Dear Vicki: Max and I have been close friends since childhood. We met at a child’s reading event at the local library when we were 9 years old and bonded over the books. Growing up, Max was a quiet, go with the flow kind of guy and I was a quiet, go with the flow kind of girl. We hung out a lot. But during college, Max really started to change. The first Christmas vacation back home we went to a poetry reading together (Max loved to write poetry), but he seemed cold and withdrawn. I wondered what was going on, but he never mentioned any problems at school, so I never asked. But by the time we graduated from college last year, Max was a different person. These days, his easy-going nature is completely gone and he’s become very precise and rigid. What happened to my old Max? I don’t know if it will help, but I’m a children’s librarian and Max is a computer programmer. Signed: Missing Max
Dear Missing Max: Childhood is a wonderful time of imagination, play, and discovery. As we’ve said here many times, regardless of our primary elemental personality, we all use a great deal of Water energy during childhood. If we are also a primary Water personality, our love of books, going with the flow, creativity, and the other aspects of the Water personality will stay with us as we grow.
However, if the Water personality aspects we manifest during childhood change as we grow, it is possible that our primary elemental personality really wasn’t Water, we were just in the Water phase of life. It’s also possible that the changes we manifest as we grow are because we have learned to lead with a different elemental personality for any number of reasons, even though our primary personality was, and still is, Water. And I think that might be what has happened for your friend, Max.
As children, if we’re lucky, life is full of wonder and our needs are always met. But eventually it becomes necessary to meet our own needs as an adult in a Western culture. Earning a living and becoming a productive member of society usually require that we embrace the cultural norms where we live. In the West, we value structure, discipline, and precision, all attributes that don’t come naturally to the Water personality.
You have chosen a career as a children’s librarian. This suggests that you really are a primary Water personality with a strong secondary Earth. This Earth energy would give you a degree of structure and also explain your desire to work with children. It’s possible that Max is also a primary Water personality. Attending the poetry reading with you during a college break suggests that his adult desires back then still reflected what would be considered Water personality priorities. But the fact that he chose a programming career suggests that he is manifesting an elemental personality other than Water in the professional part of his life. This is because programing requires a degree of structure that is usually foreign to most Water people.
I think what happened to Max is that his natural Watery ways were at odds with what’s necessary to succeed as a student and employee in the US. When Max came face-to-face with the reality that, as a male in a patriarchal culture, he was expected to hold down a job, pay bills, and likely take responsibility for a family, I suspect he began moving from his primary Water personality to his secondary elemental personality which, if he is a computer programmer now, is probably Metal. Programming is a solitary job that would be comfortable for both the Water and Metal aspects of his personality and does benefit from the inspiration that Water people can tap. However, programming also draws heavily on the precision perfected by the Metal personality. If Max is a primary Water personality with a secondary Metal personality, programming is actually a great fit for him.
During his first year of college, it probably dawned on him that he was going to have to embrace more structure to be successful. And as you no doubt discovered for yourself, structure does not come easily to Waters. Initially, Max might have tried to stay in his Water to create the structure he realized he needed. If so, there are two likely ways for Water people to create structure for themselves. The first is to draw on their Earth energy to create flow boundaries and direction much like a riverbank guides a river. This is what I believe you do on a regular basis as a children’s librarian. But for a variety of reasons, I suspect Max initially choose the second way to create structure for Water, and that was to freeze his Water.
In nature, ice is structured water. But it is also water removed from most of the lovely attributes we associate with water. This is true in nature and is also true for the elemental personalities. That first Christmas when you found Max acting “cold” to you might have been his beginning attempts to create structure for himself in order to survive college classes, deadlines, etc. But because frozen Water isn’t healthy over the long term, Max likely found it more comfortable (and productive) to move from his primary Water personality into his secondary Metal personality to access and provide structure.
So, is Max lost to you forever? Probably not, but how you relate to him will have to change. For all intents and purposes now, Max is living as a primary Metal personality and you need to honor that. But because Metal and Water relate on the Flow Cycle in the Five Elements model, a nurturing relationship between the two of you is still very possible. Give yourself a chance to get to know the “new” Max without judging him against the “old” Max. Time with a Metal Max might actually feel good to you because it is his Metal that will feed your Water on that Flow Cycle. And it can feel good to him, too, because Earth and Metal also relate on the Flow Cycle. Only this time it will be your secondary Earth feeding his secondary Metal.
We all change as we grow up, but the core of who we are is usually still there. Max is probably trying to find a balance between the Water and Metal aspects of his personality these days. If you can accept him the way he is without judging, he will likely relax and allow more of his old self to come through. Hang in there with him. And blessings to you!