What does “needing space” really mean?

A pal is head-over-heals smitten with a woman he’s been seeing for 3 months. He thinks she’s The One.

However, there’s a problem.

Right before meeting him, her long-term relationship ended. When he asked her out, she said she wasn’t ready for a relationship. She needed time to heal.

However, that didn’t stop her from accepting his invitation, nor the subsequent 15 (he’s kept count — they’ve been on 16 dates). But about a month ago, she said she needed time to heal, however she didn’t want to lose him. She needed some alone time; some space to clear her mind.

So my pal sits on pins and needles. He misses her. But he’s concerned any contact from him will violate her needed “space” and he doesn’t want to push her away.

I suggested he get clarification from her on what her space needs include: no emails, no texts, no calls, no dates? They had a brief text conversation a few weeks ago and he suggested dinner. She said she’d love to and would get back to him about a day the following week. She didn’t.

So is she just stringing him along? If she meant to blow him off, why encourage him with agreeing to dinner?

Where were the boundaries? He felt that by his asking that question it would violate her request for space.

Arrgh. A bit crazy making.

I’ve used the “need space” line as a way to end it with someone who I was concerned would go ballistic if I told him that. So is that what this gal is using the term for?

When you have told someone you need space, what did you mean exactly? If you weren’t ending it, what kind of contact would seem intrusive and what was OK? Did you clarify that with your space-needing declaration?


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20 responses to “What does “needing space” really mean?”

  1. Lisa Shield Avatar

    Your friend needs to move on. In my book, a “no” is a no and a maybe is a no. And “I need space to heal” means that I am not over my ex and I am a mess, so leave fast and find someone who has her act together.” Just my 2 cents.

  2. Brenda Avatar

    I think she is not ready for a relationship. At the very least, she is not interested in him in a serious fashion and so your friend needs to move on. I would not suggest even contacting her to find out what she means by needing space. N*e*x*t.

  3. Lisa Avatar

    If he was ultimately looking for someone with whom he could have a serious relationship, his mistake was in taking her out on date #1 after she had told him she was not ready for a serious relationship.

    At this point in my life, I would never consider dating anyone who had told me something like that at the start. It just means trouble because they are still in a very transitional time. I want someone who knows how to stand on his own two feet and wants to be with me because he wants to be with me not because he is terrified of being alone.

    This woman is blowing him off or just hoping he will hang around like a puppy and take whatever attention she will give. He needs to have some self respect, ignore her, and move on. The phrase “needing space” is just an indirect way of saying “not interested.”

  4. Richard Avatar

    I think he is being used. She enjoys him as a friend, but nothing more. He gives her something to do on a saturday night when she has no other plans.

  5. Dating Goddess Avatar

    Thanks for the comments.

    However, I’m not really seeking advice for my friend, but instead more interested in your definition of “needing space.” I know some of that was addressed in the comments, which is great! I’d love to hear what others mean when they’ve said that, and how you interpret it when you hear it from someone you’ve started seeing.

  6. Brenda Avatar

    I have had a few men say that to me over the years- and I heard from one of them about one year later – the others I never heard from again, nor did I contact them.

    I did note that they were back online, very actively doing online dating, so clearly they were not needing space from anyone other than me. I took it as they were not interested in dating ME.

    The man who re-contacted me said that when we met, which was shortly after his divorce was final, he was not in a place to be in a relationship and thus, said that to let me down “lightly”. He wanted to know if I was “available for dating” now, and as it turns out, I was in a relationship with the wonderful man who I ended up marrying 4 months ago.

  7. Lisa Avatar

    In my opinion, “needing space” always always always means not interested. Maybe it is because a person is really not that into you, or maybe it is because of their recent past, or whatever…..In the long run, it doesn’t really matter why.

    Anyone who has ever said it directly to me or said it through his actions has long since disappeared. If someone wants to be with you, they will say it directly and their actions will follow their word, so once again, this confused woman is just not being honest or direct with your friend. It is sad but true. If someone wants to be with you, they will say it and act upon it. That is the simple truth.

  8. vg Avatar

    Maybe she is saying that she likes to get attention from him and use him for a contingency plan.Who knows?

  9. Mike Lowrey Avatar
    Mike Lowrey

    I’ve heard women say that it has many different meanings.

    I’m not a guru but… Space means exactly what is implies. Distance.
    Move on, was nice while it lasted. Used & now you are excused.
    Pretty clear cut to me.

    Just to make sure, I looked it up in the man law dictionary. “Needing Space” n. -def: “From time to time I enjoy eff’ing you, but not nearly enough to start a real relationship with you”.

    Personally I think it means the same when men or women use it.
    People only doubt that it has more than just one meaning when it is said to them.

  10. cliff arroyo Avatar
    cliff arroyo

    “needing space” = I don’t want intimacy with you = keep your distance, loser

    “I need time to heal” and “I’m not ready for a relationship” mean exactly the same thing.

    Should/could not be any clearer with this guy short of renting a billboard next to his house.

  11. Almita Avatar

    I have used this expression when men I have just met are coming on too strong. For example, I had one man calling me three-four times a day after one dinner date (a date, I might add, which did not include any level of physical intimacy). Although I felt interested in getting to know the man, I “needed space” because I felt he was trying to invade my life.

  12. Dhruv Avatar

    Well, if someone asks you about giving them some space then, you should immediately leave. But, you should ask about the matter after few hours. Feel SORRY if its your mistake. Spend some quality time with that person and have fun.. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Sidney Avatar

    So, what if someone you have been dating for 13 months, have spoken to every day says “I need space”? I am totally confused by past actions (ie, seeing each other as much as possible, talking to each other every day at least once) and current actions “I need space” and not talking at all in 2 weeks??

  14. Brenda Avatar

    It sounds like they have either lost interest, or are rethinking the relationship, and as such, I would go on with your life. I would not touch base by calling or emailing to ask what happened.

    I have had this happen and on a few occasions, the man has actually returned anywhere from a month to a year later, but I had already moved on.

  15. Sidney Avatar

    Brenda…good advice ๐Ÿ™‚ it’s frustrating…and I am trying to figure out why I care! Obviously he is not the guy for me since he is treating me this way…so why does it make me so sad? I am definitely better off without him.

  16. Brenda Avatar

    Well, you care because you spent a lot of time with this man, 13 months after all, and it is disappointing to have this happen. I used to question myself, why I did not see this coming, what I may have done wrong etc, and I am sure I drove my girlfriends crazy with all of my “processing”.

    What I learned was that usually when men say they need space (even if they say they are not “ready” to be in a relationship), it means they need space and time away from you. One man told me that he was not emotionally ready to be in a relationship with me since he had only been divorced for 6 months (which in retrospect, I understood) but then he got right back online (literally the same night) so that’s how I surmised that he was so NOT into me. (he’s the one who came back almost one year later to the day – I sure felt good telling him I was engaged) ๐Ÿ™‚

    There are GOOD men out there – I wish you much luck and stamina!!

  17. Sidney Avatar

    Yeah…I am told there are good men out there. I will keep weeding through them. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for your wise words. It certainly does help to hear from someone else who is in/has been in relatively the same space. All of my friends are married and have been for years so they have no idea what it is like. I am sure they are sick of hearing me talk about it…as I am sick of myself talking about it LOL

  18. Brenda Avatar

    It’s definitely a numbers game. I was always “game” for any set-ups (few and far between) and definitely went out a few times per week to meet potential suitors at Starbucks. Eventually my now-husband found me, but in the meantime, I had a lot of fun, learned a lot about myself, and married again at 56!

  19. Jacky Avatar

    When a girl told a man “needing space” after 13 months. Sometimes its rejection of the further relationship. Women always change their mind because of feeling. Maybe men give a wrong feeling at a time. So have to think what’s the problem inside. and just keep on text, date and do whatever they used to do then it’s ok to maintain the relationship until the women change their mind.

  20. Karen Avatar

    Like Almita upthread, I have said “need space” to guys who urgently want to spend more time together than I do. I might think he’s nice and I might even like him a lot and even possibly maybe see a future for us if we date for longer, however, its usually only been few weeks/months so I dont think we should be spending every waking minute together like he wants. I dont want to be cooking dinner for him every night. I dont want to be sleeping over every night. I dont want him calling every day, texting multiple times a day, and expecting to get together every time he figures out I have some time off work. It means the guy is being too pushy. Yes usually I end up dumping them in the end because they are too controlling and needy.