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Author: Learn your dating personality, find love

Helen Fisher, a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University,  characterizes in her book, "Why Him? Why Her?," four dominant traits that guide who you're attracted to and how you can use that knowledge to find lasting love. An excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY books

Helen Fisher, a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, can determine your personality — and your characteristics within a relationship — almost instantly. She characterizes in her book, "Why Him? Why Her?," four dominant traits that guide who you’re attracted to and how you can use that knowledge to find lasting love. An excerpt.

Chapter 12: Afterword

How to find and keep lasting love
I will never look at a wedding cake the same way again. What transformed me was a trip to Tokyo in May, 2009. This book was on the stands; and I had come to speak to journalists at the launch of a new Internet dating site, Marriage. The interviews were over. All that remained was a singles evening attended by some 200 members of the new web site, hosted by Japan.

There I sat, in the bridal dressing room above a large white ballroom decorated with huge chandeliers, balloons, floral arrangements and long tables of hors d’oeuvres. I could hear the young members as they filed into the grand hall below. Each had taken a short version of my personality test and donned a wrist band to designate their primary type: energetic sunny yellow for Explorers; traditional royal blue for Builders; power-tie red for Directors; and tree-hugger green for Negotiators. I had thought my assignment was to introduce myself and my ideas to the guests to launch the evening. But as I sat in the bridal dressing chamber, I learned about the “ice breaker.” After the introductions, each of the four types would assemble around their own table to decorate a wedding cake. My job would be to analyze each cake for the members and the press and give one cake a prize.

I know precisely nothing about wedding cake decorations — what could I possible say of any value? I sat there berating myself for landing in this preposterous situation.

Too soon, the moment for joining the proceedings came. I descended into the hall. The TV cameras whirred; the crowd parted; and I made my way to the center of the ballroom to give my short speech, via my trusty interpreter, Setsu. Then individuals of each personality type assembled around one of four big round tables. To loud cheering, the cakes were wheeled in. Each was a flat single-layer cake about 2 feet by 2 feet square, laden with smooth, white icing — a perfect canvas. Surrounding each were bowls of decorations: strawberries, blue berries, raspberries, cherries, kiwi slices, chocolate sprinkles, M&M candies, and more. The noise intensified as each group began their task: decorating their cake.

Then my awakening began. I was ushered to the first cake, decorated by the Negotiators. The crowd drew aside and I got my first glance. It almost took my breath away: the cake was smiling at me! The eyes were two huge strawberries; the nose a clump of raspberries; blueberries marked the grinning lips; cherries accented the cheeks. And below the chin, in bright pink frosting squirted from a baker’s tube, a single word was scrawled in enormous letters: LOVE. I was astonished. These Negotiators had decorated their cake just the way they doodle.

Was this a fluke? My trepidation returned as I made my way through the throng to the Builder’s cake. But once again I was astonished. There it sat, a perfectly symmetrical wedding cake. Most wonderful were the sides: Along them ran one slice of kiwi, one cherry, one slice of kiwi, one cherry, and so on — arranged in precise military order. As you know, Builders like things to be exact; they are thorough, meticulous, orderly, traditional and respectful of the rules. So was this cake.

On to the Director’s cake. Again I could barely believe my eyes. Before me was a minimalist cake. So little had been added that it shouted “reserved,” “understated,” “emotionally contained” — classic traits of Directors. But these men and women had also been inventive. Not only had they decorated the cake; they had decorated around the cake, carefully ornamenting the edges of the silver tray. Directors had elegantly shown their tendency to think outside the box.

Last, I made my way through the din to the Explorer’s cake. And as the crowd parted I experienced one of the great moments of my career in science: three young men, laughing hysterically, were hurling fruit at their cake. And when they saw me coming, one reached across the table to a vase of flowers, seized them dripping from their container, and plunged the whole bunch into the middle of the cake.

At this moment I came to see how deeply these four personality styles permeate our lives. Now when I see works of art or hear music, I wonder about the primary personality type of the composer. I muse about the dominant types of those who built our buildings, and drew the layouts of our cities. I see these personality types displayed in the characters in our movies, dramas, operas and novels. I have a clearer understanding of our politicians, business moguls and celebrities. Most important, I have a far more educated and nuanced view of my parents, siblings, colleagues, friends and men whom I have loved. As one friend of mine aptly expressed the value of this knowledge, “I finally understand my son.”

These data are tools for understanding anyone.

But in this Afterword, I want to focus on the most important relationship in your life: your connection with a beloved. Throughout this book, I have offered many comments on how each primary personality type thinks, courts and loves; described some of their tremendous assets (and challenges) on a date and in a relationship; and discussed how each might improve their partnerships. Here, for all (combinations of) types, I offer a few final suggestions on how to find and keep lasting love.

How to find lasting love
1) Know and like thyself. Each of us is a complex combination of all four of these basic styles of thinking and behaving. Find out what combination you are. Some people are quite evenly balanced. Others are far more expressive of some of these brain systems than others. List your biological strengths and weaknesses. And be gentle with yourself; be happy with who you are. This is important. Although some men like to “rescue” unhappy women, most men (and women) are attracted to partners who are self-aware, self-confident and happy. In fact, as you may recall, people naturally mimic the facial expressions of happy individuals and thus trigger the brain chemistry for energy, focus and optimism in themselves.

And they return for more — of you.

2) Seek a partner with whom you can be naturally compatible. If you are primarily an Explorer, seek those who are equally curious, creative, energetic and spontaneous. If you are largely a Builder, seek those who are just as traditional, loyal, conscientious and family oriented. If you are primarily a Director, seek a mate who is imaginative, compassionate and skilled at talking and listening. And if you are foremost a Negotiator, seek someone who is tough minded, decisive and ambitious. As this book has shown, humanity has evolved some natural patterns of “mate choice.” Seek a partner who can satisfy some of your most basic psychological needs.

This isn’t always easy, of course. People often fall for someone who “isn’t their type,” simply because the timing is right, or events in their past lead them to prefer a less temperamentally compatible individual. One example would be an Explorer who has led the high life for many years, then falls in love with a Builder because he or she wants to settle down.

Whomever you chose, be aware of their natural strengths and flaws.

3) Be confident about your first impressions. You can learn a great deal about another person in the first three minutes of meeting him or her. In fact, it takes less than one second to know whether you find someone physically attractive. But pay attention to their body language. Words make up only 10% of a person’s vocal message, while body postures, gestures and tone of voice convey the rest of their communication style. Nevertheless, also notice the words this person uses. As you know, each of the four personality types employs language slightly differently. As a result, a person’s words are tiny bombs that spray forth complex biological information about who they are. Also look at their hands and face for signs of testosterone, estrogen and dopamine activity.

People are walking billboards of their genetic dispositions. So value your first impressions. The brain is built to size up others quickly — and often accurately.

4) Give someone (whom you find even slightly appealing) additional chances: Often a human being is immediately attractive in some ways, but not in others. He is handsome, but has an irritating laugh; she comes across as intelligent, yet arrogant. Give him or her as many chances as it takes to make up your mind. Remember: the more you interact with someone, the more you tend to regard them as good looking, interesting, smart and similar to yourself. The better you like them, too. First impressions are often accurate, but they aren’t complete. So unless you are almost instantly turned off, spend more time with him or her.

5) Avoid “cognitive overload.” When we think our opportunities to meet the right partner are limitless, we tend to pursue none. This quagmire is particularly prevalent on Internet dating sites. The brain becomes saturated with options so we just keep looking — and thereby pass up opportunity after opportunity to fall in love. So after you have met ten people, get to know at least one of them before you resume your search.

6) Reveal thyself: Playing “hard to get” and other courtship games do not work. And letting your partner know your feelings and intentions does work. As you may recall, in a sample of Americans and Israelis, 47% of women and 35% of men said that knowing that their suitor was attracted to them “played an important role” in their initial feelings of passion for him or her.

I realize that it’s often difficult to gage exactly when you should reveal yourself. Consider this carefully. But keep in mind: love begets love.

7) Build connections with a new partner in natural ways. If she is an Explorer, engage her with a conversation about an adventure or an idea. If he is a Builder give him facts and details about a recent movie, politician or sports or social event. Start a deep intellectual conversation with a Director, or ask about their work. And with a Negotiator, discuss the subtle meanings of a philosophical issue or the long-term consequences of some current event. Whomever you are courting, offer the words, conversations and values that make this particular personality type feel at home.

And don’t forget: casual sex is rarely casual. It can trigger the brain chemistry for lust, romantic love and/or attachment in you, your partner or both of you. Sex is a natural way to start a romance. But proceed with your eyes open.

8) Make no major decisions during the first six months of a relationship. Romantic love is one of the most powerful systems in the brain. Once this passion strikes, it is difficult to think rationally about the pros and cons of the partnership. Indeed, some of the decision-making regions of the cortex become less active as you are bathed with this elation. But down the road, this individual may not be able to meet some of your deepest needs. In fact, psychologists maintain that one’s real personality plays only a minor role in the first 18 months of a budding romance. Only after you settle in with him or her do the more deep-seated aspects of temperament and character emerge. Even then, it sometimes takes a major crisis to understand on a profound level who a partner really is.

So delay making enduring financial or social decisions at least until some of the intense romantic love has matured into a deeper attachment to him or her.

How to keep lasting love
“How will you make your marriage last?” This question was recently posed to a group of children. Ricky, age 10, replied, “Every day I will tell my wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a dump truck.”

Pretty good advice. Here are a few extras.

1) Give your partner the kind of intimacy he/she seeks. Most of us have a primal craving to really know and be known by someone before we die. But the sexes often define intimacy differently. For example, most men feel close to someone when they are needed, while women generally feel intimate when they are cherished.

Moreover, to women, intimacy often means face-to-face talking. We swivel until we are facing one another, lock eyes in what anthropologists call the “anchoring gaze” and reveal our lives, our hopes, our worries. This form of closeness probably evolved millions of years ago as our female forebears spent their days and nights holding their infants in front of their faces, soothing them with words. So give a woman the kind of intimacy she understands: face her directly, lock eyes, and listen actively as she shares her feelings and ideas.

Men, on the other hand, often regard intimacy as working or playing side-by-side. This male definition of togetherness probably also harks back to a time long gone, when ancestral men spent most of their days sitting together behind a bush, quietly staring across the grass in hopes of spotting and felling a passing zebra. Our male forebears faced their enemies; they sat side-by-side with friends. So to build intimacy with a man, do things with him, from playing or watching sports to walking in the woods.

Interestingly, women and men intuitively use both these strategies. I say this because I recently asked 4,876 members of to respond to eight questions about intimacy. 95% of all men and women agreed that “talking heart to heart with your partner about issues in your relationship” is very intimate; and 94% of both sexes felt that “doing something adventurous together” spelled closeness.

But three of the four psychological types (irrespective of gender) were also significantly more likely to regard particular things as intimate. “Exploring an unknown city, country or backwoods together,” and “At the spur of the moment, doing something adventurous together” were far more intimate to Explorers than to other types. Builders were especially likely to think that “Taking a vacation together with a crowd of your closest friends” is intimate. And Directors believed that “Debating a technical issue with your partner” generate closeness.

Use nature’s secrets to sustain closeness with a partner.

2) Boost your brain systems for lust, romantic love and attachment regularly. If you want to keep your sex life active, have more sex. Making love triggers the testosterone system in the brain and body, which in turn leads you to want more sex. And make sure to keep your sex life active outside the bedroom, as well as in it. In the car, at the store, in the kitchen, on the phone, over email, make little comments that remind you and your partner of your intimate times together. Try asking, “Which part did you like best?” This way your lover is obliged to mentally review the entire experience. Make a joke about something that happened in the bedroom. Or discuss what’s next. Even sexy words can prime the brain to initiate or maintain a sexual connection. In short, sex tones the body, mind and partnership.

To generate feelings of romantic love, do novel things together. Novelty stimulates the dopamine and norepinephrine systems in the brain, helping to trigger or sustain feelings of romance. A surprise weekend outing, a walk in the dark after dinner, a call or email at some unexpected moment, a weekly “date night” at a romantic spot: little things can invigorate your passion. And when appropriate, put a little sex in your adventures. Sexual stimulation boosts dopamine activity (as well as testosterone), sustaining feelings of romance.

Good sex can also generate feelings of attachment, because with orgasm comes a shower of oxytocin — the brain chemical associated with calm, closeness, trust and attachment. Equally important, kiss, hold hands and hug your partner; all elevate oxytocin activity. Try some massage too. This flood of oxytocin produces relaxation and sedation, lowers blood pressure and creates a metabolic environment that encourages the storage of nutrients and stimulates growth. Massage also reduces cortisol, the stress hormone. And don’t confine your touching to the bedroom. Touch your partner’s foot with your foot in a restaurant. Kiss as the lights go down in the theater, concert hall or movie house. Sleep in one another’s arms. And hug your partner regularly.

Keep the chemistry for lust, romantic love and attachment in the brain waves daily.

3) Turn lemons into lemonade. Often a partner is not trying to annoy you with their foibles. They are simply being themselves. Perhaps your mate comes home and feeds the dog before greeting you. He might not be shunning you; he might be seeking some quiet time before undertaking more human interaction. Yet we often take minor differences in temperament personally, thinking, “If he loved me, he would kiss me before he feeds Bowzer.” Ironically, we are often willing to overlook the problems that emerge from a partner’s difficult childhood. Yet we are less willing to overlook a partner’s disruptive inborn traits. Tell your mate when his or her behavior hurts your feelings. But, ultimately, it’s wise to accept the things you cannot change.

I put this advice into practice with an exercise I call “turning lemons into lemonade.” As an example, I once had a partner who was always late, largely because he became so absorbed in what he was reading. I hate to admit it but I almost always took this personally, even though I knew it was his nature. (He was even late to school as a small child.) But I reduced my irritation by thinking of all the ways his lateness benefited me. The same intellectual absorption that made him constantly tardy also enabled him to linger in front of paintings at a museum and read long novels to me at night.

4) Change the things you can. The only person on this planet you can change is yourself. Let your partner know what makes you happy. And hope that he or she will make the effort to please you. But if you want to see some dramatic changes in your relationship, change yourself. A partnership is like two feet: when one foot changes direction, the other must adjust. So conquer your bad habits; master yourself. Biology is not destiny. We have evolved a huge cerebral cortex with which we can monitor ourselves and override or redirect our natural tendencies. As you change, your relationship (and often your partner) will change too.

5) Regard “The Relationship” as a person. As mentioned in the book, keep in mind that there are three of you in any partnership: yourself, your mate, and “The Relationship.” This fictitious individual has some pretty intense needs, particularly a craving for attention. Give it this attention. Regardless of illness, family demands, work issues, personal interests or monetary problems, find something to do together regularly. If you want it to survive, “The Relationship” needs your attention daily.

6) Make self-time. I have long thought that the single most vital issue for contemporary couples is how to balance the opposing needs for intimacy and autonomy. This balance can be difficult to achieve. Perhaps my greatest success was during graduate school when I was seeing a doctor. Every third night he was on call and spent the entire night at the hospital. I loved him; but I looked forward to what I called my self-time. Maybe you will find your personal time on the golf course, climbing mountains, tinkering in the garage, shopping, jogging, cooking or reading in the tub. How, when, and where you create your personal space is immaterial. But do it. For millions of years, our male forebears went hunting for days; ancestral women traveled to see relatives for weeks. We weren’t built to be with one another constantly.

So put some space in your romance — it’s natural.

7) Hold on to your positive illusions. New data suggest that it’s far better to focus on remembering and building the positive than on fixing the negative. In fact, scientists have found only one key component of a long happy marriage: sustaining your “positive illusions.” As it turns out, your happiness depends less on whether your partner actually fits within your concept of an ideal mate than on whether you think this individual fits within your “love map.” And those men and women who continue to maintain that their partner is attractive, funny, kind, and ideal for them in just about every way (even when there is compelling evidence to the contrary) remain happy over the long term. Known as “love blindness,” this form of self-deception is adaptive.

8) If necessary, walk on. When asked why all of her marriages failed, the famed anthropologist, Margaret Mead, replied, “I beg your pardon. I had three marriages and none of them was a failure.” We all want our relationships to endure. But when you don’t share your partner’s values, don’t respect his or her life style and see no hope that the relationship will ever improve, the way out is through the door. There is nothing new about divorce and remarriage. Contemporary hunter/gatherer peoples often have two or three marriages during their lives, suggesting that “serial monogamy” was commonplace across deep history. Indeed, divorce can often be the first step toward finding lasting love (for all involved).

So don’t linger endlessly in a bad match. As Darwin put it, “The man who wastes even a single hour doesn’t know the value of life.”

Nature’s loaded dice There is still much to learn about these four personality constellations that we could use to understand, reach and please one another. I wonder, for example, whether these personality types gravitate to different foods, pursue different sport, exercise routines and leisure activities, handle money differently, choose different careers, and suffer from different kinds of illnesses.

I also wonder whether these four types send out different pheromones. I raise this because of a remarkable incident that occurred a few months ago, first in France, then again in Sweden. As in Japan, I had traveled to Europe to discuss my personality types with the press, a trip hosted by But the incident I am about to impart began weeks earlier when someone in the Paris office of got the bright idea of hiring a perfumer to make a special perfume to represent each type.

The perfumer had been given a list of the basic traits of each personality constellation. And on the first morning of my meetings, he arrived with four little bottles, each with a different scent. The bottles were unmarked. I was fascinated; I sniffed each bottle many times. Then, not knowing which scent represented which personality type, I tested one after the other on my wrists and lower arms, carefully washing between trials. I was repelled by one of the scents. And I was particularly drawn to another. “Which is this?” I asked, pointing to the little bottle effusing what seemed to me a most wonderful fragrance. “The Explorer scent,” he replied.

As you’ll recall, I am primarily an Explorer. Inspired, I immediately suggested that we conduct an on-the-spot pilot study. The experiment was simple: we would ask each journalist who came to interview me to first take my personality test, then smell the perfumes and select the scent they found most pleasing. The results: Sixteen of the eighteen men and women who took my sniff test were especially drawn to the perfume designed for their primary type. I continued this experiment a few days later in Stockholm where six of eight individuals chose the perfume specifically created for their dominant personality type. It’s too early to say for sure, but I now suspect we send intricate information about our temperament through the airwaves.

Psychologist Jonathan Rich and I have completed a number of other intriguing studies since I published this book. Each raised more questions than it answered. In a sample of 90,000 Japanese, for example, men’s most dominant personality type tended to be the Builder; while women’s was the Negotiator. The Japanese are known worldwide for their admiration of tradition and their tendency to respect and follow rules — Builder traits. Do cultures, like individuals, express a dominant personality type?

Perhaps regional variations in America also stem from the predominance of certain temperament types in certain parts of the country. I say this because when we examined the zip codes of 495,580 members of, we found that Builders prevail in the south and mid west. These regions are well known for conservative politics and religiosity — traits of the Builder. Explorers, meanwhile, outweigh other types in California — a state known for its innovative, freewheeling life styles. Not surprisingly, Explorers also predominate in most of America’s big cities, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, New York, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco.

Directors are most prevalent in Maryland and Virginia — areas long associated with American politics. (As you may recall, one of the top ten words used regularly by Directors is “politics.”) But Directors also predominate in Nevada and Alaska — states where people tend to gamble or hunt. Cards, dice, marksmanship: all these require good spatial skills - the forte of the Director. Last but not least, we discovered that Negotiators dominate in Oregon, Washington and all the New England states, regions known for their bookishness and idealism — traits of the Negotiator. Are American voting patterns partly the result of biology?

T.S. Eliot once wrote, “And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.” For the first time, I have a clearer understanding of the people I “know,” as well as far more about humanity in general — from the Japanese respect for authority to American voting patterns. In fact, I have come to believe that a sophisticated use of these four personality types could be useful when hiring colleagues, building a company, selecting a corporate board, jury or any other kind of team, or addressing many kinds of conflicts — from squabbles between small children to serious international disagreements.

Love: the foundation stone
Above all, I believe that a deep understanding of these four personality types can be immensely helpful to anyone seeking to find and keep a soul mate. And if ever (in all of human evolution) there is a good time to make a true partnership with someone you love, that time is now.

Why? Because marriage has changed more in the past 100 years than in the past 5,000. Virginity at marriage, strictly arranged marriages, “til death do us part,” the belief that women are less sexual and less intelligent than men: these and many other stringent credos spawned among our agrarian forebears are vanishing, replaced by far more flexible beliefs about women, men and marriage.

Indeed, we no longer live in a traditional marriage culture. Older women are marrying younger men. Inter-racial marriages have increased dramatically. Gays and lesbians can now form legal bonds in some US states and several other countries. Men are marrying women who are closer in age, level of education and earning potential. Older men and women no longer move in with their children; instead they are dating and remarrying — even in their eighties. Common law marriages, commuter marriages, childless marriages, bearing children out of wedlock, “peer” marriages between economic equals, polyamorous marriages, divorce, remarriage: people around the world are breaking with tradition to forge the partnerships they want.

Indeed, we have even come to regard this romantic attachment as the foundation stone of life. For centuries men and women believed their first obligations were to their extended family, local community and god. So they regularly married for social, political or economic reasons. Today 91% of American women and 86% of American men would not marry someone unless they were in love with him or her, even if this person had every trait they were looking for in a spouse. Most people in 36 other cultures agree. Today we wed for love.

And despite what many think, demographers report that marriage is thriving. In the United States today, some 85% to 88% of men and women will marry by middle age; and United Nations data on 97 other societies indicate that the vast majority of people in most of these cultures will also marry by age 45. Moreover, the American divorce rate is declining. It rose steadily from the 1890s to 1981, when the divorce rate peaked at 50%; today it hovers at 43%. Divorce rates in most European countries have also fallen, in large part because men and women are marrying later.

We are more likely to be happy in our marriages too. Scientists report that married women in the western world are happier today than at any time in history — largely for two reasons. Many men and women can afford to walk out of bad marriages to make better ones. And with the current emphasis on marital companionship, people are working harder on this core relationship than in any previous century.

We are sustaining romance in marriage, too. In a 2008 sample of 315 Americans who had been married an average of 24 years, psychologists reported that 46% were still “very intensely in love” with their long term partner. Men were just as much in love as women. And an individual’s income, level of education and length of relationship did not alter his or her romantic passion.

John Keats once complained that Isaac Newton had “Destroyed the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to a prism.” Today some worry that science will ruin love. But I believe the more you know about human nature and romance, the more this knowledge will intensify your appreciation of yourself and your joy in others. There will always be poetry to love. But across the eons, Nature built some structure into her verse — and as we unlock these secrets, we can use them to find and keep lasting love.

Excerpt from “Why Him? Why Her? How to Find and Keep Lasting Love” (2009) New York: Henry Holt, by Dr. Helen Fisher