February 2009

Helen Fisher

Helping Juliet find her Romeo
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Love, it is said, is the magic that turns our world. But sometimes that world’s axis seems to tilt, revolutions wobble and love goes awry. Since February is the time when we pay special court to Cupid, BookPage asked one of the world’s leading experts on love and attachment, Dr. Helen Fisher (Why We Love), to discuss how personality typing, based on human brain chemistry, can help us find—and keep—an enduring love. “This research is new ground for me,” Fisher admits during a phone interview from New York City. “I have attempted to explain other aspects of love, but this work touches the human heart where it lives.” And where the heart lives—or more specifically, gets fired up—is in the brain.

Fisher, a biological anthropologist and research professor at Rutgers University, has a passion to understand human connection—a fascination partly driven by her own biology as an identical twin. Her new book, Why Him, Why Her? Finding Real Love by Understanding Your Personality Type, embodies that penchant, having its genesis in the Internet. In 2004, Match.com executives contacted Fisher for input on a new website that would help people find long-term partners. They asked, “Why do you fall in love with one person rather than another?” She answered that no one really knew; however, in light of the crucial evolutionary choice that mating represents, Fisher surmised that this important decision could not be ruled by mere human whim. “I suspected that psychologists . . . had not looked for the underlying biological mechanisms that direct our romantic choices."

Does personality actually influence who we love? Fisher decided to find out. She examined the biology associated with personality traits, namely, the powerful chemical systems of dopamine, serotonin, testosterone and estrogen. Out of this scrutiny, four basic personality types emerged (the Explorer, Builder, Director and Negotiator), as well as the underpinning for a new book and a consultancy with another website, Chemistry.com, for which she designed the personality typing questionnaire.

Are you impulsive, a risk-taker? Perhaps you’re an Explorer. Traditional? Orderly? Then Builder might apply. If you’re exacting and competitive, have a seat in the Director chair. Do you value compassion and creativity? Then you could be a Negotiator. Fisher’s book entices readers to take her personality test and know themselves better. Most of us are a blend of primary and secondary types and, according to a mate choice survey Fisher conducted with Chemistry.com members, certain types attract—and repel—one another. “Two Builders might bicker over the right way to mop a floor,” she says, “but if they can do damage control, they’ll be fine. But a romance between two Directors? Not so good.” No worries, though, as the book includes an in-depth analysis of each match combination plus sage advice, in a chapter entitled “Putting Chemistry to Work,” on naturally balancing the strengths and flaws unique to each pairing. "A good match, says Fisher, depends upon much more than genetics, though we do “inherit much of the fabric of our mind.” We are not, however, helpless victims of our DNA; there are myriad factors, which Fisher dubs “The Funnel,” that guide attraction: timing, proximity and familiarity, physicality, needs and values, and your love map, which is “a largely unconscious list of traits you will eventually seek in him or her.”

Since I had a love expert on the line, I had to ask for Fisher’s take on our new president and first lady. “I am totally fascinated by them!” she exclaims. She figures (and, hey, Dr. Fisher is good—she had this reviewer pegged instantly as a Negotiator-Explorer) that they are both Explorers with differing secondary types that work beautifully together. “Michelle, I believe, is an Explorer-Director to Barack’s Explorer-Negotiator, and is the ‘rock’ of the family.”

“Men and women are very different in many ways, but the good news is that we were built to work together.” And Fisher is enthused about the power of the Internet—hence her work with Chemistry.com—to facilitate romantic togetherness, especially in these days when a sense of local community seems to be waning. “How we look for love is changing,” she says, “and I hope that I’m helping people find someone to love.”

Alison Hood, a confirmed Negotiator, hopes to become more of an Explorer this year.

Get the Book

Why Him, Why Her?

Why Him, Why Her?

By Helen Fisher
ISBN 9780805082920

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