In 1992 biological anthropologist Helen Fisher released the book “The Anatomy of Love: a Natural History of Mating, Marriage and Why We Stray.” It looked to human history, biology and animal behavior to explore the primordial urge to love and be loved. Nearly 25 years later, Fisher has come out with an update. This edition incorporates her pioneering brain research on lust, romance and attachment. It theorizes about how we choose who to love. And it looks at how the Internet has changed courtship and marriage. A conversation with Helen Fisher about “The Anatomy of Love,” a quarter century after it was first released.
- Helen Fisher Biological anthropologist and senior research fellow, Kinsey Institute; author of five bestselling books, including "Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray" and "Why Him? Why Her?"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In the early '90s, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher gave us a bestseller. It's called "The Anatomy Of Love: A Natural History Of Mating, Marriage and Why We Stray." Now, nearly 25 years later, she's released an updated version. She thought the work would require a new introduction and a few minor tweaks, but Fisher found enough had changed that she had to revise each and every chapter.
MS. DIANE REHMThe guru of romantic love, Helen Fisher, joins us to talk about how dating, marriage and mating have evolved over the last quarter century. If you'd like to be part of the program, give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Helen Fisher, it's good to see you again.
MS. HELEN FISHERI'm delighted, Diane.
REHMI'm so glad you're here. You know why? I love talking about love.
FISHERYeah. I think we all do.
REHMI think it's a great topic.
FISHERIt's an evergreen topic and it's something every single person on this planet experiences. You know, for all of its joys and all of its sorrows, you know, nobody gets out of love alive. We all have this experience everywhere in the world.
REHMAnd the idea that you felt it was important to go back and look at what's changed because of new research, tell us how that got started in your mind.
FISHERWell, first of all, actually, W.W. Norton called me and said to me, you know, this book is a classic and we just want you to write a new introduction and a new final chapter and we'll publish again. And I said, oh, no problem. I mean, the first book copy took me 10 years to write and I thought, oh, well, this'll take 10 days and then I read the book and I said, oh, my goodness, this is just, you know, and so I really had to rewrite it almost completely.
REHMWhat was it that stood out for you so dramatically that said to you I've got to do a whole new version?
FISHERWell, I think -- first of all, I'm very optimistic about the future and I've got an awful lot of new data through my work with Match, the internet dating site. You know, we do an annual study called "Singles In America." We don't poll the Match population. We poll the American population so it's based on the U.S. census. And we are now sitting on over 30,000 people that we've polled over the last six years and I've really begun to see the pulse of human nature and I'm so optimistic about the future because of the data that I've collected with Match. I wanted to talk about that.
REHMHow do you think it's changed from what you did 25 years ago?
FISHERWell, many things have changed. I mean, first of all, I've done all of my brain scanning. I mean, you know, we're the first in the world to put people in brain scanners and really understand what romantic love is. And I've always thought that romantic love was an addiction, a perfectly wonderful addiction when it's going well and a perfectly horrible addiction when it's going poorly. We've been able to prove that. We've also begun to see what's happening in the brain when you are happily in love.
FISHERYou know, psychologists will tell a million things about how to preserve a happy marriage, but we're beginning to find out what the brain does when you're happy.
REHMAll right. Give me, if you can, a brief description of what a brain addicted to love looks like and one in a happily, loving relationship. How do they look different?
FISHERThey really look pretty much the same because, you know, way below the cortex where you do your thinking, way below the limbic system where you feel you emotions, way down at the bottom of the brain is where you have your drives, thirst and hunger and this is where romantic love comes from. It's a basic mating drive that evolved millions of years ago to focus your mating energy on just one person and start this mating process to send your DNA onto tomorrow.
FISHERAnd we looked at people who were happily in love for many, many years and I think you were one of them, right? And...
FISHERAnd so was I. And it's possible to remain in love long term. The people we put into the machine who were happily in love long term were married and average of 21 years and we looked in their brain to see what was different about them that...
FISHERFrom those who had just fallen in love and those who were rejected in love.
FISHERAnd here are the brain regions that become active when you are in a happy, long term relationship. A brain region linked with empathy, a brain region linked with controlling your own emotions and a brain region linked with what we call positive illusions, that ability to overlook what you don't like about somebody and focus on what you do. So, you know, I mean, psychologists will say a lot about don't argue this way, don't threaten divorce, don't do this.
FISHERBut this is what the brain says. Be empathetic, control yourself and look at the positive.
REHMYou know, I loved your talking about the copulatory gaze.
FISHERWell, the book, "Anatomy Of Love" starts with a chapter on what happens in a singles bar and I've had two friends who've spent thousands of hours watching people pick each other up. And the copulatory gaze is when you stare at somebody for two to three seconds. They have to do something about you. They'll either fiddle with their tie or their shirt or fiddle with their hair. They'll get up and leave. They'll smile at you. But they have to do something. And it's one of many courtship gestures that we use when we pick somebody up and when we start the mating process.
REHMIt's interesting 'cause that probably does go back to animal behavior.
REHMAnd the way cats approach each other or dogs approach each other.
FISHERWell, you know, I -- in another one of my books and also in this book "Anatomy Of Love," I maintain that this basic brain circuitry for romantic love is shared by all the mammals and probably the birds, too. And one of my favorite chapters in a former book, it's called "Why We Love," it was my book on animals and showing how, you know, during estrus, during the period of heat, they show so many of the courtship feelings and behaviors that people do.
FISHERWhat we've done is, you know, we've, along with the evolution of pair-bonding, the fact that we're an animal that forms a pair-bond (unintelligible) which is actually very unusual among mammals, we've evolved these basic brain circuits of all mammals into what we now call romantic love and feelings of deep attachment to a partner.
REHMAt the same time, in the prologue of the book, you say we are born to love. But aren't' there some people who simply don't know how to love?
FISHERWell, I think a great many of us don't know how and we keep on making mistakes all through our life cycle. I mean, as I mentioned, nobody gets out alive. But we keep learning and you know what, it's the triumph of hope over experience, you know. As Samuel Johnson said, we try over and over again. And this is one of the things I see at Match.com, you know. Apparently, one of the most popular dating site right now and one that's growing fastest is OurTime. It's among -- it's for people who are over the age of 50.
FISHERAnd it's because, you know, we're back on the marriage market, the dating market throughout our lives because of the high divorce rate and the high remarriage rate. But it's as if we want it. We want love. It's basic to human nature.
REHMI think that these dating sites, while they certainly provide the opportunity, may have changed the dimension, may have changed the progression of how people come to fall in love.
FISHERThat's very smart. You know, these are not dating services. Match is not a dating service. It's an introducing service. It enables you to meet a whole lot of people that you would never have met before. But the only real algorithm is your own human brain, your love map, what you carry with you when you're looking for a partner. So the big issues is getting the people out to meet the people. You know, if you stay on a dating site too long, you end up meeting nobody.
FISHERBecause it's called cognitive overload. You know, the brain is not used to having so many alternatives. So one of things that I say on Match and elsewhere is that, you know, first of all, think of reasons to say yes. You know, when you first meet somebody, you know so little about them that you will over wait those few things that you do know about them. And so I say get through that first date. Get to the second date. Get to know them better. We know that the more you get to know somebody, the more you like them, the more you think that they are like you.
FISHERAnd another thing I say is, after you've met nine people, stop and get to know one of them better because that's the way the brain works. If you keep on it, going and going and going, you will find nobody.
REHMThe idea of meeting someone on a screen, seeing someone's face, seeing their own description of themselves raises lots of issues. Number one, can you trust what somebody says about him or herself?
FISHERWell, can you trust what they say, you know, when you walk into a bar?
FISHERI mean, for heaven's sake, you know, I mean, can you -- we know, at Match, by the way, what people lie about. I've watched 40,000 people. But they lie about things that you would expect, you know, your weight, your height, how much money you make, et cetera. But the bottom line is, you know, dating is hard. It takes some work. But you got to get out there and use your own human brain. By the way, at Match, we've studied lying. This year, in our "Singles In America" study, we studied lying and lying does not get you to the second date.
FISHERIt does not help you win a person. It doesn't really hurt, apparently, but it does not help. So it's worth telling the truth.
REHMSo tell the truth.
REHMRight from the start and stick to it.
FISHERAnd stick to it.
REHMDon't try to be someone you're not and don't try to be just what you think that other person wants. Helen Fisher is with me. Her new book, an update of her original book. It's been completely revised and updated. It's called "The Anatomy Of Love."
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Helen Fisher is here in the studio with a completely revised and updated book, "Anatomy of Love." The original came out 25 years ago. Her publisher came to her and said, don't you think it's time for a bit of an update. Well, how long did it take to update it, Helen?
FISHERI thought it would take 10 days, it took two years.
REHMAh. How about that? And now, you have a TED Talk...
REHM...called "The Brain in Love."
REHMIt's been viewed more than 10 million times.
REHMYou know what that tells me? People really, really want to know...
REHM...what is love? How is love? How do I find it? What do I do when I find it? And you talk about the way courtship is changing.
FISHERRight. Well, you know, I'm not surprised that people -- I mean, they are not coming to Helen Fisher for Helen Fisher. They're coming because they want to know about love. And what is love? You know, it's -- you're seeking life's greatest prize, which is a mating partner. I'm not surprised. It's an evergreen topic. But anyway, I'm very optimistic about the future. As I mentioned, I do these studies with Match. And I find that every single year that I ask these questions on singles in America, over 50 percent of singles have had a one-night stand. Over 50 percent have had a friends-with-benefits. Over 50 percent have lived with somebody long term before they married.
FISHERAnd Americans believe that this is just irresponsibility. But I began -- I saw one data point that made me realized something. The data point was that 67 percent of Americans who are living with somebody today are terrified of divorce. And it began to occur to me, maybe this isn't recklessness. Maybe this is caution. Maybe this long pre-commitment stage or commitment light, with the friends with benefits and the living together, is a human drive to really get to know everything about a human being before you tie the knot.
REHMBut you can never do that.
FISHERNo. But you can get -- you can know a lot more in five years than you can in five days. And...
REHMWell, that's for sure. But, you know, I think the learning continues.
FISHEROh, gosh yes. And I think that's a mistake that Americans make. That they suddenly realize, you know, once -- wedlock, padlock, you know? But it's a constantly evolving experience. And anyway, my hypothesis was that if bad relationships can end during this long pre-commitment stage, maybe we can then see happier marriages. Because the bad ones can end beforehand.
FISHERSo I did a study with Match of 1,100 married people -- not on Match, of course -- and asked a lot of questions. But one of them was, would you remarry the person you're currently married to?
REHMGood. Good. Good.
FISHEREighty-one percent said yes.
REHMThat's lovely. Here's an email from Lowell. He says, I dated the same girl from age 17 until we got engaged when I was 23. At the last minute, she backed out. After years, now, I'm still unable to give her up and trust someone new. Is this common? Is it a guy thing? Why am I so stuck?
FISHERYeah. It's a human thing. He has lost life's greatest prize. He's lost a breeding partner. He's lost the opportunity to have babies with her, to be a family with her, to get old with her. You know, I mean, I've often thought that Mother Nature has overdone it. I mean, here we have a person -- and he's not alone and it's not a male thing, this is a human thing -- but he will find, I don't know how old he is now, Lowell, but I -- you know, you got to trust somebody. You've got to get out there...
FISHER...you know? And...
REHMYou really do.
FISHERYeah, because there's beautiful women out there. Not just pretty ones but beautiful, emotionally beautiful women who you can trust. But you've got to try. You've got to get out there.
REHMAnd then email from Jose. Is there a difference between romantic drive and mating drive based on the scans?
FISHERYes. Absolutely. Perfectly wonderful question. I think we've evolved three distinctly different brain systems from mating and reproduction. One is the sex drive, linked with testosterone in both men and women. The second is romantic love, that elation, giddiness, euphoria, focused attention, craving for somebody, linked with the dopamine system in both men and women. And feelings of deep attachment linked with oxytocin and vasopressin in both men and women. And I think they evolve for different reasons.
FISHERI think the sex drive evolved to get you out there looking for a whole range of partners. I think romantic love evolved to enable you to focus your mating energy on just one at a time. And I think that third brain system of attachment evolved to enable you to stick with this person, at least long enough to have children and rear them.
REHMYou know, the fact of the matter is that the divorce rate has remained pretty steady for a number of decades. So what that says to me is that difficulties occur along the way no matter what.
REHMAbout 50 percent, or slightly less now, of marriages fail. They break. So maybe the rules are changing about how we choose and who we choose. But that divorce rate stays about the same.
FISHERThat's exactly right. And, you know, people think that it's technology that's changing love. It's actually women piling into the job market in cultures around the world. That's the most powerful, current, social phenomenon. And if you, you know, if you lived on a farm 200 years ago and you were in a horrible marriage, you couldn't walk out.
REHMOf course not.
FISHERYou know, you can't chop the cow in half or take half the wheat field out of time.
FISHERYou're stuck. And, of course, they had the concept, till death do us part. Today, because women are more powerful, because we have -- and it's not just because, you know, it's not women's fault, it's human nature -- that, you know, we can walk out of bad relationships in order to make better ones. And people are not stuck in bad marriages because they -- women are more economically powerful. And a man, himself, is going to think twice about leaving a woman who picks his vegetables on a farm. But if he's in a dreadful marriage, you know? So the bottom line is, yes. I think along with the high divorce rate, we may be seeing more happy marriages. That sounds crazy, but I think it's true.
FISHERBut, you know, there are cycles to marriage. I've looked at divorce in 58 societies -- I mean at -- in 80 societies now in this new book, "Anatomy of Love," and there's something called the four-year itch. We do have natural down times in relationships that have evolutionary ring to them. And you've got to get past them. If you really like the person, overlook this stuff. Work it out.
REHMWell, explain those evolutionary periods. What is it that happens? Do human beings simply start straying with their eyes because they become so used to the person in front of them?
FISHERI think there's many reasons for divorce, biological and cultural. I mean, some people are bored. Some people want to solve a sex problem. Some people want more sex. Some people want to get caught and build a marriage back, et cetera. There are many cultural reasons why people will say they divorce. But I think that there's some biological underpinnings. When I looked in these 80 societies, I found that around the world, if you're going to divorce -- and a lot of people don't -- if you do divorce, you tend to divorce during and around the fourth year of marriage.
FISHERAnd this is central to this book, "Anatomy of Love." And I began to think, why is that? Why is that, in so many different cultures? And I think it's because, for millions of years, we had to raise a child together as a team for at least four years. And once a child, in a hunting and gathering society -- it could be age five, no longer suckling, could be cared for by a 10-year-old and a 15-year-old and, you know, aunts and uncles and cousins, that pair bond could break up. So millions of years ago, we evolved the drive to stay together at least long enough to raise a single child from infancy. And, of course, if people break up and have a new partner, they will create more genetic variety in their young.
FISHERYou know, you'll see women today who said, well, you know, I've been a failure. I've had three husbands. And I'll say, well, how many children do you have? And she said, well, I had one child with the first husband and two with the second. And from a Darwinian perspective, evolutionary perspective, as painful as divorce is, she's created a genetic variety in her young. And for millions of years, that (unintelligible)
REHMCreated genetic variety, but may have created internal sadness.
FISHEROh, definitely. And by the way, not only the person that gets dumped is sad, but the person that does the dumping gets sad. It's amazing how many articles there are about the person that's been rejected. And, in fact, we've put 15 people into the brain scanner who've been rejected, and along with brain regions linked with intense romantic love, you know, when you get dumped, you still love the person...
FISHER...and feelings of deep attachment, but actually also feelings of physical pain and intense craving. It's one of the worst experiences being dumped. And of course most of us, it does happen to us.
REHMWe've got lots of callers. So let's go, first, to Michelle in Chicago, Ill. You're on the air.
MICHELLEThank you, Diane. I was married for 37 years. My husband died three years ago.
REHMAh, I'm sorry.
MICHELLEThank you. I'm now engaged to be married again.
MICHELLEBut I can't help feeling that my fiancé still feels love for his ex-wife, who is alive, even though he denies it. What can I do to get past this feeling and be completely happy and content with him?
FISHERHave you -- this is Helen -- have you discussed it with him? Have you told him about your feelings?
MICHELLEI have. Yes.
FISHERAnd how does he respond to that?
MICHELLEHe says that she's not a factor in our relationship and I should let it go.
FISHERAnd maybe you should do some practicing of letting it go, then. I mean, you want to build a wonderful relationship with this man. And if this is a real barrier, somehow you've got to get beyond it. So...
REHMMichelle, what is it that gives you the feeling that he still has feeling for his wife? What are -- what's an example?
MICHELLEWell, he has two stepchildren with her. And he also -- they also still email back and forth about the stepchildren and now their step grandchildren. He still has pictures of her that I found around his house and cards that they sent back and forth. And I always felt that if you divorce somebody, you kind of cut ties. But he still keeps ties with her. And, of course, I was married for 37 years. So I don't understand about divorce.
REHMWell, and of course you lost your husband to death, which don't you think is a very different situation, Helen?
FISHERAbsolutely. Because when you're, you know, when they've died, they didn't reject you. They didn't want to die. Mine didn't want to go, you know? He loved me to the very last second that he was alive. I remember the last thing he did to me, it was just wonderful, he just chucked me on the cheek and said, you know, this was a good run.
FISHERBut, anyway, I don't -- I think that it would be very difficult to ask a man to, you know, this man seems to be attached to this other situation in some way that probably has really nothing to do with you, you know? And to ask him to get rid of those photographs -- I -- that's not something that I would do.
FISHERI think that I would try to, you know, as Diane and I were saying, that one of the big things the brain says about happiness is empathy. You know, having some empathy for the fact that this man had a deep attachment. He did divorce her. I mean, maybe you should just try and look at the positives.
REHMOr maybe she divorced him. We don't know.
FISHERWell, that's important.
REHMSo I think that the fact of the matter is that Michelle is bothered by this.
REHMAnd if it is going to continue to bother her, maybe this is not such a good fiancé to hold on to.
REHMAnyhow, good luck to you, Michelle. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to David in Parkersburg, W.V. You're on the air.
DAVIDHi, Diane. First-time caller, long-time listener.
DAVIDMy question is for your guest. When she was talking about doing the scan to the brain, was there any difference in the brain scans between gay and straight people, as far as the areas of the brain that's being lit up or affected in love? Or has she done those kind of studies? Or are those kind of studies out there?
FISHERThere's a study out there, a very good one, by some people in England. And they did study gays, lesbians and straights. And there was absolutely no difference at all.
FISHERAnd, in fact, we would have done that ourselves, but we were the first in the world so we had to make it as absolutely sort of straightforward as possible. But the bottom line is, I've always thought that gays and lesbians felt just the same as straights. You know, we're not studying in the brain who you fall in love with. We're studying how you feel when you fall in love. It's like the fear system or the anger system. Gays and straights are going to have fear and anger...
FISHER...just the way they will have love.
FISHERAnd, you know, in fact I think we're going to come to realized that they're very similar to all the rest of us and that they want attachment just the way we do. They fall in love the way we do and they -- in fact, I've done a Match study in which we found they fall in love just as often as straights.
REHMAll right. To Toledo, Ohio. Hi, there, Bob. You're on the air.
BOBYes. Good morning.
BOBI originally called just with an anecdote. I've watched -- when I retired, I spent a lot of time in coffee shops, so I watched a lot of first dates taking place, obviously through, you know, match-maker type sites. And I found it fascinating that many of them -- someone, one of the two, usually the woman would show signs of complete desperation. And the other one was the one doing all the talking, presumably about themselves. And I just found that really interesting.
BOBBut on the last call, I'd like to make a comment. I was married for 15 years. I've been divorced for something like 17 years. My wife divorced me. We are still very good friends. And I will even say that in some ways I love her. I wasn't a complete fool when I married her. She has some wonderful qualities. We stay in touch. In a few days, I'm going to the city that she lives in because she's just finished a cancer treatment and I'm going down to support her.
BOBSo I don't think there's anything strange about exes.
BOBI refer to her, by the way, as my former wife, not as my ex.
REHMYeah. I like that much better.
REHMI must say. So those kinds of relationships really can continue and be meaningful and give succor to the person, him or herself, as well as the mate. I love the fact that he's going down there to help her after cancer treatment.
FISHERAbsolutely. You know, this is a great example of how powerful the attachment system is in the brain. You know, these three drives: sex drive, romantic love and attachment. And I've run into several people who were in a long, deep, actually very happy marriage, then fell in love with somebody else -- a different brain system -- and did not leave their partnership. The attachment system was stronger than the sex drive and feelings of intense romantic love. And, you know, you can feel attached to a host of different people at the same time. I mean, romantic love is focused on just one. But you can feel a deep attachment to somebody.
FISHERI just find this caller absolutely, you know, mature, sophisticated, understanding the human animal. And we really sort of have to grow up and realize we're not the only person on the planet and that our partners can have deep attachment to others that has really nothing to do with ourselves.
REHMHelen Fisher, her completely revised and updated book, first published 25 years ago, titled "Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray." And, stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Helen Fisher is with me. "Anatomy of Love," a book first published 25 years ago, now completely revised and updated including all the information about what happens during going on dating sites, looking for that perfect person, how to evaluate, what happens in the brain when we're looking. And here's a caller in Little Rock, Ark., CJ, you've got a point.
CJYes. Am I on the radio now?
REHMYou sure are. Go right ahead.
CJThank you so much. This is my first call too. I'm disturbed about the Match.com situation because so many people are turning to it because the pool of resources is smaller as people get in older ages, more people are married, but the men are still seeking women for the wrong reasons on Match. They're seeking the sex. The women are on there seeking marriage and love in many cases. But in meeting with men once I had been divorced after two decades of marriage, a met with men sometimes for breakfast, lunch or supper, or even just coffee, but many of their complaints were -- and their surprise was that I looked like my photo.
CJAnd their biggest complaint was many women were seeking a free ride, looking for someone to pay for their meals or help them raise their children. So they very quickly would shy away from you if you have children. Many of them even referred to them as extra baggage, and they wouldn't even come meet you because of it. Others were so hooked on football. All they could think about was dragging a beauty to the lake or a tailgate party. It was a very frustrating attempt to date.
FISHERMm-hmm. Well, you know, we've spent the last 50 years busting myths about women. And I seem to be a singleton in America trying to bust these very myths that she's talking about, about men. I have been studying men for 40 years, and as it turns out, men fall in love faster than women do, they fall in love more often than women do. When they meet a woman that they fall in love with, they want to introduce that person to friends and family sooner. They want to move in sooner.
FISHERMen have more intimate conversations with their wives than women do with their husbands because women have their intimate conversations with their girlfriends. And men are two and a half times more likely to kill themselves, kill themselves, when a relationship is over. So I hope we are going to come to understand that men are just as romantic as women. And on Match when we ask the question, what are you looking for? There's a lot of boxes you can check. And one of the boxes is, well, I just want to meet a lot of people. Less than 5 percent of men check that box. Men are just as interested in commitment as women are. I hope America hears me on that.
REHMWell, the idea that a man goes on a dating site simply looking for a sexual relationship, how often do you see that?
FISHERWell, you know, when we ask them what they're looking for, that's not what they say. Less than 5 percent of them say that's what they're looking for.
REHMBut how do you know they're telling the truth?
FISHERHow do you know anybody's telling the truth?
FISHERBut the thing is we've got such large numbers. We're studying 30,000 people on the singles in America study. And we're not studying men who are on Match.com. We are studying the American population.
REHMHow did you find them?
FISHERWe -- and I start in August with Match, and I create about 200 questions. And then we go to a polling thing, like Roper or Gallup, they're called market tools. And they collect the data all during the fall. And then we get the data back in early December. And frankly it ruins Christmas really, cross tabbing all of this stuff. But I have fixated on trying to get people to understand who men are, that they are romantic.
FISHERMatter of fact, I'd also like to get people understanding that women are very sexual. I mean, if I go to my grave having people understand that men are just as romantic as women, women are just as sexual as men, gays and lesbians are just as eager for attachment, older people are just as interested in sex as younger people, and that animals can love, I will have done my job on this plant.
REHMLet's go to Andrew in Indianapolis. Hi there. You're on the air.
ANDREWThanks for taking my call.
ANDREWI would just like to pose the question, and I think it's a necessary question of what do you -- what's your definition of love if you had to define love in one sentence or two sentences, what would it be?
FISHEROkay. First of all, I think you're talking about romantic love, rather than the sex drive or feelings of attachment. There's a lot of characteristics that -- a constellation of feelings. First thing that happens is a person takes on, what I call, special meaning. Their car is different from every other car in the parking lot, the music they like, everything. Then you focus on them.
FISHERYou can list what you don't like about them, but you focus on what you do. As Chaucer said, love is blind. Then energy you can walk all night, talk until dawn, elation when things are going well, mood swings into horrible despair when you're going poorly. Physical reactions, butterflies in the stomach, weak knees. Possessiveness, boy. Very sexually possessive.
FISHERThe three main characteristics are obsessive thinking about the person. There's somebody camping in your head. You're constantly thinking about them. Craving for emotional union. Sure, you'd like to have sex with them, but what you really want them to do is call, invite you out for Valentine's Day. And most important, you have powerful motivation to win them. You know, you are trying to win life's greatest prize. And what people will do when they are in love is really remarkable.
REHMAnd what happens, Helen, when that feeling of love becomes addictive?
FISHERYeah. I think that it's -- I think it's always addictive. If you -- I would even say that if it's not an obsession for you, you're not in that full blown stage of intense feelings of romantic love. It evolved as an addiction. You know, the basic brain regions that produce romantic love lie right next to the brain regions that produce hunger and thirst. This is a drive. It's a craving. It's a motivation. It's a focus to find life's greatest prize, a mating partner. (unintelligible)
REHMIt's a way to stay alive.
FISHERYep. Well, there's that too. It's not only what's good for you now, but what's good for your future.
REHMAll right. To Detroit, Mich. Hi, James.
JAMESHi, how are you, Diane?
REHMI'm good. Thanks.
JAMESThanks for taking my call. Good to have you back.
JAMESI think that this is a subject in which, you know, you cannot -- we can only expect to apply so much logic to it. And anyone who's been married for a while or who's been in an extended relationship knows that you make decisions and things happen that are completely illogical. And for every person on the face of the earth, you know, they have their own definition of love and they'll have their own story and their own feelings, and they're gonna be affected by those experiences.
JAMESBut the only thing that I'm agreement with your guest that you can really measure and track is, say, the divorce rate, as we all can say that divorce is much higher now than it has been in the past. And what has changed, and as your guest said, I will say it's our mothers and wives and sisters becoming more in the workforce and pushing off. And one of the offshoots of that is delaying marriage. And marriage and love is one of those things to where you say, you know, what you don't know, you don't know.
JAMESThat person who gets married at 18 and has, you know, all their children and everything by the time they're 30 and then goes on, you know, of course they don't know as much about the world and hasn't been experienced and may not have a career, like the person who just started at 30 and 35. But their also not as jaded. And they may not have had that marriage and that successful marriage because they were still kind of raw and blind to the world.
REHMWhat do you think, Helen?
FISHERWell, I think one point that he's made, which is right, which is that, you know, when you're madly in love with somebody, brain regions linked with decision-making begin to shut down. And so there is some certainly illogic and good luck. I mean, you know, life -- there's a large -- I once asked my father how he got where he got, and he said, Helen, it's 60 percent luck and 40 percent just being prepared when the moment comes, so...
FISHERAnd I do think that, you know, in real relationships, there is compromise, maturity, empathy, controlling yourself and working on it, building this precious thing. You know, I think there's actually three individuals in a marriage. There's you, there's me and there's the...
REHMAnd the marriage.
FISHERAnd I remember what a girlfriend of mine said, you know, there was a Saturday, Helen, she said, I wanted to work in my garden. My husband wanted to go to the biology department where he was a professor. Neither of us wanted to do anything. But the marriage wanted us to go hiking. We went hiking.
REHMThat's great. Here's an email from Dan in Baltimore. "How would you explain a concept of love in polygamy? Polygamy was normative among humans going well back to biblical times. Harems still exist today in certain cultures. A male has a much higher probability of passing on his genetic material by inseminating multiple females."
FISHEROkay. Polygyny, poly meaning many, gyny meaning women. 86 percent of world cultures permit a man to have several wives. But when you look carefully at those cultures, only about 5 to 10 percent of men actually have several wives. You've got to have a lot of cows, a lot of goats, a lot of land, a lot of education or a lot of status to...
FISHER...and money to make two women share a man. And matter of fact, when you look carefully at those cultures, some of these co-wives, they fight with each other. Sometimes they'll even poison each other's children. So as a matter of fact, I was on the radio once with a guy from Kenya. And, you know, he had -- no, actually this was in Highlands of New Guinea. I was traveling along. And there was a man who had three wives. So I asked him, how many wives would you like to have? And there was this pause. And I said, is he going to say five? Is he going to say 10? Is he going to say 25? And he leaned toward me, he said, none.
FISHERThe bottom line is it's a toothache. Women are not built to share. And a man with several wives does a lot of dancing around to keep everybody happy. So it's not the natural way. We are a pair bonding species.
REHMAnd yet we have seen articles in major newspapers about communes where one husband takes care of several wives. They all claim to get along with each other. They all share the man one night of the week or whatever. You know, you can believe what you want to believe, I guess.
FISHERRight. Well, the bottom line is if you look around the world, counting heads in every teepee, every tenement, every apartment building, the vast majority of both men and women form a pair bond, monogamy, mono meaning one, gamy meaning spouse, at a time polygyny is allowed, but is not normally practiced anywhere in the world.
REHMHere's an email from anonymous. "Many people believe that ghosting when someone you're dating just stops communicating is a byproduct of the digital age, that people look at new partners as more disposable because it's easier to find a new partner through apps and websites. I don't fully agree. I think people have always been ghosting. Now it's just easier to ask why since we can text, Facebook, so on, in the good old days, and we also couldn't complain about it as publically as we do today. What does Ms. Fisher think?"
FISHERI think she's absolutely -- anonymous is absolutely correct. I mean, you know, 200 years ago he disappeared on his horse and you never heard from him again, or anybody -- you didn't know him at all. So the bottom line is it's amazing how much we think because it's a new digital age that things have changed. The brain has not changed in 200,000 years, and it's not going to change.
REHMHelen Fisher, and her book "Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage and Why We Stray." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And a caller in Pittsburgh, Pa. Hi, Nora, you're on the air.
NORAHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
NORAAnd thank you for your guest. Helen, I'm very interested in the neuroscience of the brain and the part that biology plays. And I'm going to get your book. I haven't read it, but...
NORABut I married late. I thought I made a sound decision. And, you know, I had a career and, you know, short story, I had four children, it was a bad marriage, and I'm the only that actually filed for divorce. But I still have tremendous attachment that you're saying here, and the same things that you talk about with romantic love, obsessive, crazy emotion. You know, I'm still -- because it's a high conflict divorce and a high conflict, you know, there's no co-parenting, I'm still looking for this, you know, empathetic thing, and I don't think that I'll get married again.
NORAAnd I'm having a hard time struggling with the fact that potentially I got married because it was biological, that I was ready to have children, and this is a good match, and the children have great gene pools. And, you know, I think I wasn't brought up to believe that, but I'm beginning to think that maybe what it was all about. And I'm having a hard time understanding that. And also I do think that if my brain was -- had an MRI, that you would see tremendous grief. And I'm not following the timeline. You know, they're supposed to get over it much more quickly than people seem to get over it. And I'm having a hard time still getting over it.
REHMAnd let me understand, you are the person who initiated the divorce?
NORABecause he's controlling and abusive, and I just keep hoping that there's a glimmer of the person that I married. But he was very controlling and very abusive and...
REHMSo you're grieving for the good parts of what...
REHM...that relationship was.
NORAAnd the family. I mean, I think...
REHMAnd the family.
NORA...I think my children have been affected. Right.
FISHERWell, it sounds like an attachment addiction. I think you can be -- have an attachment addiction, a romantic love addiction or even a sexual addiction. And they're very hard. I mean, this is a perfect example. I'm certainly sorry to hear that you're suffering, that's most important, but, you know, I think you're going to have to treat it somehow as an addiction and try to, you know, control exactly when you're going to be speaking with this person, exactly what you're going to be talking about with this person, and not go outside of those boundaries. Create some boundaries for yourself so that you can begin to recover.
REHMSpend more time with other people.
REHMThinking about other things. You lost your husband...
REHM...what, five years ago.
FISHERYeah, five years ago. Yeah.
REHMYou had been together 30 years.
FISHER30 years. And I -- you know, we never fought. We just never fought with each other. We saw the world the same way. I had tremendous respect for him. He had a wonderful sense of humor. He was much smarter than me. And we had a wonderful time together. And it's very hard to replace that. I mean, he would like me to -- I'm positive he would like me to find somebody new. I mean, he really liked me, and I really liked him. It is possible to make a long-term, happy marriage, as you did too.
REHMWell, but mine was 54 years and I do not think I would move into any other relationship.
REHMIt was too important a part of my life, too major a part of my life to ever think about trying to have another.
FISHERI'll never have another of that variety, but I may have people to go to the movies with and...
REHMOf course. Helen Fisher, the book is titled "Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage and Why We Stray." Helen, thanks for being here. Good to talk with you.
FISHERI'm always delighted, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.