As a historically terrible person enamored with her own mind, I’ve been known to partake in brain tests in my downtime. I guess you could call it a hobby, if you consider narcissism an extra-curricular. I once took a two-hour IQ test online because I was convinced the results would be impressive. No spoilers but they totally were.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test always held particular interest for me. I reveled in discovering I was an introvert in 2007. (That was super trendy for a while; now I’m convinced I’m just self-conscious around people and find that very tiring.) When the website 16Personalities rebranded the MBTI with colorful elves in hats and cute little monikers like “Adventurer” and “Virtuoso,” I turned into a nightmare. I read each type with dedication akin to that of a law student studying for the LSATs, but I was not in pursuit of a degree so much as guessing people’s types, strong-arming them into taking the test and consulting their results like horoscopes. I even paid for an extended reading of my own type. It was like $30 and thicker than a book.
It’s all very satisfying, labeling people, until it’s problematic. My obsession reached a fever pitch while I was in a serious relationship with an ISFJ. He was only one letter away from me — I’m an INFJ — but I got it in my head that the second letter was the most important one. And I became convinced, quite terrifyingly, that this was evidence of our demise.
The second letter in MBTI results is supposed to indicate how one processes the world. N and S, the two options, stand for iNtuitive and Sensing. Intuitive people (N) are said to be future-focused, imaginative, complicated and deep. Sensing people (S) are said to be practical, concrete, present and observant. Was this why my minutes-long philosophical ponderings put him to sleep? Was I just operating on another level? (The answer, in hindsight, was that my rants were just boring and uninspired and it was 11 p.m.)
“The INFJ personality type is very rare, making up less than one percent of the population, but they nonetheless leave their mark on the world,” reported 16Personalities, wrapping me up in a special snowflake blanket and stroking my ego. It went on to cite Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela among my INFJ peers. Imagine how insufferable this made me, then multiply it by two.
ISFJs, on the other hand, made up 13% of the population, the site reported. 13%? That’s hundreds of millions more people, I noted. “[I]f they can ensure that their efforts are recognized, ISFJs are likely to feel a level of satisfaction in what they do that many other personality types can only dream of.” SATISFACTION? On this planet? How could we ever see eye-to-eye? I started reading up on INFJ/ISFJ pairings. Surely internet strangers would know if my relationship was working.
Let me tell you, I did not like what I found:
“You might feel as if you are speaking different languages as your interpretation and recall of each situation are often wildly different,” one read.
“A sensor and an intuitive will face some challenges in conversation. The sensor lives in the concrete world of facts and senses, while the intuitive tends to wonder more about possibilities and what is not immediately recognizable,” read another.
Another claimed, to my horror: “They may find they run out of things to talk about.”
“INFJs and ISFJs sometimes remain in partnerships that are no longer working,” reported one final assessment, sending me into a full spiral. I found brief solace in the fact that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were an example of a successful INFJ/ISFJ couple, but I’d never been all that into Brad Pitt, honestly, and their marriage seemed snoozy (and would eventually end, not that I knew), so I got back to panicking.
I spent one night on forums reading about INFJ/ISFJ couples until 3 a.m. I became convinced we were doomed. My sanity had officially left the building. I spent weeks in that dark, ridiculous place. I’d somehow managed to hone in on the most inappropriate approach to personality tests: take the results as rigid rule, put people in boxes they didn’t need nor ask for and then judge them for it.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you about me.
Before long, though, I began to notice parts of me, him and our relationship that didn’t fit the internet’s descriptions. In other words, I stepped out of my utter delirium. Of course these were just guidelines. Of course they didn’t know me better than I knew myself. My reliance on them said so much more about me and my insecurities than they ever did about him or our relationship. I eventually dropped the obsession and slowly started seeing us, and everyone, for the complex little universes that we are.
I’ll admit that I still diagnose people’s MBTI results when the topic arises, but old habits die hard, you know? An ego isn’t killed in a day. It’s best to just not bring it up around me at all.