the road back to you

What the Enneagram Taught Me About Dating

“Perfect,” I thought, “he’s trapped.”

It was New Years Day and we had a 6 hour drive ahead of us. For the record, if someone says this, you should run. Anyone who finds joy at the thought of forcing another person into spending time with them could be certifiably insane.

But alas, my boyfriend couldn’t run! He was stuck in the car with me and I locked the doors as we cruised at an unmentionable speed down the Interstate.

Being New Years Day and all, I was excited to talk about our hopes and dreams for the upcoming year. New Years Day is almost, if not more fun than Christmas for me. The possibilities, plans, goals and future brim with potential for me. It’s a day filled with high hopes and optimism about what the next 365 days could possibly have in store.

I live for this shit.

I was excited to hear about my boyfriend’s hopes, dreams and plans for his future and if I’m being completely honest, our future as well. As I began to poke and prod him about what he wanted out of 2017 I was met with some resistance. What started as slight avoidance began to grow into someone annoyance as I watched him start to crash. His energy levels were fading and they were fading fast.

Mayday, mayday, abort the mission!

Eventually I gave up on peppering him with my 20 questions. Grateful that I had abandoned the crusade he turned his attention on me and volleyed the same questions in my direction. What had been draining for him was life giving to me. My enthusiasm grew exponentially as I talked about the upcoming year- goals, trips, adventures, friendships- the possibilities were endless! My anticipation was palpable, so much so that I eventually managed to stand up in my seat (while still belted mind you) and rave about what was to come.

I am a 7 on the Enneagram. New Years Day is my bread and butter. My boyfriend, on the other hand, is a 9. His feelings about New Years are about as intense as his feelings on root canals.

What Is the Enneagram?

Threes, Fives, 8w9, integration, stress. If you’ve been around a large group of people lately you might’ve heard these terms get tossed around. They’re talking about the Enneagram, a personality typing system that categorizes people into 9 different types or numbers based on their core motivation and fears.

The Enneagram is both ancient and mysterious. Many trace its roots back into ancient cultures where it was passed down as an oral tradition. It resurfaced in a more official capacity in the 60s as people started to write down its wisdom and gained interest again in the 80s and 90s in spiritual and therapeutic circles thanks to people like Father Richard Rohr.

Now, there’s no science or psychological findings behind the Enneagram. As writer and teacher Mike McHargue likes to say, “All models are flawed, but many are useful.” And so it is with the Enneagram. While it’s not perfect, many people (myself included) have gained invaluable insight and self-knowledge from its wisdom. It’s been a tool, a guide per say, in spiritual, emotional, and relational transformation. By first and foremost understanding oneself, one can move out into the world and seek intimacy with God and others.

Unlike other personality typing systems such as Myers-Briggs or Strength Finders, the Enneagram cuts straight to the gut. While other systems tend to describe the symptoms of our personalities the Enneagram seeks to reveal our core motivations and fears. Those fears motivate us both positively and negatively and form our worldview.

The first time I read my Enneagram number I remember feeling slightly nauseous. It were as though someone had published my most vulnerable journal entries for the world to read. I felt exposed, raw and even a little wounded. After the feelings of fear and shame finally subsided I was overwhelmed with what I could only describe as relief. I felt understood, known and seen. I wasn’t the only one. It explained so much of how I operate in the world.

What are the Numbers?

I’m no expert and I definitely lack the time and patience to go into too much depth about each of the 9 different Enneagram numbers so here’s a brief summary of the types:

Ones: The Perfectionist. Ones seek to establish structure, order and are most likely to come behind you and re-do your work.

Twos: The Helper. Twos love lending a helping hand and need to be needed. Twos are your go-to people when you need a hug or someone to volunteer to clean up after the party.

Threes: The Achiever. Threes are success and appearance driven. They will be the best of the best as they’re most likely to occupy the corner office.

Fours: The Individualist. Fours feel a deep need to be unique and an individual though their core desire is to be accepted and known. They’re your quirky and maybe a little too dramatic friend who probably says something inappropriate a little too often.

Fives: The Investigator. Fives tend to hang back and watch the drama unfold (see above). They have limited time and energy so they’re guarded and intellectual folks who are content to be alone.

Sixes: The Loyalist. Surprisingly enough, Sixes are the most prominent Enneagram number. Sixes are your ride-or-die partner in crime who maybe tends to stress out a little too much as they’re heavily fear based people.

Sevens: The Enthusiast. Sevens love life but have a hard time staying in the moment as they’re always off chasing the next best thing. Think of the song “Everything Is Awesome” from the Lego Movie or your friend who has to try one of everything when you go out to eat.

Eights: The Challenger. Eights are intense and a bit rough around the edges though they’re total softies underneath. They enjoy conflict and as bizarre as it might seem they’ll pick a fight with you just to feel closer to you.

Nines: The Peacemaker. Nines are laid back, steady Eddy, go with the flow type of folks. They’re slower moving and conflict avoiding individuals who want everyone and everything to get along.

If you don’t know your type or are curious about learning more about the Enneagram be sure to explore the resources listed at the end of the blog.

What Does It All Mean?

Remember the New Years Debacle of 2017 I mentioned earlier?

Without the Enneagram I’m not so sure there would be a boyfriend to speak of, or at least not the same one, because pre-Enneagram us would’ve lacked the empathy and understanding to see what was happening. Old me would’ve been offended that he didn’t want to think about our future together. Old him would’ve dug his heels in and avoided me to no end. Thankfully, because of our Enneagram work we were able to see where the other person was coming from and empathize with what they were experiencing in the moment.

Essentially, the Enneagram makes us more compassionate.

It allows us settle into a place of genuinely assuming the best about each other. In the event of disagreement or hurt we’re able to recognize the triggers that could cause the other person to act out of stress or an unhealthy space. The Enneagram also gives us the courage to do our work- when we’re aware of the unhealthy ways we react to situations or stress we’re able to grow and hold each other accountable. God has called both of us to our best selves and the Enneagram is a tool we’re using to move towards those people.

The Enneagram helps us put language to our thoughts, feelings, fears and motivations. Rather than just assuming the other person sees the world the same way we do we’re able to use statements like, “Dreaming about the future is important to me. I know you enjoy being in the moment but because it’s important to me I would like for you to participate in it with me,” or “I need a night where we just chill and don’t make plans because I’m feeling pretty drained. Would it be okay if we rented a movie?”

Old us would’ve lacked the language, or at least the confidence, to voice what we need and why we need it.

The Enneagram also gives me a deep appreciation for the gifts he brings to the table as a 9 and as a person- his steadiness and consistency that I inherently lack, his ministry of presence that has allowed me to feel so loved and known.

Enneagram specialists Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile say the Enneagram is like trying on 9 different pairs of glasses. You’re able to briefly see the world the way someone else does.

When we move towards each other in understanding rather than away from each other out of assumptions and unmet expectations we’re finally able to cultivate a spirit of compassion. If I know anything about dating it’s that a relationship built on compassion and deep friendship are foundational. 

Do you know your Enneagram number? How has the Enneagram impacted you?


Take the Enneagram test:

Listen to The Liturgists podcast describing the Enneagram.

Read The Road Back to You or listen to the podcast.