The System

Being wholly in a cult is probably pretty bad for you, but for a lot of people, being a little bit in a cult is a good thing. Astrology is a good cult to be in a little bit. It’s fun to think about your personal totem and what it means about you, and it lends a sense of inevitability to other people’s personality flaws, which can help cultivate the kind of cheerful resignation that makes long-term companionship possible.

The only problem with a system like astrology is that it’s pre-assigned by birth date, which for some people breaks the suspension of disbelief. There are other systems that attempt to fix this problem, like the Meyers-Briggs or Enneagrams, but both of these rely on self-reporting to the exclusion of external confirmation.

To fix this problem, I present my alternative personality matrix. I call it “The System”. It only has five categories, and rather than sun/moon/rising signs, you simply have “what you think you are” and “what other people think you are.” You use both to understand the fullness of your personality.

The five “signs”, as we might call them, are as follows:

  • Clingy-needs other people more than most.

  • Arrogant-refuses help even when they need it.

  • Dramallama-knows what’s Going Down, and will tell you.

  • Obsessed With Being an Introvert-self-reflects to the point of navel gazing.

  • ’Tato (short for “potato”)-radiates contentment; not a huge fan of change.

The goal with these is that they are specific enough to conjure specific imagery, a little negative/self-deprecating, and also open-ended enough that they can be debated or expanded upon. For example: I see the “clingy” subtype as having both positive and negative qualities: a Clingy is almost certainly holding your friend group together post-college, but a Clingy might also not be the best relationship partner for someone doing long-distance.

The System, as I like to call it, works like this: you look at the list and decide what you think you are, and write it down. You then poll about ten people who know you, ideally people who don’t know a lot about how you see yourself, about which one of these they think you are. There will almost certainly be a clear standout. Your personality is then your self-evaluation plus your social evaluation.

For example: I might consider myself a clear-cut Arrogant. But maybe the other people in my friend group see my Obsessed With Being An Introvert (or OWBAI) as being my standout trait. Treat your social evaluation as your “sun sign” (for those of you who are used to astrology) and your self-evaluation as your “moon sign.” The Double Sign (or person whose self and social evaluations match), is not, by the way, a kind of extra-’Tato-y ’Tato. They are, instead, a person with an inordinately high degree of self-awareness, and they are to be respected and feared appropriately.

If your whole friend group starts doing this, eventually these categories will take on a specific flavor common to your shared understanding. Beware, though, as these may start to reveal prejudices in the group (some groups may think of the Dramallama as an enemy, when really this is a person with a flair for crafting adventure and excitement).

I would enjoy hearing from people who try this system and find it pleasant or not, or who have alternate systems of categorizing their friends and relations. As always, you can leave a comment below or e-mail me at parentheticalfootnote@gmail.com. I am also still accepting advice letters. Not sure why your friends all think you’re a 'Tato? Write to me, and I’ll help you unpack it.