In-Ex-plicable

My best friend says I’m wrong.

“You’re not an introvert,” he says, even though I’ve self-identified as such for most of my life. (The most basic definition of an introvert is a person who gains energy from being alone and loses energy in stimulating environments, such as social events). I’ve long recognized that I gravitate toward the middle of the spectrum between introversion and extroversion, but I feel like I’m more typically recharged by time to myself or within a few close relationships.

Still, my friend’s comment makes me wonder.

On the one hand, he can’t possibly know what it feels like to be me. He’s more introverted, himself, so of course I appear further toward the extroverted end of the spectrum in comparison to him — but how does he get off telling me that I’m inaccurately assessing my own personality type? On the other hand, he has known me for twenty years. We’re best friends. We’ve roomed together. We’ve regularly interacted across a wide variety of cultures, situations, social contexts, and professional environments. So he may well be more qualified to make such a judgment than one might think.

I decided to gauge my energy levels this weekend, before and after different kinds of activity or inactivity, trying to figure out what results in gain or loss.

It’s a bit of an unusual weekend in which to experiment and observe because Marci, my life partner and constant companion, is out of town for a linguistics conference — but then again, being the only adult in the house also provides me with opportunities to direct the flow of events to my preferences. “Am I an introvert? Or am I an extrovert? Let’s see…”

Late on Friday afternoon, after finishing my last scheduled activity before the weekend, I start with some time reading in bed. Definitely a check in the “introverted” column. I read some sports news on my smartphone. I flip through the pages of a magazine. I lie on my back and look up through the skylight to the deep blue skies and swaying tree branches. I pick up the phone again to check world news. I finish another article in the magazine. Energy levels are definitely rising.

When my kids end up tromping into the room, though, I’m not disappointed. It doesn’t feel like a break in the reverie. It feels like a welcome diversion. Is this a sign of introversion or extroversion? We talk about Elliot’s autograph collection, Olivia’s choice of outfits for her musical performance the next day. We discuss our plans for the evening and make sure we’ve got all our bases covered for the weekend (knowing that Marci usually plays a critical role in our family juggling act). It’s fun and relaxed. I continue to feel energized. I’m excited about the weekend, even though it will be a more active weekend than usual. Maybe I’m an extrovert after all!

Around 6:00 PM, we all trundle downstairs, find our coats and shoes, and pile into the car for a drive up to Broadview Heights (45 minutes away). I start up a playlist from my smartphone and get lost in the music. Every so often, I’ll interact with the kids in the backseat. We’ll sing a song together. But when John Denver starts singing about the way that “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy,” I feel a deep agreement. My energy levels continue to rise — which would seem to be a mark of introversion — but I’m also looking forward to the social scene toward which we are driving, which would seem to be a mark of extroversion.

When we get to Broadview Heights, we step into a foreign environment. We meet about ten new people, first thing when we walk in the door. Over the course of the next hour, we meet another hundred, perhaps. The majority of them are from the Middle East. Arabic. After some socialization and an ice-breaker, we receive instruction in how to enjoy a Bedouin feast, using our fingers to eat from the communal dish of rice and chicken in the middle of the mat on the floor. I’m genuinely intrigued to soak up every bit of culture I can get. “What’s the best technique to keep from scattering rice all over myself and my surroundings?” And, “Why do men and women eat separately?” I enjoy hearing the perspectives, traditions, and stories from these new friends. But there are times when I find myself retreating to the perimeter of the room, the classic wallflower: actively observing and listening in on conversations, but clearly different from my Elliot (“The Most Extroverted Man in the World”), who’s always in the thick of things. Elliot is clearly energized by the whole environment. He would gladly stay all night, but I’m secretly grateful when my younger children’s repeated questions of “When are we leaving?” allow me an escape valve. On the drive home from Broadview Heights, I realize that I’m happy and fulfilled from all the night’s activities. But energy has been lost in the course of the evening.

When Saturday dawns, sun-soaked and silent, I’m delighted to wake up slowly, in solitude. The kids sleep in, so I have time to read in bed for awhile, look up through the skylight, rest a bit longer, get up to unload the dishwasher, eat some breakfast, start a load of laundry, and read the Saturday edition of the Akron Beacon Journal — all completely by myself. My energy is completely rebounded from the previous evening, and then some.

I send a text to my best friend, confirming that my kids and I will be coming to the birthday party his family is planning for his daughter. I’m excited about that. Perhaps another check in the “Extrovert” column. It’s genuinely fun for me when my kids wake up, one-by-one, and make their way to the kitchen for some breakfast. I appreciate their company, but I also don’t mind taking a break from them to shave and shower. We all get in the car to drive Elliot to his soccer practice, and then Olivia, Cor, and I head to Panera for our regular Saturday morning ritual. I feel more energized than I’ve felt in weeks.

It’s a slight hit on the energy counter when we linger in the Five and Below shop, Olivia working to pick out a birthday present, and then again when we have to wait ten minutes in the high school gymnasium, as Elliot finishes up his soccer practice.

Still I’m feeling fresh and friendly, as we arrive at the birthday party. It’s fun to catch up with the grown-ups while the kids run around with each other. It seems that my energy levels peak right around the time that we’re eating lunch — and from there, it’s a slow loss of energy through the dessert conversation… through Olivia’s two performances at the Ohio Music Education Association’s Solo and Ensemble event at the local middle school… through taking care of household chores and running Elliot to another birthday party for one of his peers… through making dinner… into the evening hours. I feel like it’s been a good day — a genuinely delightful day off — but I also start to look forward to the kids’ bedtime.

I spend some time at the computer, blogging about the weekend, and it occurs to me that even in this solitary act of introspection I’m validating my “Introvert Identity Card.” I still think I’m somewhat borderline, as I review the ebbs and flows of my weekend. Ultimately, though, I find I’m most refreshed by the intermittent solitude. I actually appreciate the fact that it’s intermittent — but clearly it’s the time alone that fuels the time with people.

I consider calling or texting my best friend to tell him about my conclusions. But I decide against it. “Too much human interaction right now,” I think to myself. I can tell him when I see him tomorrow.

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