Are You A Past, Present, Or Future Thinker?

Good news: after six months of job searching, it looks like fiancé has gotten a job offer! “Looks like” because he still has to go through various background checks and bureaucratic hoop-jumping. But as far as we’ve been told, he can expect to start working at the new place at the beginning of May. Trying not to count our chickens before they hatch and all, but uh those sure do look like seven chickens over there, yup.

I say we are trying not to count our chickens but really what I mean is I am trying not to. Literally within ten seconds of fiancé telling me the news, the first thing that jumped into my mind was Oh boy, I should update the financial projection spreadsheets!

Here’s the thing: I’m a very future-oriented thinker. I have often joked (not really a joke) that my discount rate– for stress, satisfaction, whatever it may be– is negative. I feel future joys with as much or greater intensity than present ones. When things are actively falling apart around me, I’m as cool as a cucumber. But if I anticipate things falling apart in the distant future, then I’ll be a mess for days.

Because of this future-orientation, I really like to plan things. It is my coping strategy for anxiety, of which I have a lot. It is also my coping strategy for everything going just fine and my brain just having some spare capacity to throw around. And sometimes I can get a little intense.

I remember one time, when we were going through a financially tumultuous period after buying and remodeling the condo, breaking out for fiancé The Life Spreadsheet. As in, the spreadsheet that summarized our entire lives for the next ten years. Our jobs, our salaries, when we’d have kids, what daycare the kids would go to, when fiancé would become a stay at home parent and the tax implications thereof. We’d talked about most of these things more or less, but he was still understandably intimidated by this gesture. It doesn’t help that fiancé is 100% a present-oriented thinker.  I don’t know what I’m having for lunch today let alone what I want my career to look like in a decade! 

Because you see– and I didn’t come to understand this until much later– when present-thinker fiancé read this grand plan he understood it to mean Here is what YAPFB is ordering you to do for the rest of your life. Whereas I understood it to mean Here is what I think will happen based on our current model, which is flexible but we need a starting point. Oh look we’ll probably do okay, let’s not worry about it too much then.

Taking a step back, his interpretation and therefore his trepidation makes a lot of sense. But it definitely took him pointing out his perspective for my deep-in-the-Excel brain to even process that one could feel intimidated and even constrained by the concept of a plan. This has resulted in many a long, heartfelt, sometimes heated conversation that involves a lot of listening and empathy and maybe also some Let’s maybe not show fiancé my annual meal planning spreadsheet.

I need to tweak it anyway.

Are you a past, present, or future-thinker? Is your partner the same? How do your orientations commingle?



20 thoughts on “Are You A Past, Present, Or Future Thinker?

  1. Pretty much the same – I’m very future focused, and my husband is very present focused. His way does seem much less anxiety producing, and seems to generally work out well for him (i.e. he still achieves really good things).

    So, I plan things and worry about the future, and he helps me realize that things will be OK even if we don’t know the future (spoiler alert, we never can know for sure).


    1. Being present-focused does seem to be much less anxiety producing for fiance, though I will say my relentlessly planning brain has saved us a few times, for which I am thankful. If I could just do the planning stuff without having the anxiety, now that would be perfect!


  2. SUPER future focused with some lingering past focus. PiC is mainly a present focused person. I don’t recall if that’s ever caused real conflict, I don’t tend to share a LOT of my future planning process with him since it’s meant to be flexible and more for my own comfort than anything. I share the broad strokes “wouldn’t it be nice if we could retire in ten years?” and then spend hours on the planning for my own edification and calming.

    Right now I’m working on death related things: who to contact, who will help, what arrangements are necessary. Once that’s pulled together, the next step for me is to properly archive the work in a place that at least 3 trustworthy people know about and can access.


    1. How does your past focus come up? I feel like, for myself, I’ll look at past decisions very detachedly like “yes that was a good idea, no I should not have done that” but never really internalize a lot of pride or regret.

      For a while I didn’t even mention my spreadsheets to fiancé. After The Life Spreadsheet incident, he was like: Do you really see me? Am I just a number in your spreadsheet? And I was like: No, dear. You’re many numbers in multiple spreadsheets. He understands it’s just my own compulsion at this point and sees it partly as a quirky/endearing quality, but it was awkward until we had gotten eye to eye about it.

      Good on you for managing end of life stuff. I’m hoping we can get to that around the same time as we get our prenup done.


      1. LMAO, duh, you’re not just ONE number, silly 🙂 I could see that as being awkward at first.

        I definitely don’t have detachment from past decisions, they come up and give me FEELINGS about them. Generally it’s always the bad decisions or the stupid mistakes or the severely awkward scenarios that stick with me like putty.


        1. Oh I definitely get the random “remember that time you said something stupid/awkward?” thoughts pass through my mind and grimace. But I always chalk it up to social awkwardness and not really think of it as something I can plan around and fix.


  3. I’m very future focused, and my husband is less so. However, he knows having a plan is important to me, so he’ll always be willing to chat future stuff with me. With that said, I try not to overwhelm him and discuss one or two concrete topics at a time, and only when he’s relaxed and alert. If I try to bring up budget stuff at 10pm when he’s tired, that’s no bueno. I think our system works well for us!


    1. That’s great you guys have a system that works. Our designated time to talk long term stuff is Saturday mornings when everyone has slept in and filled their bellies with food and calm. I think setting parameters of when and how to talk with your partner about these sorts of big matters really helps.


  4. I’m also the future thinker and my husband the present thinker! It mostly means that I don’t share the extent of my future thinking with him. It really took him aback though when we were looking at open houses a few years ago for bigger places and I (who adamantly doesn’t want kids) kept pointing out that the places wouldn’t be very good for having kids. That really baffled him since I, you know, so adamantly don’t want kids. I explained to him that our current place broke even on renting versus buying a long time ago, but if we move somewhere, we are restarting that clock on a different place and so we need to make sure we are picking a place that we think we could stay in for 5+ years through life’s curveballs.

    We tend to block off agreed upon times to talk through things, like the month’s budget. I try as much as possible to not talk finances as we are going to sleep since I’m the only one for whom that is calming…


    1. That’s really interesting that you factor potential kids into your house-buying decisions. I feel like if I hadn’t wanted kids, our home-buying profile would have looked really different especially in terms of location. How do you reconcile your wants/needs with hypothetical kid wants/needs?

      Before we had come up with Saturday morning planning time, I would every once and a while just come up to fiancé and ask if we could talk about X big thing or whatever. He looked like a deer in headlights, like “what are you doing, what have I done, aaaaahhh.” It’s funny because he’s super engaged when we are in planning meetings but yeah just talking about the numbers on a random Tuesday night is a frightening prospect for him while it’s anxiety reducing for me.


      1. Another root of it I think was the fact that the market is a lot more expensive now, interest rates are higher, etc. which causes a different amount of anxiety. Also, most of the places we looked at at that time were three levels with the master bedroom being separated from the other bedrooms by two levels which is a lot of stairs. One didn’t have a functional living room size on the kitchen level, so we would have likely used the third bedroom as a living room, etc. So mostly just space / layout things that seemed odd to us if there were kids.


        1. That makes sense. It sounds like hypothetical kid factors has acted for you mostly as an additional filter for suboptimal layouts than really changing the type of home you’d be looking for.


        2. Yeah, exactly! I wouldn’t have any idea how to start looking for a house to live in with kids, but I don’t want to pick a super suboptimal layout in the meantime that would cause us to move if we did have kids.


    1. There does seem to be a theme among the comments here, but also some of that is probably selection bias in who reads my blog. I could definitely believe anticipating household needs could be a common invisible female-coded labor thing. But it is also my understanding that management of household finances in the US is pretty gender split and leans slightly male.


      1. Managing household finances doesn’t have to be future-thinking! That’s how a lot of people get into trouble being surprised by monthly emergencies. (Yes, definitely selection bias with who reads female-written PF blogs as well. The breakdown is probably more even on MMM since both men and women comment on his blog, and most people who read it are probably forward looking. The question would then be whether their spouses are present-looking or not.)


        1. Do you mean that future-thinking while managing household finances is how people get into trouble being surprised by monthly emergencies? Or being present thinking is how people get hit with those surprises?

          I know I find it a helpful balance (as does my husband) that one of us is forward thinking and the other present thinking.


  5. Hmmm. Definitely another future thinker, married to a present thinker. And that’s tough sometimes. But overall I’ve had a lot of fun experiences because of him and he’s better off because of me. I feel it’s getting easier to balance now that he is starting to learn to think a bit more long term himself about certain things and as we move into a new stage of life.

    The discussion above about factors when buying a house is interesting to me; when I bought this place I wasn’t sure if we were going to be together or not (I bought on my own, financially speaking) obviously if we weren’t then kids would not be in the picture any time soon and I wouldn’t be wanting as much space or yard and as a single (non handy) person low maintenance would have been a bigger factor.


    1. I also bought on my own, financially, but when fiancé and I were together. It was strange because while I was asking for his feedback on a place– we were already together two years at the time– it was still very much a place *I* was buying to get a foothold into a competitive market. Ultimately, I would have wanted similar things from a home since even if we didn’t work out I knew I would eventually want kids, but like a lot of relationship/money things it took a lot of communication before we were on the same page.


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