Introverts seem to have come into vogue lately. In my youth, the terms ranged from the mild “shy” to less-than-kind “loner”. In my culture, being solitary in any form was not a value, because after all, we lived in a collective. In my language, there is no word for “privacy”. No, there really isn’t! I tried to find a translation, and the closest English word I could find was “confidentiality”, which is clearly not the same thing.
My spouse and children laugh at the notion that I am an introvert. I am appalled at the notion that they think I am anything but. Have they not met me? I love all sorts of solitary activities, I have no concerns with seeing movies and eating out and traveling alone, I have a very small circle of friends, and I hate talking on the phone. I do enjoy social gatherings, but am never disappointed (and often not-so-secretly thrilled) when they are cancelled. I have to give myself a substantial pep talk when I go to networking events, and have been seized by panic when I show up and do not know anyone. I am also not great at small talk. I thought I fit the memes quite well, until I really started to think about this. I decided that I really need to understand the terms before I start labeling myself.
As a child, I was regarded as fairly unfriendly, and I accepted that view of me for the longest time. I lived with a grandmother who so completely lacked in introspection and ability to derive any joy out of her own company and inner gifts that spending time in solitary pursuits was to her not just unattractive, but unnatural. I loved playing with other kids, I had neighborhood friends, I loved adventures, but I also loved reading and drawing. I remember being allowed to read only to a certain chapter before being made to go outside to play, and pretending to read slower than I actually did in order to prolong the pleasure. I just cannot imagine stopping anyone from reading, regardless of their personality type—reading is fundamental! I was labeled unsociable by my family not because I had a shortage of social activities, but because I did not constantly crave them. Looking back now, I see that I had a pretty healthy balance in my life, but was persistently pushed off balance. I was relentlessly driven to one side of the continuum. Resistance was futile!
Hanging out with people one knows and likes and walking cold into a gathering of strangers are completely different experiences. One does not have to be an extrovert to love the former, and an introvert to hate the latter. I am often that last person to leave the party—but only if I am having a good time. Oh, and I am also a huge talker. Huge! Privately, I chastise myself a lot for not listening well, and yet still I cannot shut up once I get going. But, I have also been known to make my excuses and beat a hasty retreat—if I am having a lousy time. I have participated, reluctantly, in many a stilted and awkward conversation, and was once asked if I had a disability because I was so quiet. Does that just make me a person who knows what she likes and does not want to waste time on things she does not? Aha, what a concept!
I learned a new term today—yes, literally today. I am an “ambivert”. According to Merriam-Webster, that is the person who has both extrovert and introvert characteristics. It is a social adaptation—the person behaves according to the situation. On the spectrum, I am in the middle. And there is nothing wrong with that. Does freedom come too late? Well, not necessarily. All of us are works in progress until the end, and self-understanding is never wasted. Being armed with this new-to-me term, I shall boldly go, both to parties and on my solitary runs. Allons-y!