"I'm an ISTJ," he told me, and that's the moment I decided it could be doomed. It was only my fourth date with the guy, but until then, he'd seemed perfect: an intelligent 23-year-old with blond hair, visible maturity, and the derring-do to wear a pink button-up. He was a Southern gentleman just missing the bow tie, and I was his girly companion in pink, white, and red. Together, we made a lovely J.Crew catalog in New York City's Riverside Park.
So when I asked his Myers-Briggs type, a practice I do with everyone I meet, I didn't expect to hear an answer so far from my own. The test, officially known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, categorizes people into 16 different, four-letter personality types, where each letter represents a preference between two modes of thinking—extroverted (E) versus introverted (I); sensing (S) versus intuitive (N); thinking (T) versus feeling (F); and judging (J) versus perceiving (P).
I'm an ENFJ, and he, as an ISTJ, thought pretty differently than me. When I heard the letters, I started imagining our points of tension—but then I stopped myself.
Better self-awareness is good for a lot of reasons, and even as an experiment it was interesting to see Ford putting more thought into how and why their customers choose certain models over others.
Though I always felt there was something impenetrable about him—he admitted people had trouble connecting with him and seemed closed—he told me he liked me. "I can't wait to get to know you more," he said, the words seeming so genuine. So the ISTJ thing definitely wasn't a deal breaker, I told myself. And it didn't seem to be…until he disappeared a week later without explanation. Was it fair of me then to blame it partly on his Myers-Briggs type? (Even just a little bit?)
The Magic of Myers-Briggs
When I met J.Crew guy, I had been obsessed with the Myers-Briggs for years. I swore the test, with its zodiac-esque quality to it, could make me happier in love. From the articles I read about ENFJ romantic compatibility, I determined some types better complemented mine. The INFP was specifically called out as a strong match. So I'd search for that, and the further someone's type was from it, the less seriously I'd take them as a love interest.
I wasn't completely wrong in thinking the MBTI could be a powerful tool—it's actually used in couple's therapy and pre-martial counseling. But Jennifer Overbo, the director of MBTI product strategy, told me that my particular interpretation of how to use MBTI—searching for an INFP to date—was misguided. "The better way to think about it is there's potential in every relationship. What you should be focusing on is how do I get to understand who that other person actually is, and how they naturally prefer to approach their lives."
The real advantage of knowing someone's type starts on that first date "when oftentimes you are coming to them in a way that you feel that they need you to be or want you to be, versus who you really are." The four letters become a shortcut to see through the mask not only you wear but they also do, too. You may find out sooner who they really are and how that fits with you.
How to Deal With Type Differences
When J.Crew guy told me his type that afternoon, I didn't really use that information correctly. Overbo suggests using type "as a way to really engage them further. Say, 'Great, let's talk a little bit more about that. How does that impact you?'" Try to really understand them.
Instead, my mind got ahead of me, and I convinced myself we weren't compatible. As an ISTJ, he was logical and detail driven; as an ENFJ, I was feeling and big picture-oriented. In our arguments, he'd seem cold and indifferent to me; I'd seem unnecessarily emotional to him.
I focused on conflict points, which letters can reveal. But they're far from guaranteed "because there's more to every relationship than just personality type." Still, Overbo noted a few red flags with opposite pairings:
1. Introversion vs. Extroversion (the direction of your energy and where you focus your attention):
"That can be a great combination when you're looking for balance, but it can also cause some hiccups along the way." An example: After a hard day, an E-type may want to talk and "can be seen as maybe barraging [an I-type] with a lot of conversation and a lot of talking. The I-type is thinking, 'I really want to go into a quiet room and do some reflecting on my day and have my own personal space. I really need to get energized before I'm ready to engage in that kind of discourse.'"
2. Sensing vs. Intuition (how you take in information):
"A lot of times that can cause some issues" because S-types are more detailed-oriented and N-types are more big-picture. An example: While cooking, an S-type "is going to be measuring out and be really more focused on exactly what's supposed to happen" while the N-type may be like "'We're just gonna throw this in, we're gonna try this new ingredient.' It can cause a lot of humor and fun, but in more serious topics or areas of your life, it can cause some frustration."
3. Thinking vs. Feeling (how you like to make decisions or come to closure):
T-types "decide based on logic and more impersonal analysis" while F-types "make decisions more on human values," which can at times be hard to reconcile. An example: When inviting people to a wedding, "a T-type may take that spreadsheet approach and be sort of be detached and think about the fact that we can only invite X number of people. [Meanwhile,] the F-type is thinking, 'Well gosh, if I invite this person, then the other person might wonder why they weren't included.' They're just more focused on what is the impact of this decision on other people?"
4. Perceiving vs. Judging (how you plan):
"This one is the one in particular [that] can be a source of conflict." P-types are more spontaneous while J-types "approach life in a really organized, planful, and structured fashion." An example: When planning a weekend, a J-type will say "'Where is that list? How are you approaching this? I want to get it done, I want to get it done ahead of time.' And the P-type is sitting there, thinking, 'Well, I don't approach things making lists. Just trust me, I'm gonna go to the store, I've made a mental list. I may be doing [each item] 20 minutes before it needs to be done, but I'll get it done on time, not two days ahead of time.'"
My belief about arguing was right. With any of these differences, "over time, if there isn't a real understanding about why this other person comes at things [differently], resentment can build, and you may think, 'Gosh, this person doesn't really appreciate what I need,'" Overbo said.
But even though it may seem attractive and comfortable, being with your same type can create problems too, Overbo warned. "Often what can happen in those relationships is one person ends up dominating in [each preference], and the other person has to flex outside of theirs," she explained. "And that can be very draining."
Suppose J.Crew guy was an extrovert like me. "You may both want to talk about your day, and you both want to be able to get what you need to say out. But who's listening?"
The Future of Myers-Briggs in My Love Life
After talking with Overbo, I realized my approach with dating was all wrong, that Myers-Briggs shouldn't eliminate anyone. After all, as Overbo said so eloquently, "I think you owe it to yourself as an individual to expect more—and to explore more. You never know what you might miss if you're limiting yourself at the start."
What Myers-Briggs does help with, though, is providing a jumping-off point for communication, because "at the end of the day, if you can figure out how to communicate with another person, that's going to be the key to your relationship success."
And that's where J.Crew guy and I failed. When he told me he was an ISTJ, I immediately gave up on being able to understand him (not to say he made it easy by ignoring my reconnection texts after.) So despite the MBTI not being the quite the dating cheat I thought it'd be, I do still believe in it and its power in relationships. If all we really want is for people to understand us, the Myers-Briggs puts everyone one step closer, reminding us all to be aware of the many other ways people think.
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