I’ve been told that I change significantly from when someone first meets me to when they get to know me for who I am. For a long time, I felt judged; it felt as though people were making up their minds about me before they tried to learn more about me. However, I’ve come to realize and accept that my lack of true-to-me first impressions can be of my own making. I’m an introvert, and some of my introverted qualities stick out more when I’m encountering people I don’t know.
For shy or anxious introverts, meeting new people can be somewhat fear-inducing. Interactions with strangers, by nature, have a tendency to put introverts out of their comfort zones, which can lead to miscommunications. Getting to know a person well entails vulnerability. Vulnerability can be difficult for introverts because it requires letting people peek into their inner world, which they guard so carefully. We relish alone time to restore our energy, and our need for solitude may come across in unsavory ways — especially to people who don’t know us well.
If you were to meet me today, here are some things you might initially think about me:
1. I’m quiet, maybe even shy. Partway through our first year of living together, 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: 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, it’s because I’m resisting saying something I’ll regret, or I think the other person might take my words the wrong way. And honestly, sometimes I just don’t have anything to say. I like to get a good read on people before I bear my soul to them. So, I sit back and observe.
2. I’m nervous around you. Multiple people have pointed out to me that I avoid making eye contact. (My speech professor especially liked to alert me to this failure.) When someone won’t look you in the eyes, it’s a common tell that the person is either hiding something or feels uncomfortable. It’s understandable that someone might think I’m nervous when we’re talking and I’m looking anywhere but at them. I tend to make eye contact when I’m 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. As an INFJ personality type, I, along with many other introverted types, have an active imagination. I can’t always help it when something you say spurs my brain into another direction and soon I’m zoned out and you’re snapping your fingers in front of my face to bring me back to reality. So please, don’t take it personally if it seems like I’m not interested in our conversation. I really am — my reactions just tend to send the wrong messages.
(What’s your personality type? Take a free personality assessment.)
4. I’m pretty uninteresting; I don’t have very much to say about myself. I 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 always the best at coming up with things to say. I’m a quality-over-quantity-type of person: I’d rather say one comment that really means something than a whole bunch that don’t. Other times I might 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.
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 or my conversation partner’s facial reactions, things just don’t seem to flow.
Eventually, This Introvert’s Real Personality Comes Out
Our ideas about the people whom we choose to get to know will shift naturally with time. Here are some of the aspects of who I am that might be revealed to you as you get to know me:
1. I might still seem quiet at times, but not always. It’s just my nature to stay away from the center of things. When you speak, people tend to 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 I need to. If you ask me for advice or my opinion, I will definitely give it to you, but that’s not something I often voice without warrant.
2. I’m comfortable and easy to laughter. People say that one of the signs someone is comfortable with you is that they’d be 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 (we are individuals, after all), 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.
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 do 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. And many of us introverts truly love listening — just don’t abuse our attention. Relationships are a two-way street.
4. I could talk for hours about the things I’m passionate about. My passions and interests are things I could go on about all day. Introverts especially appreciate topics that they feel knowledgeable about or feel strongly about. Sure, that’s true for people of all personality types, but your introverted friends will be particularly grateful that you know what they enjoy discussing.
5. I might still be 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.
When you’re making a new acquaintance, keep in mind that although you’ll only get one first impression of the other person, it’s not the only impression that counts. Have some empathy for your fellow strangers and give a little grace — especially to us introverts. We’re all trying to make it in the same big pond.
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