I think I’m in the minority for believing that “quiet” is not one of my most defining personality traits. Everywhere I go, I get the same sort of comments: “Are you okay?” and “Am I dominating the conversation? You haven’t said much,” and “I don’t think I’ve heard you say one word all day.”
It’s true: I am quiet, and unfortunately, that’s a quality that can often be misconceived as being aloof, unfriendly, tired, shy, or anxious. Generally, though, I am none of these (assuming I’m running on a full night of sleep). And yet sometimes, for some reason, I tell others—and myself—that I am.
It seems to have become my go-to explanation: Yeah, it’s been a long week, or I would talk more if I knew the people here better. But when I get back to the silence of my dorm room and contemplate it, I realize — neither of those things is entirely true. I would have been happy getting to know the people I was with, and I’ve gotten a decent amount of rest all week — no less than usual, at least. So I go with the next best explanation:
I must just be awkward.
I don’t necessarily disagree with that statement, but feel like I sometimes play it up because that’s the understanding of myself I’ve grown to have, based on what other people tell me and my own self-perceptions. That makes me wonder, though: am I quiet because I’m awkward, or am I perceived as awkward because I’m a quiet person?
It's sort of a paradox, but here’s what I know:
Because I’m quiet, I can get uncomfortable in social situations because I feel like people are expecting more from me than I offer. Sometimes I exhaust myself trying to get as close to “outgoing” as I can, so people know I’m open to friendship, then berate myself later for straying too far from my actual personality in my efforts. I’ve feared that I come across as unapproachable because I don’t usually start conversations — I do my own thing, and when someone sits down next to me and chats with me, I’ll happily engage. Sometimes people won’t make the effort to initiate an exchange, and that’s okay — considering I don’t make that effort either, I’m not in the position to judge! But it’s when someone purposely refrains from talking to me because they think that’s what I want that I get discouraged. I wish I could hold up a big sign at all times saying, “Quiet but friendly! Would love to hear your life story! Engage with me!”
I hate conversations that don’t get to the meat of things. (I’m looking at you, required class participation.) When I have something to say, I’ll say it, but I’m not going to waste anyone’s time remarking on things you’ve probably already noticed or thought of, just because it’s something to say.
In addition, I like to collect my thoughts before I claim to know anything, which is part of why I gravitate towards writing. Another reason is that when someone is reading something I wrote, they’re there on their own accord. I never have to fret that I’m opening a vein to someone who doesn’t care, a concern I think a lot of quiet people can attest to — which is probably also why I wait for people to talk to me first.
Looking at all these things, I think both ends of my proposed question could be true in part. At times, I can be quiet because I feel like I’m not what everyone considers “good” at social situations, but usually, I don’t meet that expectation of “good” because I am naturally quiet. No excuse needed, I’m just happy listening, observing, thinking, and participating silently. This in itself is socially frowned upon, and therefore, gives off the impression of awkwardness.
Which should totally not be a thing.
A reminder to myself and others: There is nothing wrong with being calm, quiet or low-key. It’s not something to be embarrassed about or explained away, and it is not synonymous with being “socially inept.” Heck, if it’s not interfering with your life, there’s nothing wrong with being shy either. You are under no obligation to attract and entertain others. Yes, it can be frustrating at times, because being outgoing is often how you make friends, but people will still like you for who you are. If they don’t, that’s not your problem — find those who will.
Quiet people are buckets of surprises. Because we don’t talk about ourselves to many people, it’s a wild surprise when we randomly start juggling, or playing the Irish tin whistle, or talking about the history of American muscle cars, because no one knew we could. We see and process everything — more than you know, and probably more than you would like.
We are the thinkers, the artists, the old souls and the dreamers. (Disclaimer: that’s not to say more talkative people can’t be!).
Going back to my introductory sentence: I do not consider quietness one of my defining personality traits. That’s an outsider’s perspective of me. There’s so much more to me that completely overshadows this fact, but I won’t open up to just anyone. And further, “quiet” should not be considered a trait at all. It’s an innocuous barrier that keeps you from immediately seeing someone’s actual defining traits.
Being quiet can make you feel awkward at times, but it should not be a reason to call yourself awkward, because there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. Stephen Hawking hits it on the nose: Quiet people have the loudest minds. Embrace that!