INTP vs. INTJ: living in the moment

This is the beginning of an ongoing series on the differences between INTJs and INTPs, as I observe them in my husband and myself. I used to think these two types were very similar, but being married to an INTJ has quelled that misconception. Of course there are many obvious differences between P’s and J’s—P’s like spontaneity, J’s are planful; J’s are organized, P’s are scattered; P’s are indecisive, J’s like to reach a quick conclusion. But as I continue to learn more about myself and my husband, there are many interesting differences between us that are unexpectedly influenced by our Myers-Briggs types.

My husband and I often talk about what our lives were like before we met and how they have changed since. I think that I was happier as a single person than he was, but since we’ve been together, he is happier than I am when we’re apart. (Our relationship was long-distance from the beginning, and our marriage is still quasi-long-distance thanks to his job.) This has to do with our ability to live in the moment, and whether our minds are naturally oriented to the present or the future.

As a P, I am able to live in the present really well because I’m constantly taking in information about present experiences and processing them. While I was single in the years between college and meeting my husband, I filled my life with activities and experiences that I enjoyed doing alone. My future was open, and even though I wanted to fall in love and have a family, I knew there was a possibility that might never happen, and I was okay with it because I was happy.

My husband’s mind-space is always in the future because as a J, he loves to make plans. It was always his goal to have a family, and many of his other plans and decisions in life depended on it. Without that piece of the puzzle, he wasn’t able to proceed with other plans, and he wasn’t able to enjoy the present when the future was unknown.

When we’re apart during the week, he doesn’t feel very lonely because the big picture is still present to him. Having our family motivates him and gives him the sense of purpose that he needs, whereas I am more prone to forgetting things that are not present. I enjoy the “now” of being with my family more than our future plans.

The future is much more tangible to my husband than it is to me. As long as the future looks bright, he is able to be happy even if the present is dull. If the future is bad or unknown, he can’t enjoy the present even if it’s good. I am the opposite; I can live in the moment and enjoy the present no matter what the future looks like, but if the present moment is crappy, it affects me a lot even if the big picture looks bright.

Do your thoughts live mostly in the present or the future (or the past)? What’s your Myers-Briggs type?

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Know thyself

Learning about Myers-Briggs personality types has helped me in so many ways, but for a long time I thought it was no better than a horoscope. Almost every online quiz I’ve ever taken told me I was an INTJ, and some aspects of it seemed to fit me, but some were way off. So even though I’ve known about Myers-Briggs for a long time, I didn’t give much weight to it until four years ago.

Finding out that I was an INTP was earth shattering. I should have taken the official MBTI, but I discovered it on my own when, after yet another online quiz told me I was an INTJ, I happened to read some short descriptions of the other types. The description for INTP seemed to match me better, so I read some more detailed profiles of INTPs (this is my favorite one). I realized that I was reading all about myself, down to the tiny little quirks and strange habits that I thought nobody else shared or even knew about. Even things that I thought were beyond the domain of personality, like my lack of interest in pop culture and my propensity to burst out laughing at inopportune moments because I remember something funny from two weeks ago, were apparently hallmarks of my personality type.

I had always thought I was weird, because I had never met another person like me. Now I knew for the first time that I was not weird; I was a perfectly normal INTP! My Myers-Briggs type accurately explained, or at least described, almost everything about me. This revolutionized my life. It changed everything from my self-esteem to the way I interacted with the world.

By knowing that I was in fact completely normal, I no longer felt like I had to conform to social expectations of personality—which is a good thing, because studies have shown that in American culture, the most favored personality type for women is ESFJ, my exact opposite. Reading more in-depth about INTPs taught me about how I could grow as a person in a way that was in line with my personality. I felt free to pursue my full potential as an INTP instead of focusing my energy on pursuing the ESFJ skills and interests that I was pressured to adopt. I can grow a lot more in the natural direction of my type than if I tried to go against the grain.

Knowing about Myers-Briggs also helps me to better understand others. After learning about each of the personality types, cognitive functions, and their traits (and using my iNtuition and Perception), I am able to figure out someone’s type quite easily, and this really helps my interactions and relationships. I am able to have more empathy for those with personalities that clash with mine, or who have values or opinions that I don’t understand or agree with, because I can see when they are influenced by their Myers-Briggs type. When I don’t understand why someone is behaving or thinking a certain way, knowing their type can help me determine whether they truly are being irrational or unreasonable, or whether their behavior is logical in accordance with their type.

Myers-Briggs is a great help in my marriage, by helping me and my husband to understand each other better and get to the root of many of our differences. When conflicts arise, it helps to know whether they are due to personality type differences, background and values differences, or whether one of us is being illogical. And as a parent, I am always mindful of my type’s natural strengths and weaknesses, so I know what I need to work on and how I can use my INTP-ness to be the best mom I can be. As my daughter grows up, I will be mindful of her Myers-Briggs type so I can better meet her needs and help her grow into her full potential. I hope it also helps her to understand her parents better.

Thinking en plein air

Before I met my husband, I spent most of my time alone, absorbed in thought. My life was simple, peaceful, and quiet, if sometimes lonely. Throughout my days, no matter what I was doing, unrelated thoughts simmered in my mind. Thinking was my main activity and favorite pastime, and I had the luxury of spending hours every day in uninterrupted thought. I weaved long braids of thought over the course of days or weeks, collecting slivers of ideas from past and present experiences, things I’d learned, things my senses perceived on daily walks and hikes, and vague notions from my dreams. Past experiences continued to unravel in my mind for days or weeks or years, until their full meaning became clear. I could steep in a collection of ideas for days at a time, until it softened and a theme emerged.

My life was a series of themes, each spinning off variations of thoughts. Some became blog subjects, personal writings, or other projects. Each theme and train of thought changed me in some way as it became part of my inner landscape, and faded to a conclusion just as a new theme arose, organically.

For the first year after I met my husband, I thought mostly of him, our love, our future, and our life together. Even so, I was still able to produce long webs of thought. I did a lot of writing, mostly for or about him. Those thoughts were mostly feeling, aroused by an intense romance that was spiritual in fervor.

At some point, as our life together became more real than imagined, my thoughts about the future left the ecstatic realm and entered the mundane. We began to spend most of our time talking and thinking about things like financial planning, car maintenance, home buying, car seat safety, and baby poop. The thoughts that simmer constantly in my mind now are purely practical rather than philosophical. I have no mind left for extracurricular thinking.

Since becoming a mom, I’m lucky if I can continue one train of thought for 15 minutes without being interrupted. My mind is never still enough to fan thoughts into flame. Being a mom of an almost-toddler requires me to be constantly vigilant. When I’m with my daughter, and even when I’m not, I’m always thinking: Is she safe? Is she getting into trouble? Is she hungry? Does she have to poop? Whenever I germinate a thought that seems worthy of weeks of contemplation, my attention is called elsewhere and within five minutes I’ve forgotten it entirely.

I miss the way I used to think. I miss my INTP-ness. I want to get reacquainted with my mind and luxuriate in thought again. If I weren’t breastfeeding, I think it would be refreshing to my spirit to spend a whole day away from my daughter in uninterrupted thought. It would be even better than a day of uninterrupted sleep.

Oh, but I would miss my daughter so much. I would want to shelve my thinking just so I could kiss her chubby cheeks and tickle her and watch her crawl around talking to her toys.

This is why we can’t be friends

I belong to a large moms’ group and take my daughter to a lot of playdates in hopes of making friends for her and for myself. I’ve been trying really hard to make friends with other moms, but each time I hear something like one of the following quotes, it makes my brain freeze up and blink in big letters: we can never be friends.

“I was so excited to be married at 19. For my whole life, all I ever wanted was to get married and have kids. I never cared about having a career or going to college.”

“I really wanted a little girl so I could dress her up in cute outfits and put bows in her hair. I cried when I found out I was having a boy. Boy clothes are so boring.”

“My toddler has never seen a doctor in his life. We stay as far away from them as possible.”

“I’ve been pinning ideas for her first birthday party ever since she was born.”

Hearing other moms utter things like these on a regular basis makes me want to weep with despair that I will never find another mom with whom I have anything in common.