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

An introvert is wrongly accused of being rude.

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 shy, 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 didn’t say much, 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.

Yes, I was quiet. I mostly kept to myself on campus. I often spent Friday nights lying in bed reading books from my classes or hanging out with just one other person. I had a boyfriend and a few close friends, and they were all I needed to fill my social quota.

How did that make me a bitch?

A Common Introvert Problem

When writing my book, The Secret Lives of Introverts, I talked to hundreds of introverts. Turns out, I’m not the only who’s experienced something like this. Being called stuck-up, 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, told me.

“I’ve been called ‘ice queen,’” Anne, another introvert, said. “Also, many people have told me, ‘You scared me when I first met you’ because I didn’t smile all the time.”

Allison said, “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. Mostly I was just busy with my books and music and such.”

People Make Assumptions About Quiet Introverts

I felt bad that my neighbor initially thought I disliked her. That was never my intention.

But, to be honest, her accusation felt unfair. I don’t think I was ever outright rude to her. I remember passing her a few times in the crowded hallway and saying hello but not much else. I certainly didn’t pounce on her and tell her a story about my day.

I didn’t see this as being rude. I saw this as simply keeping to myself.

And herein lies the introvert’s problem. Our reserved nature gets us in trouble. When we don’t bubble over with pleasantries, we get accused of being unfriendly. When we don’t divulge intimate details about our lives to people we’ve just met, 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. Most of the time, making chitchat just isn’t on our radar.

I wish society didn’t automatically equate quietness with rudeness.

I wish quietness didn’t automatically signal bad intent.

Most introverts are just trying to make it through the day without getting completely drained. Work, school, and life demand a lot from everyone, introverts and extroverts. But when you’re an introvert who gets easily overstimulated, life is extra exhausting.

Often, introverts don’t have the energy to carry on a spirited 20-minute conversation about the weather (even if we would like to have more friends).

As we go through the day, many introverts are competing with the thoughts that are already in our head. Shalima, another introvert who has been accused of being rude, told 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 said, “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. Yes, introverts can be rude and flawed, just like anyone else — nobody’s perfect. But that’s not the full story.

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 they might simply not have anything to say.

Don’t be too quick to judge.

Today, I make a point of smiling and saying hello when I pass neighbors in the hallway of my apartment building. I’m friends with some of them, and I enjoy catching up with them when I see them.

But I’ll probably never corner one of them and tell a long story about my weekend. And even when I do stop to chat, I’m always trying to keep it short so I can get back to the quiet and comfort of my apartment.

And I’m okay with that.

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Jenn Granneman is the founder of IntrovertDear.com and the author of The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World. She also cohosts The Introvert, Dear Podcast and blogs for Psychology Today. For most of her life, Jenn felt weird, different, and out of place because of her quiet ways. She writes about introversion because she doesn’t want other introverts to feel the way she did.