By: Shaunese Johnson
“One of the risks of being quiet is that other people can fill your silence with their own interpretation: You’re bored. You’re depressed. You’re shy. You’re stuck up. You’re judgemental. When others can’t read us, they write their own story—not always one we choose or that’s true to who we are.”
I came across this quote a while ago and it literally spoke volumes to my existence. Ever since I was a child, I remember being known as “that quiet girl.” I always sat in the back of my classes and when I did decide to speak, I felt nobody was listening to me anyways. The fact that I had a speech problem (stuttering), on top of anxiety was a toxic combination. Classmates would always attempt to fill my silences with their own interpretations, and finish my sentences with words that weren’t even in my vocabulary.
Of course I was a target of bullying, and as most students would say, “It’s not like she’s going to say anything back,” and even if I did it’s not like I was taken seriously. After all who would want to be friends with the “weird” quiet black girl anyways?
As I got older I always believed I would “outgrow” this phase I was going through. One day I hoped to become an extremely extroverted individual that would intrigue others. Needless to say my life was the complete opposite. Middle school and high school actually caused me to go deeper into my “social shell” as I liked to call it.
Yes, I had met a few friends but even then I always felt like the “awkward” person in the group. So instead of speaking I often sat in silence latching off of their conversations. It almost felt like I was just a “filler friend” or a person who was just there who had nothing to contribute because of my meek voice.
Even in high school and throughout my teenage years connecting with others in a meaningful way was a challenge. Girls would swap stories about their parties, boyfriends, texting, the internet, music,etc… I had a few close friends but I had never actually been to a huge party or did anything girls my age would consider “fun,” unless you consider staying in the house on a Saturday night reading a novel about spirituality to be fun.
I damn sure wasn’t about to tell them I never even texted a guy, let alone had a boyfriend. Being that I considered myself a “target” I was careful about what information I shared with people, but what I did provide was a listening ear when needed. In some ways I was secretly jealous.
I’m not saying I wanted to “fit in” or be like them but it almost felt like I was missing out on my teenage years and my quiet demeanor was to blame. Thoughts would pop into my head like, “Dang I wish I would get invited to a party,” or “Having a boyfriend would be nice.” However, the type of girl I was I surely wouldn’t have neither. I just did my work, received exceptional grades, and went home to my lonesome.
In the back of my mind I prayed for a healthier social life. “In college things will be so much better,” or at least that’s what everybody told me. I attended a small college and tried my best to keep a positive thought process. My first years of college weren’t the best but were definitely eye opening.
Meeting new people became easier, yet many of these friendships became questionable. It seemed like people were only around me until they became “bored” with my presence. That’s the problem I’ve always had with being quiet. Like the quote I stated in the beginning, “Others will write their own stories based off of our silences,” and that’s exactly what seemed to happen.
A few people who I thought would be lifelong friends, proved to be no more than toxic energy and lessons learned. My silences were constantly filled with “It seems like you don’t have anything to say anymore,” or “We should just go our separate ways if you don’t have anything else to say about it.”
During that time, I could feel the distance growing between me and these former friends. We went from talking consistently to barley talking at all and they seemed to go their own ways while I became a small piece of their memory. After a while the friendships I once had became emotionally tiresome trying to maintain. I understand it takes two, but I was tired of putting in all the work trying to hold on to something that wasn’t meant to be.
Thinking back to my earlier years in college, I sometimes wonder if not being “socially awkward” could’ve changed certain situations. Maybe I should’ve been more outgoing? Maybe I should’ve tried harder to keep their attention? Was I really just a “boring” human being that had nothing to contribute to others and/or society? I had to change my thought process and stop trying to analyze others. What I have learned is that people will come and go but at the end of the day people are going to devote their time and energy into who they want no matter how caring your heart may be.
Now as a senior in college, I’ve learned to embrace my “social awkwardness.” I major in human relations and communications and even though I may not have the loudest voice in the room, I’ve always been the type of person to actually listen carefully when others speak. Not just listen to their words but actually connect with them empathetically which I believe is a true gift from God especially in a world that’s driven by technology and limited face to face contact. Being silent has allowed me to learn the art of energy in order to become aware of myself as well as of those who I allow to enter my life.
Being the “quiet girl” has added a sense of mystery to me that people are intrigued by. It’s beautiful when people take the time to get to know who you truly are inside and outside rather than just thinking “she’s so stuck up,” or “she’s so antisocial.” Even though society has chosen to focus on those who tend to be more extroverted, and forget about the other people who choose to be introverted, if you happen to be an introverted individual the best solution is to ultimately own who you are.
If you want to change and participate in extrovert natured activities that involve being surrounded by others by all means do so. However, if you’re are an individual who finds comfort in solitude, never allow society to change who you truly are. If you want to change do it for yourself, but don’t change to suit the needs of others. The right people with your common interests will appreciate your voice as well as understand your silence.