Outside the Myers-Briggs Box

I know it’s going to be a tough night – guaranteed uncertainty, possible angst spiked with a jolt of humiliation.  Nick tells me that I’ll know plenty of people at the cocktail party, but that’s not the point.  The Myers-Briggs test is the point.  I have taken it twice in different corporate environments – can’t remember why – probably it was one of those little parlor games that Human Resources likes to cook up. Maybe you remember Myers-Briggs. You have to answer four binary questions that are designed to provide insight into your modus operandi – i.e. do you think more than feel, or judge more than perceive?  The eight possible responses are arranged in a grid of 16 different categories that define general personality types.

Piffle! Piffle! Piffle! I say to Myers and Briggs.  I am perfectly capable of thinking and feeling, judging and perceiving – I bet I can even do all four at once.  But here’s the weird thing – both times I took the test I ended up in the same personality box – it’s the one in the lower right hand corner specially designed for all of us socially awkward people.  That’s right, as a group we just suck at cocktail parties.  Now give me a captive audience – a dinner partner for example – and I am a dream come true, slowly developing and nurturing conversation through a full three course meal.  I’ve got some stories to tell and some are real beauts – like the time I was so fed up with my boss I took it out on my worm farm.  Just took that bin, marched outside and dumped all my red wrigglers onto the lawn. Liberated them, set them free, except for the little detail that it was mid-winter.

But the rapid fire required of a cocktail party – I admit it, that’s not going to be my forte.  I just can’t think fast enough to introduce some sort of peppy topic and then flog it along until it morphs into an actual conversation.  All the while the shot clock is ticking away.  Unlike the sedentary dinner guest, the cocktail partner can just wander off – yes, disasters have occurred.  Nick, on the other hand couldn’t be farther away.   He’s in that box in the upper left hand corner comfortably ensconced with the socially agile who can circulate with ease and abandon.

Yeah, I’m sure I’ll know a few people at this community event, but that doesn’t mean that in this vast throng I won’t find myself washed up on the abandoned shores of a conversational dead zone.  I try to prep, find ways to battle my way out of my isolating Myers-Briggs box. Maybe I can cook up some sure-fire conversation prompts. Read any good books lately? How about that national debt? What’s next on your bucket list? Maybe I should have some seasonal entries at the ready. Are you cooking for Thanksgiving? Any travel plans this winter/summer/spring/fall? But no, no, no – boring, boring, boring is no way to get out of the box, but sadly I’ve learned that spontaneity can be a dangerous game with the potential for sudden awkward silences.

It’s not only what to talk about, it’s also that I don’t understand cocktail party etiquette.  How do I break into a conversation in the first place?  Say I spot a target but she’s talking with someone else. Do I just go up there and stand silently and wait to be included?  Or is the better strategy to listen closely and get up to speed on my own and then force myself in with a prescient comment?  And then what’s the exit strategy?  I envy men – they can always offer to get a lady a drink.  I bet the bar is a great meeting place, plus men can mine new prospects on the way there and back.

We’re here, it’s game time.  The event is in an atrium below the entry level, so I can look down and plan my attack. I see a couple of people I know, but I must parse them out strategically, using them as lifelines in case I get washed up.  Nick says that he’ll go and get me a drink, but I head off on my own to test my strategy of the bar as meeting place.

Damn it, no luck tonight. The only other people are men getting drinks for others.  Now I realize what I should have done – in a complete role reversal I should have gotten Nick his drink, then I could wend my way back to him and join his conversation. Remember he’s  he is in that better box and knows how to get a toe hold on the evening.  Now I’ve lost him in the crowd.  Probably just as well.  I don’t want to raise the white flag immediately – talking with your husband reeks of social failure.

Droplets of cold water are running down my glass and dripping onto my hand. Where to go? Oh thank God, I see a woman I know slightly – I might even call her a socialite – Susie Q is glancing toward me, at least I think that it’s me, though why she’d look my way is a mystery. But what the hell, with no other options, I’m moving in.

“I’d like you to meet Joe Blow; he is a house guest of my friend – just visiting for the weekend.  He was just telling me about his dog.”

Joe is a sallow man with a moist upper lip and a large-pored nose.  His rheumy eyes swim behind thick and dusty lenses. Yes, yes, yes, I’m sure that we are cohabitants in that lower left hand box.

Are you kidding me?  Now I see Susie Q’s strategy.  She’s done the classic bait and switch with surgical precision.  There she goes, skipping off in pure delight and I’m left with the mumbling house guest.  I think he said his dog just died, but my mind is racing too fast to show any remorse.  I can’t afford to listen closely.   I’ve got to plan ahead to keep this conversation going.

“He was an important part of the family so we put in the pacemaker, but when he became incontinent we had to put him down.   It was a difficult decision.”

Wait, did I hear that correctly – this family popped for a pacemaker but then made an end-of-life decision based on incontinence?  This is a conversational gem that I can’t pass up.  Let’s see – should I ask whether health care rationing for dogs should offer some useful insights into health care rationing for humans?  Should I throw in the story about the family pet I almost put down when I was house sitting because he was peeing all over the house (including on my bed) – but then I held off and the dog lived happily (and dryly) for four more years?

What, what is he saying now?  Oh my God, I think he just said that he had to go to the bathroom.  How humiliating – I’ve been dismissed.  Looks like I mistimed my snappy rejoinder and the house guest seized the moment of dead silence for his exit strategy.

My spirits sink.  Way too early to cash in one of my lifelines.  Come on, come on, FIRE UP – I can do this.  The party is really packed now; there must be someone I can latch onto.  Oops – this guy bumps into me, his drink dribbles on his sleeve and I hear him swear under his breath.  Here’s my opening.  I tell him – just go ahead, I don’t mind, let that F-word rip.  I tell him that last New Year’s I vowed to swear more and I am a better person because of it.

Now we’re really into it, comparing our favorite swear words and swearing venues.  Look at me, I’m beyond having a conversation or even chatting – I’m actually bantering, even jousting.  I’m witty and clever.  Ha! There’s that sallow house guest on the fringes standing alone.  He should have stuck with me.  Ha! He pulled the conversational plug too early – I could’ve shown him a thing or two.  I have blasted out of my Myer-Briggs box and I’m streaking for the upper left hand corner.  The man who spilled his drink is laughing and leans forward to make sure he hears all of my bon mots.  I am a success.

But wait a minute, who’s this somber frowzy woman standing expectantly next to me?  Yes I know her vaguely, but does that mean I’m supposed to include her in the conversation or do I put up a virtual no entry zone – ignoring her would probably do the trick.  I break down and give her an entrée into our rollicking topic – I have been the outsider enough times to appreciate the kind soul who widens the circle.

Are you kidding me?  I throw her one bone and now she’s making an aggressive move, complete with a little head fake.

“I would like to ask you a question about the zoning for the third ward.”     

That bitch has hijacked my conversation, now she is grabbing the guy’s arm.  I’ve been forced out.  Time to start over again.

Look, there’s that woman I know a little bit from the ladies’ bridge games I sometimes sub into.  I move in, but watch out, there’s someone coming in from the other direction and suddenly she turns and the moment is gone.  How about that woman?  She was the team mother when my daughter played soccer – that was a couple of years ago.  I smile at her but get nothing in return – absolutely nothing.  Does she have the nerve to pretend that she doesn’t know who I am?  I carpooled with her for Christ’s sake, I even helped her out with some Godforsaken team-building soccer sleep-over at her house.  Well screw her – maybe I’ll finally ask her about that nasty scar on her upper arm – I’ve always wondered.  Whenever I see her, she’s wearing short sleeves, just showing off that scrawny and wretched arm.  She’s just begging to be asked – I bet her arm is a convenient conversational lifeline.  Perhaps I should get a tattoo.

Okay, I’ve had it – time to call in the lifelines.  There’s one at the bar.  Damn it – he turns around and there’re two drinks in his hand.

“Great to see you, but we’ll have to catch up later on.”

Shit, I just burned one of my lifelines.  Time for another sweep of the room.  Wait, is that a tap on my shoulder? Yes even better than a lifeline, it is an old shoe, a friend for more than twenty years, maybe even forty.  No more contrived conversation starters for me.  I can ask about his kids and I won’t get the cocktail version of “she graduated a year ago and is now in graduate school.”  I will hear the back story the details, the really good stuff.

I’ve done my best, the crowd is thinning out, now there’s no shame in taking a break on the couch.  Here comes Nick, spat out after his last lap around the room.  Look at us – each of us the other’s life line – and it has been that way for the 35 years, ever since that cattle-call cocktail party that neither of us were invited to.  That’s when I broke out of the box just long enough to meet my husband for the first time – plucked him out of a pulsing amoebic swarm of people.  So take that, Myers and Briggs.

The missing words in the following poem are anagrams (i.e. share the same letters like spot, post, stop) and the number of asterisks indicates the number of letters.  Your job is to solve the missing words based on the above rules and the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers.

I approach some cocktail parties with anxiety and dread

Preferring to walk on burning embers or a hot *******.

It’s no surprise – I’ve been ******* on my personality by Briggs and Myers

I’m down in the right corner box with all the other social outliers.

Once I got out of the box using grit, gumption and a steel-******* spine.

It was 35 years ago when I met my husband at a cocktail party and made him mine.










Firebed, briefed, fibered

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