How to Balance Caring for Yourself and Others

Dear Social Introvert,

I was Googling how to date an introvert, and I came across your page. You said to send a question, so here’s my story.

I met my boyfriend online in January.

His mom was very sick for a few years after suffering a stroke. She was in a nursing home, and he would visit her every week and sit with her during her dialysis. One day, while he was with her, she had a seizure and major stroke. He saw the whole thing. They sent her home with hospice care. Six weeks later, she passed away.

I didn’t go to the funeral because I never met his mom. I sent a plant with her favorite flowers.

I havent seen him since his mom passed away. He doesn’t text me unless I text him. Before all this, he would text me every day several times a day, and see me 2-3 days a week and every other weekend.

Every time I try to reach out, he says he’s grieving or angry or depressed. He once said he was afraid of attachments and was trying to avoid them. He just wants quiet and isn’t in a good place right now. I have no idea what to do. It’s so hard to get him to open up.

He absolutely hates talking on the phone because he feels trapped. He says he wants to see me and misses me but can’t deal with anyone else’s needs right now. We’re going to a wedding at the end of the month. I asked if I had to wait until the wedding before I was able to spend time with him, and he said he didn’t know. I’m at a loss here.

Is this part of being an introvert? Is it just grieving? I have no idea. Any thoughts would be great. All my friends tell me to leave him and that if he cared he would come to me, but he says he’s never shared his pain and he’s always done it alone. Please help!

Thank you,

Trying to Be Respectful of Grieving

Dear Trying to Be Respectful,

Your question is difficult to answer. You asked if this was part of grieving, but grief takes many different forms. Its a wildly unpredictable emotion, and everyone handles it differently. Right now, your boyfriend has chosen to navigate his own personal path of grief alone. It doesnt seem you are invited on this particular part of his journey. Im so sorry—I know this must be incredibly painful to hear.

But I believe it is necessary for you to hear it because you need to shift the focus from your boyfriend to yourself. You are trying very hard to communicate with him. You were lovely enough to send his moms favorite flowers to the funeral. Thats such a kind, thoughtful gesture. Your devotion to him and concern for him shine through in every word you write. But hes hesitant to see you, and he wont discuss whats happening to him right now.

You also asked me if this is part of an introverts behavior. Speaking from my own experience, I know I too have a tendency to shut down when life-changing shifts occur. I need time on my own to figure out how I feel before discussing it with another person, and this is very much tied to being an introvert. Introverts need this kind of space to process their emotions. But life doesnt always afford me the amount of space I would like. Its not fair to the people who love me—and who are invested in my well-being—to keep them sitting around, wondering where I am, and waiting for a response. They may be understanding up to a certain point, but I also need to meet them halfway.

Here is my question for you: would it matter if this behavior was also tied to your boyfriends being an introvert? You are trying hard to understand his situation and see his perspective, but theres an obvious disconnect between you two, and you cant single-handedly bridge that gap. This situation wont change if you gain more understanding of what it means to be an introvert. You can gain more empathy only if the communication is two-sided.

The way I see it, you have two choices.

Your first option is to end the relationship now. You dont sound happy. Youre definitely not getting what you want. I think its fair to say hes shutting you out. Perhaps its just time to let this one go. But I dont think youre quite ready to give up yet.

The second option is to tell your boyfriend that you really need to have an honest conversation with him. Ask him how you can best support him in this situation. Let him know youve racked your brain trying to find an answer, but youre still unsure. Tell him you feel like the best thing may be to go away because it seems like thats what he has been requesting. If he continues to dodge your heartfelt questions, you have an answer: he doesnt want to be in a relationship. Or he may finally understand how hard youve been trying to reach him, and hell start to talk.

Introverts or not, people will misinterpret one another. For instance, is it possible that he wanted you to be at the funeral? You mentioned you didnt go, but you didnt say you werent invited. Is it possible that all this distance stemmed from a miscommunication? Its time to stop playing guessing games and making assumptions. You both need to be clear with one another.

But before you make a decision whether or not to reach out further to your boyfriend, heres what I want you to do. I want you to go and take care of yourself. Youve been trying so hard to take care of this other person that youve become lost. Whens the last time you did something solely for yourself without thoughts of your boyfriend in mind? Try to unwind yourself from the tangle of putting him first. Be kind to yourself while this is occurring. Use this time to ask yourself if this is something you want. Go into the conversation with a clear head and some acknowledgement of your own feelings instead of just asking, What about him? What is he thinking?He could be thinking anything. I want you to discover what you are thinking and how you’re feeling about dealing with a partner who’s disappeared on you even if for the best of reasons. Is that something you want?

Also, please remember: if hes not up for making a go of it, that doesnt make him a bad person. He has gone through a terrible situation. His mom had a prolonged illness, and he witnessed her slow decline. He lost a parent. His life will never be the same. If he cannot foster the relationship the two of you were building together, its no ones fault that lifes circumstances got in the way of you being able to meet one another in the same place.

Trying to be Respectful, you have a big beautiful heart. Youll be okay. Clear your head, and then go get some clarification.

Sending you all my best thoughts,

The Social Introvert

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