Those who emerge from yet another failed relationship are often consoled by friends with the words, "you just weren't right for one another." This, of course, implies that there is someone out there who is right for them. Surely, if there are such things as personality types then some must be better suited than others. Would an introvert, for example, be wise to seek out other introverts? Or would she be happier with someone who would encourage her to socialize a little more? Will someone romantic, adventurous, and emotional always find a sensible pragmatist dull? Or will such a person keep them grounded? Or is the whole idea of matching people by personality type misguided?
Some dispute the very idea of a personality type, arguing that people are simply too complicated to fit neatly into abstract categories. Others resent being boxed and labelled, preferring to cultivate their little quirks and eccentricities instead. And it seems clear that if you give someone a label they will live up to it and may even be resented when they do not.
As soon as the topic of personality types comes up, the Myers-Brigg test is usually mentioned. Some swear by this and will base their whole search for a partner on it. The Myers-Brigg test sorts people into sixteen different types, however, which can make the whole thing rather complicated and confusing. Still, such attempts have been going on for centuries. Even in Shakespeare's day, people were divided by the four humors: phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine, and melancholic.
However skeptical one may be about types, it seems undeniable that some people are introverts and some extroverts. Carl Jung makes this distinction and describes the first as people whose psychic energy flows inward, the second as people whose energy flows outward. In essence, introverts need a lot of alone time and find social interaction (especially meeting new people) exhausting. Extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy from such interaction – almost like a solar panel soaking up sunlight.
So what happens when the two form a relationship? Are introverts better suited to other introverts? Do extroverts need the bouncy energy of a fellow extrovert? Obviously, problems can arise when an introvert and an extrovert get together, but these tend to derive from simple misunderstandings. So long as people are aware of these differences and work around them, there is no reason why an introvert and an extrovert should not be very happy together.
First, the extrovert must understand that the introvert needs time alone. Social interaction in itself can exhaust them, even if no physical energy is required. They also need to understand that this need for alone time isn't personal. The introvert may love the extrovert deeply. It isn't that they wish to get away from him or her, just that they need to recuperate. Time alone can be as vital to an introvert as sleep. The introvert, however, must appreciate that the extrovert will soon grow restless and dejected if he is made to stay indoors all weekend. For example, an introvert may find it impossible to understand why her partner likes to go to the local bar. "He doesn't even talk much when he is there," she says, "and the other guys are all bores with nothing to say – it's just the same old jokes, same old opinions. What's the point?" She fails to understand that her boyfriend simply wishes to be around other people, that's all. He may even share her views on the other customers at the bar – but to him even they are better than sitting at home alone.
Communication is key. You and your partner must come to some kind of understanding. If you are an introvert, explain how exhausting and unpleasant socializing can be for you. Also, you need to clarify which forms of socializing you prefer. Maybe you like dining with a few friends but cannot stand big parties. On the other hand, some find the intimacy of a dinner party much worse and prefer a noisy nightclub. Or maybe it is meeting new people that you really hate. If you are an extrovert, you need to respect your partner's feelings and, for example, give him or her warning before you invite a big group of friends over for a drink.
Another useful distinction is between what might be labelled the romantic and the pragmatic personality. Of course, such labels mean different things to different people, but let's say that the romantic personality type has some or all of the following traits: a rich inner life; a vague, dreamy mind; a preference for literature, history and the arts over science; difficulty with technology; a messy, disorganized lifestyle and difficulty with practical problems; a playful, ironic humor; and a tendency to be guided by emotion rather than by reason. The pragmatic personality, on the other hand, will possess most of the following: a tendency to take everything literally; a love of science, technology, and computer games; an interest in current affairs and a disinterest in the past; a need to plan and reason things out. Even whole cultures have been separated in this way. Europeans, for example, often describe Americans as literal-minded and pragmatic.
When these sorts of people form relationships, tensions can arise. Perhaps the most obvious example is the meaningless romantic gesture. To some people, these really are meaningless, to others they can make or break a relationship. Some people are so practical and unemotional that they will buy their partner a new lawnmower or car seat for her birthday and be genuinely shocked at her disappointment. Problems can also arise over how to raise children. The romantic, emotional type may be more spontaneous and anarchic, allowing their child to stay up late and watch a horror movie or try a glass of wine when he is underage.
If you are a romantic, be wary of projection. Romantic people often have vivid inner lives which they then project onto other people. The romantic person will imagine their perfect partner or perfect relationship, often allowing themselves to be swept away by such daydreaming. Unfortunately, this fantasy tends not to give way to reality – at least not initially – and so the romantic finds himself in love not with an actual flesh and blood person but with his projection. Gradually, this begins to crumble and he is shocked to discover, six months or a year down the line, that this person is not who he thought they were.
The pragmatist needs to learn to appreciate these romantic qualities in their partner, seeing them not as excesses but as loveable character traits. The romantic, on the other hand, needs to see the pragmatist not as limited or defective but as grounded and sensible. This is why humor is so vital in any long-term relationship. If people can acknowledge such differences, and learn to laugh together when they come up, they may even draw the couple closer together.
Some magazine articles give the misleading impression that certain personality types somehow click or fit together and that others do not. Were this true, you would merely need to take a test, work out your 'type', and then find your perfect match. No doubt some do have faith in this ultra-rational, ultra-scientific approach. Most, however, find it cold and repellent. For a start, there is no such thing as a pure 'type'. No one is a 100% romantic introvert, for example. Indeed, most people are full of contradictions, while others change a great deal as the years pass. The key is not finding your match but knowing who you are, knowing who your partner is, and then appreciating and even valuing these differences.