This week, we have on our hands a letter from a reader I have dubbed Amelia Earhart, lost as she is on the Atlantic island of sadness.
Let’s hear from Amelia:
My name is [Amelia Earhart] and I came across your Bullish post on anger and how to use it when I needed it most (which seems to happen with a lot of your posts, now that I think about it). That lead me to your other post on corporate personality types.
This is the first time I’ve ever given any thought to my type but I came to find that I’m the same type as you—INTJ. Then I learned that our type is one of the rarest, which explains why not that many people “get me.”
Anyway, I could use a bit of help. I broke up with my boyfriend this morning. This is actually my first real breakup since it was my first real relationship that went on for four years. I need advice from someone who is as practical as I am not the usual stuff my friends will tell me. Tell me what does the love life of a INTJ look like? What’s your experience been like in past relationships? You’ve got about ten years on me, so I hope you can give me quality no-nonsense insight.
Oh, darlin’. (That’s my Southern voice.)
You wrote in a couple weeks ago, and I hope you’re okay. Let me tell you a little story.
When I was about 23, I got involved in my college’s alumni association and made friends with an 85-year-old man who wanted to hire my company to make a website for one of his family’s businesses (maybe there will be a future Bullish column about the perils of trying to sell live oysters over the Internet). We went out to lunch, where he told a lugubrious tale: it seems that his girlfriend liked him a lot, but didn’t want to get married.
Keep in mind that an 85-year-old man’s face is already pretty droopy, so a sad 85-year-old man’s face looks like it’s going to fall off and form a puddle of sadness on the floor.
The girlfriend, it seemed, enjoyed having someone to go to jaunty little lunches with. And maybe they had a seriously whiz-bang sex life. But she had already nursed one husband to death, and she didn’t want to do it again. I think she also intuited, quite correctly, that 85-year-old men have certain ideas about marriage (like the fact that she would incur a variety of meal-preparation and support-sock-washing duties), so she just didn’t want to commit.
And as I listened to this guy look off into the distance and wonder, “If she loves me, why does she hurt me so bad?” I said to myself in awe, “OH MY GOD, nothing … ever … changes.”
So, with ten years of experience on you, I can tell you that you’re not exactly going to grow out of these things. Although you’ll probably feel them maybe 30% less, and develop a much better ability to, say, go to work anyway. (See Bullish Life: Sometimes It’s Best Just to Not Think About It.) But I’ve got a few ideas.
Should You Rebound Like You’re a Guard for top WNBA Team The Minnesota Lynx?
I hate to go recommending this in print in case it all goes horribly wrong, but … you should probably sleep with someone else. Know that this is imperfect advice, and that you are undoubtedly in for a somewhat unsatisfying experience, because you are caught between two options, both of which are partly bad.
When this happens in decisionmaking in general (see Bullish Life: How To Make Better Decisions), most people get stuck or beat themselves up. Think like a military general: if there are two options and both have casualties, pick the better option based on the information available at the time and press forward. Accept that even the optimal decision at the time will have unavoidably negative ramifications. There is no ideal option.
In your case, sleeping with someone else will greatly help to break the spell of your relationship. Even if your relationship is dead and over and gives you chills to think about, there’s still a spell. Maybe it’s oxytocin. Maybe it’s the human condition. However, sleeping with someone else will also make you sad in new ways, and there is virtually zero chance that this new person will be better than the old person and will “make everything better”. (Sadness is such a boner-killer! Kidding. Sort of. Please try not to ever sleep with men who say “boner-killer” in a serious way. Thank you.)
Also, don’t go on a man-bender. It’s kind of like how one drink might make you feel better, but several of them will make you feel worse, and if you are an alcoholic, then try ice cream instead. Same with the sex: a little will probably make you feel better, a lot might make you feel worse, and if you are a sex/love addict, I hear that Ben & Jerry’s has some really nice flavors for you!
Feel Like Making Big Changes?
Let it be known: you’re not the only girl who cuts off her hair and goes skydiving.
Before you go getting a dramatic haircut, ask your lady friends if that is a good idea for you. I’ve seen women with already short hair want to do something dramatic, and inadvertently end up expressing their grief with horrific soccer-mom haircuts. Stay away from the Supercuts!
Do not quit your job. Do not tell your boss about your grief unless your boss is nice and a woman and you can keep your shit together for long enough to have a bonding experience and then go do your job competently for the rest of the day, all of which is unlikely.
No tattoos. Do not make any permanent alternations to yourself whatsoever. Feel free to take an acting class, or any kind of class, but know that this experience will not, in fact, culminate in a one-act play that you write about your grief and perform to an adoring audience who truly understands you, and which will also be watched from the back row by your ex, who will finally get it.
Don’t call his mother. Change his name in your phone to “Do Not Call,” or be bold: delete it entirely. Don’t do anything you think he’ll magically find out about and then be impressed. Not likely.
Must You Repeat an Endless Sartrean Cycle of Dissatisfying Human Encounters?
As for the INTJ thing, well … we’re intense, right? Maybe that put you in an intense relationship with an equally intense person from whom you now must extract yourself, or maybe being a bit intense caused you to end up in all too much of a relationship with that guy in the first place. (Anyone who wants to find out her personality type can do so here, and read a bit more about the results here.)
Keep in mind that personality types are not entirely diagnosable and change over time. While some profiles of INTJs indicate that they (we) have trouble “understanding social rituals,” these quirks and weaknesses are not static; I have a great awareness that I grew up not intuitively understanding social rituals, and now I understand many such rituals well enough to write about them because I had to learn them explicitly (see Bullish: Social Class in the Office.) A weakness is just an excuse to hone a strength.
So, the Internet may tell you that you’re prone to being too much of a perfectionist, and making the mistake of expecting “inexhaustible reasonability and directness” from your partner (the horror!) These weaknesses can dissipate; you only expect “reasonability” so many times before you stop expecting it and realize that inside each new person is a vast and unknown landscape about which nothing can be assumed, and for which words and actions are only pale smoke signals emanating from a place you can only reach bits of at a time, and never all at once. There’s no INTJ future you’re locked into; that shit is just a fancy fortune cookie.
How Long Sad Kitten Stay Sad? Oh.
Conventional wisdom says that it’ll take half the length that a relationship lasted for you to get over that relationship. In your case, that’s kind of a long time.
However, there are a lot of exceptions. If a relationship ends because you were bored and annoyed, it might take you zero time to get over it; you got over it before the breakup even happened.
That’s not what’s happening in your situation, in which case a workaround that might help: Do not cherish all the good times you had together. Instead, reframe them as having been fraudulent in the first place. Did you discover something awful about the dude? Use that. If not, just imagine that a zipper appeared on his face and you pulled it and his human skin came off and actually underneath was something you never would have agreed to spend four years with in the first place, so actually everything that ever happened was a fraud and you were basically holding hands with Gollum in the park all along and now you’re a little slimy but at least now it’s over.
Another workaround: Please make a list of all that guy’s annoying qualities. At least you don’t have to deal with them anymore. Everyone has physical quirks as well — all people have idiosyncratic toes and earlobes. Those things you once found charming? Grotesque! Those six long, straggly chest hairs? The chin cleft that could hold a pencil? Knuckle hair? Lack of knuckle hair? Take a shower and wash all the cooties off your relatively petite and hairless self. (See also Bullish: How to Motivate Yourself to Be Motivated for more on the value of disgust as an emotion.)
Note: Amelia has said nothing bad at all about her ex-boyfriend, and I’m not suggesting that he’s actually a bad guy. I’m talking about reframing our own thinking for productive purposes. Don’t go writing this shit on ladies’ room walls. Obviously.
In Listening to Prozac, author Peter Kramer points out that we, in the U.S., are very uncomfortable with grief, to the point of medicating people who feel normal sadness. Someone whose spouse died six months ago is expected to perk up any day now. Conversely, in Greece, the traditional time of mourning for a husband is five years; in such a culture, a woman who seemed happy after two years would seem equally pathological, even heartless.
My advice is to simply accept that you will have grief. Try to separate it from yourself. Just as it is now polite to refer to “epileptics” as “people with epilepsy,” you are a “person with grief.”
When you find yourself saying things like, “Everything in my life is awful,” or “I’m bad at my job,” or “I don’t have a job because I apparently can’t do anything right,” or “No one wants to be around me,” you will say to yourself, “Oh, that thought just happened because I have a case of grief.” Just like being a “person with eczema” is responsible for flareups on your skin, being a “person with grief” will make untrue thoughts pop into your head. You must recognize and dismiss these.
(See also Bullish Life: The Things We Can’t Have Now.)
Finally, heartbreak can be helpful. It drowns out a lot of other things, like muscle soreness from really solid exercising, or boredom from monotonous forms of work. Go organize all the receipts for your taxes. Run. Take the cat to the vet. Do 500 calf raises. Make flashcards of French verb conjugations. Heartbreak will numb you to the little trials and boredoms that bog down happy people.
Just do really productive, somewhat-boring things repetitively and stoically in order to improve your life, so that when you feel better, you’ll look around and say, “Holy shit, the sun is shining again and my job is amazing and I can do six pullups in a row and I speak French?”
I wish you the best, Amelia. You are in a place we’ve all been, but that you still mostly have to deal with all by yourself (so much of the human condition is, I think, exactly like that). You are a person with grief. Use this time wisely. One day you’ll wake up, feel better and different, and thank yourself for having moved forward.
originally published on The Gloss