Consider the Ambivert

          When I was a child, people were divided into two groups: extroverts and introverts. Introverts were thought to have something wrong with them: we were assumed to be timid, insecure creatures afraid of the light, and it was a given that we all secretly wished to be extroverts.   To turn inward, to keep one’s own watchful counsel, was somehow to let down the social team. Of course, we weren’t team players in the first place, and the only light we avoided was the spotlight.   Sunlight and moonlight–especially moonlight–were just fine with us. Routinely rebuked for insufficient vivacity, sub-level enthusiasm, and being an all-around pill, I would lie awake nights plotting the overthrow of the extrovert majority, whose self-esteem, whose very existence depended entirely on us–the watchers, the listeners, the audience, however unwilling.

        Happily, rebuked children now abed don’t have to admit to either category.   According to Wikipedia, a third has arisen: the Ambivert.   The ambivert is not a free-ranging pervert but rather something in between an introvert and an extrovert. Wikipedia asks us to imagine a questionnaire consisting of ten statements with which five people–John, Maria, Marcus, Sarah, and David–must either agree or disagree:

 

John

Maria

Marcus

Sarah

David

I am the life of the party.

Agree

Agree

Agree

Disagree

Disagree

I enjoy being the center of attention.

Agree

Disagree

Agree

Disagree

Disagree

I am skilled in handling social situations.

Agree

Agree

Agree

Disagree

Disagree

I like to be where the action is.

Agree

Agree

Disagree

Agree

Disagree

I make new friends easily.

Agree

Agree

Disagree

Agree

Disagree

I am quiet around strangers.

Disagree

Disagree

Agree

Disagree

Agree

I don’t like to draw attention to myself.

Disagree

Agree

Agree

Agree

Agree

I don’t like to party on the weekends.

Disagree

Disagree

Agree

Agree

Agree

I like to work independently.

Disagree

Agree

Disagree

Agree

Agree

I often enjoy spending time by myself.

Disagree

Disagree

Disagree

Agree

Agree

Score

100% Extravert

70% Extravert

50% Extravert
50% Introvert
(Ambivert)

70% Introvert

100% Introvert

        John and Maria are extroverts. Sarah and David are introverts. (This is according to Wikipedia. I contend that no true introvert, such as David, would agree to agree or disagree with any of these statements, or any statements in general.   It’s none of your damn business.) Marcus is an ambivert.

        He yearns for the spotlight, and why not? Marcus is a whiz at social situations–in truth, he’s the life of any party, just as long as it’s not held on a Friday or Saturday night. Weeknight affairs might attract more people than you’d expect.   Of course, there’d be the usual extroverts, so afraid to be alone that they’ll go anywhere, even some lame Tuesday potluck thing larded with introverts like Sarah and David.   John, a 100% career blowhard, may begin to wonder who the hell this Marcus guy is and why he keeps popping up at odd hours to vie for the center of attention, but he probably won’t notice that Marcus never shows up on weekends, since he’s too busy back-slapping, bloviating, and charging about with the twenty-first century equivalent of a lampshade on his head.   I don’t know what the equivalent is, because I’m an introvert.

        Still there’s more to Marcus than meets the eye.   For instance, he hates to be “where the action is.”   Assuming that the action is apt to manifest on weekends, this might explain why he avoids them, but I’m not sure that’s all there is to it. Marcus may secretly covet the action–to dream of it, in fact–but wherever the action is, there’s John, a legion of Johns, amped up on action, action-happy, pontificating and clowning around and generally filling Marcus with a vicious loathing for humanity.   To compete with John for the action’s hub, no matter how gorgeous the action is, is to admit defeat on some deep level.   Or maybe, like me, Marcus isn’t sure what “action” actually means.

        Another thing: while Marcus enjoys being in the spotlight (so long as “action” is absent), he refuses to draw it to himself, presumably relying upon introverts to do the dirty work for him.   One of the many things the chart doesn’t make clear is how he goes about doing this, since he’s (1) rotten at making friends, and (2) purposely enigmatic in the company of strangers.   Possibilities:

  • Bribery.   Marcus pays Sarah and David to hang around with him in an approving way.   This is unlikely, though: it’s more of a John move.   John wouldn’t see anything wrong with it. And a true introvert such as David couldn’t be bought off.
  • The recognition of kindred spirits. Introverts sense that for all his low-wattage charm, he’s really one of them. They gaze at him benignly and encourage his wit with restrained, honest laughter. The extroverts just can’t figure him out, and as they pass by on their way to the Next Big Thing, they pause to study him. Who the hell is this guy?

        The unhappiest of the bunch, it turns out, because, just like John, he can’t stand himself, and unlike John, he admits it. Without an audience he falls apart.   He can’t even work effectively unless he’s surrounded by other people. His weekends must be hell.

6 Comments Consider the Ambivert

  1. Melanie Yarbrough

    I’m reading Jenny and the Jaws of Life right now, and I can’t seem to get enough of your writing. You’re all over my blog right now, and if you’re ever having a bad day, you should head over because I shamelessly revere your stories. Have a great day!

  2. Sujatha Hampton

    Hi again, Jincy,

    Thanks for the well wishes on the book and yes, I am sure we will see each other on the library shelves.

    I was drawn back here by your shameless introver…cy, only to read this next blog and I AM AN AMBIVERT, and I am thrilled to know there is now a technical term for it. One day, when I meet you as I am certain I will, perhaps in your insightful way, you will recognize in me the signs of true ambivertedness versus the stereotypical Marcus variety.

    I think in general we are a happy lot, we ambiverts. We like people and people like us, yet we have the quietude of spirit to manage our difficulties without burdening a whole lot of folks, but also witout turning inward entirely making our difficulties so much less managable. We are definitely able to talk but we are also able to listen and to care. I think it is GREAT, being this way, like the best of both worlds! Like…we can appreciate the subtlty of the semi-colon, but we are also big fans of CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation points!!!

    Peace and love,

    Sujatha

  3. Monica

    Ambiverts like Marcus are frequently misdiagnosed as manic-depressives, as they swing back and forth between the exhilaration of charming the likes of Sarah and David and the self-loathing that accompanies the realization that they have more in common with John. I think Marcus comes home from some small party he has dominated with his wit and falls into a black depression.

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  5. Beth Escott Newcomer

    Being a true ambivert, I just love this. But what it doesn’t quite explain is why it is that I find being mistaken for an extrovert so galling and embarrassing. As if someone has called me an idiot. Yes, I meet the public well. And yes, I enjoy throwing parties (though I hate attending them). But in reality, the best of times is spent all by my lonesome. And when there isn’t enough of that, everyone pays.

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