Listening to the interview show, On Being, is how I begin most Sunday mornings (7 a.m., WBEZ). I think of it as a spiritual practice, an hour to worship at the altar of reason and inspiration. It gets my Sabbath off to a stimulating start.
This past Sunday, the guest was Helen Fisher, senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute (Indiana University); member of the Center for Human Evolutionary Studies, Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University; and chief scientific advisor to the internet dating site Match.com.
Host Krista Tippett described Fisher as “an anthropologist of love, sex, and marriage.” The interview initially ran in 2014. Hearing it again was a real treat so I thought I’d share some of the highlights:
This is your brain in love
“Parts of the brain associated with decision-making begin to shut down when you’re in love. Literally, the blood rolls out instead of rolling in. This brain system of romantic love — and I do think it’s different from lust; I do think they’re very different brain systems — but romantic love evolved for that reason, to enable you to overlook everything in order to be with this human being.”
The trouble with marriage
“I think that’s one of the problems with American marriage. We somehow think that the minute you marry, you lock the door and stay in place, whereas relationships evolve, and a good one is constantly evolving.”
Stuck between what’s vanishing and what’s to come
“You said we were in a time of disorganization — and we are. We are shedding 10,000 years of our farming background and all of the concepts that arose with that — the fact that a woman’s place is in the home; women don’t have a head for business; men should be the head of the family; men should be the sole family provider, ’till death do us part’ — all of that is vanishing before our very eyes. And so we’re at this time of disorganization, where nobody knows, really, how to go forward. But it gives us great opportunities to build the kinds of partnerships we really want.”
“The more we know about the brain, the body, human evolution, biology, the more we will come to understand the power of culture to change that biology. Biology and culture and religion — they go hand-in-hand. They’re all parts of a huge, big system called humanity.
“And I don’t feel that they threaten each other. They enhance one another, and a truly religious person, if they have any imagination, can benefit from understanding that the love of God is in all of us in some form, that it’s biologically based — it’s not going away and it’s part of humanity. So I don’t see a big dichotomy that other people might see. I see a tremendous union between the intellectual, the spiritual, and the biological. I think they work together as a team.”
No such thing as casual sex
“When you have an orgasm, you get a real flood of oxytocin and vasopressin. And these are the basic bodily and brain systems for attachment. Don’t have sex with somebody you don’t want to feel something for. People can do what they want to do. I’m not in the ‘should’ business. But the bottom line is, if you don’t want to get attached to somebody, it’s easier to not sleep with them. Because you might end up being attached to somebody who really does not fit into your life.”
What matters most?
“In this ‘Singles in America’ study I do with Match.com, we ask, ‘What must you have in a relationship?’ They must have somebody they can trust and confide in. They must have somebody who respects them. They must have somebody who makes them laugh, which actually is very important, biologically, because laughter drives up the dopamine system. Laughter’s very good for you. They must have somebody who gives them enough time. And they must have somebody they find physically attractive. We are trying to build, now, the most important relationship.”
“I wrote a book about the natural talents of women and how they’re changing the world. But I am also a big proponent of men. I would say there’s just as many amazing men out there as there are women, in every age group. I don’t think we understand men at all. We’ve spent 50 years trying to bust a lot of myths about women, and we have spent no years at all busting the myths about men. But I have a lot of data that men are just as romantic as women are.
“Men fall in love faster than women do because they’re so visual. And when you take a look at the brain — and I’ve put a lot of men into a brain scanner, as I’ve put a lot of women — it lights up exactly the same way when they’re in love.
“I think we’re going to come to learn that men are just as romantic as women and women are just as sexual and we’re going to cast away these beliefs that men are just fools.”
Attachment vs. possession
“A man and I sort of left each other a couple of years ago, and so now I don’t have that intense need for him. I can love him in the way he should have been loved all along: with a deep attachment, a real understanding for who he is, and just giving him the time he needs with other people; not being all upset if I don’t hear from him. Released from that passion, you can finally love somebody in new ways that can be very comforting, not only for them, but for you. And then you can build a new kind of partnership with them.”
An age-old story
“I am a romantic. I go into museums, and I see all the little amulets and the pendants, and I think, ‘Somebody gave that to somebody 100,000 years ago. There’s a love story there.'”
Sunday is a good day to take a break from the rolling, slow-motion apocalypse that afflicts us daily from Washington DC, our capital of lovelessness. It’s true we are in a “time of disorganization,” but it’s not true that we don’t know how to “go forward.” We’re figuring it out.
And listening to On Being on Sunday mornings is a good reminder that we’re closer than we think.