Dear Vicki: I’m in my mid-20s and live by myself in Manhattan where I work as a legal advocate for a refugee organization. My mother recently informed me that my cousin (her sister’s son who’s around my age) will be moving here to take a job as a trial attorney. Mom asked if I would help James find a place, get settled, and meet people. I understand that he is family, but since we were children, I’ve never really liked James. He always seemed like a wild, pushy, “my way or the highway” kind of guy. Looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed his company; he’s exhausting to be around. There’s no way out of it though, so do you have any recommendations regarding what I can do to stand him for however long it takes to get him settled? Signed: Cornered in Manhattan
Dear Cornered: Ah, the things we are called to do in the name of family. I agree that you probably are stuck with helping your cousin get settled in the big city. And while you will probably never really enjoy James, there are ways to manage your interactions with him to make things less painful. That said, the first step is for you to understand why he exhausts you and rubs you the wrong way. Of course, I think it has everything to do with your elemental personalities.
It’s interesting that you and James are both attorneys. One might expect that a shared profession would make relating to each other easier, but given the type of law you each practice, I can understand why that hasn’t happened. You are radically different from each other and the way this has manifested in your career paths offers insight into your elemental personalities.
As I have said here many times, the ability to survive law school requires a great deal of structure. The two most structured elements in the Five Elements model are Wood and Metal. Because of this, attorneys usually have either Wood or Metal as a primary personality. For James, I suspect his primary elemental personality is Wood, especially since you remember him as a “pushy” child. That’s a word often associated with Wood people, and it is certainly a characteristic that would make for a good trial attorney. You, on the other hand, are likely a Metal personality because successful advocacy often rests in knowing the minutia of law and precedent. Metal people do this type of detail brilliantly.
Normally, knowing our primary elemental personality is enough to help explain our positive and less than positive relationship tendencies. But in your case, I think an understanding of yours and James’ secondary elemental personalities will make a difference. Your desire to use your legal skills to help people at a disadvantage in society suggests that you probably have Earth as a secondary personality. As a Metal/Earth person, you will be excellent at helping the people who come to you in need. On the other hand, I suspect that James has Fire as his secondary; Fire people are often described as “wild.” A Wood/Fire combination would give him a personality able to push for what he wants in a showy (and dare I say entertaining) way.
So how might one expect a Metal/Earth personality to get along with a Wood/Fire one? Well, I think you’re living proof of the answer. It will be exhausting for the Metal/Earth, and here’s why. In the Five Elements model, Wood and Metal relate on the Controlling Cycle, with Metal controlling Wood. This means that whenever James displays what seems to you to be excessive behavior (a good way to describe a Wood person with too much energy), you would innately feel like it is your job to “prune” him. Constantly needing to do that around him can be draining for your Metal. But it gets worse, because James’ Wood relates to your Earth on the Controlling Cycle, so being around him would zap your Earth. And finally, his Fire relates to your Metal on the Controlling Cycle, which would zap your Metal. No wonder he exhausts you!
But as we have said here many times, there is hope for every relationship as long as we know where to look. And for you and James, it means looking to your Earth and James’s Fire. When you get together with James, the best thing that can happen is for you both to check your primary personalities at the door (his Wood and your Metal) and try relating as an Earth personality to a Fire personality. Not only will James’ Fire feed your Earth (which, by the way, will then replenish your Metal), Earth is where family sits and the only reason you’re connecting with James is because he’s family. The other thing you have going for you by staying in Earth and Fire personalities is that you might actually have fun! Your Metal and Wood energies won’t be demanding center stage and keeping things structured, so you and James might actually relax and enjoy some time together.
To make sure you stay in your Earth and Fire personalities, instead of meeting at the kind of quiet little bistro that Wood and Metal people might enjoy, seek out a lively environment with excellent food. The lively environment will encourage James’ Fire personality, which you might actually find engaging if your Metal isn’t around to feel threatened, and the good food will literally (and figuratively) feed your Earth personality. It is highly unlikely – although not impossible – that you and James will ever be best buddies; you just have too many Control Cycle dynamics between you. But by focusing on fun and food the few times you need to meet, and avoiding overly serious topics (like politics) that could engage your Metal or Wood personalities, you should be able to honor your family and help get him settled without too much trouble. Just remember: fun and food wherever you meet! And good luck!