I’m Not Being Rude, I’m Just Quiet

It was my first year of college. The sophomore in the dorm room across the hall from mine 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 an appetizer. She asked me where I was from (Minnesota) and what my major was (writing)—you know, all the usual, get-to-know-you college small talk. I thought our first “friend date” was going well, as well as it could for a shy, awkward introvert like me.

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But then, she said something that hurt and surprised 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. Oddly, 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 still cool, but in reality, her words wounded me. I’d never thought of myself as a rude person. Sure, I was quiet and 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 by others.

Sadly, my neighbor would not be the last person to tell me they thought I was rude or stuck-up because I was quiet.

‘I’ve Been Accused of Being an Arrogant Prick’

I wanted to know if other introverts have experienced something similar, so I asked members of the Introvert, Dear Facebook group if their introversion has ever been confused for rudeness. Here are some of their responses:

“I have been accused of being an arrogant prick for avoiding small talk and favoring solitude.” —Leilani

“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. I’d often ask, ‘Why, did I say something rude to you?’ 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.” —Allison H.

“Others have accused me of being a snob, unfriendly, boring, or selfish. I actually hear ‘selfish’ a lot from my in-laws. None are true about me.” —Mia

Why Introverts Get Labeled as Rude

It turns out it’s not uncommon for quiet introverts to be labeled as rude—or worse—even though we’re not trying to be. There are several reasons behind this. One reason is we tend to keep to ourselves. I couldn’t think of a time I had been blatantly rude to my extroverted neighbor. But I had probably passed her many times in the hallway before we had dinner together, and because I was in my own little introverted world, I hadn’t gone out of my way to chat.

Another reason is our “social bucket” gets filled quickly. Introverts don’t need a lot of social activities, or a huge entourage of friends, to be fulfilled socially. A few meaningful relationships are enough. Extroverts, on the other hand, seem to need more socializing than introverts to fill their buckets. So, if my bucket is full, I won’t feel compelled to start conversations with random people.

Just as our social bucket can be filled quickly, we can also lose social energy quickly. Making small talk with acquaintances, hanging out in large groups, or simply being in an office or classroom all day and being aware of all the people around us—these things can wear us out. If we’re on empty—or worse, if we’re experiencing an introvert hangover—we’re probably scurrying home as quickly as possible to be alone to recharge. We won’t make a pit stop to make small talk, which would further drain our energy.

There are many other reasons. Introverts dislike small talk because it feels inauthentic; we’d rather talk about something meaningful. Scientifically speaking, introverts are less motivated by rewards, so we’re just not as energized as extroverts to make new acquaintances. Finally, some of us suffer from Resting Bitch Face (or, for others, Resting Sad Face), so by default we look angry, cold, or rude.

What I Wish I Would Have Said

Instead of laughing uncomfortably and mumbling “thanks,” I wish I would have put on my big girl pants and said something like this to my extroverted neighbor:

“Excuse me, why would you say that to me? How do you think it makes me feel to be called a bitch? Even though you think I’m ‘cool’ now, it still hurts that you once saw me in such a negative way.

The truth is I’m an introvert. I’m selective about who I let into my inner circle. This isn’t rude; I just have limited energy for socializing, so I have to be picky about who I spend my time with. When you first saw me in the hallway and I didn’t make a lot of small talk, it wasn’t because I thought I was better than you. I may have been tired or simply wanting to be alone, uninterrupted, with my own thoughts.

It takes me a while to warm up to new people. I’m not going to spill my whole life story the first time I meet someone. If I seem a little guarded at first, I’m just getting to know you and figuring out if I can trust you. The closer we get, the more I’ll open up to you. It has nothing to do with rudeness. It’s careful and smart.”

Don’t Call Me Rude

Before you assume that a quiet person is rude, ask yourself if there could be something else going on. People are quiet for many reasons. That person might be having a bad day (we all do sometimes) or be tired. Or, they could be a shy introvert like me who needs time to warm up to new people. Be kind to that quiet person. Life is hard enough—we don’t need to make it harder by judging each other unfairly.

Dive into the introvert’s inner world in Jenn Granneman’s upcoming book, The Secret Lives of Introverts.

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Read this: Just Because I Don’t Look Excited Doesn’t Mean I’m Not Into This

  • 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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    “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

    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.