Let’s break this one all the way down …
“I just need some space. A little time to clear my head.”
In the best case scenario, if your boyfriend says those words, he’s truly just trying to communicate a simple need he has for some alone time.
Or … he might be trying to get out of your relationship as easily and painlessly (for himself) as possible.
Either way, your guy probably doesn’t know he’s just shot the verbal equivalent of four tiny bullets directly into your heart.
In my experience, when a guy says he needs space, he’s usually saying he wants to end the relationship.
A request for space doesn’t usually mean, “I need to be alone so that I can be a better person — and thus a better partner to you.” Rather, it almost always means, “Look, I don’t want to be your boyfriend anymore, but I am really worried about hurting your feelings, so I’m saying this instead on the off chance that it won’t hurt you quite so much.”
To me, the best thing about a guy saying he needs time or space is that it might mean he actually knows that he’s such a bad apple in the dating department that he really is doing you a favor by quietly removing himself from the relationship.
I know that might make me sound like a jaded sow, but honestly, I haven’t once heard a man say he needs space when he meant anything other than, “I want out and I’m too much of a coward to be direct and address your feelings head on.” I’m paraphrasing here, of course.
Thinking about this led me to wonder — do guys who ask for space know this when they ask for it, or do they ever think there’s really a chance they’re going to come back to you and try making the relationship work?
Why do they even ask for space in the first place, and what do men think will come from asking for/getting it?
I outsourced this query of mine to a group of men (all of whom shall remain anonymous) and what they had to say about the topic was pretty darn eye opening.
Here’s what 14 men think it means when a guy says he needs space or time:
1. “There has to be a context for how this was said to give you a useful answer. If it came after some sort of argument in your relationship, it most likely means they want to break up. It could also mean they just need time to sort out what is going on and want to be left alone for a bit.”
2. “It either means they need space and time to sort through their feelings or that they want a break from the relationship to be with other women. Folks can decide which option seems more likely depending on context.”
3. “I need to separate myself from the situation and see where I’m at, see myself going, etc.”
4. “It means I want to be alone or at least apart from the person I’m talking to. I want to sort out my issues by myself then come back later. It’s a really straightforward concept.”
5. “I have been in a long term relationship with the same women going on three decades. It is as good of a relationship as one could imagine. Best decision I ever made was to marry my wife. Best friend, great lover, most down-to-earth, beautiful, funny woman I ever met. That being said, we both crave some time apart to recharge for some solo experiences, for some quiet down time. Neither one of us is possessive or solely dependent on the other for satisfaction or happiness. A little time apart keeps it fresh and rewarding.”
6. “Personally, if I need space for a while, it will only be a few days, more likely a few hours. I am probably just mad and need to be alone for a bit.”
7. “Last time I said this to someone it was because I didn’t have a single free moment in my life without her. She never wanted to be away from me and it got to the point where I couldn’t excuse myself without her following me to the bathroom.”
8. “It means you need to leave me alone for a period of time, and if you’re not cool with giving me time, you’re free to leave me for good if you insist. Sometimes I just want to be alone.”
9. “I’ve never said this, and I am suspicious of people who do.”
10. “I need solitude.”
11. “I yearn to be the ruler of all the cosmos.”
12. “I’ve always used that to mean that I need my own life. I need my partner to trust that when they aren’t around I’m handling myself capably and honorably. It’s room for me to grow as a person on my own. I’ve got plenty these days, which is nice.”
13. “Could be a lot of things. Some people need solitude. For others, it’s a sense of agency. Not that he might not like hanging out, but he’s inherently choosing things with your feelings in mind and he may be feeling a need for time to be selfish. Other times it’s as simple as indulging in a hobby he knows (or thinks) you won’t enjoy or which can’t easily be shared.”
14. “I could mean lots of things. My partners tend to be pretty … verbal, and my stupid brain requires unbroken stretches of silence/solitude to settle into thoughts much of the time, so it’s hard to process stuff myself when they’re around. I’m really bad at asking for it, though, because I think when I hear, ‘I need space’, I assume that the other person is sick of me, and is distancing themselves to break things off. Which is ridiculous, but brains are dumb.”
Rebecca Jane Stokes is a humor and lifestyle writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cat, Batman. For more of her work, check out her Tumblr.