For the past year, I've been dating my diametric opposite. As an ardent student of personality psychology, I typically pay close attention to what the science says about my compatibility with an individual before I decide to get serious. However, in this instance, I broke all of those rules.
My girlfriend of one year is my EXACT opposite. Personality type wise, we have NO common ground. I'm ENFP, and she's ISTJ. I actually first met her at a Personality Powered Networking event, but didn't intially remember our interaction because she wasn't an INTJ or INFJ (which are my supposed ideal matches). We crossed paths again in July of last year at a Urban League Young Professionals meeting, and the rest is history.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Personality Psychology, I'll provide a brief overview of what the letters mean. A person's letter merely indicates that in a particular dichotomy, they prefer to use one function over the other. So for example, people who score E (extroversion) tend to use it more often than I (introversion).
E vs. I
This dichotomy describes how a person prefers to "recharge" People who prefer Extroversion (E) recharge by being around others. Socialization gives them energy, hence they typically seek out social interactions and develop a large circle of friends and interests. On the other hand, people with a preference for Introversion (I) are drained by socialization. They seek alone time to "recharge" after prolonged social engagement. They tend to have a smaller amount of hobbies and friends, but have a greater depth in their interests and relationships. My preference is E, and hers is I.
S vs. N
This dichotomy dictates what type of information a person prefers. People with a Sensing (S) preference favor information that is concrete and tangible. Information holds less value If they can't experience it with their five senses, or if it isn't tried, true and proven. They live in the present moment and speak in a concrete manner. People who prefer Intuition (N) are more speculative, abstract, and theoretical. They make inferences based on what they experience, and like to "read in between the lines". They communicate using concepts and symbols, and often speak in metaphor. I'm a N and she's a S.
T vs. F
These letters describe how people prefer to make decisions. People who prefer Thinking (T) make decisions on what they perceive to be a set of logical principles. They do not consider their feelings or the feelings of others as much as they do the facts. They strive for consistency in decision making, and often make decisions in new situations based on how they handled previous ones. People with a Feeling (F) preference make decisions based on their own values. They strive for win win situations and consider the human element an important (if not the most important) aspect of the decision making process. My preference is F, and hers is T.
J vs. P
This last dichotomy governs how people prefer to structure their lifestyle. People with a Judging preference like organization, structure, and to have things resolved. They tend to meet deadlines, keep a schedule, arrive on time for appointments, and keep their work space and home environment organized. People with a Perceiving preference tend to take a more flexible approach to life and like to stay open to information. They tend to prefer deadlines that can be easily changed, prefer to go with the flow, and are comfortable with unexpected changes of plans and occurrences, and their work spaces and home environments may not be as organized as J's. I prefer P, and her preference is J. So, my personality type is ENFP, and she's an ISTJ. In psychology theory, we are what are called Shadow Types.
Can't We All Just Get Along?
So how do two people who are exact opposites in every letter get along? EVERY article I read about ENFP's and ISTJ''s say that its a bad match, and that anyone in a relationship with this pairing should abort mission, get an alias and fake ID, and join a witness protection program. However, the keys that has allowed our relationship to thrive are respect, listening, and learning. While I'm using these in the context of personality, I truly believe these virtues can improve any relationship in which those involved are not seeing eye to eye.
More than anything else, respect has helped our relationship grow. I have great respect for her intellect, and for her as a person overall. She demonstrates the same respect for me. Normally, people who are complete opposites tend to value their way of doing things over their partners' because their significant other's way is completely foreign to them. As it is often said, we fear what we don't understand. However, our mutual respect allows us to be open to each others perspectives. I must say that our openness to one another's perspectives has led to vast personal growth for the both of us. If done correctly, dating someone with a completely different perspective than yours can be both enlightening and fulfilling.
When you're dating your diametric opposite, often times you feel like the two of you are speaking a completely different language. The S vs. N dichotomy is actually the most important one in terms of compatibility, and it also governs communication style. So, when you and your partner are opposite on this dimension it can be extremely difficult. My girlfriend and I have come to expect occasional miscommunication, and combat it by truly listening to what each other is trying to say. To us, words aren't as important as the essence of what's being communicated. Words are merely sign posts that point to an idea, so we look beyond how things are being said at the true essence of whats trying to be communicated. By actively listening, we often learn that 1) we are actually saying the same thing or 2) that while we disagree with how one of us said something, we agree with the underlying idea.
The amount of learning that takes place while dating your diametric opposite is amazing, as long as you aren't busy trying to force your perspective on them. Often times, we try to make others more like us. We try to convince them of all the reasons why its better to put ketchup in the refrigerator as opposed to the cabinet, or why the way we make pasta is better than their recipe. By entering a relationship with an openness to learning, both individuals become more well rounded. Since dating her, I've become more organized, and she's become more spontaneous. We've both developed new interests and see the world in a much more realistic way than we did prior to crossing paths. Its exciting to learn about new music, new ways of conducting business, and new foods by just being open to what we both have to offer. Furthermore, being open to what we both bring to the table has allowed us to function effectively as a couple. She handles all of the administrative stuff for my business, and I handle all of the creative stuff for hers. We have both benefited and grown by learning from each other.
I would have never in my wildest dreams imagined dating an ISTJ. I also would have never imagined that my relationship with an ISTJ would be the most satisfying and intellectually stimulating relationship I've been in. I truly feel that the recipe to our success has been the fact that we respect one another, listen to each other, attempt to learn from one another. If these principles can work for us, trust me they can work for any relationship!