I’m Not Being Rude, I’m Just Being Quiet

It was my first year of college, and the sophomore in the dorm room across the hall from me had invited me to dinner. She was outgoing, loud, and blunt—the kind of person who would say anything to anyone. In hindsight, she was probably an extrovert.

At the restaurant, we ordered appetizers, and she asked me where I was from (Minnesota) and what my major was (writing)—all the usual get-to-know-you small talk. I thought our first “friend date” was going well, as well as it could for a socially awkward introvert like me. But then she said something that shocked me. “You’re actually a really cool person. When I first met you, you hardly said anything, so I thought you were kind of a bitch.”

Kind of a bitch. She tossed off the words as coolly as if she had just informed me that my mozzarella sticks had arrived. In some twisted way, I think she meant it as a compliment.

I didn’t know what to say. I froze, then uttered a weak “Haha, thanks.” I tried to pretend like everything was okay, but in reality, her words wounded me. Sure, I was quiet. I kept to myself on campus. I often spent Friday nights lying in bed reading books from my classes that I found interesting. I had a boyfriend and a few close friends, and they were all I needed to fill my social quota. I’d never thought my introverted ways were seen as bitchy. I was just doing my own thing.

Being Called ‘Rude’ Is a Common Introvert Problem

Turns out, being called bitchy, rude, or aloof is a common introvert problem. “I have been accused of being an arrogant prick for avoiding small talk and favoring solitude,” Leylani, an introvert who I interviewed for The Secret Lives of Introverts, tells me. “I’ve been called ‘ice queen,’ ” Anne, another introvert, says. “Also, many people have told me, ‘You scared me when I first met you’ because I didn’t smile all the time.” Allison adds, “After high school, when I would happen to meet someone I hadn’t seen since high school, it inevitably would be said that they thought I was stuck up or bitchy.” She would ask them if she had ever said something rude to them. “And it would turn out that, no, I didn’t, but because I often sat alone and read or had headphones on, people assumed I thought I was superior to them. That baffled me. I certainly didn’t want to be in with the ‘in’ crowd, but I also didn’t actively dislike most people. Mostly I was just busy with my books and music and such.”

To this day, I can’t think of a time when I had been outright rude to my dormmate. I’d never insulted her, walked away when she was talking, or anything of the sort. What had probably happened was I’d passed her several times in the hallway, before we were friends, and hadn’t said much. I definitely didn’t stick my hand out and exclaim, “Hi, I’m Jenn! How’s your day going?” I didn’t see this as being rude. I was simply keeping to myself.

And herein lies the problem. Our reserved nature gets us in trouble. We don’t bubble over with pleasantries, so we get accused of being unfriendly. We don’t blab our life story to people we’ve just met, so we get accused of being aloof. But introverts don’t see life as one big cocktail party. We’re content with just a few meaningful relationships. We’re not constantly scanning the environment, looking to add more fans to our entourage.

As we go through the day, we’re likely in our heads. Shalima, another introvert who has been accused of being rude, tells me, “When your mind is screaming at you with thoughts and ideas coming at you all at once, it’s hard to be loud.” Or we’re simply observing our surroundings, as introverts tend to do. Amy says, “Quiet doesn’t equal mad, sad, rude, bitchy, arrogant, or stuck-up. Quiet does equal people-watching, observing, and enjoying life . . . quietly.”

What I Wish I Would Have Said

When my extroverted dormmate called me a bitch, I wish I’d spoken up. I wish I would have told her not to make assumptions about someone who is quiet. A person can be quiet for many reasons. They might be an introvert who needs time to warm up to new people. They might be turned inward at the moment, enjoying the thoughts in their private inner world. Or that quiet person may simply be content with silence. Don’t be too quick to judge.

Today, I make a point of saying hello when I pass neighbors in the hallway of my apartment building. When I’m in the right mood, I even engage in some back-and-forth (“Hey, I like your coat! Where’d you get it?”). But I probably won’t hang around having a fifteen-minute conversation that started with “How ’bout this weather?” (Unless it’s snowing, of course, which in that case is the only thing we Minnesotans want to talk about.) And I probably won’t spontaneously invite anyone in for tea.

I’m okay with that.

The Secret Lives of Introverts has been called “a decoder ring for introverts” and one of the “best books” on “introvert empowerment.” You can pre-order it now on Amazon.

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  • This is so well written, and so well explained. People don’t realize how hard it is for us quieter introverts when people assume we are just being stuck up and rude. It hurts. We are already so self conscious. Peoples assumptions just make it way worse.

  • Colleen says:

    I’ve actually had co-workers tell me I seemed unapproachable when I was working my first retail job. Once they got to know me, I had become funny and nice. I was just shy and wary of new people.

  • Anne says:

    I’ve been told “ice queen”, “impossible girl”, many people have told me “you scared me when I first met you” just because I didn’t smile all the time, I’ve also been told I’m “weird” by some so-called friends…

    But, you know? My real friends, the very special few friends I have and cherish, are the people who never told me how I am or should be. I think being an introvert is a great advantage when meeting people, because we only let the good ones in 🙂

    Also, on the other hand, some of my most recent friends don’t believe I’m an introvert at all! Because, they say, I’m so “friendly and warm”… There’s too much prejudice and ignorance around the topic of “introverts/shyness/kindness”…

  • Andrew says:

    I’ve been quite lucky. I work for a global company who are big on culture, and as part of our team away day last year, we did the MBTI test and went over what it meant. I came out at the extreme introvert end of the introversion-extroversion scale (the test we used scored it on a scale from -70 to 70. I was 4 points shy of a perfect introversion score, and I thought that was a bit low). Because of that, most of my team get that I go out and eat lunch alone because I need to (as I usually phrase it) decompress because too many people or too much noise (particularly noise) will burn me out fast, and that if I have headphones on, I’m just focusing, but if they want me for anything, they just need to get my attention. It also helps that I work in finance, which is a profession with primarily introverts (of nearly 30 of us, only 1 person identifies as extroverted), which means that I don’t get pushed more than I want to be pushed. I laugh and joke when my energy is right for it, but other times I won’t speak a word for four hours, I’ll just dive into a spreadsheet and only come up for air when I’ve created some monstrous thing which will accomplish something automatically in half an hour that would previously have taken me 2 days.

    School though was a very different animal – I was always the weird outcast kid, the only boy who didn’t like football (soccer to those not from the UK), the one who read science magazines as a recreational activity and who carried a bag with so many books in it that most people I knew could barely lift it. Took a long time but I’ve come to accept who I am – I am a bit weird. In fact when it came to the the interview for my current job I actually said “I’m a bit weird. I used to fight it but now I’ve just come to embrace the weird because its who I am”. My boss said that it was something that helped secure the job because I was someone who was comfortable in their own skin.

  • Heather says:

    What a bitch your neighbour sounds like. I have found that more often than not, people who make negative assumptions about others are either projecting, ignorant and/or just rude.

  • Pam says:

    “Snob” and “Elitist” are the two that I get… because somehow, minding your own business makes people think that you feel you are better than them. Couldn’t be farther from the truth!

  • JD says:

    I’ve often thought of extroverts as being rude when they are being really loud or not giving me enough personal space. I am an INFJ HSP though, so I won’t tell the other person what I’m thinking because I wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings.

  • I think it’s easy for people on different sides of the introvert/extrovert scale to misinterpret the actions of others. We all need to cut each other some slack in my opinion and not be quick to judge before we get to know someone.

  • Ida Jæger says:

    Too true!

    great article

  • She She says:

    I just want to say as a 62-year-old black grandmother in Minnesota with a 16 year old granddaughter that comes from a white culture. In my world she would come off as rude and offensive. I understand her and her background but she will get emotionally beat up when she finally has to come into my world because eventually she will have to and I really feel sorry for her. Just my humble experience.

  • Rodney Severin says:

    I dreaded the weekend in college. Avoiding parties by hiding out in the library or student union until closing. Arriving as late as possible to the inevitable “where have you been?” Last to arrive, first to leave.

  • Tameka White says:

    I can definitely relate to this, sometimes I feel as if I’m being judged because for just being quiet and when they accuse you of having no manners, it’s the worst feeling ever, it just makes me more guilty. 🙁 thank you for this article by the way.

  • Jane Rivera says:

    I’d love some suggestions on how to deal with people who not only consider me aloof, but don’t understand my un-need for lots of friends, nor why they feel we are more intimate friends than I do. People seem to be hurt that I don’t go out of my way to interact. It’s my personality…I’m pretty much self sufficient, and that’s just the way it is. That is the real me, and I don’t care to fake being different than I am to make someone else happy.