Why Him? Why Her?
My favourite book for the last decade until it was recently smashed off the top spot by Shantaram, was Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray.
The cover looks like a suburban housewife’s porno, which would sometimes make for an awkward read on the London commute.
It’s by Helen Fisher, an Anthropologist and researcher of the biology of love, who I’d first stumbled across on Ted Talks. She reminds me of a slightly geekier version of Diane Keaton with a warm and comforting voice and there’s something motherly about her too. Her talks are always super engaging, she’s the perfect storyteller – and I really love the way that every chapter of her book starts with a thought-provoking poem or quote.
I’ve read that book four times at totally different points in my life; first when I was happy in a long-term relationship, second when that relationship was fizzling out, third when I was single and fourth when I was in a relationship I didn’t want to be in any longer, but for various reasons didn’t leave.
Every read has felt like something old and something new at the same time, and in plenty of ways has made me feel grounded with logic.
She’s not necessarily formed my views on relationships and marriage, they were already there and evolving, but she’s definitely enforced some opinions through a deeper understanding of our evolutionary past.
Fisher works as Chief Scientific Advisor to Match.com and created a quiz which tests the degree to which you express four broad styles of thinking and behaving. Each is associated with one of four basic brain systems: the Explorer – dopamine, the Builder – serotonin, The Director – testosterone and The Negotiator – estrogen.
I live by this analysis.
Whenever I meet somebody new I instantly try to suss out their two strongest character traits and if they’re willing, get them to test out my theory by taking the quiz.
I score intensely high on Explorer, usually 90-100% and I’m in the 80s and 90s for Negotiator and Director. They’re all intensely high scores which I guess stands to sense as I’m more of an all or nothing kind of person and it’s also no surprise that for the steady, traditional and somewhat sensible Builder personality type I score exceedingly low.
With friends I’m intrigued by opposites as well as attracted to similar traits, but in terms of potential date creatures, I know I’m attracted to a like-minded Explorer and even more so if they’re similarly high in the Director and Negotiator types too. A bit of Builder is good to balance me out a little, but if they’re overly cautious and conventional then I’m likely to run a mile.
The (Body) Language of Love
The entire book is fascinating from front to back, but the first chapter always comes to mind when I’m out and about people watching.
We are animals.
Dominant creatures puff up. Codfish bulge their heads and thrust out their pelvic fins. Snakes, frogs, and toads inflate their bodies. Antelope and chameleons turn broadside to emphasize their bulk. Mule deer look askance to show their antlers. Cats bristle. Pigeons swell. Lobsters raise themselves onto the tips of their walking legs and extend their open claws. Gorillas pound their chests.
Men just thrust out their chests and command attention to their presence by making exaggerated moves or deafening us with loud laughter.
The female of our species struts, parading her decorated self around in her heels. She lifts her eyebrows in a swift, jerky motion as she opens her eyes wide to gaze at her admirer. Then she drops her eyelids, tilts her head down and to the side, and looks away. She covers her face with her hands, giggling nervously and she retreats behind her palms.
This sequential flirting gesture is so distinctive that Eibl-Eibesfeldt, a German ethologist, was convinced it is innate; a human female courtship ploy that evolved eons ago to signal sexual interest.
I am fascinated by all of these non-verbal ways of sending a message.
I’ve read up a bit on body language and the last book I had in my hands was Emotions Revealed by Professor Paul Eckman. He created FACS, the Facial Action Coding System, which records the tens of thousands of mini muscle movements in our face to determine emotions.
In meetings, on dates and in other social situations I’m uber observant; curious to work out if what the person is saying in words is different to what they’re telling me with their tone of voice, facial expressions and body language.
The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed
First dates are fascinating little experiments. You can spot nerves a mile away with fidgety hands, forehead rubs and eyes that can’t hold a gaze for too long but always come back for more. As you get more comfortable with each other and the situation, you can see their body relax and feel your own sink into a more natural position.
If it’s going well, you’ll start to mimic eachothers movements.
It’s like a silent language of elaborate sexual semaphores, swaying in tandem to the rhythmic motions of your very own dating dance. He leans his chin on his right hand, you lean yours on your left, he raises his glass to take a sip, you take yours. Usually at first you’re not completely in time with each other but the more you synchronise, the more likely it is that the date is going well. You’re moving to the same beat.
Your feet and body are facing each other, your Duchenne smile is out in full force and you’re looking for any excuse to touch him (not in a creepy way). He makes a joke and you touch his upper arm, you agree with something he says and you briefly rest your hand on his thigh, you’re stood at the bar and he does that whole protective arm around your back and hand resting just above your waist thing.
Flirting is the negotiation process, embedded in our genes to help us find a mate.
Anthropologists, David Givens and Timothy Perper, spent thousands of hours sat in cocktail lounges, shopping malls and libraries, watching hundreds, if not thousands of flirters at play….
And that’s kind of what I did last night.
I remember back in the day the cues were more obvious and it really did feel like being in a dating jungle. If you ever stood back to observe it all, it felt like being in London Zoo after closing time, the cages had been opened and the animals were let loose. Meerkats trying to hook up with hippos, fish out of water not quite sure what to do with themselves and lions on the prowl for a feast…
You’d be stood at the bar in a dress and heels, red lipstick on, flicking your hair and giggling with friends while looking around to lock eyes with somebody you thought was hot.
If he thought the same, you’d be starting some sort of an eye dance. In fact, the copulatory gaze is probably the first flirting tactic we learn, and the most common in Western cultures.
You stare, he stares back, then you quickly and coquettishly look away. You’re playing with your hair, licking your lips, tilting your head slightly to reveal your neck… he’s still staring and you can feel his eyes roving every millimeter of your face and body.. you return to focus, your eyes are locked to his.
The gaze triggers a primitive part of the human brain, calling forth one of two very basic human emotions; approach or retreat.
But nobody seems to be doing this anymore.
If the Amazon jungles are being destroyed at 150 hectares per minute then so is our dating landscape.
80% of our communication is non-verbal, but 99% of pre-date flirting is now online. People aren’t talking to people, they’re talking to machines and social skills are seriously depleting.
Maybe it was the bars I went to last night, maybe I was too busy laughing my head off with friends, or maybe I was distracted by a load of fifty year old women dressed as “sexy” policewomen slurring their words and falling off chairs not long after five in the afternoon..
..but it looks like the animals don’t want to leave their digital caves.