Are you into Enneagrams? Over the past few years I have heard people throwing their Enneagram number around in general conversation with more and more regularity, in much the same way that people have shared their Myer-Briggs four-letter personality fingerprint for decades. The Enneagram diagram has always looked New-Agey with a shade of witchcraft to me, and I solidly identify with my Myer-Briggs INFJness, so I’ve never felt the need to take yet another serious personality test.
But a few months ago, Jeanne asked me if I would be interested in both of us taking the Enneagram test, then spend a couple of hours with an expert to enlighten us on what the results might mean for us both individually and as a couple, I said “Sure.” We’ve been together for more than thirty-five years, but there’s always something new to learn and growth to experience.
We took the test separately and arrived at the home of the person who would facilitate the “great reveal” of our Enneagram results on a Saturday morning several weeks ago. We first learned that Jeanne is a 2(ish) with additional tendencies toward an 8, while I am in the 5 bullseye (I am the Platonic form of the Enneagram 5, apparently). If you know about Enneagram numbers, that will tell you a bit about each of us. If you are Enneagram-clueless, that’s fine.
For the purposes of today’s essay, there’s only one thing you need to know about Jeanne’s being a 2 and me being a 5. When the conversation turned from each of us individually to us as a couple, the facilitator/interpreter started by telling us that “the two of you are double opposites.” We both laughed, not from surprise, but because we already knew and could have predicted this. Our “double oppositeness” is on display every day.
As chance would have it, Jeanne and I had each taken the same version of the Myers-Briggs personality test shortly before we met at my parents’ condominium for the first time in November 1987. I have described many times on this blog just how powerful and immediate the attraction between us was—our independent M-B results showed that we shared the middle two letters (NF) but were opposites on either end (I’m an INFJ, she’s an ENFP). If you’re not familiar with the Myers-Briggs test, no biggie—suffice it to say that “I” stands for Introversion and “E” stands for Extroversion. I am an off-the-charts introvert, and Jeanne is an off-the-charts extrovert.
So off-the-charts, in fact, that it is close to comical. By the numbers, I am a 19-1 introvert; Jeanne’s a 19-1 extrovert. Four years into our relationship, we retook the Myer-Briggs test as part of a couples group at the Episcopal church we were attending. This time I turned out to be an 18-2 introvert while Jeanne’s extroversion was 18-2 in the opposite direction. Four years of my “I” and her “E” bumping into and seeking to understand each other had nudged us each one minor click toward the other.
Over the years we have encountered continuing data that establishes how different we are. I’ve always enjoyed taking fun personality tests, even on Facebook, and occasionally have convinced Jeanne to take the same test I am taking. The “What Kind of Dog Are You?” revealed that I am a Scottish Terrier and she is a Golden Retriever. The “Downton Abbey” personality test identified me as Mr. Carson and Jeanne as Lord Grantham.
Then there was the “What Classical Music Composer Are You?” test. Although Mozart was one of my heroes growing up as a classical pianist wannabe, I was content to find out that I am Johann Sebastian Bach. When I returned home on the day of finding out that I am Bach, I told Jeanne about the personality test, including the comments of a number of people on Facebook who had taken the test and were reporting the results. “I’m the only Bach so far, but there have been a number of Mozarts and Tchaikovskys, with a smattering of Brahms,” I said. “So far, no Beethovens. That’s a good thing, since he was totally nuts.”
Jeanne does not live and breathe classical music as I do; accordingly, she did not particularly care which classical music giant she is. It took some cajoling to get her to take the test; I even had to help her with the Star Trek question, as she is not a fan of that either (how is this possible?). But in short order we had the results. I am married to Beethoven.
Today is my double opposite’s birthday, a day that I have celebrated in various ways annually on this blog for a dozen years. Everyone knows that “opposites attract,” but who knew that double opposites could be together for thirty-five years while still preserving their oppositeness? Love, of course, is the central required ingredient, but we have learned over the years that love is not enough. Hard work, compromise, biting one’s tongue, humor, and learning to be separate while also being one are also required.
Despite our significant differences, Jeanne and I share a lot in common. Our obsession with our pets, currently our one-and-a-half-year-old Corgi Bovina whom we love to distraction and who is the center of our days. Our obsession with British mystery and police shows (thank you Acorn and Britbox!). Our families. And above all, our shared commitment to the life of faith.
Marilynne Robinson writes that.
Human love in the purest forms we can know it, wife and husband, parent and child, has the aura and the immutability of the sacred.
Jeanne and I could not be more different by nature, even though we have modified each other’s extremes a bit over the years. But one thing we have always shared is a deep desire to know God. The paths this desire has led us down are not the same; sometimes they aren’t even similar. But we both recognize the divine when we bump into it, and I have learned more about God’s love, acceptance, joy, and presence from thirty-five years together with Jeanne than religion could ever have taught me. I’ve learned not to be surprised when the day-to-day and the sacred turn out to be the same thing. Life with Jeanne has taught me that.
For years Jeanne and I have had a good-natured disagreement about which of us is going to die first—neither of us wants to outlast the other. I can’t imagine life without the person with whom I have for better and for worse spent more than half of my years. My wish on Jeanne’s birthday is what the author of the Book of Tobit asks: Mercifully grant that we may grow old together. I guess we sort of already have! Happy birthday, my dear!