Three months ago I would have classified myself as an extrovert without hesitation. I love people and parties, and I thrive on the energy of a crowd. Cities have always been my favorite.
But one of the surprises from my family’s epic RV trip was discovering that nature is also my favorite. I love trees and rocks that beg to be climbed over, and the sound of running water soothes me in a way no urban pulse can.
Still, I unequivocally identified as an extrovert. I just happen to also appreciate nature, which makes sense because we’re all natural in a sense – right?
I equated my cave-diving days with my depression. I only need to be alone when I was in a bad way, and my retreats into solitude were a symptom of desperate coping rather than a healthy desire of mine.
Then, my family went on a week-long vacation with another family of four. The eight of us shared a two-bedroom condo overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and we spent a good portion of our days playing on the beach or in the pool. Except for the day I went to get a pedicure by myself.
We were about midway through the week when I decided that I could no longer tolerate chipped toes in the sand, and I set off to find a salon while everyone else slathered on sunscreen. As good luck would have it, I stumbled across a place that offered a complimentary glass of wine with fresh polish, and I spent a solid hour being silently massaged and pampered from the knee down. On my way to my car afterwards, I noticed a Dollar Tree in the same strip mall and decided to pop my head in for a minute. And oh the joy that is everything for a dollar! I won’t tell you how long I spent in there or how many deliciously under-priced household products I threw in my cart, but I’ll admit a very good time was had.
Eventually, a phone call from my husband summoned me back to the condo so that afternoon and dinner plans could be made. I was happy to return.
Exceptionally happy, in fact.
At least, that’s what my friends reported.
“What the heck did you do while you were out?” they asked. “You’re completely re-energized!”
Jokes were made about the powers of a pedicure and $30 shopping spree, but I realized all at once what had truly happened.
I’d been revived by being alone.
And it was at once a simple and profound understanding. I hadn’t been depressed or particularly anxious when I’d gone; I’d bee fine, relatively good even. But there was no denying that I was made exceedingly better after spending just a couple of hours without the company of anyone who knew or needed me.
At some point the topic of introverts and extroverts came up in our seaside condo. “I’ve always considered myself an extrovert,” I shared, “but there are times when it feels really good to be alone.”
“You’re probably an ambivert,” my son popped up.
“An ambivert,” he repeated.
“Did you just make that up? What’s an ambivert?”
“It’s just like it sounds – someone that’s both intro- and extroverted. And no, I didn’t make it up.”
Google confirmed he had not, and for a moment I was excited at the possibility of having a brand new label to stick to myself. Upon further reading and consideration, however, it occurs to me that maybe what the discoveries of “ambiverts” really reveals is the foolishness of the introvert and extrovert classification in the first place. If over half of the populations is estimated to be ambivert, doesn’t that suggest that this new classification is just a fancy way of saying “most of us are not all or none of any one thing?”
So, yes, at 35 years old I’ve made the rudimentary discovery that I like to be alone. And as is the case with most of my realizations by myself, I am at once fascinated to be learning the subject of me better and embarrassed at not having known all along. But I will not let embarrassment stop me from intentionally using my new-found knowledge: I know now that I can actually stave off depression and feel more consistently fulfilled if I make solitude as much a priority as socialization.
Once again, the lesson is exactly the same as it has always been: balance, balance, balance.