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Smell the Coffee: Neither one nor the other

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- My daughter describes herself as being a study in contradictions. She is quiet, yet gabby. She hates having "Happy Birthday" sung to her because she's uncomfortable being the center of attention, yet without a moment's hesitation, she'll wear a chicken hat or drop and do The Worm in the middle of the mall. She will agree passionately with one side of an argument, then just as wildly support the opposite cause.

Celeste loves crowds but doesn't like lots of people. Craves hubbub but needs quiet. Wants someone around, but celebrates when they leave.

In other words, she's just like her mom.

And I'm a good deal like mine.

I've been told that I'm the friendliest introvert, while my Mom has been called the quietest extrovert. And Celeste? She has people confused all over the Kanawha Valley.

I've never understood how or why we're spread over the map the way we are, nor can I predict which mood will prevail at any given time. I imagine being friends with someone like us has to be a challenge because it's never certain which version you'll get. We can be chatty and jovial, able to get conversation going among a group of complete strangers, or we can be wearing our unapproachable cloak, with a vibe that keeps people away. Sometimes so intensely they do the sign of the cross.

When we go to a party or to someone's house, we generally seek out their pets, as we've all admitted we feel more at ease with them than the humans.

And pretty much the only time any of us said, "The more, the merrier," the "more" we were talking about involved animals.

It's strange to be in constant conflict with yourself. I can teach classes on writing or participate in public panel discussions without much difficulty, but if I'm asked to speak in the "entertain us" sort of way, I completely fall apart.

It's a frustrating way to be, and I often fight against my inclinations. It stung when I was once called a "pencil friend" because of my tendency to cancel plans so often that dates with me were never written in pen. After hearing that, I've made an effort to never cancel again. Still, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I sometimes celebrate when someone else backs out and I get to stay in.

I'm a lot like a cat standing at the door, looking longingly out at the world. I want that door to open, but the instant it does, I want nothing more than to turn around and go back inside.

I suspected I leaned more toward introvert than extrovert, but the occasional appearances of an outgoing nature made me curious about where I'd land, so I took an online test at www.danpink.com/assessment. I was surprised by the results.

Turns out I'm neither one nor the other.

I'm right in the middle.

An "ambivert."

I'd never heard the term before, but the more I researched, the more validated I felt, especially after reading that ambiverts, as they're viewed to be the most adaptable, are considered to have the best of both worlds. The more I read, the better I understood myself, as well as my introvert side.

According to Susan Cain, author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts," introverts can enjoy being around people, but socializing also tends to leave them drained, needing time alone to decompress and refuel.

I learned that introverts and ambiverts are often quiet, and that their silence shouldn't be considered bad or insulting or a sign they aren't interested. It's simply them stepping away to restore. For an introvert to be comfortable being quiet with you is a huge compliment and your patience with them during those times can be a relief to them.

I'm realizing more and more how important it is to pay attention to those you care about, to what energizes and drains them. I've learned that by watching, you can tell if someone needs downtime or space, and I've learned you should give it, knowing it isn't a rejection of you, but something they need in order to re-energize.

I learned that introverts appreciate the opportunity to communicate with others in ways that aren't face-to-face or over the phone. They tend to love written communication and often excel at writing and texting, as it enables them to stay connected in a less-draining way.

It might seem there are too many concessions to make when dealing with an introvert, but when you care about a person, you need to respect them enough to bend from your norm. Same goes for those who find themselves paired with an extrovert -- it's important to recognize their needs for socialization, to know that their cup is filled from being around people.

I feel lucky to have found someone whose company I crave, who has yet to leave me feeling drained or peopled out. Who doesn't have a problem with my need for quiet time, yet knows when and how to draw me out of my head or intuit when it's better to leave me there a while longer.

Most of us spend far too much time battling our own nature and find ourselves depleted as a result, trying to live lives that don't suit us. Or we spend our lives trying to change those we're with.

Instead of embracing that maddeningly fascinating study in contradictions.

While wearing a chicken hat.

And doing The Worm.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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