I’m a love extrovert. If I care about you, you will know it. I will tell you and show you in all the verbal and nonverbal languages I have at my disposal.
For the most part, I like that I’m wired this way, and even when I don’t like it — when it leaves me feeling vulnerable and occasionally confused and rejected — it’s my fundamental nature and it’s not going to change.
Looking back at my relationships, both romantic and platonic, the list includes plenty of naturally emotionally expressive people, a decent number who started off reserved and grew more demonstrative over time (including my husband), and a handful of people who CLEARLY NEVER CARED because they didn’t show me love in any of the ways I understood.
Hopefully you’ve already spotted the miscalculation here (did the all-caps help?). It took me years, plus a great therapist, to see it, but I do now: There is such a thing as a “love introvert,” the polar opposite of those of us who wear our heart on our sleeve. These individuals may not love you the same open way you love them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love you.
Love introverts may seem indifferent or uncaring, but they aren’t lacking emotional depth; in fact, there is a lot of depth in them because that’s where they hide most of their feelings — far away from the surface. They are as capable and desirous of love as anyone else, but they can’t or won’t show it outwardly for fear of pain, rejection, loss of identity, or some other negative outcome. Most often, a love introvert has developed an avoidant attachment style during childhood or as a result of a past relationship gone very wrong. And while attachment styles can change, it’s not an easy or quick process.
I have hit my head against many metaphorical walls trying to figure out the behavior of the various love introverts I’ve encountered. There was the one who listened to nothing but emo love songs and yet completely shut down at any real-life mention of feelings. There was another who barely talked at all and yet broke down in tears when I finally gave up and ended things. The actions and the people making them were varied, but they had a common denominator: they went against everything I naturally do when I care about someone.
Unlike partners who are abusive or manipulative, love introverts aren’t doing any of this to be cruel, even though that’s how it can come across. Their ability to express their love is simply limited by their anxiety over how it will be received and whether they’ll be able to meet — and continue meeting — their partner’s expectations of them.
Of course, recognizing that an avoidant partner might truly love you doesn’t mean you have to stick around and hope they’ll become more secure and expressive. That’s a decision that you must make on your own, by weighing the benefits and costs of this particular relationship and evaluating what kind of love you will accept — because the person may become more emotionally extroverted, but they likely won’t ever lose all their avoidant tendencies.
In my case, love introverts are simply a doomed match. Usually it takes me trying in vain to “figure them out” and make things work before I remember this fact, but I always re-learn it eventually. And it hurts like crazy each time.
But I’ve taken some comfort in the realization that those people in my life who “clearly never cared” may in fact have cared a great deal. That doesn’t change the fact that we weren’t ever able to meet each other halfway, but it helps me better understand the situations and feel less lonely in my memories of them. I loved them in my way, they loved me in theirs. The love wasn’t enough to overcome the obstacles, but it was there.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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