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 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.


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.

8 comments on “Four Personality Types and Romance
  • I am a Navigator married to a Builder, according to this schema. It works great. I have definitely noticed a mutual attraction with Directors — we complete one another. I get a little creeped out by other Navigators; there’s just too much Betazoid telepathy flying around. (To carry the Star Trek: TNG metaphor all the way into lesbian fanfic, imagine Deanna Troi getting it on with Guinan — it wouldn’t work, they’d get bored. But Deanna Troi with Tasha Yar… that could work.) Negotiators can also fall in love with Explorers, but it’s rough on the Negotiator.

    If you like this stuff, Ben, I’d advise you to look into another personality-type schema called the Enneagram, which has been helpful to me. Important note: though there are approximately a gazillion Enneagram sites on the Net, they are nearly all *complete, misleading, tacky* bullshit no more informative than Sunday horoscopes. But “The Wisdom of the Enneagram” by Riso and Hudson is an excellent introduction (

    You’ll see similarites between Loh’s schema and the Enneagram. (I’m a 7 married to a 9, in that taxonomy.)

    This all falls under the heading of, “it might be ridiculous, but…”

  • Ugh, I’m an Explorer who is most attracted to other Explorers. But I’m trying to give Builders more of a chance.

    As for why not go for mad, passionate love, I can think of two reasons:

    1) It might not be love, but narcissistic infatuation, with unreasonable, unrealistic, damaging expectations. All that “you are my answer,” “you are my key to happiness” co-dependent crap.

    2) Addictive personalities are especially prone to throwing themselves into such situations without doing due diligence on the person in whom they are investing so much. “All excitement is suspect for addicts,” as my (addiction specialist) shrink says. “What feelings or responsibilities is the excitement distracting me from?” is something good to ask oneself when falling for someone, I think. I sure wish I had done so a time or two in my life.

  • Interesting post.

    According to this schema, I am a builder married to a builder. And yes, we have a 50 year marriage. Hmmmmm.

    Although I’m familiar with MBTI, and etc., your post jogged me. I have a lot of posts on relationship building. It’s probably not merely what my clients gravitate to, but it’s highly responsive my training/interests.

    For example, go here:

  • Successful long term relationships require a firm foundation in shared values and regular access to that tool called ‘flexibility’. Perhaps that is all this classification is trying to articulate. On a daily basis, it helps not be too wedded to one’s own preferences. If there are no common values and no joint aims wrt happiness, success and minor issues like holiday destinations, then the regardless of personality type, individuals may be best off alone.

  • Hmph. As Sandra Tsing Loh expounded so glibly and breathlessly (is that brio?) in that U-Haul trailer about her infidelity and subsequent divorce, I wondered what else should we expect from a woman who doesn’t “generally even enjoy men” and brags that her family therapist stands in as its “shaman, mother, and priest”?

    I felt hot burning acid in my throat when she uttered the words, “As I go into my zen and ponder…”. Bleah.

    As for any psychic nourishment to be found in the companionship of her Girls’ Night fellow-martyrs, we might take it as instructive that her friend Rachel’s husband prefers his men’s online fennel club to her.

    Most revealing of all, Tsing Loh doesn’t even seem interested in sex itself as a vehicle to ‘erotic passions’ (at least with men), and she demonstrates convincingly that she has no idea what ‘love’ is.

    So it seems odd, in light of all the sisterly caterwauling indulged in at their drunken soirees, that Tsing Loh should throw into her jeremiad such a non sequitur (in its context) as Helen Fisher’s Timesque division of basic personality types.

    This journalistic pigeon-holing of people into convenient arbitrary types is almost as retch-worthy as a daily horoscope, but can’t approach the vomit-inducing qualities of a screed that purports to be a humorous take on the impracticality of sustained romantic love, but is really a cold-blooded assault on the institution of marriage.

  • Postmodern BS. Tingly romantic feelings dont last forever, she is a typical, very common case of a selfish woman who:

    A. Decides she no longer wants to be with her husband.

    B. Happens to all of a sudden cheat on said cuckolded husband.

    C. When the husband would not excuse her behavior, (i.e. condone it, and allow things to continue as usual), she tearfully divorces him. He will of course pay alimony.

    D. She furthers her behavior with some psychological BS that will soothe her guilt and enable her behavior.

    I qualify for all four categories she mentions. I don’t believe they have any validity. She claims to be heartbroken etc. etc. when she coldly and rationally did this to her family. Her attitude and rationalizations as well as the complete lack of aplology or shame show her willingness here. This lack of shame, coupled with unfair divorce laws that greatly favor the woman, encourage this behavior and has destroyed marriage in this country.

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