Monday, August 10, 2009

The Mating Game: Rationals and Idealists

Sorry I've taken so long to post this. I can blame two distractions: children (need I say more?), and the discovery of another personality scholar, Dr. Katherine Benziger. I've been delving into her book and ideas, and I can't wait to share her findings-- very exciting stuff! But for now, here's the post about personality theory I've promised...

I remember when I was young, maybe 11 or 12, how I used to imagine what my "soulmate" would be like. I used to walk through my day, speaking to him in my mind. I used to pretend that he was just outside the window, and that he could hear my thoughts. Naturally, I imagined that he was responding to my needs perfectly. And I intuitively "knew" that I'd know him when I found him.

For Idealists (members of Keirsey's Idealist temperament, or those with NF in their Myers-Briggs personality type), the soulmate bond is more than having common interests, more than enjoying time spent together, more than a chemical attraction, even more than best friends. A soulmate is one's other half. When together, they create a whole. They are part of each other. Once found and devotion confessed, they would be together forever. With undying commitment. Always keeping each other as first priority. (I'm sure you Idealists are vigorously nodding your heads right about now, while others of you are thinking "whoa! I'd be suffocating"...)

And, I always believed (since girlfriends and movies and books all seemed to provide sufficient evidence) that everyone wanted the same thing from their mate. Right??

Wrong!-- wow-- I had no idea how wrong I was!

The truth is that all personality types (Idealists, Rationals, Guardians, and Artisans) are mostly "self" centered. That is, although we recognize that others have different interests, beliefs, and values, we tend to assume that others basically think the same way we do. If we aren't aware there are other ways of seeing the world, what else can we think, really? For example, don’t we all want to be loved? And, we know what that means, right?

Again, wrong! Let's take a look at Idealist and Rational pairings.

Idealists seek "soulmates," while Rationals seek "mindmates."* The Idealist soulmate connection is based on a deep spiritual bond, the search for wholeness, and the merging of two individuals. In contrast, the Rational mindmate connection is based on shared interests, the search for truth, and the connection of two independent individuals. For an Idealist, the bond "is" and always will be, because both partners choose it to "be." For a Rational, the connection is only as real as it is objectively present at any given moment. So, for an Idealist the bond is formed at the start. Subsequent positive interactions simply reinforce that they are soulmates, and negative interactions are brushed off as the imperfection of human nature. Whereas, a Rational uses objective observation to determine whether a relationship achieves mindmate status, and subsequent interactions may reinforce or nullify the bond (clearly they allow for everyday rubs, but the overall belief in the bond is more transient.)

So, what happens when an Idealist and a Rational come together?

This is where things get interesting. They have a common preference for abstract language, so communication feels easy. So easy in fact, that I propose that (thanks to self centered thinking) the Idealist believes that he/she has found another Idealist who is remarkably grounded and has figured out how to translate visions into reality (in other words, a super Idealist!) And the Rational believes that he/she has found another Rational who has mastered the uncomfortable realm of emotion (in other words, a super Rational). Interestingly, I found a theory online called the "Grand Miscommunication Theory" (by IgaNoKami). He rather succinctly sums it up as thus (I changed his terminology to match "Rational" and "Idealist"):
It is my theory that within the relationship between the (Rational) and the (Idealist), there is a grand accident that lends itself to compatibility between the two types.

The (Rational) is most happy when allowed to rationally examine, explore, and explain his motivations and self-analysis and observation to an intimate partner. This is simply because the (Rational) loves self exploration, loves to gather knowledge and insight into his own actions, not for the sake of emotional discovery, simply out of a sense of curiosity and need to analyze and collect data.

The (Rational) unemotionally and detachedly explains why he or she thinks in a certain way - that is what (Rational)s are best at, observation, particularly of themselves - and the (Idealist) then thinks that they are opening up to them, and becomes moved and emotionally attached to the (Rational). The (Rational) sees that their observations are being received and interesting to the (Idealist), so they continue.

A fascinating relationship between two types. A relationship of total mutual miscommunication, the motivations are completely different, but with a reinforcing result. The (Rational) feels the closeness and intimacy of being able to share their scientific self-analysis, and the (Idealist) feels that the (Rational) is sharing their innermost thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and so the cycle of miscommunication keeps them locked together in a positively reenforcing relationship.
And neither is the wiser until the Idealist becomes confused by the Rational's focus on achievement, and the Rational feels uncomfortable with the Idealist's focus on connection. It is then that the two must recognize and accept that their basic fuel for a relationship is different, and that the other will never truly fulfill the concept of mate that each values. In other words, the Idealist is not a mindmate and the Rational is not a soulmate.

So, does that mean we should mate with someone of our own temperament? Not necessarily. Most often, it is our differences that attract us to another. For good reason. Each personality type has strengths and weaknesses. One's strengths can complement the other's weakness. It is easy to see how "self" centered thinking would lead to confusion and misunderstanding between the two mates.

Some lucky couples do find an amazingly compatible mate to share their life with. But for the majority of us, once the romantic love phase of a new relationship fades, we start to experience rubs. And then we start launching our own Pygmalion Projects, each attempting to reform the other into a person more like ourself. Since, naturally, we all believe that our aim in life is the most valuable for everybody. But, as Keirsey points out, others cannot adopt our goals without violating their own character. The key to success, I believe, is maturity, a willingness to learn how others think, and a willingness to embrace others' values as equally valid as our own.

Personality theory experts tell us that any type pairing can be successful. Certainly, any two mature, well adjusted adults can learn to meet each others' needs and make a marriage work. But interestingly, studies have shown that there is a pattern to mating. Keirsey spent 40 years "people watching," and he has documented clear patterns in mating. By far, the most common marriage is between an Artisan and a Guardian. Not surprising, given that Artisans (SPs) and Guardians (SJs) comprise 85% of the population (according to Keirsey). And, though it's difficult for the relatively rare Rationals (NTs) and Idealists (NFs) to find each other, there is a significant frequency of Rational-Idealist marriages. I won't get into the explanation here, but Keirsey has a clear theory about why these pairings occur. It has to do with the preference for abstract vs. concrete use of language (N vs. S), and the preference for using tools in a cooperative manner to pursue goals (SJs and NFs) vs. using tools in a utilitarian (or most effective) manner to pursue goals (SPs and NTs.)

So whether your spouse is an Artisan searching for a playmate, a Guardian searching for a helpmate, an Idealist searching for a soulmate, or a Rational searching for a mindmate, any pairing can be successful. And learning how another sees the world can be a wonderful, lifelong, grand adventure!

(*Guardians seek "helpmates," and Artisans seek "playmates.")


Linda S. Socha said...

What a wonderfully insightful post!I think it can be very interesting when each partner want a bit of it all!
Great post

Precie said...

I think we've observed in the past that we're both in Idealist/Rationalist pairings...unless I totally imagined it. Certainly makes life interesting. In my case, it's taken us a while to learn to articulate some of the needs necessitated by our personality types. He sometimes has to remind me that he doesn't want to hear about my thought process--he just wants to hear the decision when it's made. I sometimes have to differentiate between when I want a solution and when I want to hear a wider variety of options.


laughingwolf said...

oh yes, so very enlightening

my sis used to take 'forever' to tell me what i could have said in 10 words! lol

i finally had to ask: what's your point? thoroughly cheesing her off

Aniket Thakkar said...

First of all thank you for sharing your wedding pic! You both look awesome! I can imagine your dilated pupils at the moment. :)

I'll settle for a super idealist right now and work on it. "Grand Miscommunication" has been the story of my life. About time something good came out of it. :D

Another wonderful post Aine. You know, its just these kinda posts that tell me I am not alone and there are other people who share the same thoughts(type). It Gives Me Hope. So to speak. :D

Sarah Hina said...

Hey, who's the beauty in the white dress?? :D I'm so glad you included that photo. So lovely.

Even though we've discussed these issues before, I really loved how you synthesized things here in such a clear and nuanced way. I smiled to read how you were at 11 or 12, too. Maybe because it feels so much like me. (btw, I've always liked the term "kindred spirit" because it feels like the friend equivalent of soulmates to me. :))

It is remarkable how entrenched we all are in our mindsets. And how beautifully the miscommunication can work for awhile. Perhaps when the truth hits the fan (so to speak) is when the opportunity for true intimacy arrives, though. Everything up to that point has been a bit of a dream on both ends. Powerful, to be sure. But not tested, and not as soul-stirring as the bond that comes with time, struggles, and the ultimate gift of acceptance.

Wonderful post, Aine. :)

Chris Eldin said...

Thank you for this post, and also for sharing your beautiful wedding photo!

You probably don't realize this, but your posts have me thinking a lot about my own life and marriage. I think I used to be an Idealist, but now I'm not sure. I feel disconnected with my mate, so I'm not sure if I've gone over to the Rational side as a defensive mechanism---given up on the idea of true intimacy and searching for areas to spend time together. I don't know....

But I enjoy your posts about personalities and relationships very much! Thanks for pulling it all together!

Aine said...

Linda~ Thanks! Yes, embracing and appreciating the positives of each mating type would create a well-rounded relationship.

Precie~ Your imagination was not overactive. I often think of you when writing these posts because of our similarities. :) As usual, I was nodding while reading your comment. Only, I find myself needing to differentiate between when I want a solution vs. when I just want emotional support. :P

Laughingwolf~ I sympathize with your sister... My problem is that I know what I want to say, but I can't put it into words. So it ends up being a roundabout, spiralling conversation until I hone in on "the point". Then, like you, Jason sums up my message in one sentence-- it's maddening! I've asked him to trade brains with me. He hasn't obliged. Can't understand why...

Aniket~ Thank you! It was a memorable day, that's for sure!

I, too, am so glad we-of-same-type can share our thoughts like this! That validation is invaluable. I remember so often sitting by myself in the woods as a teenager, fully aware that I knew no one who thinks like I do. It was puzzling, but thankfully I never let it damage my self-esteem.

Female Rationals are quite rare, but I'm certain you'll find the right one! Keep enjoying life, and you'll be a magnet for others. "If you build it, they will come...!" :D

Btw, thanks for not giving up on me. I've been rubbish at visiting blogs all summer. Adding a link to your new blog is still on my to-do list!

Sarah~ :) :) Yes, my kindred spirit! And you've nailed a powerful point-- when the truth hits the fan (so to speak) is when the opportunity for true intimacy arrives. That is the point that can make or break a relationship, I believe.

Chris~ I wish I could give you a warm, validating hug ((((a cyber hug'll have to do...))))

Your type preference doesn't change, but many of us "falsify type" for various reasons. I hope to post about this very soon-- it's a big part of Katherine Benziger's work, which I mentioned at the top of the post. (Check out if you're interested.)

Disconnect is the greatest evil for an Idealist. I totally understand your desire to adopt another way of thinking as a defense mechanism. (Been there myself, to be honest.) Sometimes it seems like life would be easier if we could think in a Rational or Guardian or Artisan way. (I once read that a common joke among personality experts is "ah, to be an ISFJ... the simple life!" (Look up the profile for that type sometime... an acronym that sums up the type is "I Serve Family Joyfully.")

But you can't deny your true self. It will only result in stress and poor health. As an Idealist, you need to be validated and embraced for your way of thinking and your strengths. If not by a soulmate connection, perhaps through a soul"friend" connection? I don't know the answer, though, because as an Idealist, I know how deeply important a soul connection is for our well-being.

But, for what it's worth... I understand, my fellow INFJ!

Charles Gramlich said...

To be human is to be self centered. Even the martyr is getting something out of it.

Unknown said...

AINE! I love that you shared this. LOVE the wedding picture. And it's funny that today all of my facebook friends are taking the test and of the ones that have taken it ALL of them are NF. Go figure? (yeah, we know it's we idealists that are compelled like magnets to such a test). Thanks for keeping up on this, and it sounds like you've made a great new discovery! I'm looking forward to checking it out!

Still looking for that soulmate by the way. Even though I know it will not ever ever ever ever happen, but some kind of compromise I hope. ;-)

Aniket Thakkar said...

Giving up on you? I'd rather get hit by a bludger. :)

@ Cat:

Thats the whole problem, I think all the Idealist girls were born 20 years before I was. :(

@ Aine: Is the world shifting from an Idealist era to Realistic one? Food for thought. :D

laughingwolf said...

lol... understood

i think part of it is, men seem to want to 'fix' something and move on to the next 'problem', while women want to 'share' an experience and don't see it as needing to be 'fixed'

Anonymous said...

Each type seems to draw energy from a different place, and on the flip side, seems to avoid a different source of discomfort and pain. I do think rationals and idealists share an intense bond based on their common "intuiting." Those differences begin to rub when the couple dig beyond their commonalities and unearth the divergence of energies.

But we can still feel the magic of the common things. Those don't fade. (Yeah, a rational feeling. Go figure. ;) )

Ed Meers said...

Interesting stuff (and trust me, I totally get the children/delay factor!).

I've been married 13 years as of next month. My wife and I are extremely different people. It's interesting to observe how the relationship ebbs and flows over time. Makes you wonder how we can find soul mates in many regards as, oftentimes, we select our mates in our 20's and become far different folks by the time life's been experienced into our 40's and beyond. Add careers, children, and every other twist life throws you, including life altering experiences, and it is a wonder how we could ever conceive having a single soul mate for life...

Aine said...

Charles~ I remember the day I realized the truth of that. Totally deflated my then image of myself as selfless and giving...

Catvibe~ Aha! I was wondering where all those facebook visits were coming from! Very cool! And yes-- I think you'll really enjoy the Benziger ideas too! :)

Don't give up-- if you find a compatible Idealist, you may actually find that soulmate bond. (The trick is finding a male Idealist... more rare than us female versions. Aniket is the only one I know for certain, though I have my hunches about a friend or two that I knew in high school.)

Aniket~ Awww, thanks! :)

Hey-- keep searching-- libraries, bookstores, universities, (erm-- counselling? ha!) There's got to be female idealists in all of those places. But, according to Keirsey, remember, you may find a female Rational to be your best match-- know any local chess clubs? How about attending the next Star Trek convention! LOL (Maybe I'm getting too stereotypical, but you know what I'm saying. Of that I'm pretty certain!)

And, on a more serious note... your comment about the shift to a more realistic era inspired some thought. I actually think there has been a shift which in the workplace from wanting "whole brained" people (those who are competent in many ways of thinking), to embracing the idea of grouping specialized thinkers (each specialized in a different way of thinking) into teams (thus using the natural or preferred "gifts" of each type). So, in a way, you could say that we are becoming much more realistic in our expectations of what a single brain can do!

Laughingwolf~ Exactly!

(Though it's not the male/female thing that causes the difference, it's the T vs. F thinking preference, which happens to fall along the male/female line for the majority. Sorry-- just can't help myself... :P )

Jason~ Well said! :)

And of course Rationals have feelings-- they just don't like dealing with them. :P

Minister~ Happy Early Anniversary!

Ah, but see-- Idealists can totally "see" how it's possible to have a soulmate for life. The problem is that other types don't think that way, so they can't "make it so." (I'm speaking in a facetious, Idealist-centric tone.. :P)

You are right about how much life experiences change us, which of course sends ripples (if not 20 foot waves) through our relationships!

Aniket Thakkar said...

Know what. I met quite a few nice females at Barnes and Nobles during my stay at Madison. Sadly, no such luck here. People don't talk to strangers here in bookstores, no good public libraries or book clubs here either.

Won't I kill to attend a Star Trek convention! When I talk about star trek here Girls say "Oh I loved that lightsaber fighting in Star Trek" I say "Erm. Thats Star Wars"
They "Ain't they the same" I say "No. Um. Ah. Leave it"

Anonymous said...

Aniket, my friend, you are blessed. Don't go looking for a rational! You are an uncommon male idealist. Go for the idealist-idealist pairing. You'll be like a rock star!! The ratio is waaaaay in your favor. :)

Unknown said...

OMG Aine! Facebook is AWASH in Myers Briggs type discoveries! And you know what is hysterically funny is that all of them (probably 15 or so of my FB friends so far) except two are NF. Drawn to take tests? Us? Nooooo! (yes) Pete Dudley is INFJ. Ello, INTJ. (She's one of the two).

Leon1234 said...

Hey, how are you doing?

Aniket Thakkar said...

@ Jason:

Am so keeping all my fingers crossed... even the toe ones. :D