This article is the last in a four-part series dealing with the
dating challenges faced by those of different temperaments. It is
intended as a more detailed supplement to the brief suggestions given
as part of the profile matching feature. This month's piece focuses on
There are some people who are so calm, so steady and reliable, so quietly helpful, they inspire the acclamation, “What a great guy!” Like sweet, predictable, slightly gullible Winnie the Pooh, these loveable folk are treasured for their steadfast loyalty, humble service, and soft-spoken humor.
These naturally gentle and good-natured people are called phlegmatic. The phlegmatic temperament is calm and even-keeled–never fiery (like the choleric), flighty (like the sanguine) or intense (like the melancholic). No, according to ancient Greek cosmology, phlegmatics are cool and calming water, taking shape from whatever vessel into which it flows.
Phlegmatics love harmony, peace and cooperation. They are dedicated, supportive and never ostentatious. Solid, dependable and affable, they value family and homelife. The most patient of all the temperaments, phlegmatics rarely get bored (though they are sometimes accused of being boring!) and are cautious—but not fearful.
The backbone of our society, phlegmatics esteem hard work and commitment. Never pushy, reckless or sensational, they do not seek the limelight (unlike our flashy friend, the sanguine), but prefer the role of unselfish team player. Think of Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, or President Calvin Coolidge, a solid leader of few words.
The problem is, you might never get to know this humble, reserved individual. Unlike the bubbly sanguine or the take-charge choleric, the quiet, laid-back phlegmatic might never get around to asking you out! There he is in the background, the best man or the best friend. The modest, reserved phlegmatic may never reveal his talents–or his interest in you. His easy-going and modest nature precludes pushing himself forward. He is never the squeaky wheel. If you are alert, you will recognize the gift of this temperament and even, perhaps seek him out.
But, like each of the four temperaments, the phlegmatic also has his weaknesses.
He can sometimes value cooperation so much that he fails to assert himself or take charge when necessary. At work he can be satisfied with the status quo, remaining in a lower-level job for lack of assertiveness; at home, he may avoid a problem rather than deal with the pressure involved in facing it overtly. He is easily discouraged and can lack self-confidence, making him prone to distancing himself as a means of self-protection. In a relationship, the phlegmatic can minimize or overlook interpersonal problems out of a fear of conflict or strong emotion. He can also be annoyingly naggable.
Phlegmatics will often resort to “okay” or “I’ll get to it” to buy some time – intending to get to it… later. If the phlegmatic is dating a choleric or sanguine (who expects things to happen right now) this can give rise to frustration. The non-phlegmatic may resort to harsh criticisms in a misguided attempt to motivate: “You’re so lazy!” “You never do anything!” or “You are so boring!”
Phlegmatics are more comfortable going with the flow, agreeing with everyone else, rather than risking the conflict that might result if they dared to state their own preferences. Thus they often say things like, “I don’t know,” or “I don’t care… whatever you want to do.” This is a blessing to parents and a pleasant surprise on a first date, but can be stultifying over time. Any natural temperamental quality can become a drawback if not governed by prudence — even the phlegmatic’s famed easy-going-ness.
Phlegmatics are not flamboyant wooers, preferring empathy and self-giving to grandiose romantic gestures. Yet, phlegmatics sometimes need to boost their expressivity if they want to engender (and retain) those romantic feelings. At a local parish, a young couple gave a testimony about the temperaments. One evening, phlegmatic “Nick” told his young wife, “I am so happy being married to you.”
“Hold that exact expression,” she commanded and ran to get a mirror, which she held up to his face.
“Does this look to you like so happy?” Nick had to admit that his bland expression did not match the emotion he intended to convey.
If you are in a relationship with a phlegmatic, and you are the more expressive or assertive partner, watch out that you do not become overly controlling; allow the more reserved phlegmatic to shine and to speak up, otherwise, resentment may grow between you. On the other hand, if you are the phlegmatic, you will need to work on initiating: speaking up, speaking your mind, and leaning into conflict—even when it feels uncomfortable.
The phlegmatic, naturally inclined to peacemaking, must learn to speak up for the truth even when it creates conflict. Christ himself said, “I have come to bring not peace but the sword” (Mt 10:34 ). In a relationship, there will be times when the compliant phlegmatic will need to step up to a problem, instead of simply agreeing with his loved one (to make the problem go away) or avoiding the issue.
If you are a phlegmatic, take this opportunity to stretch yourself a little past your comfort zone: introduce yourself to someone new, take on a new project at work, or take a stand on a controversial topic. In this way, you can grow in the virtue of holy audacity, which enables one to courageously fight against evil and to passionately pursue the good.
If you are friends with (or are dating) a phlegmatic, relax and enjoy your relationship with this patient, kind, and easy-going individual. He may not be flashy, but what a great guy!