While I never quite got the ongoing and intrusive phone calls, I went through a really rough patch in grad school. Mom staged an intervention over the phone where she was determined to make me feel bad about feeling bad. I was actually in the self care stage (drugs, talk therapy, all of that) but wasn’t ready to take on her anxieties and stress. She wanted me to stop being tired and depressed whenever she called. I tried to negotiate and come up with scheduled times for calls so that I could mentally prepare for them, instead of getting her calling whenever she needed it.

    She insisted that set times / days for calls was unacceptable to her and that she should be able to call me whenever she wanted and have me be willing to talk to her about whatever she wanted. I … declined such a bargain.

    It was a point I still look at as when I entered adulthood. I set boundaries and enforced them. No, I don’t have the mother relationship I want, but she doesn’t have the child she wants, either. And I’d rather be happy and content in my life than meeting her wishes for who I should be.

    The boundaries really resonated with me. Drawing those lines with moms are so very, very hard. And they will push back. But, overall, it was one of the best things I did, despite the angst and pain and stress of setting that boundary.

    Jedi hugs to the LW.

  44. Hey, LW457, there’s a lot of commenting from people with experience on both sides of “go away now” codewords that makes it clear that the reason your guy may not want to do it is because he’s had some experience with people feeling hurt, or because he’s actually correct that you would feel hurt. This kind of arrangement can be tough to deal with, especially at the beginning — it’s just that it’s so much better than the alternative. So maybe there is no problem.

    I want to tell you, though, I have a strong negative reaction to any situation where I ask someone to do something for me and they refuse because of an idea they have about me. What you’re saying about what you want should always take precedence over someone else’s idea of what you wouldn’t like. Maybe you could point that out to him? Also that it’s not like the protocol changes eternally with no hope of revision if you try it out.

    (Also you are clearly Pinkie Pie, and Pinkie Pie is awesome and adorable; everyone should be nice to her. You deserve all the best!)

    1. THIS. I *hate* when someone says “No, I can’t do [x thing you have suggested] because then you will [y thing which I will definitely not do].” Since when did you know me better than I know me?


  45. No advice that hasn’t already been said for 456, just solidarity. I’m in the middle of setting a boundary around communication with my mother too, and she’s just stepped it up to physically visiting me at work since I’ve taken Comrade Physioproffe’s approach to her phone calls. I wholeheartedly nth the recommendation for seeing a counselor, because I’m sure at some point you will doubt whether or not setting this boundary is worth her FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMILY and you’ll probably want at least one person nearby to tell you that you are not a terrible person for needing this.

  46. LW#2 – I’m wondering if the idea of “enthusiastic consent” might be useful here. If, when you interact with your BF, he doesn’t enthusiastically respond, then back off. If he wants to interact, he will seek you out. And if, when you read this, you worry that he’ll never interact (or won’t interact as much) if you stop initiating? That’s important information! Even if he’s a great guy in other ways, you may need a more communicative partner to be happy.

    1. Heh. I tried explaining to a very extroverted and emotionally needy partner once that I would likely seek her company more often if I wasn’t always exhausted from trying to maintain some breathing room for myself. So she gave me my space. For half a day. Then stopped because “it wasn’t working anyway.”

      So more to the point, don’t be surprised if it takes a little while for him to be ready to seek you out. The change in dynamic can take a little tweaking to get right.

  47. Oh, ouch.

    This post hit the web about an hour after I arrived at my call-every-day boundary-denying mother’s for a weekend visit, and was already stressed out and overwhelmed.

    It’s given me a lot to think about, not least the fact that I sometimes meet her halfway because it’s less draining than the guilt-trips and lengthy lectures on rudeness and family responsibility that trying to reclaim emotional space for myself results in.

    I really want to discuss everything on this post, but by the time I have the energy and the headspace it’ll probably be pretty much dead.

    1. Straycat: I don’t think posts on this blog are ever really dead, because they stay relevant to so many people. I only discovered this blog recently and have been reading stacks of archived posts, and I’m sure I can’t be the only one. And WordPress is set up to let people who’ve commented on here have the option of getting further comments e-mailed to them. So, if you feel like going through this months from now… well, my thought would be to go ahead. Even if your thoughts aren’t relevant to the LWs any more, they may well be relevant to other people out there.

  48. One more thought for LW1: given your mother’s great fear of being a failure as a mother, I would consider pointing out (maybe by hardcopy mail), “You know how you are afraid of being a terrible mom? This calling me all the time thing is you doing that.”

    On the one hand: gahh, somebody hit this woman over the head with a cluebat.

    And on the other hand, it is also tragic, as her fear that you won’t love her is driving you away from her.

    But her fear doesn’t give her a “get out of being terrible free” card.

    Much sympathy & good luck.

    1. [One more thought for LW1: given your mother’s great fear of being a failure as a mother, I would consider pointing out (maybe by hardcopy mail), “You know how you are afraid of being a terrible mom? This calling me all the time thing is you doing that.]

      Gardenia: This comment made my ‘this is a terrible idea’ spidey-sense go off, so I’m now trying to think through and articulate why this is and whether I’m correct in feeling so.

      I guess the problem I have with this is that it’s going for a quick point-score without regard for the other person’s feelings or what’s actually going to be a constructive approach to dealing with the situation. There are situations where that’s appropriate, but dealing with a family member with whom you ultimately hope to maintain any kind of good relationship just isn’t one of them.

      This woman is acting this way because she doesn’t know *how* to sort out and deal with her “I am a terrible mother” inner jerkbrain (I *love* that term of the Captain’s, by the way). While it’s not appropriate for her to be making this problem into the LW1’s problem to deal with, it’s also not appropriate for the LW1 to be using her deepest insecurity as a weapon to hit her over the head with. That’s just mean. Very tempting indeed, admittedly, but still ultimately mean.

      If the LW1 brings it up at all, I’m thinking a better script would be something like “Mom, I know you have this deep-down fear that you’re really a bad mother. I know that, in spite of [all the times you’ve listened to me when I’m upset/all the ways in which you’ve taken care of me/insert more specific examples of awesome momness as available from LW1’s experience], this little voice inside your mind still keeps telling you that that’s not worth anything and that you’re nevertheless a terrible mother. I know that, when that little voice starts tormenting you, you feel desperate for reassurance from me and that it’s very hard for you to manage without that reassurance. I know this must be incredibly hard for you, and very much hope that you can find a counsellor who can give you the help you need with this issue and help you to find your way to a place in which you can truly believe in your powers as a mother.

      What I can’t do, however, is provide you with constant reassurance at the cost of other things in my life. That isn’t healthy for either of us. I love you very much and feel you’ve done a great job as a mother. I hope you can believe in this enough to keep doing this great job, which, at this stage of my life, is going to include respecting my needs and boundaries. I wish you luck with seeking whatever help you need with this elsewhere.”

      I don’t know whether or not that would be worth saying as a prelude to the excellent advice on boundary-setting given above. Maybe worth considering. Alternatively, it’s perfectly valid just to not bring that subject up all, just do the boundary-setting thing, and let her sort out everything else on her own, or not as the case may be. I just think that, if you’re going to bring up the ‘fear of being a terrible mom’ thing at all, it should be done sympathetically rather than as an attempted cluebat.

      1. Absolutely seconded! I think throwing this fear into her mother’s face is both unkind and also unlikely to be constructive (though certainly I can see the temptation). 

        As someone who has had to deal with parental weirdness, I think I would also add that it’s probably not going to be helpful for the LW to engage with trying to sort out her mother’s anxieties. If her mother was the sort of person who responded well to reasoned discussion then this problem wouldn’t be happening, right? The kind of mother who doesn’t recognize her children’s boundaries can be very hard to disengage with emotionally, even when that’s necessary and healthy. I spent years sympathizing with mine and trying to help her face her issues (with no success), all while she twisted my head around and around with “I’m FAAAAMILY so you must do what I say!” un-logic. I still empathize, but on a practical level I’ve found it much more healthy and helpful for me to just set and enforce reasonable boundaries and leave my mother to deal with (or not) her own issues. 

        I really hope I’m just projecting my own family drama here, but calling the campus police after so little time is pretty over the top, and makes me suspect other issues. For myself I didn’t realize just how unreasonable my mother’s behaviour was until I’d moved out of home and started to see how normal people function. The goal with a parent like this is to step back and accept that they’re a separate person responsible for their own emotions – especially when they try so very hard to make you the person responsible for how they feel. 

        1. [As someone who has had to deal with parental weirdness, I think I would also add that it’s probably not going to be helpful for the LW to engage with trying to sort out her mother’s anxieties.]

          Completely agree with this, and hope my post didn’t come across as suggesting that would be a good idea.

          The script I suggested was meant as a kind of explanation by the LW of why she was setting boundaries, in a ‘this is where I stand, this is what I have to say on the subject, subject now closed’ kind of way. I absolutely do not think the LW should do even that unless she really feels it would be the best thing to do here, and, in fact, thinking back to the fact that this is someone who isn’t very comfortable with wearing her heart on her sleeve, I can see this probably wouldn’t be a speech the LW would be comfortable with. And it is absolutely skippable if you feel it more appropriate just to get straight to the important bit, which is the boundary-setting.

      2. I wasn’t thinking “quick point score” – I can see why that would be a terrible idea. I was thinking more of trying to honestly point out the tragic aspect of how her behavior was leading towards, rather than away from, the thing she was afraid of.

        I have a relative whose deepest fear is that everyone hates her, and which results in her acting out in such a way that… everyone hates interacting with her, but no one will talk to her honestly about it. I do truly find this tragic, and often wonder if there could have been a better outcome had the family handled it differently early on.

        1. It’s a valid thing to wonder, but as someone who’s seen what happens when people point out “you are making your own worst-case scenario happen”: BAD IDEA. It’s shooting someone in the metaphorical kneecap because then: a) their worst-case scenario has come true, and b) they cannot use their primary coping mechanism anymore.

          However, flipping that on its head has more success–finding the times when the person has acted as though they have the thing they want, and encouraging that. “When you trusted me on my own for the day and I had a great time with my friends, we both felt really good.” “When you sat down and listened to me, it felt like we really connected.” This may be the only time that year the person has not been totally noxious; but once the person has real feedback about specific behaviours that have already brought about their desired outcomes, they’re able and encouraged to do that specific thing more often.

      3. Agree with Sarah – think of how many people write in to the Cap’n on some variation of “my ex-partner cruelly threw my biggest fears and vulnerabilities back in my face and now I don’t know if I’m a horrible person or not.” LW1 doesn’t want to be the evil-ex-getting-in-the-last-word to her mom.

  49. If she calls campus police to check on you, let them check. Say “I’m fine, but my mom freaks out if she doesn’t hear from me every day. Sorry she bothered you.” It’s not the end of the world. Checking on students for worried parents is part of their job.

    I know it’s a bit of a side note, but I just wanted to second this. My ex-gf worked at a campus police station, and LW, I would be incredibly surprised if you were the first student with an overprotective parent. Hell, I’d be surprised if you were the only one in your year. They might roll their eyes at your mum, but they know it’s not your fault or responsibility that she’s freaking out over nothing.

    1. Another plus is that if she tries pulling that stunt with any kind of regularity, someone there may well have a tactful or less-tactful word with her about the inappropriateness of her anxiety level, and hearing that from an uninvolved third party (indeed, a third party she’s effectively trying to recruit as part of her arsenal in this) might possibly be the clue-by-four that she needs.

  50. LW 456 — my mom is a good egg but for some reason she started getting more anxious about me a few years ago, and would get upset if she didn’t hear from me regularly/often enough. And I’m just not much of a phone-talker, even though I love her.

    What I did was convince her to join Facebook. I’m active online, so even if I wasn’t calling her, she could see I was alive and okay. This may not work as well for you if you either don’t use Facebook, or don’t want your mother on it, of course.

    1. Seconding this! My parents follow me on twitter and my sisters, though not my parents, have me on facebook. The only time in the past year or so I’ve had to deal with them Freaking Out was when I was not contactable by phone, hadn’t been on facebook for a few days, and hadn’t tweeted. My dad also really enjoys knowing roughly what I’m up to via twitter, and it’s been a great way for us to all keep a bit more in touch without lots of phonecalls.

      Having said that, your mom maybe won’t be able to deal with those boundaries right now, so…YMMV A LOT, I guess.

      1. I do this, but with a totally-separate-from-my-real-facebook account that is just for family, extended relatives, and coworkers, with a more censored and appropriate for “judgy + bad at boundaries people” content. I don’t update it every day, but the occasional post, like of a family member’s status, and the rare picture seems to be a good way to keep in “constant” idle touch.

        1. Ooh, that sounds like a good idea. My mom’s been asking me to add her on Facebook for years now, and I’ve been resisting because of the “judgy + bad at boundaries” thing (and because I hate spending time fine-tuning privacy settings – esp. since for everyone who’s not my mother I don’t really give a fuck about what they know about my life). But your setup sounds effective (though in my case it’d be an account JUST for my mom basically). I’ll think about that.

    2. So much this! I fliter my mom so she doesn’t get all up into the things that she doesn’t need to be all up into, but she can see that I just posted about my shoes or my dog or my favorite baseball team so she knows I’m NOT DEAD. And it’s sometimes very eye-opening to see what she likes to talk about (who knew my mom was so RADICAL? go mom!). If you engage on social media regularly anyway, this plus the weekly phone call might be a way assuage her parental worries without an additional time or interaction committment on your part.

  51. I’ve been in both situations (although in the second, I am the one that needs alone time and has a hard time articulating it). Also, I saw that people were mentioning spoons! If you’re curious about the spoons thing, you can find the Spoon Theory here: http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/wpress/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/

    My mom is basically doing this with my little sister, but I have helped her with it to some degree by telling her that my sister is OK, that I’ve heard from her, etc. I also will volunteer to text my sister for my mother, forewarn my sister that Mom is in the worrying mood, say something really silly, and then when she replies I tell Mom (or I’ll even pretend that she’s replied). That usually resolves it pretty quickly, and my sister used to do the same thing for me. LW1, are you close with your siblings? Maybe they could help you out with this by distracting her and reassuring her. My boyfriend is also this way at times, which makes “Owl needs to recover spoons Time” even more frustrating. I mean, if I forget my phone on top of the gerbil cage, he’ll call twice more and then call my home phone (I live with my parents). By then I’ve found my phone and I’m calling him back. I don’t feel like I have to answer the phone every time (and honestly I don’t) because I also have to have boundaries, and really, if I miss a call, it’s not the end of the world. I’ll call or text back and tell him that I lost my phone (something I really do way too often) or was following my usual Monday/Tuesday night TV routine and I appreciate his concern. To prevent the calling stuff, I now text him earlier in the day to remind him of work evening events/tv show routine/dinner with family/etc, so he knows that I’ll call him when I can, and he really is understanding about it. So maybe you can do something like that, too, LW1? I know that it has helped with both my boyfriend and my mom.

    As for LW2’s case, I’m not NT (no official diagnosis other than SPD, but probably an ASD as well, because it runs in the family), and also have a crazy genetic disorder that makes my body fall apart (yay EDS!), so stress management is something that I HAVE to do or else I have shutdowns. I work in visitor services at a very busy nonprofit, which is fine, as I’ve been able to train myself in how to take care of myself in these settings, like others have mentioned above. This means that I work with people all day and have to be “on”, which is exhausting, but fulfilling. I recharge by taking public transport home alone (earbuds are my friends) so I’m not stressed by evil traffic. I also have very quiet moments at work, too, which is great. Unfortunately, as stress builds, I tend to creep towards shutdown mode. Sometimes I recognize that stress and I’m able to talk some of it out, but sometimes it comes in all at once and I can’t communicate how I’m feeling/what’s going on/etc. I actually can’t even think of words by then, even at work. I have told visitors to use their picture-taking-thing and to go inside the birds-I-mean-pirates-no-I-mean-birds-thing when I’m just really saying “Feel free to take pictures and enjoy the birds exhibit”. Yeah. So… yeah… I understand LW2’s BF’s need. And actually the letter helped me figure out that I really do need to articulate better that I am in this state when I am, because my boyfriend needs to know that I love him, but that I just really need alone time to recharge. And to take my own time to do it, because really, saying it’s ok if I recharge now but if I can still do something tonight makes me feel like “well, you’re just going through something, you’ll be over it” which makes it sound like I’ve got a cold or a hangnail when I’ve really got to deal with everything that I haven’t been able to because I work 9 hour days with 12 other people and there is no such thing as taking a day off from your body. LW2, one think that my boyfriend sometimes does that really helps is that he says “Let me know when you want to talk/do something/etc” which really gives me the peace of mind to de-stress and then be able to talk with him because I know he’s there for me. Also, thank you for reminding me that I need to talk with my boyfriend when I’m stressed like this and to not just hide. 🙂

  52. I don’t like talking on the phone. At all. I rely heavily on lipreading and looking at body language to work out what people are saying as my brain processes speech much slower than people actually talk. So in real life, I can work out more or less what is being said and what emotion is being conveyed. On the phone, I can’t. Add into that a boundaries-be-damned guilt-trippy over-anxious parent and the predictable result is that unsolicited phone calls make me feel really anxious. My solution: 1. Stop picking up the phone. 2. Send a text 20 mins later asking if things are okay and do they want to talk 3. Repeat regularly that all of my friends text me to check it’s a good time to call before calling me and don’t call me until after I’ve replied. Talk about how sensible this is and how it means I never answer cold-callers. 4. Consistently text ahead to ask if it’s a good time to call and respect the answer. This way parent has learnt that it is advantageous to them that I don’t assume they want to speak right now.

    A year or so of this has taught my parents not to call me.

  53. LW2, I am also of the strong opinion that you do not have a dating-an-introvert problem. You have a dating someone who is bad with feelings and kind of being a jerk about it problem. (Note: This does not mean he is a jerk overall or that this problem is insurmountable. But he is definitely being a jerk about it.)

    This is the part where he is being a jerk: “He didn’t want to do this though! He said he didn’t want to hurt my feelings by indicating that he wants me to go away (which is how he feels this solution would come across)”

    This has nothing to do with him having different needs than you and everything to do with him refusing to listen to your own needs. With him saying “Hey, I know you directly told me a thing you needed that would be better than {reality}, but I know what’s better for you than you do, so I am refusing to do the thing you asked me.”

    And this is not cool. In fact, in my experience, this is a Major Red Flag in a relationship/friendship. Now, let me note here that Major Red Flag does not automatically equal Major Problem or Dealbreaker. But it does point to an area for you both to be aware of and definitely him and maybe you (if applicable) to talk to your respective therapists about.

    There are a ton of reasons the code word solution may or may not be a good solution for your situation. But there are about nearly zero reasons why telling a fully capable adult “I refuse to do that thing you want solely because I think know your feelings better than you and am going to ignore your actual feelings and experience has shown and told to me.” This does not result in good things without some work on the issue.

    1. This is definitely a situation for outcome-oriented discussion: “I need to be able to be properly respectful when you need your space without worrying you’re gone, what can we agree on that had this result?”

  54. omg non-talkative together time!!!
    this sounds like the very best and I want lots of it.

    It’s funny, because I kind of already do this. For example, I make “homework dates” with friends, where we’ll meet at a library or a coffee shop and work quietly near each other for a few hours. I’ve been viewing it as something that’s good for my productivity (harder to slack off on social media if you have an accountability buddy right there), but you know what? it’s good for my social life too. I am SO introverted, but I need to have people in my life or I get lonely and unhappy. I just want to be around people in a very quiet, low key way, and homework dates are perfect for that!

    It is a revelation to think of non-talkative together time as an acceptable mode of interaction, instead of a symptom of my failure to be a normal social person! I love it!

  55. #456 – Tired Introvert

    This rings very familiar to me. When I was a 1st year university student far from my hometown (by design!) 10 years ago, my mom would call more often than I was comfortable with and I had to hang up on her more than once. Had to as in, “Mom you are making me late for class / I really need to do my homework / I CANNOT talk now”. There were tears on my next visit home. Fun.

    I probably didn’t handle it super well, considering that my mom was legitimately recovering from depression at the time. BUT, you’re only starting school once. You have to focus on your own stuff, and like the Captain said, your mother and mine are grown-ups who must deal with their own issues.

    In my family’s case, there was a lot of ugliness that is still only partly resolved, and I never did move back to my hometown.
    Now I’m even farther away than I was while I was in school, and have had great success in training my mom to skype* at a predetermined time. My tactic involves using a sporting event we both enjoy. With the time difference it’s a weekend morning for me and the previous evening for her. We watch the game and skype at the same time, which is perfect because if things get awkward we can use the game to reset the conversation.

    Back to you –
    Is there anything like that you can use? I’ll call/skype during the game / after my X class (where X is on a topic your mom might enjoy hearing about?) / something.
    This addition to the boundary-setting helps externalise it. You can use it as a reason for setting the boundary where you are setting it, in addition to “this is what I want” which of course SHOULD be enough but kind of isn’t, because your mom won’t let it.

    *Long-distance calling on the phone is absurdly expensive, another reason/excuse for not calling super often. Also, if you can get your mom to skype, maybe she’ll appreciate SEEING you over the webcam enough to be willing to wait for a week (or however you set your intervals)

    Good luck, soft hugs if you want them.

  56. Hi Captain,

    Thanks so much for your definition of an introvert – I consider myself an introvert, which surprises people because I’m not shy, like talking to people, and work in a job that requires a lot of contact with strangers. But I am an introvert, but when I describe myself as one I tend to get a lot of grossed-looks, because people conflate introversion with the traits LW#1 describes. Being introverted doesn’t mean you can’t talk about your feelings, be friendly, get along with others, make small talk, etc. ad infinitum. It just means that after I’m done doing all those things, I need to go read by myself for a while and have alone time so that I can reenergize.

    Re: LW#2, I don’t think the core issue is introversion/extroversion, but different communication styles and ways of expressing emotional needs.

    Anyway, not to be a crankybutt, but I feel like introverts get a bad rap already in a culture that’s obsessed with being loud and in your face all the time.

  57. Had to shut the computer and so skipped a bunch of responses, but a couple of thoughts:

    456 LW: E-mail. When she calls to complain you didn’t call, say “oh, I sent you an e-mail, didn’t you get it?” If her desire to have a relationship with you is stronger than her desire to berate you, she’ll come around.

    “The way you’re most comfortable communicating isn’t as valid as the way I want to communicate” shouldn’t be dignified with a response.

    457 LW: Might it help to underscore that you’re actually asking him to tell you? You’re not going to then turn around and say “harumph, I’m very hurt that you did this thing I specifically asked you to do.”

  58. Writer of Letter 1 here, and I’m so glad the Captain pointed out my error when I was trying to mention introversion and affection sharing. They are definitely separate things to me and that’s important for my fellow introverts too. I wanted to show them as separate things but the English language is a funny at times (eats shoots and leaves vs. eats, shoots, and leaves).

    In my original, rather long-winded, “Get ideas down first”, over-the-word-limit draft of my letter, I mentioned how my mother also impedes upon my “recharge days”. There are definitely days when I need my self-imposed solitary confinement and allow my brain to “cool-off” from too much interaction (of any sort). For me, this is usually on Friday nights (when everyone else in a shared living environment is gone) or Saturdays. However, God forbid I don’t talk answer the phone then or answer it in a grumpy tone of voice (I can get very crabby if my down time is disturbed). If she calls on a Friday night, the subject is usually “Why aren’t you out having fun like other people your age!?!?” which gets turned into “Well, since you’re not out doing anything, this means it’s perfectly fine for us to talk for an hour on the phone!” If it’s on a Saturday, it will be “Why are you grouchy? It’s the weekend! You should have time to talk to me right now!”

    My mother is a very extroverted person (needs people ALL the time), and she doesn’t believe in “extroversion and introversion”. She believes in “being nice to people” by giving them attention. And “being mean to them” which is not giving them attention and understandably a horrible thing for her considering her childhood with 8 siblings, growing up in a culture which didn’t appreciate female children, and a mother who resented all her children except for her prized eldest son for “stealing her childhood” (mom’s mom was forced to drop out of school into an arranged marriage at 14 with a man nearly 2 decades older than her). So yeah, my own mother has interesting ideas of what “being nice” and “being mean” entails and it’s very hard to get her to change her mind.

    There were a few other things mentioned too, but I figured they were irrelevant and would probably be answered easily with the same solution. Somewhere in all my edits to cut out irrelevant stuff and shorten word-length, I chopped out all the parts of reconciling my introversion with my mother’s extroversion (and the fact she believes in neither) because I figured it’s something that would come with time, hard work, and be better once I got the phone-call thing resolved. But I left some words in accidentally since I was in a bit of a hurry to get the letter in.

    But yes, thank you Captain plus the other awesome commenters here who emphasized the separate-ness of introversion vs. detachment and difficulty expressing affection. I have both and while they occasionally stroll hand-in-hand to make things hard for me to talk to my mom, they are not the same.

    1. And disregard random typos here (I found some after hitting “Post Comment”); I discovered at the last minute I need to fill in as keyboardist for someone and I’m trying to learn music I’ve never heard before. At least my sight-reading skills are stupendous and there is one rehearsal.

      1. Ooh, I know that situation. Sounds fun 🙂 Good luck! (And with the issue you wrote in about as well; I just wanted to express a bit of sightreading-accompanist solidarity!)

    2. Hi Letter Writer. I think that the discussion everyone is having over the nature of introversion is interesting, but possibly not of much practical use for you. My own mother is like me, i.e. an introvert who needs solitude to recharge, or time with very trusted very close people (I have a close friend who I can hang with without it depleting my energy, as long as what we’re doing is at home and quiet). But, the catch is, she thinks that she shouldn’t count as far as energy draining socialising goes, but alas she really, really does. More draining than most in fact. So when I tell her I can’t come over to visit during a holiday because I’m tired and need a break, she always says “But I don’t count as stressful! You can have a break here! We’re family!”. There is no convincing her otherwise, so I don’t even try – I just re-iterate what I said I could or couldn’t do.

      My point is that it’s OK if you fail to get your mother to believe that introversion is a real thing. She might never get it or understand. And more importantly, it’s OK for you to do things that will upset her, in order to protect your own happiness and well being. It sounds like her childhood was rough! It sounds like she’s trying desperately not to be her (distant, resentful) mother and has gone way too far the other way and has become a smothering, engulfing mother. That’s sad, and understandable. But it’s not a reason for her to be allowed to trample your boundaries and wishes.

      When I was younger, the solution I always wanted for problems with my very difficult mother was to somehow convince her to see reason, and to change her behaviour all on her own. I wanted so badly for her to get it, so that she wouldn’t be hurt and furious and weird every time I insisted on my own rights (to have her not randomly show up at my house all the time, for example – actual solution, move to the other side of Australia). Unfortunately it’s often not very likely that you’ll be able to get your difficult parent to see reason – at least not without them really wanting it, acknowledging there’s a problem, and working hard at it themselves. They probably won’t ever get it. They will always be upset by you setting boundaries. Accepting this was such a big deal for me, and I wish I’d understood it earlier, when I first moved out of home, rather than taking a decade to get it.

      This is why the Captain’s advice is so awesome. Implementing boundary setting like she’s described is what’s helped me to draw boundaries with my own mother, and realise that it’s OK to insist on a reasonable thing even in the face of someone else’s terrible DRAMA.

      1. Seconded. My mom is super introverted – like, lives by herself and is thrilled that she works a job where she never has to see anyone. But she does the same thing to me: “Come visit! It’ll be a break for you! You can have alone time here!” not realizing that it is way easier for me to schedule alone time in my own (shared) home, where people respect my boundaries, than it is to visit her and have her guilt trip me every time I need a few hours alone. We are working on it.

        Introvert + introvert ≠ Automatic Communication Bliss

      2. Oh boy, I hear you on the “family doesn’t count” argument. Whenever my parents are hosting a party or a dinner or something, they’re always like “come over early and visit with us!” but if I do that, I might not have the energy left for the actual party.

    3. Hello Letter Writer!

      I empathized a lot with your letter, because my mom was the exact same way when I left home… but I left at 16 (to go to a state-run boarding school for gifted kids), so she had a lot more power over me. Unfortunately I couldn’t really draw boundaries–every time I tried she would threaten to take me out of my school, and I would back down.

      My mom also has weird baggage from her family history: her parents both died of cancer when she was 18, only 6 weeks apart. For whatever reason, this has made her extra worried about what kind of mother she is and what her mother would think about her. She’s also very insecure about not finishing college, despite having damn good reasons for that. Between the two, any criticism coming from her supposedly “gifted” first child (me) = “You think I’m a bad mother” or “You think I’m stupid” or “You’re a horrible ungrateful daughter”. Fun stuff.

      I wish I could say I did roughly what the Captain recommended for you, but it was a lot uglier and more haphazard than that. After I turned 18 and got to college, I started trying to draw more boundaries. I deliberately made myself as financially independent as I could so that she couldn’t threaten me with withdrawn support, even though that meant working too many hours and eventually taking on high-interest student loans (no credit history, no co-signer, no financial need according to FAFSA). And basically she started realizing that she could either try having a relationship with me on my terms, or she could lose me.

      Reasoned argument didn’t get me there… it was just a lot of screaming phone calls and hang-ups and deliberately missed (mostly minor) holidays. But somehow, I did eventually get to where I am now, which is a relatively stable and peaceful place.

      My relationship with my mother is still far from what I’d like it to be, because of things that we remain of differing opinions about (including the fact that she now pretends that all the horrible fighting when I was in college, including her threat to disown me, NEVER HAPPENED, and she cries and asks me why I would make up such terrible things to hurt her if I bring it up). To be honest, a lot of the time I deliberately keep conversation with her superficial because our history makes me very wary of being vulnerable with her. Basically, I love her and she loves me, but we aren’t very close, and I try not to let my guard down too much.

      But enough of my babbling: point is, mom and I aren’t best buds, but she’s still in my life because I know she loves me, and because she did start making some effort to show that in a way that actually worked for me. She really only calls now if there is something time-sensitive we need to discuss…otherwise, she waits for me to call and check in. In between she checks in via text or facebook, and that works so much better for me, because I can respond on my timetable. I know that must be excruciating for her, and I appreciate the effort she is making to make our relationship better.

      So have hope. Try out the Captain’s suggestions, and hopefully you’ll get to at least where I am, and a lot quicker than the way I did it. *jedi hugs*

    4. I think at a certain point, you have to learn to live with a quantity of “bad daughter” backlash. If I changed my behavior head to toe every time my mother lashed out at me for being a horrible, selfish, ungrateful child, I would be constantly miserable 100% of the time.

      1. Seconding this. Also would like to explicitly mention something many commenters including Hazel have said implicitly: that along with our parents not always being rational or being able to be convinced by reasonableness, they also change their opinions on what makes us a good child as they get older and we get older and everyone’s circumstances change. This is normal even in the best of families, and just how life works. But in my experience, trying to keep up with all these changes all of the time is not only impossible, but drains your happiness. For myself, one of the first times I knew I had become an adult was that I was able to look at what my parents expected me to be, and what I wanted to be, and was able to choose what I wanted not because of anything having to do with their expectations, but because of my own reasons, which made sense to me.

    5. Um… your mother calls you up to berate you for being around to answer the phone?! I think my brain just exploded from Illogic-Used-For-Manipulation overload.

      Anyway (reassembling the fragmented neurones of my brain to try to make some practical use out of this), if she’s said that you ought to be spending your nights out having fun, I’m wondering if you could subtly use this to your advantage in the not-answering-the-phone wars by implying, without outright stating, that you didn’t answer the phone because you were in fact having fun. I mean, having set the phone so it goes straight to voicemail for the evening, send her an e-mail the next day saying something like “Oh, I see I missed a call from you last night. I was busy hanging out and having fun – had such a great evening. College is really such a blast! Hope you had a good evening too. Speak to you at [phone time you have already designated].” No need to specify that you were hanging out with yourself and that was the bit that was great fun. And if she calls you on it next time you speak and demands to know where you were, you can just make more vague statements about what a fun time you were having. Or even just say that you were having a cool time chilling by yourself and meet any criticisms with something bland like “Sorry you object so much, guess we’re just going to have to disagree, what’s happening lately with [other thing in her life to change subject to]?”

  59. I echo all of the Captain’s advice here, but I especially want to emphasize her point about not “babysitting” the introvert in the relationship because my God, have I made that mistake. I have made that mistake so hard. I briefly dated an extreme introvert, and while the relationship ended for a variety of reasons, one of the big lessons I took out of it was this – The introvert is just as responsible for their partner’s needs as the extrovert. An introvert who uses their introversion as an excuse to put the full responsibility of the communication and compromise on the extroverted partner isn’t being an introvert, they’re being an asshole. Just because you have the privilege of living in an extroverted culture doesn’t mean your needs don’t matter.

      1. When the “I need space” thing is done properly, the idea is that you circle back to the discussion later when everyone is feeling up to it. But you’re right, there has to be a later and it has to be relatively soon (like within a couple days unless there’s a very good reason). Pro tip for the person using the safeword – be ultra proactive about actually starting the discussion when you’re feeling better – don’t wait around for the other person to ask you again. Best of all, set a timeframe expectation when deferring – e.g. ” I need some space right now, can we talk about this after dinner/tomorrow morning/Tuesday when my thing I’m stressed about is done”.

        If it turns into a weird guessing game/avoidance game then you’re doing it wrong. :-/

        1. Yes, absolutely. I say, “I need some alone time right now please” to my partner all the time. Even when an important discussion needs to happen. HOWEVER, this is not me avoiding the discussion. We have the discussion, often the same day, and always within a day barring extraordinary circumstances.*

          It’s important that I can do that, because, frankly, when I am out of social points, I am not capable of having a reasonable discussion about important issues anyway, in much the same way that I can’t have a reasonable discussion about important issues at 3am if I’ve been up since 6am the day before. I just don’t have the capacity, even if I want to. But, on the flip side, as a reasonable member of the relationship, it’s on me to actually follow through–and it’s helpful if I’m the one to say, okay, I’ve got my equilibrium back, I’m ready to talk about Thing when you are.

          Of course, that requires trust on both sides. I have to trust my partner that he will give me the time I need to regain equilibrium without sulking or fuming or punishing me. He has to trust that, once I am re-energized, I will have the discussion or “be there” to help with his needs. It breaks down if either half of those things ceases to be true, if the introvert is punished for needing solitude or if the extrovert is left dangling indefinitely.

          * – After a particularly fraught and horrible family trip I requested a three-day weekend to get my bearings back, but that was really unusual. It was the emotional equivalent of getting hit by a dump truck, not just standard ‘out of social points.’ And I stated the duration up front so my partner wasn’t going to have to keep waiting around for me to be done. Although I find that if I can take an hour here or there as necessary. it becomes less necessary to take a three-day weekend ever, because I never wind up going as deeply into social energy debt. If I’m always putting coins back in the piggybank of social energy a little at a time, I don’t end up having to smash it in an emergency so much.

  60. This response prompted me to have a talk with Lovely Extrovert Girlfriend last night, where we agreed to have safewords; mine to mean “I want to be alone but not because I am mad at you, just to recharge” and hers to mean “I am feeling insecure and need you to be extra affectionate to reassure me”. That way we have a non-loaded shorthand for FEELINGS, and we will know not to abuse it.

    She loved it; my safeword is “loris”, hers yet to be agreed. 🙂 Thank you so much, LW2 and Awkward Army, for a great idea.

  61. I’ve been struggling with whether I should admit this, but I am guilty of having the Doctor Who – Batman relationship. I’m a girl so it was more like manic pixie dream girl who tries to get sad man to stop brooding crossed with Lois Lane dates wrong superhero, but it made sense for a little while. the problem is that Batman lives in Gotham City and Doctor Who likes to go places, see people, do things. I like Gotham City, but can’t we go elsewhere too? Plus, he never seemed to plan ahead; if I knew he needed me to be back in Gotham for a next adventure in a week that’s fine, but he expected me to be sitting all day at the Daily Planet. The worst part is that even when I resigned myself to the fact that I adored Batman and thought he looked really hot in his dark, brooding ways, I needed to break up with him. People tried to offer advice: he seems scary, but he’s actually a good guy. Maybe after we’ve dated for a while he’ll let me lighten up his wardrobe. Plus, Alfred can make sure he’s all cleaned up from staying out all night before seeing me. I tried to explain that none of this was the problem, I knew he was good and the bat clothes are iconic with classic styling. Still, we was weighing me down.

    How do you break up with Batman? I’m not really worried he’s going to hit me, but he doesn’t exactly have a good history with disappointment or loss. What if he goes into his Bat-Cave for years and stops fighting crime? Then it will be all my fault that the world went down in a ball of flames. Even if I can get past those concerns, I’m not sure how to break up with Batman logistically speaking. Is that an acceptable use of the Bat-signal? It’s not like I know where to send him a letter, even if that wasn’t just tacky. And even when i get him in a face to face to have the talk, he does that brooding worried thing on me and I forgot what was I saying? I basically had to stop hanging out in Gotham for awhile until he found another Lois Lane.

  62. LW2: I sometimes go into shutdown mode and when I do I go completely nonverbal. I can’t speak even if I want to so I’ve had to find workarounds. I’m only speaking for myself and not others that experience similar things but I’ve found some of my main triggers and a couple of things that can help with communication and meeting my BF’s needs as well as my own. I hope it can help you somehow.

    The thing that sends me into a shutdown the fastest and the hardest is a demand to know how I’m feeling right then and there. It takes me longer to process what exactly it is I’m feeling than other people. If other things are already overwhelming me and that question is asked it might take me even longer than normal to catch up mentally. A lot of times when I don’t answer right away it is assumed that something is “wrong” and then more and more questions keep coming at me which is even more overwhelming. A lot of times when this happens I’m feeling perfectly content even though I might be a very rundown and just in need of some quiet time, that is until the questions start and wont stop. Being asked how I’m feeling/ what’s wrong/ can it be fixed/ do I want this or that/ am I sure? so many times and so quickly is just too much for me. I know these questions are out of concern and caring but it’s hard to take them all in. Sometimes all I can manage to say is “I don’t know.” over and over like a broken record. It’s like my brain gets stuck. I’ve also noticed that if it takes me a moment to answer and I answer with any positive emotion I am questioned and not believed. Anyway I answer the question about how I’m feeling will lead to more questions and that can be frustrating.

    My BF knows this happens but due to his own anxiety he still sometimes has a hard time not pushing me to answer because he’s the type that wants to talk everything out and is a chronic worrier/ fixer. This makes my anxiety sky rocket and makes the shutdown last even longer which frustrates him even more and can lead to more questions. It’s an awful cycle. In the past when I did manage to communicate that I needed space before the shutdown got to the absolute tipping point he would still seems hurt and upset with me a lot of the time even though he would tell me he wouldn’t be. He’s become much more understanding now but at the time it was very confusing to know what I should do. I went through the similar cycles with my parents, only with yelling and insults added in. Trying my very best to verbally communicate in those instances didn’t help, it only seemed to make things worse because I would stress myself more and more and they still wouldn’t be happy. Your BF may have experienced something like this in the past and that may be why he’s hesitant to try. It feels unsafe.

    On a day to day basis I’m better at communicating than my BF and my parents but because my brain sometimes slips up and has to play catch and recharge for a few hours I suddenly become the one that isn’t communicating properly. It’s upsetting because I’m trying really hard and sometimes it doesn’t feel like what I do the rest of the time matters. The fact that my BF’s faith in me could be shaken by a couple of hours in which I need space to think compared to the days and months and years I’ve put into the relationship is disheartening.

    My boyfriend is learning to tone down the rapid fire questions and I’m learning to alert him when I’m beginning to feel overwhelmed instead of when I’m really really overwhelmed. I’m also allowing myself to use forms of communication that are less stressful for me. For so long I felt like verbal communication was the only valid form but now I’m working on some nonverbal ways to let my BF know what I need. I’m teaching myself ASL and I’ve found the sign for “stop” is helpful and easy. You could also use something like the time out sign that’s used in sports. I sometimes have problems being very assertive at all even with physical gestures during a shutdown because I retreat into myself and become afraid to move so I’m also considering having another visual cue to use like these “mood” bands http://www.asdvisualaids.com/asd-mood-bands.html Fidgeting with a bracelet would be far less stressful for me and would still communicate what I need to. Maybe you guys can get some or make your own sort of wearable visual cue? A keychain or even a watch that can be turned upside down could work. If you can find your communication styles you can figure out a compromise to use during times like that or even a better way to communicate daily so things can be avoided. Sometimes I’ll talk to my BF via text message or instant messaging even on “good days” because I’m better at communicating clearly in text and since he’s a very verbal person it works for both of us. It’s a good way to double check that we’re both communicating clearly with each other and that we’re on the same page.

    Space when needed, cuddles, understanding, communication and validation of each others feelings are what need to be focused on. It can take awhile to find things that work for your relationship dynamic specifically but I can tell you that even though we haven’t perfected it for ourselves just yet that it’s been worth it and is improving. I didn’t intend for this to be so long and ramble-y but I hope it can help you somehow.

  63. Dear LW1:

    If your mother is anything like my mother, and from your description it sounds like she is, being reasonable will not work. You should try it anyway, just in case, but don’t be surprised if it just results in her spending all of the calls you answer haranguing you about not answering more calls.

    I eventually fixed this one by not answering my phone for a semester. Ever. For anything. I bought an answering machine, turned the volume all the way down, put tape over the blinking number, and turned the ringer off on the phone. My theory was that if they were calling to tell me that someone was dead at 8am, someone would still be dead when I checked my messages at 4pm. This works best if you’re coming to realize that you don’t have much of a bond with, or even really like, any of your relatives.

    If your mother is an aberration and you do sincerely adore other members of your family, be prepared for her to hold information hostage. “Why didn’t you [email/text] me to tell me [important news]?” will be met with disdainful sniffs and the answer, “You never want to talk to me, I assumed you didn’t CARE.” The solution to this is to contact the other relatives yourself — although in that case, your mother may try to get to you through them, and drive all involved bonkers in the process.

    I sincerely hope your family is not as stubbornly dysfunctional as mine. Good luck.

  64. Hi LW2! I am like the flipside of your situation–I am the introvert dating the extrovert. I also deal with a significant amount of social anxiety. These things mean that I, like your partner, sometimes need “shut down” time, or need to close off from people for a little while, and when I don’t get them it makes me not very nice to be around. Also, because I am an internal processor, using my words can be VERY hard for me sometimes! Here are a few things that have worked in my relationship to make this easier on us both:

    1) My boyfriend is very good at using his words and is much more comfortable talking than me. Part of what helps me is that he uses HIS words to make me comfortable about using MINE. When I’m having a hard time saying something, he’ll tell me “It doesn’t matter if you say it exactly right. Just say what you’re thinking and we’ll figure it out together.” This makes me more comfortable about speaking up. So maybe one thing you could do to help is let your partner know that as long as he is trying and making an effort to communicate with you, he can’t “mess up” explaining his feelings or any problems he’s having. Try to make that communication as low pressure as possible and support him in his efforts. We have to have this conversation nearly every time I want to share something serious, but it helps me every time.

    2) Since I am the one with real needs for privacy and alone time that I need respected, I’ve got to be clear about communicating those needs in a way that doesn’t hurt boyfriend. I have to be clear with him when I’m having trouble EVEN WHEN IT’S HARD because he matters. So I think your boyfriend DOES have the expectation that he’s got to treat you reasonably and lay out his needs. It’s part of being a good partner. Your/my boyfriend’s side of the equation is to listen and respect those needs when articulated. Come to a solution that works for both about how to communicate and enforce boundaries. If he can’t be an equal partner in this, I think that’s a serious red flag. He’s got to take some responsibility for his quirks, too.

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