What It Really Means When an Introvert Backs Away

What It Really Means When an Introvert Backs Away

I now know that the greater part of love is knowledge and insight. Knowledge of the person loved. My self-disclosure to him or her so that he or she can know me back. This insight helps us know how to best love one another. I know, it doesn’t sound sexy, but believe me, this is where real love lives.

I wish I’d understood this sooner.

Allow me the understatement that my husband and I are different. I could make a list of our differences, but this is the one that used to feed the most discord between us: he is an introvert and I am an extrovert.

The other day I ran into a friend, literally, while running. I stopped, a little breathless, to walk beside her on the sidewalk and my words matched my heart rate, erratic and swift. If you are an extrovert, you know we don’t need a racing pulse to overwhelm people. It’s just in us.

Anyway, I started asking questions and saying stuff all at once, because I really like her and want to know her better. But I’m not sure that’s what I communicated.

And then she did it. That thing my husband has been doing as long as I’ve known him, that he does without knowing it just like my words tumble out of my mouth unbidden. That thing I have misinterpreted for years.

She backed away.

She has no idea that’s what she did. It could have been my imagination. I don’t know her well, but I had a moment of discovery and thought, “Oh … she’s an introvert.” All because of an imperceptible move backward. I went home and asked my husband about it, posing this theory:

Do introverts take a step back to observe? Do they create this little buffer between themselves and the extrovert’s puppy-like, slobbery mass of words and gestures so that they can know us better? Do they desperately need this buffer to get to that knowledge?

Yes, he said, I think you’re right.

I now know that the greater part of love is knowledge and insight.

Early on, when we’d argue, Bill would be silent, and I would interpret his silence in the worst possible way—thinking he hated me and wanted to leave—so he learned to tell me, “I’m thinking. I still love you, but I don’t have words yet.” This mystified me, because I had more than enough words for both of us.

But this move away from me didn’t only happen in conflict. He did it naturally and often. And I couldn’t stand it.

I hate to admit that I often think introverts are judging me. And my husband is no different. This is for two reasons. First, what’s not to judge when I fill up more than my share of space with so much static? When I invade their buffer zone like, well, again a Labrador puppy comes to mind? When there is nothing premeditated or careful about the way I speak and act? I’m often aware that before the introvert says one word I’ve already said several wrong ones. But this awareness never comes until it’s too late.

And, second, I subconsciously assume introverts judge because of that subconscious step they take away. I think it is a reaction to me, when in fact it is just what they do. I see it as rejection, when it is really their way of taking me in and, perhaps, accepting me more.

Somewhere along the way I stopped long enough to mine for knowledge and depth of insight about my introvert husband, my introvert kids (we are an exquisitely balanced family with two of each), and my introvert friends. I stopped thinking quite so much about my own missteps, which continue to confound me, and began to observe the beauty of that little step back.

As counter-intuitive as it seems to me, this is the way they love. Just as I love best when I’m moving toward someone. Of course, this is on our best days. I’m thankful for what loving a husband and a family and friends who are introverts does to me.

If all I know is me, I’ll be more apt to think I’m all that matters. And that’s tragic, don’t you think? But to continually gain knowledge of someone whose very instincts make mine seem alien is a good thing. Maybe I need to take a step back to think about that one.

You’ll also like  Why You Should Just Have That Hard Conversation (And How to Do It)Take It Easy—On Your Friends, How the 5 Love Languages Can Change Your Relationship and How to Survive a Party (for the Introvert)

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