The Social Introvert: Introverted, or Just Rude?

I’m an introvert and was wondering if you’ve ever written about introverts annoying introverts.

It’s a new problem for me. I’ve made some other introverted friends in the past few years, and their inability and/or unwillingness to answer an email or phone call is annoying. When we do get together for the occasional thing, I usually have to go through their significant other to plan or confirm it. And we have fun… but a month or two later, when I can’t handle the isolation any longer… it’s back to the same old drawing board.

It’s annoying. I can completely identify with extroverts on this point now.

At what point can introversion just become plain rudeness?                                                                                                                          

Irritated Introvert

I feel your pain, Irritated Introvert.

In fact, I’ve been your pain.

A friend who lives in another city once chastised me for not returning his calls when he left voicemails. He said he wouldn’t keep calling if I was going to be that way.

My introversion had become outright rudeness, and I am truly grateful to this friend for telling me. From then on, I either answered the telephone when he called, returned his calls in a reasonable period of time, or let him know via email when I would. And, perhaps most importantly, I initiated contact more than I had before. And I started doing all that with all my far-flung friends.

Not responding to emails or phone calls is rude—and I think you’re generous calling it an “inability” to respond. It’s different, of course, if your friends are so plagued with anxiety that they truly cannot answer or initiate a phone call or email, in which case, they have passed from introversion into social anxiety and deserve sympathy. Otherwise, let’s assume they are perfectly capable of responding and are simply choosing not to. That’s annoying.

So, that established, what’s next?

You could try asking these friends how they prefer to be contacted and what the best way to get a response would be. Some people rarely check their voicemail (guilty). Some people don’t email much. Some people are all texting, all the time. With so many communication options available to us these days, establishing and respecting preferences with different friends can be helpful.

It could be that in their relationships, introverts’ significant others have been designated the social directors. Some introverts are happy to let their extroverted partners do the work when it comes to social life, and as long as you get to spend time with your friend/s, you might as well take that as it comes. You could ask the significant other if he or she is okay with being the planner. If not, you can explain the problem and ask for advice for rousing responses from your friend. Maybe you’ll inspire a little loving butt-kicking.

You could do what my friend did to/for me and just speak up. While as introverts we tend to shrink from expressing our needs, we’re also choosy about who we let into our lives, and an otherwise satisfying friendship is worth some awkwardness. You can be jokey about it (“Are you trying to tell me something?”), sincere (“It hurts my feelings”), or firm (“I hate always having to chase you down. What’s the deal?”). If you’re good at expressing yourself in writing, you might be able to get away with doing it via email, but be careful to strike the right tone. Otherwise, do it face to face. (I know, I know. Ick. But sometimes you just gotta nut up.)

Unfortunately, it is possible that nonresponders are passive-aggressively letting you know they don’t value the friendship. You’ll have to do a gut-check on that. Might that be the case? And if so, do you want to continue chasing them? Is reluctant company better than no company?

And finally, let’s face it: some introverts take pride in their inaccessibility and won’t care how you feel about it. An introverted acquaintance recently posted on Facebook a screenshot of his iPhone showing that he had piled up dozens of texts and voicemails, and literally tens of thousands of unanswered emails. It was breathtaking, and he seemed strangely pleased with himself. I don’t really know what to make of that except to think, “Wow, you make your friends work for it, don’t you? Better hope they respond if you need them someday.”

If you recognize yourself as a nonresponder, I strongly suggest thinking about the message you’re sending friends and loved ones. You don’t have to hop to it every time someone wants you, but if you constantly make people chase you down, if you never reach out, and if you don’t acknowledge attempts to contact you, then you’re daring your friends to give up, to say “the heck with it,” and to give their time and attention to more rewarding relationships.

An old adage in business says that it’s easier to retain existing customers than to get new ones. Well, that applies to friendships too. It’s a lot easier to maintain old friendships than establish new ones, so take care of the relationships you value.

And thanks, Dave, for telling me what I needed to hear.

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