Four Personality Types and Romance

In her latest piece in the Atlantic, Sandra Tsing Loh writes with customary brio about her infidelity and the subsequent dissolution of her marriage. Along the way she talks about the romantic compatibility of four basic personality types:

Why Him? Why Her? explains the hormonal forces that trigger humans to be romantically attracted to some people and not to others (a phenomenon also documented in the animal world). Fisher [the author] posits that each of us gets dosed in the womb with different levels of hormones that impel us toward one of four basic personality types:

The Explorer—the libidinous, creative adventurer who acts “on the spur of the moment.” Operative neurochemical: dopamine.

The Builder—the much calmer person who has “traditional values.” The Builder also “would rather have loyal friends than interesting friends,” enjoys routines, and places a high priority on taking care of his or her possessions. Operative neurotransmitter: serotonin.

The Director—the “analytical and logical” thinker who enjoys a good argument. The Director wants to discover all the features of his or her new camera or computer. Operative hormone: testosterone.

The Negotiator—the touchy-feely communicator who imagines “both wonderful and horrible things happening” to him- or herself. Operative hormone: estrogen, then oxytocin.

Fisher reviewed personality data from 39,913 members of Chemistry.com. Explorers made up 26 percent of the sample, Builders 28.6 percent, Directors 16.3 percent, Negotiators 29.1 percent. While Explorers tend to be attracted to Explorers, and Builders tend to be attracted to Builders, Directors are attracted to Negotiators, and vice versa…. Explorer-Explorer tends to be one of the most unstable combinations, whereas Fisher suspects “most of the world’s fifty-year marriages are made by Builders who marry other Builders.”

Interesting stuff. If I had to be boxed in one of the above labels it would probably be Director. I agree that the most explosive combination (in a bad way) tends to be Explorers with Explorers.

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Elsewhere in the world of love and romance, the always-worthwhile Meghan O’Rourke reviews a new book that makes the case for passionate, obsessive love. Why subordinate passion to reason? What’s so wrong with being madly, crazily in love? The author advises: “Let go of security and embrace the radical alertness that comes with the fullness of feeling.” Hmm.

O’Rourke concludes by challenging the traditional definition of successful relationships (longevity):

Nehring’s paean to unconventional ecstasy is a bracing reminder of how narrow and orthodox our vision of love has become—and how that in turn bequeaths us a vast swathe of “unsuccessful” relationships. Most of us know more single mothers and unmarried partners than ever, yet we still think of relationships as goal-oriented, and that goal is conventional: until death do us part. Since when are longevity and frictionlessness, Nehring prompts us to ask, themselves a sign of “success”? The equitable marriage is a worthy goal, but it is hardly uncomplicated. Just consider the recent AOL Living and Woman’s Day study that showed 72 percent of women have debated leaving their husbands. Only we can judge how a relationship changes us—what new spaces open up inside ourselves, or how a turbulent encounter may enlarge our view of human nature, as it did for Heloise.

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