'Compatibility' has become something of a buzzword when it comes to talking about modern relationships. Gen Z in particular prides itself on looking at romance through this pragmatic prism, which focuses on things like shared values and does away with the pesky irrationality of chemistry. We’re savvier than ever at figuring out what traits make a good partner, thanks mainly to the sheer volume of helpful content available online and in print. But with great knowledge comes great responsibility and actually finding a 'compatible' partner in among all this can feel a little overwhelming.
Gen Z women itch to compare birth charts and Myers-Briggs types on the first date with a potential partner. These sorts of tests certainly aren’t used by a niche few either: roughly two million people a year take the 16 Personalities test (based on the Myers-Briggs personality test); Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages, has sold over 12 million copies worldwide; and Co-Star, an astrology app which assesses the strength of your relationships using birth charts, has over 7.5 million registered users with an average user age of 24. Whether rooted in science or the stars, compatibility tests are a serious part of the modern dating scene.
Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari (@dr_kalanit) is a psychologist and relationships expert who says there are a number of reasons why so many young women use compatibility tests. "Often, they can be a bit of fun and be used to raise thoughts about the type of partner they are seeking," she explains. "Perhaps [the user is] unsure of their wants and needs, so are hoping for some answers. They could be looking for predictability or a sense of control to maximise their chances of success."
Twenty-two-year-old Molly lives in Bristol and says she’s "always been interested" in star signs, personality types and love languages. "At first, I thought it was just a bit of fun. With my previous partner, we often joked about how the tests always showed how incompatible we were – which was a great joke until we split up a few years later. Since our break-up just over a year ago, I've been obsessed with using compatibility tests."
Molly has recently started seeing someone new and has found that compatibility tests help guide her thinking and clarify her emotions. "I was getting mixed signals and couldn't decide how I felt either, so I thought I would compare our star signs to see how we fared. We were 98% compatible and I was over the moon," she says. "It really helped guide me through my confused feelings."
Lydia, 22, lives in Greater Manchester and also enjoys using compatibility tests. "When I first started seeing my boyfriend I really wanted to know what Myers-Briggs type he was," she says. "Just before we got together, we both did the 16 Personalities test over text – it was a real bonding session. He’s an ENFP – the extroverted version of me – which is perfect! It’s the exact balance I need as sometimes I can become too withdrawn and I need someone to pull me back out of that space." Lydia feels more confident in her choice of partner with the backing of the Myers-Briggs test. "You can’t argue with a personality analysis," she tells me.
Like Lydia and Molly, 23-year-old Amber* from Cambridge also uses tests to gauge compatibility with potential partners. "I’ve started seeing someone and I’ve been trying to figure out his Myers-Briggs type to determine our compatibility. I’ve managed to figure out he’s an ESTJ – possibly ESTP – which is cool because I’m an ENTJ and I think we’d make a great power couple," she says.
"I struggle with expressing my emotions, asking difficult questions and getting to know people on an intimate level," Amber explains. "For me, these tests are a shortcut to getting to know people and getting to know myself."
I’m with Amber – I love doing these kinds of tests to get to know myself more than anything. When I found out that my love language is 'words of affirmation', I realised just how much I was fixated on people expressing their feelings to me verbally, while completely missing the other ways they showed they cared. It helped me to stop being so anxious and in constant need of verbal reassurance once my eyes were opened to the fact that love can be expressed through things like quality time or physical touch. While I would never rule out pursuing a relationship with someone with, say, a Myers-Briggs type that clashes with my own (ENFJ, if you're interested), these tests are valuable in that they help me to understand my shortcomings and learn what I need to work on.
Dr Ben-Ari also believes that using these tests to get to know yourself can be beneficial. "In my opinion, anything that encourages one to think about their desires and expectations serves a purpose of some kind," she says. "My advice for those seeking a relationship would be to get to know yourself first."
But Dr Ben-Ari suggests a cautious approach to applying results from compatibility tests directly to real-life relationships. "I don’t believe that a compatibility test provides adequate detail for someone to make an informed decision on a prospective partner," she says. "Compatibility tests often fail to address many elements that are crucial to knowing how well we are suited to a partner. Examples of these include family values, views on gender roles, careers, hobbies, the importance of religion, trust and emotional intelligence."
Where previous generations were mostly limited to colleagues and friends of friends when it came to finding love, in 2021 the dating pool is limitless. Of course it’s great to have such ample choice when picking a partner but perhaps we’re so overwhelmed with possibilities that we’re turning to compatibility tests to take these decisions out of our hands. But we’d do well to exercise caution – as Dr Ben-Ari points out, romantic relationships are complex and there’s no nuance in assuming that because your partner is Cancer and you’re Aries, it simply won’t work.
Judging by Molly, Lydia and Amber’s stories, it doesn’t seem as though Gen Z is using compatibility tests in this way. Rather than taking them as gospel, these tests are used for guidance. As Molly says: "I like to use these tests to clarify my own feelings." If compatibility tests are making Gen Z women feel empowered in their choices as they use them to clarify – not dictate – their feelings, that can only be a good thing.
*Name has been changed