"What's his star sign?" is the question that gets fired off in my WhatsApp group chat whenever a new love interest enters my life. Next come the 'Pisces woman, Aries man compatibility' internet searches which, inevitably, tell me he isn't The One and alas, my search begins again.
Now, some people will say horoscopes are a bit dubious. They're fun, sure. Reading them is a bit like opening an old issue of Cosmo which tells you, after taking a quiz, whether you really are in love or not.
Because astrology has thus far failed to find me love, I wondered whether psychology might help. We use personality tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) in the workplace all the time to help people understand one another better, so could it help me with dating?
The MBTI is a psychological analysis examination that determines a person's psychological makeup – how they perceive and make decisions. Devised by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, it is one of the most widely used personality indicators in the world; over two million people are estimated to take the test annually. Recruitment websites laud the MBTI for being able to predict which career best suits your personality but critics have called it "meaningless", with some psychologists slamming the lack of evidence behind the test.
According to MBTI, there are four principal psychological functions: introversion/extroversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling and judging/perception. All of us are said to have one preferred quality from each category which, put together, produces 16 unique personality types.
A few years ago, when I worked in finance, my boss asked us to take the test. I thought he was being ridiculous but I did it and the results were scarily accurate.
It turned out that I'm an ENTJ (extroverted/intuitive/thinking/judging), a natural-born leader who "embodies the gifts of charisma and confidence". Other characteristics, I learned, include a ruthless level of rationality using drive, determination and a sharp mind to achieve anything I want.
ENTJ is supposedly a rare personality type. At first, this felt like an ego boost, but there was a more savage review of my personality to consider: stubbornness, intolerance, impatience and arrogance, as well as a tendency to be cold and ruthless. On top of that, I learned that we ENTJs are bad at handling our own – and others' – emotions.
Whether I like it or not, though, all of the above is fairly accurate.
Myers-Briggs can be eye-opening and uncomfortable at the same time. It will tell you what you don't want to hear and you'll feel like your flaws are staring at you in the mirror. Equally, it is a fascinating insight into why we behave the way we do, and why we might come across as rude or blunt when we think our behaviour is perfectly fine.
Surely this should translate well to dating? After all, everyone is a bit weird up close and knowing, ahead of meeting someone, what type of weird they’re going to be might help us to avoid misunderstandings.
Recently, I've noticed that people have started putting their Myers-Briggs personality type on their dating profiles. I wanted to explore this, so I added it to mine. Maybe this could be the answer to finding my one true love without wasting any more time?
Enter James*, a lawyer. Also an ENTJ, which, according to the Myers-Briggs gods, makes him my perfect match. Two ENTJs are meant to complement one another like no other personality, which was true...to a degree.
James and I went on four magical (socially-distanced) dates. He was attentive, kind, intelligent and logical. We debated politics and engaged in intellectual conversations about history and pop culture. We shared the same values and were both stubborn. Maybe he is The One, I thought.
Alas, he was not. I got dumped after date number five. There's that ENTJ ruthlessness, I said to myself.
Next came Fraser*, a Hinge match. I asked him to take the test before we met, and he duly agreed. He explained he was an introvert, uncomfortable in social situations and often to be found hiding in the kitchen at parties.
Despite this, Fraser turned out to be an ENTP (extroverted/intuitive/thinking/perceptive), a charismatic, energetic, debating type. At first, he was chatty and engaging enough for us to talk for a few weeks. But he was also insensitive. He often dismissed things I said, which made me feel as though he didn't respect me. His Spotify playlist sucked too. We had one date but it was clear that it wasn’t meant to be.
Then I matched with Tim*. He was an ISFJ (introverted/sensing/feeling/judging). We got on like a house on fire thanks to his wit, charm and great sense of humour, but I wasn't sure it would ever work between us. ISFJs are reserved personalities and often lack confidence, and Tim showed these qualities. While he was the kindest of my conquests, he was a little too lacklustre for my vivacious ENTJ personality and I didn't have the energy to uplift us both.
In the end, using Myers-Briggs to hack my dating game was about as effective as trying to find true love via the zodiac. But where I failed, other MBTI connoisseurs have had success.
Francesca Specter, writer and founder of the blog and podcast Alonement, said she came across the MBTI after being asked to take the test during sixth form. She later applied the results to her dating life. "I started applying the MBTI when I started dating after my ex and I broke up, after seeing it on some people's online dating profiles," she tells me. "There are lots of Reddit and Quora threads devoted to MBTI and its influence on relationships, and I became obsessed with reading up on it.
"I dated someone who was my perfect Myers-Briggs type. He was a mutual friend and we had flirted before but it was when he told me his MBTI type (INFJ – the 'ideal' type for my ENFP) that I believed this had the potential to be something special." Francesca says that this was the most successful and longest fling she’s had since her previous relationship, and credits the MBTI for allowing her to understand her partner more.
"I think all my reading up on his type probably helped me understand him more," she explains. "For instance, I valued his space as an introvert and understood his determined, goal-focused approach to small tasks and love of competitive games of all kinds, even though I don't personally appreciate unnecessarily competitive situations."
Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari, a psychologist, author and relationship therapist, cautions against relying on a personality test to determine whether someone will make a good partner.
"I think there are other ways to manage relationships and expectations than using this test," she tells me. "When you send it to a potential date it is not a 'clean' and structured piece of research. A potential partner who wants to impress will answer the questions in a way that is more desirable socially." Does that mean they will lie? "No, but there will be some 'softening' of their answers."
She points out that Myers-Briggs doesn’t look at things which are hugely significant in romantic relationships, such as childhood experiences, personal interests like religion and whether or not you want to have children.
If you’re relying on a personality test to find love, Dr Ben-Ari says, then you may be investing your time, hopes and energy in the wrong place.
So what should I do instead? "You probably have a long list of expectations but if we want to be realistic, as no one is perfect, I suggest to think about five non-negotiable values or characteristics you are looking for in a potential partner," she says.
These, she adds, can vary. For short-term relationships it could be comparing how you both utilise your spare time, while for longer term relationships it might be whether family time is valued.
When you're on a date, Dr Ben-Ari suggests spontaneously directing the conversation to these topics so you can learn more about your date and make an informed decision as to whether you want to invest time in that relationship.
"Anything that opens conversation up has meaning," she adds. "The more you are aware and clear about what you want, the more likely you are to find it."
Despite the critics, several areas of research have found a correlation between the Myers-Briggs test and relationships. One found that extroversion is a reliable indicator of compatibility, while another determined that only judging and extroversion are significant. However, reliability is poor; research has shown that as many as 50% of people receive a different result the second time they take the test, even if it's just five weeks later. That said, taking the Myers-Briggs test can be fun, and Dr Ben-Ari says there is no harm in using it to start a conversation on a dating app.
Knowing that I am part of a large community of ENTJs who understand each other is comforting. It has given me an incredible insight into my personality and made me think about how my actions, reactions and behaviour affect others.
Online dating promises to calculate compatibility from data, reducing us to a few characteristics so that we can find someone with complementary traits to sail off into the sunset with. But as we all know, this doesn’t always work. Personality tests are no less reliable. Back to the drawing board...
*Names have been changed