online dating

The Next Frontier in Online Dating

In a quest to find the perfect match, enterprising daters have turned to taking the Myers-Briggs personality test—with mixed results.

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There are many agonizing things about dating sites: combing through countless profiles, fielding bizarre direct-messages, smiling through awkward in-the-flesh meetings. But the most painful part of online dating possibly comes the moment you sign up for OK Cupid or HowAboutWe. It’s when you have to spell out your personality in 200 agonizing words or less. And that’s exactly why a surge of singles are beginning to use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test to do that deep thinking for them.

A questionnaire made up of hundreds of personality questions, the MBTI is normally taken in workplace environments to determine your skill set. Based on your replies, it assigns you one of 16 different personality types, such as INFJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging) or ESTP (Extraverted, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiving). With two million people taking the test every year—and a simple search for MBTI acronyms in dating sites yielding thousands upon thousands of profiles—it’s become the latest innovation in finding your perfect partner. But it’s also lending more credence to the old-fashioned complaint that the ever-evolving phenomenon of online dating is in fact an imperfect, inhuman science at best.

The Myers-Briggs test was actually created around World War II. The years-long project of mother-daughter team Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, it had auspicious beginnings and good intentions—developed as a tool for women entering the workforce to find careers suited specifically to their personalities. This was a time when women fit professionally into two types: homemaker or whore. Knowing yourself was novel, so the MBTI was nothing short of revolutionary.

These days, the Myers-Briggs test is a billion-dollar operation with devoted followers who often crowd message boards, extolling relationship advice for ill-fated personality matches or simply talking about the many intricacies associated with their acronyms. The MBTI has become the new horoscope, in which we tell potential suitors little more than our sign. It has, perhaps, helped some people, but the MBTI can also be an inaccurate indicator: That INFP tribe of dreamers looking for their perfect ENFJ givers may be saddened to learn that if they were to take the test again, there’s a 50 percent chance they’d be assigned a different personality type.

To be fair, the Myers-Briggs test does have more validity than a flimsy newspaper horoscope. Still, it’s based on a series of dichotomous pairings. To the test, you’re either an introvert or extravert, and maybe occasionally, you’ll show your “shadow function.” Of course, trying to fit nuances of your personality into your dating profile isn’t concise, so we tend to just stick to the acronyms. But as the philosopher-psychologist William James wrote, “A man [or woman] has as many selves as there are individuals who recognize him.” In reality, we are a hundred different selves. Some days, we might be a little ENFP, and others, we might be a little INSP.

All of which is to say: Metric science can’t anticipate chemistry. The success of relationships hinge on our abilities and desires to deeply know another person, whether or not they’re a personality match on paper. And ironically, in focusing on MBTI matches, we’re actually replacing personality in dating with practicality and pragmatism. And what is the search for love if it isn’t human?


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