Most people think I’m an extrovert. If we meet at a social event, you’ll see this outgoing, funny woman. Look closer and you’ll notice that, when the discussion turns to more surface topics, I get very quiet and move on to a more interesting conversation.
As an ambivert, I possess qualities of both introvert and extrovert. When I was younger, I probably leaned more toward an extrovert, although I still loved having time to myself. Most of my family is comprised of outgoing, chatty people. I’ve never been this way, and they don’t get the introverted side of me at all. They assume I’m just antisocial at times. I’m not, though.
I’ve learned, if I don’t get away from fluffy conversations, I get agitated. Then I get snippy with others because I feel like I’m wasting my time talking to them. Imagine this at a family gathering where they talk at length about anything. This is tortuous to me. I usually have nothing to say. If you ask them, they’ll tell you I’m stuck up or quiet. I’ve given up explaining how I really am to them. They love me, but they’ll never understand me.
I wish I had known I possessed both introverted and extroverted characteristics before now. When I was a kid, I even confused myself. I would feel sick and annoyed before any type of gathering. I also played sports and participated in school plays. The same thing would happen. I would feel nauseous and upset that I even had to do this — even though I voluntarily participated. Once it was time for me to be “on,” I was okay but enormously relieved when it was over.
Yet I described myself as outgoing — a “people person.” That’s the term others adopted for me, but I never thought it fit me. I was an imposter. I didn’t enjoy being “on” at all. It exhausted me. Yet I went through my entire youth and well into my adulthood telling myself I was an extrovert.
My mom? Now, she’s a true extrovert. That woman can socialize with anybody, and she would be out every day of the week if she could. When I was a teenager, she constantly asked me why I had no friends, why I was always alone reading somewhere. Actually I had two friends — one introvert and one extrovert. They were not each other’s friends, which isn’t surprising. They had nothing in common. For me, each supported a different side of my personality. My introverted friend validated my love of books and learning. My extroverted friend helped me socialize.
I played out this same scenario in college. I had lots of friends who were a mix of these two characteristics. If I wanted to hang out in a quiet spot and talk — or not talk — I could do that. If I wanted to go dancing, I could do that. By the time I was 20, I started believing this wasn’t normal. Shouldn’t I just be an outgoing person? It seemed better to me. You were surrounded by people who were having a good time. I just couldn’t do it, though. I needed that quiet time. Because I had roommates most of college, quiet time meant I had to leave and go somewhere else if my roommate was there. Twice I was unfortunate enough to share space with a loud person — someone who played the TV too loudly or had too many friends over. I changed roommates because of it. Thankfully I had a single room my senior year. It was heaven.
I still believed I was an extrovert.
I was in my late 20s when I started hearing about introverts. Back then, the definition always included shyness. I wasn’t shy, so I didn’t believe the term fit me. Later, “introvert” took on more characteristics. These people weren’t always shy. However, introverts don’t enjoy small talk; they sometimes feel alone in a room full of people; and they often need to recharge their battery after being “on” too long.
That was me, or so I thought.
Now I understood why, after socializing, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. I would be exhausted to the point of crying. I needed quiet, and if I didn’t get it, I was frustrated. I never understood why until now. I was finally getting closer to understanding myself. When I would come home to visit, I just wanted peace and quiet. My mother had other ideas. I didn’t miss the constant noise of a loud TV or conversations all day. That’s how I grew up, and I hated it. I hated it even more after I escaped it and had to return to it during the holidays. Being jarred awake by a vacuum cleaner or pots and pans clanging stressed me out. I dreaded the holidays.
During the week I was home, I tried to find a corner of the house to escape. Ultimately someone would find me, and I had to go socialize with family. I love them, but their idea of conversation involved the most uninteresting conversations I have ever endured to this day. I didn’t care about family gossip. I had no interest in hearing about comings and goings with them. I just wanted to be alone. I couldn’t wait to leave.
I was still trying to figure out my behavior, but I stuck with describing myself as an introvert.
I only heard the term “ambivert” in recent years. Ambiverts possess both extroverted and introverted qualities. Yes! I existed! And it was perfectly acceptable. When I tell people I’m an ambivert, they first ask me what that is. Then they usually say, no, I’m an extrovert. I don’t argue with them. They’ve probably seen me when I’m in my more outgoing state. Ambiverts flow between the two, and it’s not necessarily a 50/50 split. So while the definition may suggest this, ambiverts don’t work that way. I’m more introvert than extrovert, and I understand why that is. I crave my own time. I can do without socializing most of the time, but I can’t do without quiet.
As I’ve gotten older, I socialize considerably less than I once did. I have a few friends, but I spend most of my time alone. I don’t know if that’s quite where I want to be, but I do know I’m content in my own space and in my own head. My family still doesn’t understand me, but they don’t comment much anymore. For the most part, they’ve accepted I’ll never be social and outgoing. I’ll just be me.