I have always felt like an introvert and an extrovert. Put me on the perimeter of a mosh pit at a punk show or thrust me into a four-star dining experience with more conservative people, and I’ll adapt to either situation — usually happily. In both instances, however, I’m relieved to return home, throw on pajamas and have sole reign over HBO Go. People are exhausting.
It turns out there’s a third option. I recently found out about the term “ambivert,” which is not part of the original Myers-Briggs Type Indicator; it’s a category for those of us who have introverted and extroverted traits, but don’t quite fit in either category. Ambiverts have gotten more attention in recent years. And for me, Forbes’s checklist “9 Signs That You’re An Ambivert,” is spot-on: I can perform tasks individually, as well as with a group. I can socialize like a champ, but tire of it. It’s fun to be the center of attention — for a brief interlude. Some people think I’m unobtrusive and reserved, while others wish I’d take a breath between sentences. Too much downtime leaves me crestfallen, but without enough quiet reflection, I’m worn to a nub. I can get lost in my thoughts — almost to insanity. I can do the small-talk dance, but find it agonizing. I’m hesitant to trust people, but when I do, I trust them wholeheartedly.
Being a 43-year-old, single ambivert who desires a long-term relationship but telecommutes and lives alone is far from easy. I’ve downloaded a handful of online dating apps to my iPhone, all with the intent of swiping until I find a match that sticks. Each time I think: Maybe this time. Three days later, I delete my profile thinking: Never again.
On the rare occasions that I’ve swiped right, nothing has happened. I know online dating works for people, other people. It’s a social act for “capital E” extroverts who have no problem with get-to-know-you banter. I haven’t been on a single online date, unless you count the time I made a long-distance friend playing Yahoo Hearts in 1999 and dated him nine years later.
I can tell within five minutes of meeting someone if there’s a chance we’ll fit together. The potential for awkwardness thereafter prevents me from plunging into the flighty online dating pool. It’s not the way I operate. You never know what three-dimensional human will show up to the coffeehouse, and I am disinclined to weed through the sketchy masses to find the improbable gems because of the ambivert’s debilitating antipathy to blind-date-style chatter. I also lack patience for anything that doesn’t result in a deep connection. And as the ultimate people-pleaser, I’m terrible at rejecting others.
If I ever fall in love again, it will be because I meet a man in person under natural, pressure-free circumstances, and we’ll be comfortable and straightforward from the get-go. I’m convinced.
To remote acquaintances, ambiverts are a misunderstood bunch because our moods are unpredictable. For example, if an ambivert wants to leave a get-together, she wants to leave right now, not after her date has said proper goodbyes to everyone. Mingling is entertaining until it isn’t, and then my brain’s “public exuberance” switch flips to the off position, and all of a sudden I’m done. It’s arduous pretending to be cheery when I’m sapped. I thrive in tranquil restaurants, one-on-one with close comrades.
But, we single, middle-aged ambiverts sometimes feel stuck. We don’t always want to open up in sizable crowds, so it’s difficult to meet a romantic partner who will keep us company at home. I know I will never meet a man while draped across my daybed binge-watching “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” But the more I age, the more I prefer being home. In an idyllic world, my true love would arrive on my doorstep unannounced when I’m having a stellar hair day, but that’s as likely as running into Ryan Gosling at my local Trader Joe’s. It’s a paradox: To be proactive in the dating world, I have to force myself to be highly uncomfortable.
When I was younger, I would have taken every public opportunity to crane my neck to pinpoint the attractive men around me. Now it doesn’t even occur to me to look. One positive side-effect of becoming an invisible 40-something is not caring at all about the flirty singles scene. And if I’m lucky, I’m not out past happy hour. Removing one’s self from the time-suck of surface-level courtship is a huge relief. The less time I have on Earth, the more I want the time I spend with others to be meaningful and drama-free.
So what’s an aging ambivert who still wants true love supposed to do? This is not a theoretical question. I’m at a loss. I eat dinner at a table that seats four and stare at empty chairs. I wonder: Where’s my partner? Where are my children? What happened?
Thankfully, it’s not too late for love. I have the autonomy to do the things I love: reading; writing, traveling, going to literary events, taking trail hikes and observing with wonder as my 4-year-old nephew sprouts into a fully formed human.
I will never be truly satisfied while unattached, but in every other respect, I’ve done what Science of People suggests ambiverts should do: I have found my nourishing people. I have solid friendships with intelligent, supportive women. Plus, the camaraderie I have with my parents, sister and nephew.
So, while I anticipate a day when I might chance upon romance again, I’ll continue to alternate between house parties and being housebound, staying true to my natural tendency to surround myself with like-minded people, go home to replenish and return to the world at large when loneliness surfaces. And if I am ever in a long-term relationship again, it will be with an exceptional and fortunate man who also digs the self-checkout line.