The anthropologist and famed love expert Helen Fisher seemed ready to dash into oncoming traffic. We were on a sidewalk in Manhattan, opposite the American Museum of Natural History, and nowhere near a safe place to cross the street. She wanted me to stare down the yellow cabs and charge off the curb, though she knew I wouldn’t do it: I’d recently taken the personality questionnaire she wrote 17 years ago for a dating website, which produced the insight that I am a cautious, conventional rule follower. She, however, is an “explorer”—she has visited 111 countries, including North Korea—but also, being high in estrogen, a “negotiator” who will use the crosswalk for my benefit.
“I am horribly empathetic,” she told me. “I cry at parades. I look into baby carriages and worry about their future with love.” (Really high in estrogen.) This is how Fisher, the 77-year-old chief scientific adviser for Match.com and one of the best-known, most-often-quoted experts on romance and “mate choice,” understands life: Personality is a cocktail of hormones; love comes from the buzz of mixing them just right. The human sex drive hasn’t changed for millions of years, she argues, nor has the human capacity for long-term attachment. If, as a cautious, conventional technology journalist, I’m preoccupied with the question of how we live now, Fisher has spent her career exploring the story of how we’ve lived (and loved) always.
Her confidence in this reality—in the static nature of our coupling behaviors—makes Fisher a notable source of comfort in an era of constant worry about the state of romance. Dating on the internet, writers and therapists and mothers and comedians say, is both too easy and too hard. Our social skills are eroding; we are having far too much sex (or maybe far too little); we are suffering from a profound and modern alienation. Fisher is the woman to calm us with the news that actually, we’re fine. Dating apps can’t possibly kill romance, she argues, even if they do make us feel a bit uncomfortable by showing us so many options. “It’s the same old brain,” she told me, as she’s told many other journalists looking to reassure their readers (or themselves) that smartphones haven’t ruined us forever. “The brain hasn’t changed in 300,000 years.”
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