|by Karen L. Glooch|
|S and N
Do opposites really attract? Absolutely. But just to make love interesting, what attracts each partner can quickly become that which makes each other crazy. Admit itif you are a disorganized, habitually late social animal who meets an organized, punctual, reserved person, your intrigue-bells will ring so loudly you'll miss the sound of your subconscious calculating all the things this person will "fix" in you. Once the thrill of your new "opposite" wears off however, your natural tendency will be to try to fix the differences you initially found so attractive. Truth is, as often as we are drawn to what we lack because we understand the value difference brings to the whole of things, we also forget its value because it takes work to truly understand each others' differences and appreciate them over the long-haul.
The teaching of psychiatrist C. G. Jung says that each of us has an inherent preference for gathering and processing information about the world, and that these preferences are the basis of personality. Jung's theories were introduced to the masses via the Myers-Briggs Type Indictor (MBTI). The MBTI is the world's most widely used personality type assessment so you may already be familiar with the tool and your four-letter personality "type." Companies frequently use the MBTI assessment to promote a deeper understanding of style differences among and within teams. The premise is age-old: if you take the time to understand yourself and others, conflict is reduced and productive relationships are increased. This applies to couples too.
When I first met my partner, I noticed a level of precision about her speech and actions that at the time were absolutely, irresistibly fascinating to me. Two weeks after meeting at our then mutual place of employment, I bopped over to her desk and asked her if she wanted to grab some lunch with me and a colleague. She looked at the clock on her impeccably organized desk and asked what time we would be leaving, when I thought we'd return, where we would go, and the name of the colleague who would be joining us. At the time, I had no idea I needed to know all of the answers before she could make a decision. I thought she just didn't want to seem too eager to say yes.
My partner, in Myers-Briggs speak, is a sensing type; an "S", a person who, like 70% of the U.S. population, lives in the present and trusts information gathered primarily through her five senses. Reality for her exists because she can see, taste, touch, hear or smell it. She focuses on facts and details, and is not inclined to dissect their meanings or relationships to other things. She is Jane Friday: "Just the facts, Ma'am." Moi? I am the opposite of an "S". I am an "N", an intuitive, a person for whom, like 30% of the U.S. population, reality exists because I can imagine it. I digest facts through theoretical frameworks, possibilities, hidden meanings, and relationships between and among things. Me: Big pictureWanna go to lunch? Her: Detailed picturewho, what, when, where, why?
My lack of readied (and, to me, irrelevant) information when I asked her to lunch nine years ago seemed to indicate to her no less than total incompetence on my part, and, sans all the facts, the creation of an unanswerable question. Was I annoyed, intimidated or otherwise put-off? Hell no! I was intrigued, challenged, curious. It was only week two! She agreed to go to lunch, but only if I promised to have her back to the office by one-fifteen p.m. sharp. How cute, I thought. Two years later I found myself yelling things like, "Can't you just say 'yes' when I ask you to lunch and trust that we'll go somewhere we will both like and that we'll be back in time for your precious meeting?!" She, in turn, no longer thought my endless stream of ideas without attendant facts to assist her decision making process were charming and interesting. She would say things back like, "How can I say I want to go somewhere for lunch if I don't know where we're going and if I don't know whether I'll be back in time for my next meeting?"
Several years into our relationship, our differences began to seem endless. As we walked our dogs on the same route through our neighborhood, I would make observations such as, "Well, look at that. The Simpsons finally got a new door." And she would say, "Yes, last August." (And she would be correct.) Often, at dinnertime, as I explained my latest theory on something or other and how I could eventually turn that brilliant something or other into a business, and therefore we could move to Rehoboth full-time, I would turn to her when the "uh huh, uh huh"s sounded too robotic, and I would realize that instead of listening, she was reading The Washington Post. Not so cute anymore.
I would accuse her of killing all of our dreams before they ever had a chance to take shape much less take flight. Exacerbated, she would say, "You have one hundred ideas a day! How am I supposed to know when to take you seriously?" We both silently worried that perhaps the compatibility we swore was there when we first met was slipping away. How can my soul mate claim not to daydream? I would wonder. And she: How can I respect someone who can't find glasses she's actually wearing?
It's the day-to-day misunderstandings that, left unattended, can erode a relationship into non-existence. By educating ourselves about personality types, my partner and I gained another set of tools for not only understanding each other's differences, but for using them to make us a better whole. Now, prior to jumping in the car to drive to my destination, I stop and ask my partner for a "quality control check." She runs through the list: Directions? Cell phone? Matching earrings?
Old thought: that annoying checklist makes me feel incompetent and makes her seem like a nag. New thought: she loves me enough to take the time to make sure I have everything I need because usually I don't.
Last week, I went to Atlanta to visit a friend I've known since junior high school. During one of our conversations, we were discussing our respective significant others. She asked me why I thought I enjoyed my life with my partner so deeply. After a few minutes (okay, definitely more than a few minutes), I heard myself summarize my numerous theories, "She makes sense to me," I said. "Well, most of the time."
And that's a fact.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 11 August 12, 2005