Dating While Introverted: What You Need to Know

I used to have a friend who’d say, “Dating is nothing but a numbers game.” She believed that going on more dates was equivalent to a higher likelihood of falling in love. It might sound pretty reasonable when you first hear it except for the fact that it’s utter bullshit. I should know. It took me years of dating before I finally started ignoring this type of “practical” advice.

There’s a problem with the one-size-fits-all wisdom commonly intoned during dating discussions (“Just put yourself out there! Say yes to everything! Let everyone know you’re looking!”). However well-intentioned it may be, it flies in the face of a major factor essential to an introvert’s well-being—alone time.

For introverts, first dates are minefields of small talk and mindless chatter. After jumping through the hoops of answering questions such as “where are you from? do you like your job? how many siblings do you have? if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one to hear it, would this date be just as bad?” one too many times, you start feeling that dates are no longer probable sources of a deep, meaningful relationship, but rather deep, dark pits of despair.

And you? You tend to be sucked of all your energy as if you’ve been set upon by a Harry Potter dementor. Because, as introverts, we often derive our energy from solitude and quiet contemplation in which to process life’s events, we have only so much social goodwill to go around.

In fact, any form of socializing has the potential to deplete these stores. Dating, fraught with the anxiety and possibility of rejection and/or romance, even more so. Blind or Internet dating? It’s the perfect storm. You get to meet complete strangers (not always our strongest suit), who will then subject you to a barrage of intensely personal questions and judge you! Doesn’t that sound like the ideal situation when you’re looking for true intimacy and affection?

But is it all bad news? No. There is good news too, but let’s get the bad news out of the way first.

Unfortunately, you still have to go on dates.

Look. Do you want to be in love? You have to go through the process. No one gets to skip it. We’re all battle-scarred here, my friend. So yes, you will have times when sitting across from another human being, you’ll feel you’d rather pull out your molars without Novocaine than think of another word to say to this person. It’s absolutely 100% going to happen. And I’m sorry.

What’s the good news?

You can make it up as you go along.

It’s important, first and foremost, to set some personal boundaries with yourself. Once, I went on four dates in one week. It was a strange, atypical situation where a lot of fellas seemed determined to meet yours truly. Since that never happens to me (and because it made me feel like a bouncy, shiny-haired cheerleader for the first time ever), I pushed myself to accept all the offers. I feared if I declined, I would be passing up on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As a result, I spent the following weekend on the couch, exhausted, spiraling down the rabbit hole of a bad television binge, barely able to peek around the door when the delivery guy dropped off my take-out. I never talked to any of those gentlemen again. Not once.

Don’t let the fear of missing out dictate your dating schedule.

If you only go on one date a month, that’s okay! If awful dates, which your friends seem to be able to turn into funny anecdotes on a dime, seem catastrophic to you, that’s okay too. It’s all okay! Go on one date every three months if you want to. Ignore your mother when she hounds you about grandchildren.

And while we’re on the subject of dating fears, it’s okay if you want to cancel. You will have days when unexpected issues arise at work, your cat gets sick, a family member calls with an emergency, or a friend emails with the last-minute favor to which you have to say yes because they helped you out last week. If you have a date scheduled that evening and you just can’t go, so be it.

Call and cancel if you’ve already reached your limit.

Don’t feel the need to go into some long, drawn-out explanation either. Just simply state that you need to reschedule, and offer an alternative date, time, and place. Is your fear of missing out nagging at you again? I’m going to pass along the best piece of advice my old therapist ever gave me. He said, “You can’t fuck up soul mates.” Write that down, and put it in your pocket.

Your time and energy are precious. You should never feel bad for treating them as such, and don’t let anyone tell you different. This doesn’t, however, exempt you from trying.

Be honest and direct, but remember it’s just an online dating profile.

You can use subtle ways to tell your profile visitors you are introverted, without standing on a mountain top and screaming down a declaration for the masses. The discussion of introversion has only recently become part of the larger cultural dialogue. I like to drop little hints throughout my online profile about how much I value my quiet time; this roots out any suitors prowling for a party girl. I mention that I tend to spend many hours reading and that I like book recommendations. In the little section where you’re asked, “How do you typically spend a Friday night?” (you know the one—it’s where most people say, “Sometimes I like to go out, but then sometimes I like to stay in,” and you want to reply, “O RLLY? R U A HUMAN BEING?”), I answer honestly. I say I’m usually at a yoga class, winding down after the week.

Pay attention to what works for you, and only you.

There’s a good chance that you’ll discover the subtle difference between the “just put yourself out there!” attitude and the kind of effort that aligns itself with your intuition and all of your wonderfully weird qualities. Try to narrow your focus. Tune out that well-intentioned advice, and keep what you want at the forefront of your mind. The goal here is not snagging a partnership that looks like a carbon copy of every rom-com. You could find someone to sit across from at the breakfast table while reading your own newspapers, Kindles, novels, or whatever. And proximity without talking is THE DREAM, you guys. Never forget.

And yes, dates are the necessary vehicle that will get you to this connection. But it can’t be a numbers game when only one date can be a game changer. You have to go on dates, just not every single one.