When I visited my friend Dan at UCLA a couple years ago, I ran into a guy I knew from high school. We had a couple of classes together and I might have sat near or next to him during one of those classes. He was barely an acquaintance -- just someone I knew of.
“Oh, hey,” I said when I saw him.
“Hey.” He quickly avoided eye contact, mumbled something to Dan (who also knew him) and quickly walked away.
The next day, I get a text message from Dan.
“Whoa. Alex really doesn’t like you.”
“What? I barely even know him.”
“He said you were a bitch in high school and would ignore him when he tried to talked to you.”
I was floored. Here was a guy who wasn’t even my friend, who I never had any connection with and who was actively pissed off at me. I don’t even know his last name.
This happens to me a lot. My ex would tell me his friends strongly disliked me because they thought I was cold. I was always heartbroken when I heard that.
I spent a good chunk of my adolescence trying to transform myself. In middle school, I would message random kids and ask if I could hang out with them. I was the quiet new kid with no friends. I would rehearse how to talk to people in my head over and over again. It never came out right. Whenever I tried to be extroverted, my heart would race, my palms would get sweaty and I would feel like throwing up.
But as a kid, I always ended up getting hurt.
It left me in my middle school bathroom crying uncontrollably because a group of girls decided I was too awkward to be friends with them. It left me with a handful of people in high school who called me a bitch because I didn’t engage with them.
I’ve gotten better at public interaction with age. I can turn it on when I have to and I no longer have anxiety. But I wish someone had told me that it was okay to be quiet, that it was completely fine to be alone and be by myself.
I get it. I have a tendency to come off as standoffish but it’s never on purpose. I just have a difficult time emoting. I keep to myself and don’t speak up unless it’s actually important. I find no pleasure in talking just for the sake of talking. In fact, my nickname in high school was “Ice Queen.”
In society, many people consider it unacceptable to punish someone for being Asian, for being gay, for being fat. In the same way, introverts should not be discriminated against, and as a bona fide introvert -– I’m standing up for our rights.
I don’t have to make an effort for you.
This is an integral part of my being and to mask it feels grossly dishonest. It just takes more time to get to know me.
I feel like there needs to be a PSA of some sort. You guys need to be more understanding toward us types. It doesn’t mean we don’t like you. In fact, it rarely means that. We’ll engage if the situation calls for it. Sometimes we even genuinely want to get to know you better, but we shouldn’t be punished if we choose not to.
Introverts have historically been looked down on in society. We’re taught that we’re lacking in essential qualities and that we’re somehow disabled because of our inherent shyness.
We begin to despise ourselves and hack away at our personalities. We tell ourselves we’re not good enough and begin to judge our worth with how many friends we have, even if most of those “friends” will never truly see our true person. Small talk makes us uncomfortable because we often think, “What’s the point?” Shallow banter tires us out because we have a difficult time thinking of what to say because in our core, we know we have nothing meaningful to offer to the table.
Our circle of friends may be small, but the people we keep close to our hearts are loyal and till death we will part.
But if you just let us be, you’ll see how beautiful introversion can be. We can tell a mean joke and break out in dance moves just as well anyone else. We delight in the silence. It allows us to think, to introspect. We’re spiritual people and a good chunk of us are poetic and creative. We seek meaningful connections and if you can tap into that part of us, we can spend hours with you uninterrupted.
And for those introverts out there. Be you. If you want to eat lunch at your desk by yourself, do it proudly. If your idea of a fantastic day is staying at home with the television on, go for it. The worst thing you can do for yourself is to be ashamed.
The word introvert means to look inside yourself. The next step?