In dating and marriage personality type determines who makes a good match, says Helen Fisher.
What's your type? Talk, dark and handsome? Short, bald and chubby? Muscular, unavailable and angry? How about Explorer, Builder, Negotiator or Director? These are the four personality types that anthropologist Helen Fisher coined during her research into why we fall in love with certain people but not others. According to Fisher, interpreting these types can help you navigate the dating ocean and net the perfect tuna (or man, if that's what you prefer).
Fisher, author of Why We Love: the Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, built on her investigation of genetics and neurochemistry for her latest book, Why Him? Why Her?: Finding Real Love by Understanding Your Personality Type. The tome offers detailed portraits of each personality genre, a quiz that reveals your personality category, and information about the species of man you fit with. Take the quiz online, here.
For Fisher, "the most important thing about this book is not just understanding who you are, but using who you are. All four types make mistakes that they could avoid if they knew more about the type that they are." YourTango spoke with Fisher about fighting over mopping the floor, what doodles say about your love life, and the consequences of choosing the wrong type (hint: it's not so bad).
Why did you write this book?
Match.com came to me in the end of 2004 and asked me "Why do you fall in love with one person rather than another?" And I said, "I don't know. Nobody knows." We do know that we tend to fall in love with people from the same socioeconomic background, same general level of intelligence, same general level of good looks. Your childhood plays a role; timing plays a role; proximity plays a role. But you can walk into a room, ready to fall in love and everybody's from your background, has same general level of intelligence and good looks—and you don't fall in love with any of them. So I began to think maybe biology plays a role.
How did you come up with the four personality types?
I looked at the genetic literature and as it turns out there are only a few chemicals that seem to be directly related to personality traits. I came to believe we've evolved four very broad personality styles associated with the chemicals dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, and estrogen and oxytocin. And these four chemical types I call the Explorer, the Builder, the Director, and the Negotiator. On Chemistry.com, the dating site that I built with Match.com, I studied 40,000 people to figure out more about these four basic types.
The Explorer, who expresses activity in the dopamine system, tends to be risk-taking, novelty-seeking, curious, creative, spontaneous, energetic, enthusiastic, optimistic.
The second type is the Builder, who expresses with serotonin. These people are calm, social, popular, cautious, but not fearful. Very managerial, they're very good at networking, family's very important to them. They're traditional, conventional, often religious.
The third type is the Director, expressive of testosterone. They're direct, decisive, tough-minded and often understand music very well because music is very structural. They're competitive, ambitious and very good at spatial relations.
The fourth type is the Negotiator, expressive of estrogen—both men and women can be expressive of estrogen. These people see the big picture. They're very flexible, imaginative and intuitive. They're compassionate and verbal.
So, how do these personality types and their chemistry influence who we date or marry?
And as it turns out, Explorer types tend to be drawn to people like themselves. They want somebody who's energetic and enthusiastic, adventurous, curious, creative. The Builder types, who are traditional, cautious, very skilled socially, into their family, they also go for people like themselves.
But the Director—the high testosterone type—goes for high estrogen. And the high estrogen goes for high testosterone. And I think a very good example of that is Hillary and Bill Clinton. She's direct, she's decisive, she's tough-minded. She doesn't have the people skills that her husband has. And she's drawn to a man who's gracious, verbal, compassionate, and he's drawn to her.
The personality quiz you developed includes a section where you describe your doodles. How do doodles correspond with your personality?
Going by the personality types, I figured people who are expressive of dopamine would have doodles that are broad, open, energetic, moving, off the page. I also knew that people who have a good deal of seratonin, they're orderly so they'll do a wavy pattern or a repetitive pattern. I figured people who were expressive of estrogen would do hearts and flowers and baby faces and animal faces, and I thought people who were expressive of testosterone would do things that are quite mechanical and geometrical. So I put doodles into the Chemistry.com questionnaire and indeed, they all did what I thought they'd do.
Do online dating profiles reflect your personality type?
As it turns out, your profile says a great deal about who you are. My hypothesis was that we would use words that correlated with our chemical personality type, so I did a study of 178,000 people on Chemistry.com. I picked 170 words that I thought these individuals might use in their descriptions of themselves and their descriptions of what they were looking for in a partner, and indeed, all four types used the kind of words that you would expect from their chemical makeup.
The top word used by the Explorer type was adventure. The other words they used were fun, novel, interesting, travel, open. The foremost word that the Builder used was family. The foremost word that the Director used was intellectual; their other top words were political, debate, geek, nerd. And the foremost word that the Negotiator used was passionate. And indeed those are profoundly basic characteristics of these chemical types.
What personality types make a bad match?
There's no really bad match, as long as you continue to think this person is the greatest thing on earth. You can sustain any kind of relationship, but I do think that some personality matches are going to have specific kinds of problems.
Two Explorers are never going to have a fight over how you mop the floor because they're both enormously flexible. Two Builders will create a marriage that will last 50 years, but they'll bicker over the way you mop the floor because each one has the right way of doing something. I got a note from a friend of mine recently who had just gotten married and it said, "My husband and I just had a battle last week over how to lay down a rug, and last night we had a real fight over how to cook a turkey." Two Explorers aren't going to have that. They'll say, "Well, we'll eat it anyway you like."
The oddest match would be two Directors. They're both workaholics so they won't spend a lot of time with each other and neither has good people skills. But as long as they continue to think "this person is the cat's meow," they'll be able to sustain the relationship.
So, I've figured out my personality type. What next? How is it helpful?
Once you know your personality type you can help yourself out on the dating scene. For example, Explorers are so charismatic and interesting and charming that people fall in love with them too fast. I say to them, go slower, don't leap into things because you’re going to get into trouble.
They're also spontaneously generous. I know a man recently who had a wonderful lunch with a woman and so he sent her a dozen long-stem red roses even though he was madly in love with someone else. The woman who received the roses was taking him seriously and ended up very hurt even though he was just being generous and kind.
The Builder tends to follow rules and schedules, but you've got to take some risks when you're dating. They're also very social and very network-y so they'll take a new date to meet all their friends when the date might just want to spend the night with them.
The Director often thinks dating is a pain in the neck. They want to get to the point. They also make up their mind too fast so in the middle of the date, if they realize this isn't going anywhere for them, they can be very rude. They've got to relax
The Negotiator is so flexible, so agreeable, so kind, so compassionate that people will interpret them as a doormat. They've got to stick up for themselves. The Negotiator sees the nuance in everything, but they've got to take it back and just not over-think everything.
In your book you describe "the five part pickup." Can you explain what that is?
I have two friends who spent over a thousand hours in singles bars watching men and women pick each other up, and as it turns out there are five basic phases to the pickup.
The first thing that happens is that you walk into the bar and you set up a territory. A man will set his coat along the back of his chair, set out his cigarettes and his blackberry and he'll build a territory around himself—a woman will too, around a table.
Number two, you draw attention to yourself. Men will stir their drink with the whole arm or laugh very loudly. Women do things with their hair, go over to the jukebox, talk to the bartender.
Then, step three, at some point either the man or the woman moves into the other one's territory and starts to talk. Talking is a really important escalation point. If you open you're mouth and you've got the wrong accent or if you're too brusque, immediately the pickup will end. If you say "hiiii," it's entirely different than if you say "HELLOW."
Touch is the fourth point. Very often it's the woman who touches first. She'll casually brush his shoulder and say, "Did you see the game last night?" Or "What did you do when Barack Obama was being inaugurated?" If he winces, she'll never try again. If he does nothing, she might try one other time. The best pickup is when he casually taps her back on the shoulder and says "Yeah, I did see the game," or "Yeah, I was there for Obama's speech."
Then we get to the fifth part, which is called initiative transfer. He's either got to put his arm around her or ask her to dance or ask her to come home and watch television with him, and those are the ones that go home together.