Confessions of an ambivert

Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - 5:23pm

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Christine Jegarl/Daily

I am a constellation of contradictions. I eat vanilla and chocolate ice cream, often mixing the two together or finding a flavor somewhere in between. I listen mostly to indie music and classic vinyl, but I indulge in the stylings of top 40 pop from time to time (yes, I still like Maroon 5, what of it!). I enjoy serious and silly movies, from “The Godfather” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” to “She’s the Man” and “White Chicks.” But perhaps my greatest personal paradox is that I’m an “ambivert,” or rather, both an introvert and an extrovert.

For most of my life, I thought I was just an introvert. From elementary to middle school, I was painfully shy, riddled with social anxiety and frequently desired to do things on my own. In class, I preferred working independently as opposed to group projects. At home, I read books, drew still lifes of the plants in my backyard, watched TV and filmed my own wacky short films on my iMac G5 — all by myself. Going out anywhere for an extended period of time — particularly a place that was crowded, loud and overwhelming like the mall, a busy restaurant or a bar mitzvah party — was a major struggle.

Even though I cherished my aloneness, a part of me knew deep down that I might also be an extrovert, but that I just hadn’t found the right people to surround myself with. My lack of interest in sports alienated me from my male peers, while my general fear of social interaction made it difficult to find ways to connect with people my age. Still, there was something missing, an experience I was craving but that also somehow felt far beyond my reach. 

Once high school approached, I found myself becoming friends with people who shared my passion for pop culture and began making plans to hang with them out over the weekends. While I credit my summers at Jewish sleepaway camp and the Jewish youth group I belonged to for exposing me to a wide network of like-minded individuals, high school was what provided me the opportunity to meet people I wouldn’t normally engage with. I started to genuinely like being around people: going to movies with them, having deep conversations, getting dinner, venturing to concerts, having sleepovers. The more social circles I immersed myself in, the sharper I was at socializing. It was as if a key to that part of myself had been unlocked and I had finally found what I was looking for. 

And yet, every now and then, my introversion pulls me back. Between the end of high school and the beginning of college, I began to notice the limitations of my newfound extroversion. Talking with someone became stimulating at first, but exhausting after a while. I’d click “Going” on Facebook invites to upcoming events, but on the day of, I sometimes couldn’t exert the effort to follow through with my initial plan to go. After sophomore year, I stopped going to tailgates because I knew what to expect and didn’t feel compelled enough to day drink for four hours and dance to the same old sing-a-long jams almost every Saturday of the fall semester.

Depending on my mood, I found myself getting irritable whenever I was with a group of people that would rather go to Rick’s or a house party than stay in and watch a rom-com. When I am at a bar or a party, and enough conversations have been had and enough drinks have been consumed, I’ll stand in the corner, space out, check Instagram or look at the clock to see when is the most appropriate time to leave.

At a school as intensely extroverted as the University of Michigan, the pressure to hang out with people on a constant basis is especially draining. The social environment of a college like Michigan is built on a rather cruelly idealistic expectation that in order to truly have fun and embrace the undergraduate experience, we must interact with our friends as often as possible. We aren’t, however, conditioned to just be by ourselves. Aloneness is often negatively associated with loneliness. 

For me, being alone is not the same thing as being lonely. When I spend a long amount of time solo, my body will tell me — even sometimes force me — to explore the outside world and catch up with friends over dinner or coffee. But when I maximize my time with other people, my body will persuade me that I’m in desperate need of a me-time recharge and soon, I’m sitting in the swivel chair in my bedroom, catching up on a Netflix show, stuffing my face with whatever snacks are left in the pantry.

The weird thing about being an ambivert is that I don’t have a preference for my introversion or my extroversion. They coexist with one another. It’s a symbiotic, “both-and” relationship rather than an “either-or” dynamic. It’s not because I can’t make up my mind. It’s because I don’t want to feel constrained to just one thing. Confining myself to a singular trait or interest makes it harder for me to grow. If I just stick with being one thing, it would be like a betrayal to my inner self — a complete suppression of who I am. Though I am totally comfortable with my ambiversion, I worry a lot about balancing these two sides of myself. A contradiction is a blessing and curse, but as a cynical optimist, I’d like to think it’s more of the former.