Within intimate partnerships as well as within more casual friendships, people’s attitudes toward personal space may come into play as a strong factor in determining how much comfort and ease they can experience in the relationship.
What makes the issue a little more complicated, however, is the fact that space means different things to different people. The need for it can also be interpreted differently by people on the other end.
The idea of “introverts” and “extroverts” is a generalized view of human interactions, but it is one that can actually aid us in understanding social dynamics and intimacy issues. Essentially, introverts need space — even, at times, from those whom they care about — and extroverts tend to try and fill it. The reason for this generally revolves around the ways in which each type relates to energy in a social sense. Introverts draw energy from within themselves, which is why sometimes they feel the need to withdraw from the world in order to “recharge.” Extroverts draw energy from others, and so they can feel uncomfortable — even a little cast adrift — if they’re alone for any great length of time.
Such tendencies will play themselves out in the realm of intimate relationships, particularly with regards to communication. An introverted person will most likely want to process his or her feelings about any given issue internally before reaching any decisions. An extroverted person will prefer to externally process, perhaps talking through the steps and weighing all the options out loud. He or she may want feedback along the way, as well, and feel confused and/or frustrated by an introvert’s reticence. Miscommunication often occurs here. The extrovert may interpret an introvert’s silent deliberations as an overall lack of interest (to give one example) whereas the introvert may interpret an extrovert’s need for action as insensitivity and lack of introspection.
Being aware of these dynamics can help to clarify muddled communication. It serves to remind us that anything that occurs within two people’s interactions will have two interpretations, and sometimes these interpretations can vary widely depending upon the personal temperaments of those involved. People may make assumptions that don’t really reflect the reality of the situation at all, simply because they’re dealing with someone who processes experiences differently than they do. It creates almost a language barrier — but one that can be surmounted if introverts and extroverts better understand how their counterparts tend to operate.
If we understand that personal space means different things to different people, then we may come to understand that a partner’s or a friend’s need to process things internally does not necessarily imply that s/he is withdrawing from us. We can learn to honor the spaces between friends and lovers as much as we appreciate the closeness. This makes us more tactful — more fluent, really — in our social interactions. Not everything is a reflection on us. Two people can both genuinely desire intimacy while approaching it in completely different ways.