Typically narcissistic blogging.

Alone Time: A helpful metaphor

SHHHH. I’m thinking.


Now you can talk.

One of the generally accepted fundamental differences between extroverts and introverts is that extroverts recharge their batteries through human interaction and introverts recharge their batteries through quiet/alone time. I need a lot of alone time, or I get socially, emotionally, and mentally strung out. When that happens, I stop hanging out with my friends. I stop enjoying that moment when my girlfriend gets home. I am overwhelmed at the thought of making plans. My social anxiety stops hovering at 5-6/10 and goes to 11.

Not good.

But I live with an extrovert who doesn’t quite get the value of alone time for me. She doesn’t understand the full extent of the necessity. This has caused some trouble between us—partly because she doesn’t understand that my need for alone time isn’t just about needing time apart from her (and if you guys can come up with a way to make that really, really clear, your comments are welcome), and partly because the need itself is esoteric. Explaining the difference between enjoyment of alone time and the need for it is difficult.


Pic by Allie Brosh. Click through to her awesome blog.

We live in a tiny 1-BR apartment in SF in which the layout is such that, if there are two people home it is impossible to have alone time. My mental health has been deteriorating for months because in a given work day I get at most 20-60 minutes of alone time between when I get home and when she gets home. On the weekends, unless she goes out of town, I get none. I finally made it as clear as possible that I need to live in a place where I can have my own room: a Whiskeypants Cave. But we kept running up against the same problem in communication about it. She could not fathom the idea that I would need alone time so badly that it was worth stretching out our budget as much as we would have to in order to afford a 2-BR in this city. I couldn’t fathom the idea that she could not acknowledge the fact of my need.

One day after arguing about this, on the drive home I finally found the words:

Imagine that the way you recharge is through sleep.

You try to sleep every day, but you can only get an average of about an hour with an absolute maximum of 2-3.

Even when you lie down to sleep, you know that, no matter where you are, you will be woken up by the person you live with.

Imagine that, day after day, week after week, month after month. This is what alone time is to me, to my brain, to my emotional buffers and my ability to enjoy time with you, with my friends, and out and about.

She went home that night and found us the place we are moving into at the beginning of next month.

Introverts who date extroverts and vice versa: how do you communicate your needs to each other?

5 responses

  1. I use Joseph Campbell quotes to help explain my need for my own time and space:
    “On having a “sacred place”:

    [A sacred place] is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen….

    [O]ur life has become so economic and practical in its orientation that, as you get older, the claims of the moment upon you are so great, you hardly know where the hell you are, or what it is you intended. You are always doing something that is required of you. Where is your bliss station? You have to try to find it. Get a phonograph and put on the music that you really love, even if it’s corny music that nobody else respects.

    August 19, 2013 at 7:18 pm

  2. Luke and I, both being introverted, insisted on a house where we would each have our own space. It wasn't even a question or a conversation; just a "these are our basic needs". So I have my studio and he has his garage and there are times when I have been home for an hour and I don't even know where he is. I don't think we could do it any other way, and you deserve this. ❤

    August 19, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    • That would be the ideal situation.

      Thank you.

      August 20, 2013 at 8:27 pm

  3. RJ

    While RA is not an introvert, she would occasionally want the house to herself. Just because. So she told me, “Hey, I want the house to myself tonight from x to y pm. Go and do whatever you’d like.” I’d go away and see a movie or have a drink or just walk around a neighborhood. It seemed to work okay for us these almost 14 years. 🙂

    I hope things work out for you.

    August 19, 2013 at 10:15 pm

  4. Liz

    I love this analogy. Sam and I are really struggling with this right now, especially as my job, PhD, and my dance obligations are all being very demanding at the same time. Because I am *always* thinking, and because I have such an active internal/mental life, the experience of being interrupted is almost always like being awoken from a nap. I have told Sam that I don’t expect that he will never interrupt me, but that I would really appreciate it if he could remember as often as possible to ask whether I’m interruptable. (Also, when he forgets, acknowledging that an interruption has taken place and apologizing, as one would when accidentally bumping into someone or waking them or stepping on a foot, goes really a long way.) Mostly, as much as I really do need space and quiet (which I eventually get, but sometimes it takes a fight), what’s actually hardest is that I end up feeling guilty every time I get annoyed about an interruption and therefore feel unable to ask for what I need.

    August 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm

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