Have you ever bumped into someone you know at the worst possible time? For introverts, this scenario can be pretty awkward. The thing is, we introverts like to mentally prepare before socializing. We’re not always ‘on’, as many extroverts tend to be. If we’re not expecting to see someone we know, we’re probably in introvert mode, lost in our own thoughts.
Unfortunately, we can’t always avoid unexpected encounters. Here are the awkward stages an introvert goes through when we run into someone we know.
1. Do I know them?
There is that blissful moment of uncertainty, when you’re not sure if it’s that guy you met at a dinner party six months ago, or his doppelgänger. You’re hoping it’s the latter. But no…
2. Do they see me?
It is THAT guy. But there’s still a chance he hasn’t seen you. Or maybe he has, but he’ll do you both a favor and pretend he hasn’t. Then you can dodge an awkward small talk bullet and go your separate ways.
3. Awkward eye contact
You make eye contact and all hope of pretending you haven’t seen each other is gone. Your eyes lock and you brace yourself for what’s next.
4. The showdown over who will approach first
Who will approach first? Someone’s gotta initiate this unwanted exchange, so you can get it over with as quickly as possible. You’d prefer if it wasn’t you, but now that your cover is blown, you try to be polite. You don’t want to hurt the guy’s feelings. You’re an introvert, not a jerk.
5. Playing it cool, too cool
When you bump into someone you know, you overcompensate for how awkward you feel by trying to play it cool. But the harder you try to be cool, the more it backfires. You feel like Tin Man, stiff and unfeeling.
6. Painful small talk
Now that you’re face-to-face with your long lost acquaintance, you have to find something to talk about. Since you weren’t prepared for the exchange, the words don’t come easily. You get stuck going through the motions of boring small talk, even though neither of you really wants to talk about the weather. But it gets worse.
7. The dreaded question
The only thing worse than talking about the weather with someone you haven’t seen in a while is this question:
So, what have you been up to?
How do you answer such a broad question when you know the person just wants a quick little summary with a cherry on top?
We introverts have enough trouble verbalizing our thoughts as it is. Ask us a super broad question that could have a zillion different answers and we’ll probably get tongue-tied.
8. A swift escape and a sigh of relief
Luckily, the awkward conversation is over fast. One of you finds an exit—“Oh, look at the time, I’d better get home to feed my cat”. You both know it’s a lie, but you don’t care.
You say sayonara and breathe a sigh of relief that the awkwardness has ended. Time to go home and feed Piglet the cat (because you’re a hipster introvert who gives her pets ironic names, obviously).
I hope you could relate to the 8 awkward stages of running into someone you know. If you’d like to make these kinds of exchanges a little less awkward, and actually start connecting with people in your own introverted way, get my free Introvert Connection Guide.
Over to you
Do you dread running into someone you know? Please do share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you! ?
P.S. If you’re new here, let me introduce myself. I’m Michaela, introvert author of The Irresistible Introvert and the creator of this website, which has reached millions of awesome introverts since its creation in 2013. I invite you to stick around and read more articles. Also, download my free Introvert Connection Guide.
This happens occasionally and it’s painful when it happens:( I so want some preparation time when I have to meet people (even then there can be awkwardness, sometimes the major kind which often results in nudges and whispers of socially awkward…sigh)…
Generally speaking, even though I am an introvert, I am actually a very confident person. For instance, I’ve read out speeches in front of large audiences with no issues and I’m also pretty good when onstage. As for running into people i haven’t seen for a very long time, if it’s a friend or family member, or I know that I’ll be running into people i haven’t seen for ages, then i have no issues approaching and talking a lot. However if I run into a person i haven’t seen for ages, and it’s someone who isn’t a friend or family member, then I may get shy if I am caught off guard and when this happens, I tend to get really quiet and clueless of what to do (this has only happened twice in my life), although I’m not really a shy person, i have those very rare shy moments like i mentioned. If the person isn’t close to me, then I may try to find a place to rehearse what I would say or I may even walk very quickly and try getting to another side of a road, etc
My biggest problem is being in the company of someone else when I run into someone I haven’t seen in a while. My mind goes blank and I can’t remember ANYONE’S name.
I often have this problem, and it is so awkward, and embarrassing!
I have come to accept that it’s easier to be a fake extravert for the short time it takes. Makes it easier to know I will have to answer some questions and I have some stock questions that I know usually lead to short answers! Helps me to somewhat enjoy these short awkward moments with a lot less fear.
That’s great, Doug. Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Can you give examples of some stock questions…think that’s a great idea.
1000% accurate!!! I love how you articulate these things!!
it happens to me most of the time.thankfully i had this ninja instinct that i hide or turn back quickly before they notice me
Haha ninja introvert instincts, nice! 😉
I’m so grateful for reading your book this summer and your emails. As an introvert I spent years thinking I was a bad person and forced myself to be something I was not. I’ve been called many things, but I’m at a point in my life where I now get it, it’s okay, and I’m far more content. I appreciate my introversion and I don’t defend or justify this huge part of me anymore. It’s been truly amazing. The emails remind me always, “yep, that’s introversion, you’re alright!” I’ll call that situation a “no thanks,” and move along!
Thanks for the sweet message, Nicole! I’m so happy my work helped you accept your innie awesomeness! 😉
I recently ran into an exfriend who took the opportunity to tell me she blamed me for everything that went wrong in our friendship. A few weeks later a brother-in-law died suddenly. I decided to enjoy my life while i am alive. I am not blaming anyone for anything! Life is too short!
You nailed it Michaela! Your writing just keeps getting better! Merry Christmas!
When I lived in Virginia a few years ago, I was terrified to go to the grocery store or mall or barbershop because of my fear in running into a coworker or neighbor. I would stay in my vehicle between 30 minutes and maybe 3 hours. But, I know that I have to deal with my issue(s) and deal with people regardless of how they are.
I live in North Carolina now. It does not bother me so much to encounter acquaintances at Walmart or elsewhere.
This happened to me at an extended family reunion recently. I talked to about ten people without issue, then a cousin I hadn’t seen in a few years approached me with the dreaded question, “What’s new with you?” I could only think to say “I don’t know. You’ve stumped me.”
“Time to go home and feed PIGLET THE CAt (because you’re a hipster introvert who gives her pets ironic names, obviously).”