Getting to know anyone well entails vulnerability, and introverts may hesitate to let others into their inner world.
I’ve been told that I change significantly from when someone first meets me to when they get to know the “real me.” For a long time, I felt wrongly judged; it seemed as though people were making up their minds about me before they even tried to learn more about me.
This tendency to hold back initially is true of everyone on some level, introvert or extrovert. However, I’ve come to realize that my lack of true-to-me first impressions are mostly related to my introversion. Some of my introverted qualities stick out more when I’m encountering people I don’t know well.
Especially for shy or anxious introverts, meeting new people can be somewhat fear-inducing. Interactions with strangers, by nature, have a tendency to put us “quiet ones” out of our comfort zones, which can lead to a multitude of miscommunications.
Plus, getting to know anyone well entails vulnerability. Vulnerability can be especially difficult for introverts because it requires letting people peek into our inner world, which we often guard so carefully.
Add to that our love of alone time, and how our ongoing need to replenish our energy in solitude can come across in unsavory ways — and you can see why sometimes people misjudge introverts.
What I’m Like When You First Meet Me
If you were to meet me today, here are some things you might initially think about me. It’s far from the whole picture.
1. I’m quiet, maybe even shy.
Partway through her first year living with me, my college roommate told me that she was certain I was a mute when we first met. Initially, I scoffed. But then I thought about it. It’s true: I hold back — a lot — around people I don’t know well.
Sometimes it’s out of a pure hatred for small talk. Other times I’m resisting saying something I’ll regret, or I think the other person might take my words the wrong way.
And honestly, as an inward personality, sometimes I just don’t have anything relevant I want to communicate at that time. I like to get a good read on people before I bare my soul. So, I sit back and observe.
2. I’m nervous (or worse, lying).
Many people have pointed out that I avoid making eye contact when I’m talking. (My speech professor especially liked to alert me to this “failure.”) When someone talks and won’t look you in the eyes, it’s supposedly a tell that they’re hiding something or feel uncomfortable. So it makes sense why some think I’m nervous when I’m looking anywhere but at them when I’m talking about my weekend plans or thoughts on the latest movie I saw. Like many introverts, I tend to make eye contact when listening.
However, when I’m using my own words, my gaze shifts, usually as I’m trying to collect my thoughts and I need a moment to forget that someone is now listening to me. According to research, this behavior is not uncommon for introverts.
3. I don’t seem interested in you or what you have to say.
I’m aware that I might not come across as a good listener in some situations. Like many introverts, I have an active imagination. Trust me when I say I can’t always help it when something you say spurs my thoughts in another direction. Soon I’m zoned out, and you’re snapping your fingers in front of my face to “bring me back to reality.” (It’s happened more than once.)
Please don’t take it personally if it seems like I’m not interested in our conversation. I really am, but sometimes I’m internally chewing on something you said — and my reactions send the wrong messages.
4. I’m pretty uninteresting. I don’t have much to say about myself.
I already mentioned small talk, and how it is simply not my thing. Many introverts have told me something similar. When you’re trying to make conversation with me about things that don’t mean much to me, I’m not the best at coming up with things to say. Some people make smooth small talk with ease, even when they know little about the subject or have no personal interest in it. That’s never been me.
This also happens when I’m asked to talk about myself. In reality, I’m a quality-over-quantity person: I’d rather say one comment that really means something than a whole bunch of comments that don’t. Other times I may be feeling the energy drain from me after a long bout of socializing in a noisy environment, and my brain has wandered off to thoughts of a cozy blanket and the book I’m reading. As a result, sometimes I’m judged as “uninteresting.”
5. I’m painfully awkward.
Maybe this last one is just my own perception of myself when I interact with other people, but I tend to feel just plain awkward. Whether it’s my movements or my choice of words, sometimes things just don’t seem to flow.
What I’m Like When My Real Personality Comes Out
Our ideas about the people we choose to get to know will shift naturally over time. Here are some aspects of me that will be revealed as you get to know me.
1. I’m still quiet, but not always.
It’s just my nature to stay away from the center of things. When you speak, people pay attention, and that’s just not something my introverted self craves. There is certainly a time and a place to make my thoughts heard, and I will do that when needed. If you ask me for advice or my opinion, I will definitely give it to you, but it’s not something I voice without warrant, especially around people I don’t know well.
However, when you get to know the real me, I will share my thoughts and opinions much more freely.
2. I’m comfortable around you, laughing easily.
They say one of the signs someone is comfortable with you is they’re willing to sing along to the radio in the car while you’re there. The singing-in-the-car thing is definitely true for me, but all introverts are different, so the signs we’re comfortable with you will vary. Some might bring out their sarcastic side or let you in on their secret hobby. I also tend to laugh more easily when I feel comfortable around someone.
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3. I’m a good listener.
This is something I feel I’m genuinely good at, and I know a lot of introverts feel the same way (we get a lot of practice). So, if you take the time to get to know me, you’ll find out quickly that I am very much interested in what you have to say. Many of us introverts truly love listening, but don’t abuse our attention; relationships are a two-way street, and there are things I want to say, too!
4. I could talk for hours about the things I’m passionate about.
My passions and interests are things I could talk on and on about. Introverts especially appreciate topics they feel knowledgeable or passionate about. Sure, that’s true of everyone on some level, but your introverted friends will be particularly grateful when you know what they enjoy discussing.
5. I’m still a little awkward, but in a less painful way.
This is a big “hopefully,” on my part. Get to know me and let me know if this is true!
Introvert, when you’re making a new acquaintance, keep in mind that although you’ll only get one first impression, it’s not the only impression that counts. And to the extroverts: Have some empathy and give a little grace to everyone you meet, but especially to us introverts. We’re all trying to make it in the same big pond.