I'll never forget my first INTJ. Working late one night in an empty museum, I found myself in some sparked banter with a confident and pretty dang dapper colleague. The chemistry was tangible.
I had stars in my eyes—bad.
A flirtation as refreshing as a sweet mojito on a warm summer night, I guessed him about 18 (he was 22); he guessed I was 24 (I was 20). We both were in college, home for the summer. We made a date to meet up later. He then proceeded to change my life.
For the uninitiated, MBTI is the semi-cultish personality test that believes our populace is comprised of sixteen personality combinations, based on how people perceive the world and make decisions. Constructed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, and founded on studies by psychologist Carl Jung, MBTI theorizes that there are four main functions that guide how people perceive the world and make decisions: Feeling (F)—Thinking (T), Sensing (S)—Intuition (N), Extraversion (E)—Introversion (I), and Judging (J)—Perceiving (P). Each individual falls somewhere on a spectrum for each of these four functions.
On one hand, it can be absolutely fascinating to analyze personality quirks and categorize all your friends and family. On the other hand, that’s just it: you’re categorizing people into neat little boxes, and a misguided adherence to it can backfire.
Our little coffee date that summer was the best first date ever. Somewhere between the laughs, the conversation, and the electricity, he said he was an INTJ and guessed I was an ENFP. I had no idea what this meant, so I took the questionnaire. He was right—I was an ENFP. Soon after exploring the personality charts, I also discovered that INTJ and ENFPs are a match made in MBTI heaven. I was convinced the stars had just aligned.
For those who have taken a MBTI test before, you know that reading your results can be kind of jaw-dropping. MBTI gives you the feeling of looking into a mirror for the first time. It’s a map to a world where all of life’s little puzzle pieces come together. Ah! He likes following rules because he’s an ISTJ. Oh, she’s always throwing parties because she’s an ESFP, and so on. And as you read your personality, you’re introduced to an entire community that feels and thinks like you. For us enthusiastic and sensitive ENFPs, this can feel like coming home.
That summer of 2008 was unforgettable. The economic crash of the “great recession” hadn’t yet dampened our post-collegiate ambitions; we were old enough to take this relationship seriously yet young enough not to be bothered with real responsibilities. As Coldplay’s Viva La Vida played on the radio and we rolled down our windows to warm summer air, it really did feel like I had found “the one.”
Reality has a funny way of crashing romantic highs—sometimes literally. After a minor car crash (that was entirely my fault), our summer love came to a screeching halt. That night, kind of shaken up by events, we had real talk. I was leaving in a matter of days. What were we? Where the heck was this thing headed?
We tried long distance, but after a few months of terse and spotty communication—with states and time zones between us—we didn’t exactly put in the same kind of effortless enthusiasm. Things that we might have glossed over when we were physically together became mammoth canyons when all we had was a phone. He became jealous; I became paranoid. Short story: The hypothetical life we had thought we could build together was really a castle made on quicksand, and it was all caving in quite fast.
With my heart in my throat, our relationship was terminated suddenly—and sharply. Since we didn’t have any mutual friends in common, it was mostly an easy break; there was no contact afterward. On the surface, I was fine. Inwardly, I was breaking.
Instead of leaving my MBTI revelations to the wayside, I clung to them even harder. It was all I had left of him. In my sadness, I quickly became obsessed, scrolling through forums late at night, scavenging for answers. Why did we end? Where could I find a man just like that again? When I did start “talking” to other guys, I would quickly tell them about this personality predictor only to be disappointed when they were a different type. How could I ever be happy with an INFP, an ESTJ, or (heaven forbid) an ISTJ?
Years of this late-night internet obsession later, I ended up taking the test again. While my N and F were as strong as ever, my weak E became an I, and my P slipped into a slight J.
Yep, according to this self-reporting quiz, I was now an INFJ. Mind blown.
While a quarter-life crisis didn’t exactly ensue, I realized something for the first time: It’s just a test. It’s a framework to use as a tool, not a forecaster that sees all and dictates your fate. And with that, I realized that my love for the test was really my sad, kind of pathetic hope that my long-lost love would come back.
I’ll never regret dating my INTJ. But I do regret my naivety in thinking that he—or his type—was the only one, or even the right one.
My husband is not the same personality type; in fact, the online forums tell me his alleged ENTJ-ness is far too brusque and domineering for my sensitive nature, but I don’t find him at all that way; he’s warm and endearing. And while there are sixteen personality types, there’s only one of him.
We’re building our life together, on something a bit more substantial than fireworks and quicksand. MBTI can be helpful (and fun), but remember, it’s not a crystal ball. It can never wholly and accurately define you—or anyone you love.
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Tsung