Ambiverting

It took two years of pandemic-induced reduced face-to-face contact before I experienced something extroverts apparently find completely ordinary: the feeling of being recharged after a social interaction. For the first time in my life, I understood how it might feel to be powered primarily by interaction with others. I found the experience of comprehending another side to reality that is just as real as my own unsettling.

I don’t consider myself extremely introverted; I’m in video meetings for the majority of most workdays plus socializing via your typical nerdy hobbies like roleplaying and board games at least once a week. I hate crowds and need time to myself regularly, so it’s clear that I am not a classical extrovert. I’m an introvert who can fake extroversion fairly well in some situations, also known as an ambivert.

This led me to think about different possible aspects of intro/extroversion.

  • private vs. open
  • gregarious vs. reserved
  • curious about others
  • prefers interaction vs. needs private time (to recharge)
  • collaborative vs. lone wolf
  • comfortable in crowds
  • center of attention

Private vs. open. Do you tell everyone you meet about your successful toe jam surgery? You are definitely more open than I am. While I don’t have many things I am unwilling to talk about, the chance of me talking about them with you lessens the further away you are from my inner circle. My wife, on the other hand, processes events and problems in her life by telling people about them. On Twitter.

Aside: There are some things that I will talk about unprompted because I have an agenda. I will mention my wife, because I want to normalize non-heterocentric views of the world. I will mention going to therapy, because I want to normalize taking advantage of mental health resources. I will talk about my horse, because he is a dumbass who gets scared when he farts sometimes and everyone should know this.

Shifting the focus from your own business to everyone else’s leads us to gregarious vs. reserved. Do you chat with strangers in the grocery store? Willingly, not just because they trapped you between the carrots and the leeks to tell you about their toe jam surgery? I am way on the reserved side here. I prefer to talk to people I already know and exchange polite greetings with everyone else. I do not want to talk about the weather with you, sir!

Do you have an innate curiosity about others that drives you to interrogate them? I do not. I am happy to find things out in the course of a conversation, but my view is that if you want me to know something about you, you’ll tell me. Again, this is very dependent on how close to my inner circle you are. I’m also actively working on this one; not asking people about themselves implies you don’t care, which for me is not true. It’s more that I have a fear of overstepping by asking questions that are too personal.

How do you regain energy after a tough day? If you search the internet, you’ll find a lot of claims that the intro/extroversion spectrum is defined primarily by how one recharges: whether by interaction with others or in solitude, and that introversion “does not mean they’re socially anxious or shy.” It’s a little more nuanced than that. The dictionary definitions (Merriam-Webster, Cambridge, Collins) include words like shy, quiet, bookish, and introspective; the idea of recharging via solitude comes up only in a sidebar. I think it’s an interesting aspect, and I definitely need a higher-than-average amount of time alone.

Aside: I like definitions. Still sore about the new common usage of "literally" to mean "not literally".

Do you prefer to avoid people in general? Though I recharge best alone, that doesn’t mean that I prefer to always be solitary. I find joy in collaborating with my coworkers, but many people prefer to work primarily alone. I’ve definitely had occasions where I’m doing something by myself and someone well-meaning will join me “to keep me company” because they haven’t understood that I am not bored in solitude.

Are you comfortable in crowds or at parties? I don’t like being in crowds; it’s a feeling of being squeezed, jostled, impeded. I don’t like parties because at some point the music gets turned up beyond all belief and I can’t hear myself think, which has nothing to do with introversion, but I also don’t like parties because I’m not a huge fan of small talk or strangers. Complicating that, I have mild face-blindness that often means I have no idea who just enthusiastically greeted me like we know each other (because we do).

Do you like being the center of attention? It seems at first glance odd that I dislike crowds yet sometimes actively seek out roles that put me at the center of things, like presenting at a convention or taking a leadership role in a workshop. I think the difference is in the amount of control I have over the latter situation; it’s something I choose, not something that is happening to me.

Aside: A colleague theorized that presenting made other social interactions at conventions easier because there was an obvious topic of conversation afterwards, and people would approach them instead of them having to approach people. Genius!

In summary, I skew very hard towards introversion but enjoy people and interacting with them in small groups and for limited periods of time. I also talk to a lot more people online than I know in the flesh – maybe it would be fair to say that I am a work extrovert, an online ambivert, and a private-life introvert.

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