My sister sent me a story last winter with a little note that said, “This sounds exactly like you.” The story was about being an ambivert and how you are not fully an introvert or fully an extrovert. You teeter somewhere in between. You like being social and very chatty sometimes, and other times you feel completely depleted by social interaction and need time to unwind solo.
It sounds straight-forward enough, right? You can be outgoing but sometimes need to be alone. You crave touch and conversation from others but sometimes need time to recharge because you feel yourself start to expire. And while it probably sounds like just about everyone you know, it just isn’t as easy as that, especially if you have a lot of friends and family who are extroverts, and especially if you have kids who are extroverted and crave lots of social time.
My kids need time with other kids, they like lots of excitement, and they want in on all the things that are going on. I have to drag them away most of the time because they don’t want the party to be over. If we have a full weekend of social events planned, they are left wanting more. They feel full of life, and as all parents know, after the fun ends, kids usually experience a hangover from fun which can include everything from hyperactivity to cranky exhaustion. Meanwhile the only thing I am left with is the strength to hold a wine glass and a book so I can hide in a quiet corner.
The thing about being an ambivert is you really don’t have a clear indication of when you are going to reach your limit and flip that extrovert-to-introvert switch. You just know it will inevitably happen, and when that need to disconnect and recharge hits, there’s no way for you to continue to play extrovert until you’ve had some time to decompress. Sometimes it happens during a family gathering, sometimes during a fun party. You can feel it coming on, fast and strong, but you are powerless to shake the feeling of needing to retreat.
It’s not that you feel like everyone sucks, has wronged you, and you never want to see them again, it’s more like your engine has stopped because you have run out of gas and need to refuel. The only way to do that is to recharge in a way that makes you come alive again so you can show up the next time feeling like the extrovert you are (50% of the time). It’s complicated, I know.
A very extroverted friend of mine told me she gets her energy by touching people and having conversations with others. She likes the flutter of activity that encompasses her at a party. It gives her new life, and she feels so alive. You can see the joy beaming out of her eyeballs, I swear.
There are times when I wish I was a little bit more like that. It would make countless events much more enjoyable with my three extroverted children, but I have known myself long enough to realize I am not capable of being “on” all the time. I have a limit, and that’s all there is to it.
I know I come across as being a snob sometimes. I am sure I look like a moody bitch to a lot of people, but in actuality this is just me — my whole, raw self, shutting down before your very eyes because I am out of stuff to give. It has nothing to do with anyone else. Nobody has said/done anything to offend/upset me. My body and mind are just done.
I used to think something was wrong with me. In college, I would be so ready for a night out, the excitement would start early as I was getting ready with my girlfriends. We would drink in the shower, do each other’s hair, listen to dance music for hours, host pre-parties before we would head out to the bar. Some nights I was done after the pre-party and felt like I couldn’t wait to get in bed and read. Surely something must be off, I thought, because no one else seemed to feel this way.
Then sometimes I could go all night, only to hide in my room the next day and binge-watch MTV. My friends would constantly ask if I was mad at them. I wasn’t — I just needed to be alone. I know they took it personally, and I understood their feelings, but I was unable to articulate my emotions at the time. I just knew I couldn’t keep up with them in that moment, so I had to pull back. Self-preservation and all that.
As a mom, 20 years later, the only thing that has changed is I know how to deal with my quirks better. I am able to say, “OK, my time is up. I am about to turn into a pumpkin.” My kids and those close to me know what I mean. I must leave before my introverted self takes over lest I come across as being rude to the people I love.
I know it’s confusing, perhaps even selfish to some, but at 41 I am not going to suddenly change the color of my spots, try as I might. Honestly, I wish I could be more social for my kids, but they handle it beautifully. Now that they are older, they know when I just need a snuggle without any talking. Maybe it’s because I can explain it to them, or maybe it’s because they just accept me for who I am knowing that is what makes me the best version of myself. Either way, having an understanding family, truly makes being an ambivert the best of both worlds.