Introverts need friends too. But let’s face it, navigating a friendship can be tricky. You have expectations for how the relationship should go, and so do they—and those expectations don’t always line up. That’s when feelings turn sour. So in the interest of introverts everywhere (and the people who become friends with them), I’m going to lay down some ground rules. Suggested use: mention this article casually to your friends and talk about which rules resonated with you and which ones didn’t. Highly discouraged: hanging these rules where your friends will see them and handing out citations to rule-breakers like a traffic cop.
Here are 13 rules for being friends with an introvert:
1. If you want to get to know us better, hang out with us one-on-one. Have you ever wanted to make an introvert disappear? Put them in a large group. They’ll quietly fade into the background. Pretty soon it’s like they’re not even there. But when you get introverts alone, it’s a different story. Introverts thrive in intimate settings because when we’re talking to just one person, it drastically reduces our stimulation level; we only have to pay attention to the words, body language, and tone of voice of one person. Plus, one-on-one, it’s easier to talk about more meaningful topics. Group talk tends to revolve around “safe” topics like current events, jokes, and only the parts of your spring break trip to Cancun that are clean enough to tell your grandma. Introverts want to share ideas and talk authentically about things that matter.
2. Likewise, if you say it’s just going to be the two of us, don’t invite other people. It’s hurtful if we feel like we’re just another warm body in your extrovert entourage. We want to mean something to you, because if we’re friends, you mean a lot to us. We don’t let just anybody into our inner circle. As Adam S. McHugh puts it: “Introverts treasure the close relationships they have stretched so much to make.” Plus, we were probably looking forward to talking to just you, and we didn’t mentally prepare to interact with people who we may not feel comfortable with. Before you invite other people, check with us. We might be totally up for it (if we’ve got the energy) or we might not. Either way, we’ll feel respected.
3. We’d rather have a tiny moment of real connection than hours of polite chitchat. How are you really? What’s really on your mind? Don’t just tell us that you had a good weekend. Tell us it was good because you finally sorted out your complicated feelings about your ex. Or that you’re having an existential crisis over the fact that you’re getting older and you haven’t accomplished the things you thought you would have accomplished by now. We’d rather know what’s going on inside you—what’s really going on—than just see the polished facade that you display to everyone else. Laurie Helgoe writes, “When an introvert cares about someone, she also wants contact, not so much to keep up with the events of the other person’s life, but to keep up with what’s inside: the evolution of ideas, values, thoughts, and feelings.”
4. Sometimes we need encouragement to open up about ourselves. As much as introverts enjoy authentic conversation, we can struggle to get there. In fact, we tend to keep our thoughts and feelings to ourselves, especially around people we don’t know well. For example, there have been times when something was bothering me and I wanted to talk to someone about it. But because I worried I would inconvenience the people around me, I didn’t bring it up. I’m better at advocating for myself now, but sometimes it’s still hard. So if you notice that your new introverted friend looks particularly distracted, maybe something is weighing on their mind. Try asking them some good-natured, non-prying questions. “You don’t seem like yourself today. Is there something on your mind that you’d want to talk about?” Of course, if they say they don’t want to talk about it, don’t push. But showing interest in us, and directly inviting us to talk, can go a long way.
5. We may get lost in our own world. The introvert’s inner world is vivid and alive. This means we’re prone to daydreaming. When we’re hanging out, if we drift off for a moment, don’t say things like, “Hey, where did you go?” or “Helloooooo come back to Earth!” This will make us feel self-conscious. Don’t worry, we’re just taking a short trip into the realm of our thoughts. Please stand by.
6. Silence means we’re processing. Likewise, if the two of us are having a conversation and we’re quiet for a moment, we’re probably thinking about what you said. Give us a beat to collect our thoughts (we like to think before we speak). Then we’ll lay some introvert wisdom on you.
7. We like talking too. I have an extroverted friend who will go on and on about her life if given the chance. Suddenly 20 minutes have gone by and I’ve barely said anything. I like to support her, but even I have my limits, as all introverts do. So please remember that although introverts are good listeners, we like talking, too. Unfortunately, people may interpret our silence (and our lack of interrupting) as an invitation to keep talking. Make sure your quiet friend gets their turn, too.
8. We may not call or text as much as your extroverted friends. That doesn’t mean we’re not thinking about you. On the contrary, you probably float through our busy mind quite a bit when we’re apart. But we know we’ll soon see each other again, and we’d rather catch up in a way that’s meaningful—in person, over coffee, on-on-one.
9. Give us time to mentally prepare to hang out. Spontaneity can be fun, and it has its place. But as a general rule, don’t ask us to be ready to hang out in 10 minutes. We need time to mentally prepare for socializing, even if it’s with a close friend. Every introvert is different, but I prefer to be asked at least a day in advance.
10. As much as we like you, don’t show up at our house without asking. Our home is a sacred space where we recharge. This goes back to the “we need time to mentally prepare to see people” thing.
11. If we don’t answer your message right away, don’t think we hate you. We may want to think before we respond. Or we may be in introvert mode—no people, no texting, no phone. For our own mental sanity, sometimes we need to completely disconnect from people in every way.
12. Even though we had fun hanging out yesterday, we probably don’t want to hang out again today. If you’re an extrovert, socializing energized you. But we feel tired, even though we enjoyed ourselves. That’s because our brain is wired differently from your brain; we don’t feel as rewarded by socializing as you do. Give us some time to recharge. We promise, we’ll want to see you again soon.
13. If we say we want to stay home, we really do just want to stay home. We’re not sending a passive-aggressive message that we don’t want to be friends anymore. We just need some solitude. Remember, solitude is the air we breathe.
This is an excerpt from my book, The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World.
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