Dating and Relationship Advice

MSN recently reported a story about the "relevant factor" millionaires' personality traits reveal about wealth accumulation. The tagline of the article is: "Want to be a millionaire? Turns out, your personality might help — or hurt — your chances." Based on the highly validated personality test called "The Big Five," this article discusses what researchers found when they studied the personalities of over 20,000 people, with just over 1,000 being millionaires. The "Big Five" traits are neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. The study found that risk tolerance, emotional stability, and extraversion were common among self-made millionaires and muted in people who inherited their wealth. "The higher the wealth, the more pronounced those personality traits were," the study said.

This is the first time a study of this caliber on millionaires has been done, and the results seem to make sense. At the very least, they are based on axioms and platitudes common in our culture: "high risk, high reward," "hard work equals wealth," "it's not what you know but who you know," etc. But the article doesn't cover just where personality comes from in the first place. It acknowledges that German millionaires may have a different temperament overall than millionaires in other wealthy countries. Still, it doesn't offer hypotheses that account for such differences, which leaves me with the question of how much we should be relying on personality tests, however validated they might be.

This is especially relevant as more and more dating apps reflect the option to include the results from one or more popular personality tests, especially the Enneagram or the Myers Briggs. Unsurprisingly, conversations about personality tests and assessing compatibility based on a potential date's Enneagram number or Myers-Brigg type have skyrocketed in the dating world. Still, very little of it questions the validity of these tests, and even less of it has been about what we might be leaving out by relying on a set of letters or a number when swiping on the apps. It should go without saying compatibility cannot be determined solely "on paper" or by a profile.

Even if personality tests are "accurate," they can only go so far. The dating world seems to be heading increasingly into a data-driven world. We run the risk of flattening people out to a number or score on an arbitrary exam that, at least in the case of Myers Briggs, doesn't actually work for everyone. (The Myers Briggs or MBTI personality test does not work for neurodiverse people. It not only leaves a large group of people completely out of the discussion, but it doesn't explicitly say that which further marginalizes and invisibilizes people with disabilities in a field that is already quite unfriendly to us most of the time).

When I've challenged the dominant conversation around personality tests, the pushback has largely been to the effect of, "But this is a beneficial tool in my self-growth." That may be the case, and that's fantastic if it helps spur growth, but that isn't how people use it in the dating world. Self-growth and evaluating others by whether they're a "Loyal Skeptic" or a "Hopeless Romantic" are not the same thing. Deciding whether to further connect with someone or not based on this or that result from a personality test is in many ways antithetical to self-growth. Judging whether to give someone a chance or not based on a series of letters or a number does not require you to challenge yourself, put yourself out there in a relationship, or focus on the other person and your dynamic.

And, even if you don't end up clicking with someone, it's hardly going to be because the Enneagram schema says "fours and sevens shouldn't date" or "two eights will have these problems in relationships." In the Age of Computerized Information, we have access to more data than ever. Yet, online dating is a reputation for being difficult and painful for many people. Thus, more information has not necessarily equated to better matches and happier couples. My parents didn't know about the Myers-Briggs until their 42nd year of marriage, and it's not like they were struggling to stay together before the explosion of personality tests.

Personality tests can cause harm by deluding people into thinking they are compatible or that they "should" work great together and wasting time forcing a relationship that just isn't good for either. On the flip side, the way people talk about compatibility through personality tests, you'd think personalities were something people cannot change. But that certainly hasn't been my experience with my own personality over my lifetime thus far? I am a VASTLY different person than I was ten years ago, so much so that my decade-ago self would not recognize my current self. Perhaps there are a few similar threads. But overall, the growth that my circumstances in life have invited me to undergo this last decade has essentially given me a personality transplant, which is reflected in my Myers-Briggs scores from age 20 compared with now. These are results that are not supposed to change, and yet, every letter of mine did.

It's this claim to get to the essential, unchangeable core of an individual's personality that damages the dating world. People make permanent decisions about potential mates based solely on a score they have been told doesn't change. But, if that's true, what's the point of knowing the personality template of millionaires? Either you've hit the jackpot personality-wise, in which case you don't need the reassurance of a personality test to inform you of how successful you are, or you're not the "type" who will make it big financially someday, so why bother? The consequences of personality tests in our dating life could be just as bad.

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