People are like tapestries, made of so many threads that, by the time you finish classifying and dissecting, you might as well have created a custom spot for each of us, with our name on it, because you can’t pigeonhole people. That being said, there are some useful categories which help us understand those who aren’t like ourselves: extrovert, introvert, people-oriented, task-oriented, reserved, and shy (A wonderful post exploring the latter two traits in Jane Austen’s works was recently done by Christina Wehner.)
One I don’t believe in, though, is ambiverts. Everything I’ve read on the subject—and there doesn’t seem to be that much written about them yet—suggests that they are almost bipolar. They can be the life of the party, and they can leave early. They draw attention to themselves and try to fade into the background, depending on their mood. Either they are very moody people, or they are indecisive…or they have been living their lives so long in the shadows of other people that they don’t know who or what they are.
I’ve taken a few tests, and they claimed I was an ambivert, but I think much of that came from my answering “neutral” on many questions. Do I talk to many people at a party? Depends on the party and who’s there. If I know a lot of the people, then yes, I won’t stay with only a handful the entire time. If not, than I will latch on to the only person I know or melt into the corner. Do I like having people pay attention to me? Yes and no. I don’t like being ignored—I doubt anyone likes that, especially if it involves people who are close to them—but I don’t like strangers paying attention to me.
That being said, I do think there are different subcategories of being introverted. (I’m not sure if this applies to extroverts; I look forward to hearing you share your thoughts.) There are social introverts and companion introverts, as my husband and I discovered this past weekend. We had a family wedding, and we noticed we reacted differently to the various family get-togethers surrounding the event. We are both introverts—neither of us like group projects, or working in a group, or parties where there are mostly strangers, and we both need time to ourselves—but he was far less socially inclined than I was after a few events. This puzzled me, because if we were both introverts, our socialization needs should be about the same—but they weren’t even close.
We started comparing notes, and we realized that I’m a social introvert (the opposite is a companion introvert—more on them in another post). I need time by myself, but I also need people…the right sort of people. I could go years without a big party, but I need quiet, intellectual get-togethers on a regular basis. Talking to good company, in small groups. If I go too long without it, I start looking for social interaction in other ways: I read a book.
Reading a book differs from watching a movie because there is interaction. I make the book go. If I pause to think about something else, the book pauses. The characters come to life in my mind, not on a television screen, and they won’t live without me. With movies, it is very different. It exists, as a creation, without my help, and it can play in a room without a person there.
This is why I don’t watch movies by myself. For me, it’s a social event, and it’s meant to be shared…but preferably, not with a large group. It’s also why I don’t do projects by myself, for myself. I don’t get lonely: I get unmotivated. Even when I’m by myself, having time to myself, I’m being social—I’m writing, interacting with my characters in my books, or reading, or singing along with music, or working on something for someone.
I think this may be partly why I don’t like math: it’s highly disconnected from people. In school, I liked subjects like English, History, and Astronomy (stories of people discovering things and interacting with stellar objects and planetary masses named after characters in Greek and Roman myths). In fact, the only sciences I liked involved people: psychology, biology (to a point), zoology and botany (animals and plants being something we frequently anthropomorphize).
But I’m not an extrovert. I detested selling things to people, whether it was ideas or credit cards. I could do it—I have decent people skills and enough “intestinal fortitude” to pull it off—but I hated it. I don’t like meeting people, and I don’t like talking to people I don’t know. For me, parties are daunting, not relaxing. When I’m there, I usually say things I later feel I shouldn’t have said, talking too much to try to fit in and lacking the time to think out my responses in tranquility and serenity. I like comfortable silence, not giving presentations and speeches, and I could never understand why people got bored when left to their own devices—I never had enough time to myself.
But some of that was because I never remained by myself. When the opportunity presented itself, I’d go talk to my friends or family, hearing what they had to say and sharing my ideas with them. We’d play a game together (card games and board games are my favorites—they are more introverted than many of the word games; though I love the challenge word games like Boggle, Scrabble, and Taboo present, I never liked the part of having to share what I’d found or created with others), or watch a movie, or go see a play.
Because, unlike what some people and tests would say, I’m not an ambivert, half extrovert, half introvert, as unpredictable as the weather. I’m a social introvert—an introvert who needs people.
Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren