Why We Love Who We Love

This one or that one? Helen Fisher reveals how we pick our partners.

As told to Dinah Eng from Reader's Digest | February 2009

Read six-word love sentiments and get great Valentine’s Day gift and recipe ideas.

As a biological anthropologist, I’ve spent 30 years trying to understand human nature—what love is; why we marry, divorce, and remarry; and why we choose the partners that we do.

I began to think that we have a biological pull to certain people. I developed a questionnaire designed to measure personality traits associated with certain hormones.

  • Dopamine-rich people, whom I call Explorers, tend to be highly curious and creative. They love novelty and risks and tend to be spontaneous, energetic, and flexible.
  • The serotonin-rich Builder is social, fond of rules and facts, cautious but not fearful, and very good at managing people and building community.
  • Directors express testosterone traits—they’re decisive, analytical, tough-minded, and competitive and understand "rule-based systems," from mechanics to music.
  • Negotiators, the high-estrogen type, see the big picture. They’re imaginative, intuitive, nurturing, and good with words and people. We are all a mix of all four personalities, but most of us express predominantly two. I’m predominantly an Explorer and Negotiator.

Helen Fisher
Working with the Internet dating site chemistry.com, I tested seven million people in 40 countries. When I looked at whom men and women chose to meet, I found nature’s patterns: Explorers tend to gravitate toward Explorers. Builders gravitate to Builders. But Directors go for Negotiators, and Negotiators are attracted to Directors. We can override biology, but nature plays a role in whom we love. These days, as both sexes are freer to choose partners for themselves, we are entering an age when love can truly bloom.

Fisher’s new book is Why Him? Why Her? (Henry Holt, $25).

Become more interesting every week!

Get our Read Up newsletter

Sending Message
how we use your e-mail