Living overseas, especially when you live in a beautiful place like Southern Spain, creates its own form of guilt. How can you be anything less than content in the land of tinto de verano, endless sunshine, fiestas, and family?
Those who know the feeling understand. The ache. Watching others chat over coffee, while you are mentally practicing how to order one. Lingering at the schoolyard, while other parents catch up on gossip. Scanning through social media, it seems your former life was large and full, and far less complicated.
Finding A Balance.
On the introvert-extrovert scale, I fall right in the middle. The term for that is an ambivert. What this means is that I enjoy being social, and people even perceive me to be confident, or a leader. However, when I’ve hit my limit, this girl is D-O-N-E. I need to recharge, and it needs to be within the walls of my home.
If I’m alone too much, I get lonely and sad. If I’m with people too much, I get stressed and exhausted. I have to work with both sides of my nature, to ensure that I don’t overwhelm myself, nor feel disconnected. These ambivert appointment strategies have worked for me.
While hardly original advice, this is still important. When I was new to Spain, I knew I wanted to get active and improve my Spanish. These goals led to friendships, through Spanish lessons and CrossFit. Both groups met regularly with the same cast of characters. Both had challenges—we grew together, we messed up together. Both were exhilarating, and, at times exhausting. Both had the safety net of a coach or teacher. Both ended at a set hour.
As certain friendships developed, I tried to schedule weekly opportunities to meet up. Each Tuesday, I had un café with some of the mothers from my son’s school. Another friend and I meal prepped together Friday mornings. Every Wednesday, I helped a friend with her English. All of these activities had purpose and structure, so I wasn’t inwardly panicking about awkward, long silences. With appointments in place, I could also guarantee time for my introvert needs.
You Can Be Alone Without Feeling Lonely
One of my friends, for her fortieth birthday, took a trip to London by herself. She also is an ambivert, so she scheduled the trip accordingly. She took guided tours, which eliminated stress and danger, while providing company if she decided she wanted to chat. She met up with a friend for dinner one evening, but left a lot of time free as well. ¨I ate when I wanted to eat,¨ she said, ¨and I did what I wanted to do.¨ Does she regret celebrating a significant birthday without company?
Not. A. Bit.
I, too, cherish my time alone. Writing, reading, decorating, cooking—these activities feed my soul, and allow for meditation. I don’t feel that I’m “missing out,” for I have built my Ambivert Appointments into my day. I have just enough time to feel that I am making the most of this wonderful expat experience, while still remaining true to myself.
How do you make this balance work? Are you an ambivert as well? I welcome your stories.
Author: Nancy Campbell
Forty-something English teacher and mother to two tween boys. Crossfit cult member, writer, and social gadfly. American by birth, living in Southern Spain.