The two most common fears people have in relationships are engulfment and abandonment. Usually, it is one or the other. We fear being swallowed up by another, dissolving into the relationship. Or we fear the opposite. We are terrified of being left behind.
The introvert’s dilemma in relationships is that we often feel both fears deeply. We are on constant guard against the threat of being overwhelmed by others. And yet, we are afraid that our true personality will scare people away. Our worst fear is that we are too easy to leave. Which means we are too hard to love. It is as if we are afraid of the sun, and afraid of the sun setting. I wrote a poem about this the other day:
Fear of the sun
And fear of the sun setting
The sun’s rays reach for me
But the once welcome warmth
The moon in all its glowing mystery
Can’t be trusted
It calls to the stars in the dark
Circles the world
Like a predator its prey
It shows you a sliver
Then disappears for days
You’re Smothering Me
For sensitive introverts who are prone to energy drain, relationships can feel like swimming in a tsunami. The tidal wave of emotions, the silent fears, the rush of hormones, the sheer weight of someone else’s expectations – it can all be too much.
Whenever I think of one of my extroverted exes, a particular image comes to mind. I imagine that I am a little blue bird in the palm of his hands. He is trying to show me affection, but ends up smothering me with his large clumsy hands. This is what engulfment feels like to an introvert.
Hold us too tightly and we’ll collapse into ourselves, disappearing into our own world. The alternative is that we literally disappear. We become the abandoner.
Ghosting – The Game Of Abandonment
The Internet has been abuzz lately over the popularity of ‘ghosting’, which is leaving someone without any warning or explanation. Since the rise of online dating sites, such as Tinder, we are all at greater risk of being ghosted. We are also more likely to ghost others.
Ghosting holds a special appeal to introverts. We can leave quietly without conflict. With the wave of a finger, we can swipe right out of someone’s life.
It is easy to abandon and easy to be abandoned. We’ve made a game out of our greatest fear. It’s a modern-day version of shadow puppets, hands and hearts dancing in the dark, then disappearing at the flick of a switch.
I have done my fair share of online dating. But after a while, I started to feel like I was commodifying people. One man wrote “Add To Cart” as his profile tagline, and I laughed out loud (LOL’d) at the irony. We’re searching for a soulmate, yet we view potential matches more like products than people.
No one deserves to be ghosted, and it can be particularly difficult to deal with if you’ve been on the receiving end. To aid your recovery, it’s always best to reflect on how you’re feeling and own up to those emotions. Then talk your feelings through with yourself or with a life and relationship coach, like Orion’s Method. Pretending or bottling up your true feelings can potentially do more harm than good.
With the right people, our fears have less of a hold on us. The problem I see again and again with my introverted students and clients is that they are attracting the wrong people into their lives. They keep befriending or dating the overbearing extrovert who smothers them. Or the aloof narcissist who abandons them. They never even considered that things could be different.
One of the questions I always ask my Fulfilling Connections For Introverts students is, what do you want in an ideal friend or partner?
What qualities do you want them to have?
What activities do you want to do with them?
How do you want to feel when you’re with them?
Answering the above questions is the first step to attracting someone more suitable into our life. For many of us, just acknowledging that there is an alternative to our current relationships is liberating.
We are no longer little birds being crushed by the weight of our own fears. Hope has wings, and so do we when we dare believe that things can be different.
What about you?
What is your biggest fear in relationships?
What are your thoughts on online dating?
Please share your insights and experiences below. 🙂
Lots of love,
P.S. Doors are now open for my Fulfilling Connections For Introverts Course. Learn how to make meaningful connections with the right people. No extroversion required. Signup today and receive your first lesson this week. Learn More >>
Most definitely, my biggest fear in a relationship is my fear that I will bond to tightly to that person, whether she is an introvert or extrovert. I had that fear for a long time, it isn’t a fear actually, it was more like a thought, but it still bugs me from time to time… In the past I had a lot of problems because of this. I was always giving my 110 percent, but the other side reactions were, well, in the lack of better word, insufficient, I was not receiving a feedback. I have a opinion that all women should be treated like princesses, my parents raised me to always be kind to everyone, but especially towards women, and to always treat them with the utmost respect. Not all of my ex-girlfriends understood this, they always wanted “the bad guy”, being nice in their case wasn’t “cool” and the good attention I was giving was strange to them. I fully support online dating, I was doing it for years, but recently I stopped, made a break so to speak. 🙂 But I fully support it, to a degree of course. It’s a good way to meet someone, someone you can’t meet live at the present moment. 🙂
Let the Lord choose for you. In the meantime care for you~~your heart.
“We’re searching for a soulmate, yet we view potential matches more like products than people.”
I have been thinking that the online dating scenario is like an IKEA catalogue. You are scrolling through different “products-people” until you find something that suits you. You Add to Cart and if the “product-person” is interested (available) you test it flow a while. You like it, you take it. You don’t like it, you don’t take it. The person likes you but you don’t, you block that person. We are understanding love with a NEOLIBERAL way of thinking (people=products to use and accumulate), and this is selfish and abominable. The tool of online dating is not bad in itself if the users know that they are dealing with real people and therefore feelings. But you can see there thousands of creeps, non realistic expectations and profiles with alter egos that only bring frustration.
If possible, I would prefer to meet in person. People can say they are anybody and may not be that person at all, even while using others photos. People are spirits, I believe, but they have a body, and, for me, this body needs to be seen, eyes, heart and the care of the body…frequently, and to see the interactions with others, and to see a person, other than words on a screen that many much look for. It’s easy to play with a person’s head or heart either way, but, for me, technology has too big of a place in relationships, and when a problem arises a person may say things~~or not~~to the face. Sometimes I think technology keeps people from being real…like air conditioners that help people to keep cool, but that also keeps people off of the porch whereas they could share a hello, and a yes I am real. It’s me…from Facebook…
Having experienced “abandonment” by someone I dated and live with for 2 years, I moved “loyalty” high on my list of requirements for anyone I was going to open up to. I met the most wonderful, loyal extrovert at work a couple years later, and we’ve been married for 14 years. Those old insecurities still crop up occasionally, but now I deal with them by talking to her about it. Even if she doesn’t always fully understand, she’s very caring about handling my “quirks”. Getting it “out in the open” doesn’t come naturally to me, but it’s been worth it.
I tried online dating a couple times before I met my wife (this was the late ’90s and online dating was very new.) I remember one girl who offloaded what seemed like her entire emotional baggage collection on me on the first date. I ran from that and never contacted her again! Not a pleasant experience for either of us I’m sure.
Having experience both abandonment and smothering, and still finding the right match eventually, I wanted to let everyone who’s still looking to know they shouldn’t give up.
Thanks for sharing that Jared! Loyalty is something most introverts value, so glad to hear you found that in your partner. Also, inspiring to know that you make an effort to get things out in the open despite how difficult this is. 🙂 xo
Most definitely my worst fear in relationships is the person losing interest in me, or that I am too quiet, or awkward. I honestly shy away from all types of dating and the mere mention of it, because I’m far too afraid to get caught up in a relationship. I know I’m still a teenager and I’ve got a long way ahead of me, but I’m still kind of nervous.
Thanks for sharing that, Eliza. I know the feeling. xo
My fiancee expressed frustration that I don’t talk to her friends. I said that she introduced all of them to me at once, which is like jumping into the deep. She has told me that I give off the vibe that I am stuck up because I don’t talk to people. I don’t know if anyone else feels this way but to me, it’s extremely frustrating to be an introvert when extroverts are everything. They have much easier lives and get along with everyone. They have tons of friends. I wish I was more extroverted. Sometimes it sucks to be an introvert.
I just wanted to say how grateful I am for this site and finding this online community. As an INFJ, I have found it really hard to find someone who appreciates me, and doesn’t take advantage of my niceness.
I have been through two breakups so far from online dating (ironically both fellow introverts), and each time it feels that you are being tossed aside (like a product) for the next shiny object. You always wonder what you could have done differently, but eventually come to understand that the problem isn’t you. It’s reassuring to know that it does get better, and that we will all eventually find someone who truly appreciates our unique, introverted nature.
For introverts currently going through breakups, I speak from firsthand experience that yoga and meditation help to quiet our “loud” minds and let go those negative thoughts. 🙂
Thanks for sharing this great insight into the introvert-extrovert dynamic. I recently shared my own experiences regarding the perils / pleasures of an extroverted partner. Let’s just hope he forgives me! http://catehogan.com/enter-mr-extrovert/
Wow, I’m single so this gives me great insight. My fear is as INFJ I’m extremely sensitive, which extro ex’s get embarrassed of or smother when they find this “weakness”. Its very difficult as a male, being less then .5 % of people.
One of my fears in dating is always that my quiet, thoughtful nature will be misunderstood or seen as weakness.
I dated an extrovert, that I met online and I really liked her and felt there was a connection. Things seemed to be going well when I got a text that said I wasn’t the right person because she thought she would smother me. I didn’t understand as I hadn’t felt that at all. I thought it came out of her own insecurities, that my quietness wasn’t reassuring enough.
As for online dating, I find it quite exhausting as an introvert. That revolving door if people through your life. I do feel that it commodifies people, which I don’t like as I value loyalty.
Because (until recently understanding what being an introvert actually is) I’ve been aspiring to the extrovert ideal, it’s the fear that my introverted life will not be stimulating enough for my next girlfriend.
The irony is that hardly a day goes by when I don’t feel excited about my life now, or the things I want to work on and the places I want to go.
I’m guessing that’s the fallout from having all extroverted exes. I’m guessing that dating a few introverts is the way to move forward!!
NO online dating for me. Talk about energy drain. My hair stand up on the back of my neck when I think about it.
I think if I do meet someone now I’ll be able to explain my need for alone time. I didn’t even realize I was partly introvert before so I felt guilty for needing to withdraw into my own she’ll to recharge.
I can relate to almost all of each of your comments. One hits home with me and it’s the farthest from the truth. The idea that quietness = being stuck up. My sons father always told me, ” “so – and – so” doesn’t like you they think your a stuck up Bit*#”, or “everyone wants to know why I’m with a struck up Bit*# like you” all because I listen and observe the people around me rather then talking about nothing just to hear my own voice.
That was 18 years ago and I’m still dealing with the damage he did to me, but I wouldn’t change a thing about the woman I am. I’m thankful for all the things that make me an anomaly in a world of plastic people.
I’ve only been in 3 serious relationships in my life.
1. My daughter’s father. Excellent dad, wonderful provider etc…BUT it was never just us. He always had “counsel” hearings with the rest of his family, before making decisions.
2. My twin son’s father, narcissist, pathological liar, abusive, living in his dream world. He was always right, I was always wrong.
3. Ex-boyfriend. Abusive, demanding, addict, lack of respect.
With all of these men, in one aspect or another, I tried to “help” them. They clearly didn’t think they needed helping.
So, I am pretty much afraid of everything. The emotions that went along with these relationships, was akin to being buried by an avalanche, or swept away by a tsunami!
I know I’m an empath, because of how I do things for people, feel their feelings, nurture people, enable them. On and on…non-stop.
For everyone, leaving me with next to nothing, but pain and sorrow.
For the longest time I wondered if something was wrong with me. There are times when I would be forward (seemingly extroverted) followed by periods of feeling drained and unwilling/unable to hold conversations. I really couldn’t understand it. I don’t really like to meet a lot of new people for fear that the relationship will become burdensome to me. My best friend understands this and does not have an overbearing personality in the least bit. She just doesn’t understand why I refuse to give my number to guys, aside from the fact that I don’t date. There is always a chance that when they see the real, introverted, overthinking person that I am, they will leave. So it is safer to keep people outside of my invisible barriers, so my affection won’t burn them with it’s intensity and their rejection can’t scar me when they decide to leave.
Michaela, love the article! You said something that kind of struck me. You mentioned in dating an extrovert, hold us too tightly and we will collapse into ourselves. I was dating somebody who I thought was great for me, but very clingy and would not stop or give me space, slowly I fell into depression and broke off the relationship. Could never understand what was really happening or why, I think your article is really beneficial. Thanks!
There is a girl who has liked me, i liked her. I was afraid of opening myself to her and letting her know the real me. I had totally wrong mindset about being an introvert. She is total extrovert. I never told her im introvert, i was always acting as someone who im not front of her. I started to distance myself from her never really realising why. I was doing everything else instead of dealing with the problem and talking to her.
I was unexperienced, afraid, and thats how i lost her. 🙁 (i was only in one long distance relationship before that). She thought i dont care about her, and ignored her.
I made a huge mistake that will never forgive myself 🙁 (excuse my english)
This article and comments are so educational for an extroverted man like myself involved with an introverted lady. I am struggling with the minimum amount of affection I am getting while I am getting to know her over four months now. However, my attraction to her and curiosity keeps me hanging in there. As an extrovert, I guess I take for granted my advantage to communicate my needs while I have to guess the needs of this lady. I must admit, after so little evidence that my efforts matter, it WOULD be easy to abandon this gal! However, I am still trying to figure out if this woman is a good fit for me.
You’re on the money. I’m in a new relationship with an introvert and we moved VERY quickly knowing that we want to be together. Now, we didn’t embark on this with a fairytale mindset as full grown, experienced adults. I’m very good at expressing my needs, wants, and desires to him and I can tell that he’s overwhelmed, fascinated, and afraid of that, because he can’t always articulate exactly what he feels or thinks. I’m CONSTANTLY guessing. One great fall back strategy I use is to do what I know he likes without making a big deal out of it. He loves some of the dishes that I cook and has asked SPECIFICALLY for those dishes. I make those dishes often without expressing that I know he really likes them. Same goes for lots of other things that I do. I would also say that after 4 months of seeing one another regularly, you’re unsure, then it’s probably a no IMHO.
I just wanted to add that I think introverts are experts at minimizing their needs and defaulting to shrinking in a relationship as not to be a “burden” to their partner. I also think this is the impetus for what causes the extrovert (me) to have to guess what my partner needs. Two things that I’m still trying to get used to:
1. As an introvert, he abandoned his comfort zone of moving slowly and jumped into a committed living together relationship with me five states away and he thinks that little assurances of his love shouldn’t be required. I’m gently attempting to nudge him out of this mindset. He’s attentive and sensitive, but in his perception, this ONE HUGE thing trumps all other indications of his love.
2. Due to his not asking for much, when he DOES ask for something, he wants an immediate and positive response. I don’t indulge this pattern thinking or we may both become hostages to this impulse. What I do is respond naturally. If I want to do it, I do it enthusiastically. If I don’t want to do it, I let him know that I don’t want to do it, but that since I can…I will. If I’m not going to do it, I let him know without negative energy around my no. No frustration, no blaming him for wanting something that I’m not going to give him…but no is just…no.
The other thing is that relationships are VERY weird and hard for introverts (from what I’ve gathered). I accept the fact that I have to model SOME (not all) of the relating functions and I let him know that I appreciate what relationship experience/knowledge he brings to the table. That’s what happens in healthy relationships anyways. You act as mentors of sorts to one another. My extroversion, relating to people and knowing a lot of people for a VERY long time is almost baffling to my guy. He doesn’t understand how I’ve kept up with so many long-term, healthy, supportive, loving, and loyal relationships with family and friends. I RESPECT that his personal life is different from mine and avoid comparisons at all costs. I won’t/don’t compare our personal lives at all. As long as his personal life with his very small support circle works for him…GREAT!
We openly acknowledge our differences without assigning a better/worse value to them.
I don’t judge his introversion and do my best to enjoy the quiet time with him while it lasts in my day. Pretty soon, before either of us knows it, someone is ringing my phone wanting to know when they’re going to see me or is making arrangements with me for a social gathering. Another thing I did and I’m not sure if this is an option for other extroverts, but when we knew we wanted to be together in a deeply committed relationship, I canceled most of my plans and meetings for three weeks just to spend 1:1 time with HIM. He knew that it was temporary, but it meant SO much to him that I would do that. What’s three weeks in comparison to spending a lifetime with the one you love? It gave me the focused time to get to know him MUCH better and realize exactly what our day to day life could entail.
Our extroversion/introversion is a HUGE hurdle, but we keep basic respect of one another high on the list of standards and we’re both physically affectionate. Those two commonalities help tremendously. The one that we’re focusing on developing as a couple is grace to give the other space to mess up/make mistakes. I hope other extrovert/introvert couples are experiencing a high level of success despite the vast difference in how you approach life.
I met someone on a dating site. He is pretty introverted and I am more of an extrovert. We went on two dates and texted afterwards for a couple of weeks (short connections). Life got crazy and after a month of silence he asked me about how it was going and told me to keep him posted. We began texting a little again. He invited me to his space and we shared some conversation and several wonderful kisses. When I left, I could hardly contain my excitement. This has been a week ago, and since then, he has not instigated any conversations, although he responds to any texts I send. I have friends who tell me that I am chasing him by texting him first. I don’t want to push him away, but if he is an introvert does he need me to chase him? Will he come around if I completely leave him alone. Or am I sending him the message that I am not interested if I back off?
Key attributes for me are honesty and trustworthiness as well as not going out clubbing all the time and being a cheater. My normal concern for myself in dating is that I’m easy going and I don’t have a big ego nor do I expect much. I’m not seen as a forward and aggressive guy that women may tend to go for more so I get overlooked for being quiet at times and not constantly on the other person’s case. I read the room and maybe through analyzing everything in my head, I end up missing out on moments where extroverts just say “fuck it” and dive in without considering possible side effects of the action.