It happened again.
I’m hanging out with a group of people I’ve just met — my boyfriend’s friends. We’re on a week-long vacation that involves lots of social time with them. They’re seated around me, talking and joking with an ease I’ve never possessed. I’m doing my best to be friendly, chiming in when I can.
I can tell from the subtle way they’re reacting to me that I’m just not cutting it.
But I still turn quiet and awkward when dropped into a group.
Later, a woman who was probably the most extroverted person in the room asks my boyfriend, “Was Jenn okay? She was so… quiet.”
I’ve heard something like this more times than I can count, but it never ceases to sting.
I never got to respond to that woman, but if I could, here are nine things I’d want her (and others) to know about introverts.
(Not sure what counts as an introvert? Check out this in-depth definition.)
What Quiet Introverts Wish You Knew
1. Meeting new people can overwhelm us.
Not all introverts have a social anxiety disorder, but many introverts feel overwhelmed when meeting new people — which leads to some level of anxiety. There’s just so much going on. As the new person, you’re thrust into the spotlight. You’re trying to remember names, be friendly, and make light chitchat, which doesn’t come naturally to the depth-seeking introverted mind. There’s often noise and fast-paced conversation and new surroundings to take in. It’s too much stimulation, too fast.
2. We’ve had to catapult ourselves, kicking and screaming, out of our comfort zones to be here.
Our comfort zone is back home, in our quiet introvert den. When we do hang out with friends, we tend to gravitate toward the people who’ve been in our lives for years. We know what to expect, and they understand our quirks.
That doesn’t mean we never seek out new connections. But when we do, we may come across as quiet and uncomfortable. That’s because we’re pushing the limits of our comfort zone — hard.
3. You won’t see our real personalities right away.
Some people put it all out there — political opinions, personal problems, personality quirks — right away. But that’s usually not us. Private by nature, introverts tend to hold back around people we don’t know well.
I promise, there is a laugh-until-you-snort and share-your-most-embarrassing-middle-school-moments side to us. But this person only comes out around our most trusted allies. It takes time.
4. Sometimes we just don’t know what to say.
The friends I met that night were the kind of people who always had something to say. Faster than a thought occurred to my mind, they shot off a clever comeback or were already moving on to another topic of conversation. I couldn’t keep up.
It’s not that introverts enjoy awkward silences. Introverts tend to need time to think before speaking. This could range from a few extra milliseconds to a few days. Add to that our chronic struggle with word retrieval and our penchant for meaningful conversation over frivolous banter, and it’s no wonder we’re quiet.
5. You can ask us questions to draw us out.
I don’t mean you should rapid-fire interrogate us or ask about our deepest darkest secrets. But when an introvert is feeling awkward on the fringes of a group, we do appreciate someone giving us an in.
Often, introverts will keep their thoughts and opinions to themselves unless directly asked. It may not occur to us to share the things that are tumbling around in our heads. After all, that private, internal monologue is normal for us.
Plus, given our quiet nature, we’ve been held hostage more times than we can count by long-winded extroverts. We may worry about doing this to others. When you directly ask for our thoughts, it gives us the confidence to answer, because we know we’re not burdening you with verbal diarrhea.
6. We can only do so much “group” time.
Later in the night, the aforementioned group went to a parade, complete with crowds of revelers. I enjoyed myself for a while, feeding off the excitement of the atmosphere.
After a bit, I got worn down and had to excuse myself. I wandered around on my own, taking in the sights and sounds in a more focused way — minus the distraction of small talk. I could physically feel my mind and body reviving.
When I came back, the group’s energy had escalated. Although the excitement had become too much for me, the extroverts were feeding off it. Walking on my own lowered my stimulation level to one that was just right for my sensitive system.
7. We shine one-on-one.
At one point, I found myself alone with one of the friends. We had a meaningful conversation about travel, life, and where we want to be in five years.
Although introverts can be quiet in big groups, we often come alive in small groups or one-on-one situations. It caters to our penchant to focus narrow and deep. It lowers our stimulation level, which relaxes us and makes it easier to chat.
8. Noise and very active environments may really get to us.
Over the week, we spent time at parades, loud restaurants, and bars. While it was fun some of the time, other times it was utterly exhausting. At one point, when I was very overstimulated, I burst into tears in a coffee shop.
Like me, many introverts are also highly sensitive people, meaning they are especially sensitive to environmental stimulation. Socializing, noise, crowds, and lots of activity create an overwhelming combo. The threat of overstimulation is a day-in, day-out reality we have to deal with that most people don’t understand.
9. Introverts need alone time like we need food and water.
On more than one occasion, I left the group hang-out early. Another night, I declined their invitation and read in the silence of our guest room. I could tell they thought this was weird.
Don’t judge introverts for needing time alone. And don’t take it personally — it doesn’t have anything to do with you. Rather, it has everything to do with the way our brains and bodies work. Quiet solitude is absolutely necessary for our health and sanity.
The next time you encounter someone standing awkwardly away from the group, not saying much, and leaving the party when you’re just getting started, have compassion and remember that this person may be an introvert. For introverts, the struggle is real.
You might like:
- 25 Illustrations That Perfectly Capture the Joy of Living Alone as an Introvert
- 12 Things Introverts Absolutely Need to Be Happy
- Why Introverts Absolutely Loathe Talking on the Phone
- 13 ‘Rules’ for Being Friends With an Introvert
- 15 Signs That You’re an Introvert With High-Functioning Anxiety
Did you enjoy this article? Sign up for our newsletters to get more stories like this.