If Dr. Hellen Fisher isn’t a household name in your house (yet), her work certainly is. Helen is a biological anthropologist and basically the reason you can date online. She’s an expert on romantic love, gender differences, the evolution of human emotions and attraction. She has also been the Chief Scientific Advisor for Match.com and was instrumental in their offshoot, Chemistry.com. She has explored how love patterns are actually deeply coded in our physiology and neuropsychology. We talk about how to understand sex, love, and dating across human behavior, patterns in courtship, and the evolution of bonding.
But beyond this, Helen is a wildly popular author, TED speaker and public intellectual. To this end brings to the table a wealth of insight into how to translate anthropological insights in ways that feel meaningful to people today.
Hellen discusses her career path, how she strayed from the field of academia, became an accredited author and eventually an advisor to Match.com We discuss how to handle media attention, the tactics of public speaking, and how to connect to your audiences.
In this episode we focus on:
Guest Bio: Helen Fisher is a biological anthropologist who studies human behavior, love, and attraction. She has been the Chief Scientific Advisor for Match.com for ten years and was instrumental in their offshoot, Chemistry.com. Additionally Fisher is known for her TedTalks and is even a Ted All-Star but not only is she popular on the TedTalk circuit she also has appeared in several YouTube videos and has written books about love and relationships. Some of her books include Anatomy of Love (2016), Why We Love (2004), and Why Him Why Her? (2009).
Where to Find Helen Fisher:
Music: Epidemic Sounds
Episode Art: Sara Schmieder
Episode Production: Elizabeth Smyth, Sara Schmieder, Sarah McDonough, Adam Gamwell
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Adam Gamwell: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to This Anthro Life. I'm your host, Adam Gamwell. Today I've got a personal question for you. Have you ever tried online dating? You know, Tinder, Bumble, match.com? Do you know, Pew Research recently shared that 30% of us adults have tried online dating? And 48% of 18 to 29 year olds.
It's a lot of the population. Or do you have a friend who was dating someone and you just found yourself saying that's never going to work out. Or maybe, you know, a couple who somehow just seem perfect for one another. Ever want to know what’s the deal with that. Well, Helen Fisher has too, and if Helen Fisher isn't a household name in your house yet, her work certainly is.
And maybe it's just us, but you know, it sure sometimes seems like love has no rhyme or reason, but Helen Fisher argues otherwise. Helen is a biological anthropologist and basically the reason that you can online date. She's an expert on romantic love, gender differences, the evolution of human emotions and attraction.
She's also been the chief scientific advisor for match.com. And was instrumental in their offshoot, chemistry.com. She's explored how love patterns are actually deeply coded in our physiology and neuropsychology.
In today's episode, we're going to dig into how to understand sex love and dating across human behavior. Patterns in courtship and the evolution of bonding it's wildly entertaining. But beyond this, Helen is also a wildly popular author. She's a TEDx all-star, a public intellectual. And to this end, she brings a wealth of information and insight into how to translate anthropological and human insights in ways that feel meaningful to people today.
So today we're going to dig into Helen's career path. How she strayed from the field of academia became an accredited author and eventually an advisor to match.com. We discussed how to handle media attention, the tactics of public speaking, and how to connect to your audiences. So I'm super excited to show you in this episode, we're going to dig both into Helen's story as well as hopefully have you walk away with. some online dating tips, but. As well how to help tell your own story in ways that will help people connect
Adam Gamwell: [00:02:02] Thanks again for talking with us today. As we're thinking about your trajectory, why did you decide to become an anthropologist in the first place?
When I was six and seven and eight years old, I used to sneak into the woods and sit down in an old stone wall and watch my neighbors eat dinner. I have always watched people, always, I've been fascinated by watching people and by the continuity between man and beast, and I'm an identical twin.
And even as a small child, everybody would ask me questions like, you know do you like the same food? Do you have the same friends? Do you get the same cavities in your teeth or do you think alike? Which I thought was a very strange question at the time, but now I don't at all. And so long before I knew there was a nature nurture issue.
I knew there was biology to behavior because of my childhood, because everybody asks identical twins what they got in common. And so I already had that. And as I say, I used to sit in the woods and watch my neighbors eat dinner. I remember in graduate school, I went to a party and they had set up a camera against somebody in another apartment building next door.
And I was to spend an hour watching a man smoke his pipe and facial motions in the way his eyes moved and what his focus was. So I've just always been an anthropologist. And then I remember I was in college and I was in the study smoker down in the basement and I had a girlfriend who walked in and said, Helen, you would really like anthropology cause you are an anthropologist.
And I said, Oh. And so she pointed out to me and I took every single course. I didn't even takes the beginning courses. I just took whatever they had left. One of the things about anthropology, you don't have to start or at least I didn't with a big overview. I took peoples of Africa. I took archeology of Africa. I took peoples of, Indonesia, whatever it was, primate behavior without ever knowing some of the basics and you can pick up all of that very rapidly if you're interested. So the answer is I've always been an anthropologist and somebody finally pointed the field out to me and I've always been interested in the nature part of nature and nurture.
I've always known that culture plays a role. And in every one of my speeches, people don't listen. They think that you're a cultural determinist if you're just talking about this other half of the puzzle, but the bottom, I say it over and over again, stealing from Steven Pinker, who said it's a hundred percent culture and a hundred percent biology.
This idea that we need to constantly wheedle out the variations between them is it's just so old fashioned for me. But anyway, that's what it is. I'm an identical twin and I've always been an anthropologist and I am an anthropologist, not a psychologist, not a sociologist. You have to, when you're working with the public, you got to know it all.
You really do, you really got to know the psychology, really got to know, but the press is interested in anthropology. There's a million psychologists around there, you know all talking about your childhood, nobody really talking about what we evolved to be. And so I have never had troubles with depression.
Not once in my life. I've had troubles in academia. Because people will assume you're a biological determinist, because they want that perspective. They're fascinated by that. So we've got a big thing to sell and i f we could change some of our attitude about some of the people who are doing the selling of it, what we're selling is the best product on earth.
I will die saying that.
Adam Gamwell: [00:05:39] That's great. I'm with you there a hundred percent too. I'm also an anthropologist. I'm a cultural anthropologist by training, but it was in economic anthropology and food studies.
Helen Fisher: [00:05:50] Oh, interesting. That's interesting. You know I've always said, there's been anthropologists I didn't like very well but I've never met an anthropologist I didn't find interesting.
Adam Gamwell: [00:05:58] That's a good way to say that. I don't like him, but I think they're interesting.
Helen Fisher: [00:06:01] Oh, I'd plug an anthropologist any day to find out what they're doing. It's all, It's all applicable.
Adam Gamwell: [00:06:07] Yeah. I agree with you there too. I'm with you in terms of the idea that we have to get better at selling this framework, this fieldwork, this way of thinking and approaching human life and evolution. And so part of it is by just having conversational work and like bringing anthropology into more everyday conversations. So I'm really excited to hear about your perspective in this area. Particularly like the Bio Anth side too. And by the way, my mom is also an identical twin. So I hear you in terms of always getting asked.
Helen Fisher: [00:06:33] So you need to know how different identical twins can be.
Adam Gamwell: [00:06:36] Yes, exactly. And it's funny to have friends be like, I thought they were the same person. You're like
Helen Fisher: [00:06:40] Not at all. And by the way, there's about 50 epigenetic switches by the time you're age five, but we have much in common and I'm sure your mother and her sister were much in common and but no, I've never met two people who were like, I never met there's patterns to behavior.
There's a pattern to culture, there's patterns to personality. So my twin sister and you and your mother and her identical twin, I'm sure you can see some of their similarities, but you certainly know their differences too.
Adam Gamwell: [00:07:10] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. It's funny cause they actually both work in the medical field, so they, followed a similar path. Is your twin also an anthropologist or a social scientist?
Helen Fisher: [00:07:17] No, she's not. She's a painter and she's a very good painter. She lives in France. She shows in Paris and in New York and all that. She's a very good painter. She's very creative. And I think that's probably what we have in common. I write books. You gotta be creative with every paragraph, a lot of anthropologists have to be creative with every paragraph. And she's very creative in a very different way.
She's very artistically creative and we both work alone and that's another similarity. We both have the same degree of sex drive. We both love the theater. We both love to travel. We both have the same sense of humor. We liked the same kinds of foods. She's much more flashy dresser than I am.
That'd be my academic background. I don't know. And, people are different. She's also a hot air balloon pilot, so you and I spent most of our lives reading and hot air balloon pilots and painters don't uh spend as much, but she's caught up, completely caught up. She reads constantly and in French and English, but anyway so there's great similarities, but there's. There's great differences too.
Adam Gamwell: [00:08:20] Yeah, and it's funny too, because it's even the, I appreciate the idea that creativity is one of the bridges that you find between the two of you as like foundations of both of the kinds of work that you're doing. I think that anthropology is an inherently creative discipline.
Helen Fisher: [00:08:33] I've often heard that there are three kinds of people in the world ; leaders, followers, and independents. Anthropologists are independents. If you're independent, you gotta be creative. You've got to build your world. And they do. And they do it every day. I have tremendous admiration for my field.
Adam Gamwell: [00:08:49] I'd love to think about this idea of creativity in the work that you've done in your own trajectory. So you found yourself steered towards biological anthropology, you mentioned that the nature side and the evolutionary side are two pieces that caught your attention early on.
Helen Fisher: [00:08:59] Because I was good at it, I don't know why I remember it. and when I was in graduate school we we’re still learning kinship terms for some reason. And that just didn't do it for me. It just didn't do it for me. And I've always been interested in the body. I've always been interested in anatomy. I've always been interested in physiology. I've always been interested in nutrition. And so it was a very natural lead for me, but people will often ask why do you study love?
My PhD dissertation was on the evolution of pair bonding. Why we want to pair bonds, 97% of mammals do not. We do. That's a pretty strange part of our behavior. And people assume that I had a problem in my love life as a teenager. That wasn't the truth. The reason I went into Biological or physical anthropology was because when I was in graduate school now I'm 75.
When I was in grad school we were really taught that there was no biology to behavior. At least my professors believed there was no biology to behavior. The mind was an empty slate and the environment encoded personality. I knew that wasn't true. I knew it wasn't true because I am an identical twin.
And so I thought to myself, if any part of our behavior that has been selected for. And is somehow ingrained in various biological patterns. It would be our patterns of love because our basic reproductive strategy is essential to survival. I mean As you well know when Darwin said it didn't actually say it this way, but if you've got four children and I got no children, you live on and I die out.
So I don't know. We've got kin selection of course, and various other mechanisms passing your DNA on, but the bottom line is. The game of love matters. It matters in a very profoundly, basic primal way of sending your DNA on into tomorrow. So my hypothesis in graduate school was , if there's any part of human behavior at all that could have been selected for and be encoded in some ways in our physiology and in neurophysiology, it would be patterns of love.
That's why I started in on the evolution of pair bonding. And then I moved into evolution of divorce. And by looking in the demographic yearbooks of the United Nations at patterns around the world, because it's only by these meta analysis by looking at everybody that you see patterns of human nature, you can't just look at the psychology of small children in kindergarten in New York City. You gotta look around the world and historically and evolutionarily. So anyway, that's what led me into the study of love.
Adam Gamwell: [00:11:30] That's great too. And so I, I also think there is something to the idea that of course as love is something that I think most, if not everyone cares about on some level, as a human there is, there's obviously a literal public appeal to this topic in this area of study
Helen Fisher: [00:11:43] It's evergreen it's evergreen, at times I get sick of talking about it.
Adam Gamwell: [00:11:50] So well, I won't make you talk too much about that but just this idea I want to think about in terms of how did you start, what began garnering media attention, if we think about, if you're looking at this topic and you're writing about it, and obviously a peer reviewed journal is not going to get out to reader's digest. And so what were some of the early steps you started taking, thinking about, do I want to go talk about this on television? Do I want to talk about this on Esquire or vanity fair? Like what made you start looking in directions of these other kinds of media?
Helen Fisher: [00:12:15] Just really to start off, when I got my PhD, I walked into one of my professor's office and I said to him, I said, how do you make a living outside of academia? And his face went white. I spent seven years teaching this kid and I'm sure he wanted me to go into teaching and I never wanted to be a professor.
I always, as a child I read Margaret Mead and all the rest of them. And I remember them trying to teach me the genetic code. And finally, I learned it from a book byIsaac Asimov. And I love Loren Eiseley . Who was a wonderful anthropologist and I just loved the way they wrote. I loved envisioning this instead of just the bones and the stones, I mean how did they live?
Did they joke, did they dance? Did they, who were these people that we've become? So I was always very drawn to reading all those books as a kid. And then when it came time to make a living getting the PhD and everything, I don't know why I never looked for an academic job, but I've been offered some and didn't take them but I, maybe this is a bit too much psychology, but I had a very difficult mother and and I don't like confrontation.
I really steer from any kind of confrontation. And I felt that the academic world might be I don't want to fight over things in an academic meeting. I don't want to do that with my, I never did. I don't still now. And so I thought to myself Got this idea from the PhD dissertation why don't I try and write a book about it?
And I was going out with a man who wrote the international section of Newsweek. And I said I don't have a very big vocabulary. And he said, ah, It doesn't matter. You don't want a $10 word. You want a nickel word, go with the words that you know and so I just started writing my first book and it stemmed directly from my PhD dissertation idea why the human female lost a period of heat or estrus, periodicity and why the evolution of pair bonding.
And I just sat down and I wrote the first three chapters and my boyfriend at the time introduced me to a guy from William Morrow, an old guy from William Morrow. We went and had drinks together and he liked it. He liked the idea. He liked the book so it was bought instantly. I didn't even have an agent. I went to a group that helps organize this stuff and they paid me almost no money. I was broke. I wrote it anyway every day, all the time. And I was obsessed with it. I am obsessed with anthropology.
I'm fascinated with these ideas. I've never, ever been bored, not a day in my life with trying to figure out various anthropological questions. And then that book, it was called The Sex Contract it’s long out of print. I hope it stays out of print. It's so out of date it was covered in the New York times because it's anthropology.
As I said, anthropology sells, it just plain sells. It's a different view of marriage and a different view of love. And it was clearly written. They did look at my PhD dissertation before they decided to give me a small investment, write this book and my PhD dissertation was written clearly. And the reason it was written clearly is that while I was writing that PhD dissertation. I went down to NYU and took an evening course called how to write. And they don't teach you that in graduate school. And all kinds of things just really just pass mustard. I spelled the word congratulations wrong until I was 35. They don't correct your spelling, nothing.
And so I. I got the book by Strunk and White, Elements of Style. And I read that book from cover to cover. It finally broke the spine broke and all of the pieces flew down a third Avenue one day when I was walking home. But I learned to write from that book and I would write one paragraph at a time.
In that first book. And in fact, the first three chapters of my first book, The Sex Contract, I wrote every single paragraph on a separate sheet of paper. And then I work on that paragraph, until it sang, it's going to have music, it's got to have a, to have the right number of syllables, it's got to sing to you and then I'd move on to the next paragraph, et cetera.
So this way I practice writing this way I learned to write and wrote that book directly stemming from my PhD dissertation. So I had the ideas already. I had the data already. And so there I was and that started, and then I needed to make some money because books don't make much money.
You can get famous. Definitely not rich. And so I didn't certainly get famous on that book, but it's sold in, I don't know, seven or eight countries because people like that kind of stuff.
Oh, I was originally gonna write a book about not my work. I don't know if you remember when 1470 came out, it was an Ouranopithecus I think. That's all ancient history now. And it was uh a find by Richard Leakey and then his book came out and I said, I was lying in bed when I said, Oh my God Helen, I guess you're going to have to write about your own material instead of somebody else's. So that's what led me to write my first book in 1982, it came out called The Sex Contract and that got some visibility. And then that led me to try to get on the lecture circuit because that's where you can make a little bit of money. And so you try out for that in those days, they have to try out for that and you go to various conference places. And if they're interested in you or a particular company, they'll send you to an all day conference nearby and every 15 minutes a new person gets up and makes another speech. So you've got to really learn how to speak. And that's been very important for me is learning how to speak and, and I've made mistakes.
One of my biggest mistakes in writing is when I write an academic article in the old days, a little bit of the sweet phraseology of a non-academic treatus slips in and I can't do that. You got to follow the word stream or the interests of who's listening. So I did find that I actually like writing academic papers. That's much easier because they're very routine, formula.
Adam Gamwell: [00:18:49] I said. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Yep.
Helen Fisher: [00:18:50] And you can also say everything you want to say. Whereas with the trade book I had so many footnotes at the end because I couldn't go on any farther on that particular topic right there, because I'll lose my audience.
And so you can, you got to decide who you're talking to and you got to talk to them the way they can hear you. And I learned very clearly that you can't make a big long academic phrase, in a trade article or journal, you can't say I have long had the hypothesis that the world is round.
You got to say, the world is round. You gotta go with that. If you think the world is round. So just learning these two separate worlds and how to deal in each of these worlds, even how to dress in each of these worlds. Timing is important. Now in academia, you guys will wait a year for a. For me to put in a book chapter.
Adam Gamwell: [00:19:51] Yeah. The timing is as much longer, right? The research even too. Yeah.
Helen Fisher: [00:19:54] On the Today Show you either respond this minute. And even now, working with Match, I've worked with Match for 15 years. And I've had to explain to various academic people, you know they'll want me to meet, do this or that.
And I said, Oh, Match just called. I have to spend the next four hours dealing with Match. There's a different time frame it’s different words and different ways of dressing. It's different ways of talking. It's a different way of walking and talking and writing and reading. And you gotta learn those worlds.
Adam Gamwell: [00:20:29] Yeah, no, I hear you, that I think that's really great. So this question tagging on to some of the stuff that you've been saying, as a public intellectual, You know you're well known to the general public, but your writing and talks, with millions of views online, like your Ted Talks you're a Ted superstar or Ted all-star.
And the thing is, as this is rare amongst anthropologists specifically, right? And so oftentimes our areas of expertise, like the culture concept, we're talking about biological determinism, like these are popularized by non anthropologists. So we're curious to think about like, why do you think that is? And what would you say to social and behavioral scientists, anthropologists who want to follow in your footsteps of being more media forward with their work?
Helen Fisher: [00:21:04] They got to learn to write clearly, they got to learn to speak clearly, and they got to have something to say they got to have something to say.
And that's where anthropologists are ahead of the game. We all have something to say, we all do. Now you've got to link what you got to say to America today or to the world today. So you, even if you're studying food practices in, I dunno, ancient Greece, it got to link those two food practices today. And what I do is I have a bit of a formula, whatever the topic is. I like to talk about that topic around the world, in the past; historically , anthropologically, among other primates, they love animal stories and they're good. And the human brain. Whatever the topic is, I try to bring in some facts from the brain, some facts from primates, some facts from around the world, some fact from human evolution and something that makes it meaningful to you and your life today.
I always do that, now there's not always something that I can say about primates. So it's not something I can always say about around the world. There's almost always something you would say around the world. And psychology too. You got to add some of that too, if you can. But the bottom line is we’ve got the topics. That's the beauty of anthropology. We've got the topics we just need to put them in the context of something so that it's meaningful to the people today.
Adam Gamwell: [00:22:41] Maybe you can walk us through a bit about when you got approached by Match around 15 years ago, that might be an interesting example to think through of how that is an example of Match's interested in my work. How do I translate this into something that the dating world, the online dating world and a marketing firm are going to understand?
Helen Fisher: [00:22:57] Well It was very easy. I'd been doing this kind of thing for a long time, but they called, Match two days before Christmas. Nothing happens in New York two days before Christmas, but they called and they wanted to meet with me two days after Christmas. And I said, Sure why not? And I I went to this big glass office down near canal street.
And I was sitting there by myself and suddenly 11 people piled in and I didn't know, are they a part of a think tank? Are there other academics? Who is it? And as it turns out, it was the CEO of Match on down. And in the middle of the morning, they asked me, why do you fall in love with one person rather than another?
And I said, I don't know. Nobody knows. And then I went into what psychologists do know. We do know that you tend to fall in love with somebody from the same socioeconomic background, same general level of intelligence, same level of good looks, same religious and social values. Some, your reproductive and economic goals.
Your childhood always plays a role. No question about that. But you can walk into a room and everybody is from your background and level of education and intelligence, and you don't fall in love with all of them. So as I send that to this guy, I began to think to myself, maybe basic biology plays a role. Maybe if I looked in, I could find some brain, some traits that are part of brain physiology that draws naturally to one person rather than another and more I thought about it.
I thought, I mean from a Darwinian perspective, we're pretty unselective if we didn't select for any kind of physiological feelings for certain kinds of people for survival reasons. And so that led me into my study of personality, but working with Match first of all, I have never, ever, and I've certainly spoken to, I don't know, I might say 5,000 people interviewing me by now all these years.
Never once have I had somebody want me to say something that I didn't believe? Never once. Never once. I have had people when, after a long interview, screw up my words when I'm saying something, but it's out of a lack of understanding of the subject that they did it rather than trying to get me to say something that I didn't say.
I got an email from a guy yesterday saying why did you say such and such? And I said, I wrote him back and I said, I didn't say such and such. I wouldn't have said that because I don't believe it. And then he wrote back and said, Oh, you're right. I just, I read it wrong in your book.
So the bottom line is Match came. After that meeting, they invited me to, they were starting a new site called chemistry.com. They were trying to figure out some way to make this one different. I suggested that I take a look at the biology of personality and they ended up calling the site chemistry.com, which is, what a good site title. And I am not in any of the daily meetings of match. Now, I used to go down to Dallas a great deal because they would ask my advice on various things. And I would give them an anthropological view of why this would be more attractive to some people.
And that would be more attractive to others , this is what I would do as an anthropologist, et cetera. So they've always admired the fact that I'm an anthropologist and it's been a very fine working relationship. What I do now, of course. First I studied personality and then wrote a book on it.
It was very interesting. I created this personality questionnaire based on brain circuitry. And I did my academic articles on it. Did two FMRI studies on it, et cetera. I've always made sure I stayed in publishing academic papers. Now I'm sure there's people who think that, Oh she's flaky because she doesn't work in a university, but bottom line is I've really published a great deal.
And I still am. I'm doing an article right this minute. And, but at match, it's given me a tremendous dataset. First I created the questionnaire on personality and we used it in this site in America. And the CEO came up to me one day. He said, Helen, would your personality questionnaire work in other countries?
And I said, if it doesn't. I have failed studying the American brain. I'm studying the human brain. So we put it in 40 cultures in all, over 14 million people have taken this questionnaire. I never could have done that. If I stayed at an academic department, I would have had 135 graduate students taking my one little questionnaire.
You learn a lot from that. But the bottom line is when you get these enormous data sets, it's just a thrill. And then after that was done at Match, now what I'm doing is called singles in America. You probably know about it.
Adam Gamwell: [00:27:35] Oh, I don't actually. So tell me about it.,
Helen Fisher: [00:27:36] Okay. 10 years ago in 2010 the CEO came to me and said, you know we want to to study singles in America.
Not matched members, singles in America. So we started in 2010 and every year in August generally, but this time it was a little different July and August, I create about 200 questions of singles. And I do it with two people from Match. And I finally brought in Justin Garcia, now director of the Kinsey Institute to be the other academic on it.
And I'm an older woman. He's a younger man. I liked that. I liked the young, particularly crazy about the millennials, but he's in his thirties. But Because they're really up on the newest academic data. There's things that I will miss. I wanted stuff from him. So anyway annually, we create 200 questions, some are trend questions like have you ever had a one night stand?
Have you ever had friends with benefits, et cetera. And but, and every year I ask a lot of new questions this year. It was all about cause we did it during the pandemic. I wanted to know how courtship was changing during the pandemic.
But anyway, the bottom line is every year I create 200 questions with my colleagues. Almost every year we send this out in late September. The data is collected and the data comes back a little bit before Christmas. And so it destroys Christmas for me.
I'm looking for patterns. I'm looking for patterns. I'm looking for Darwinian patterns basically, but I'll also find cultural patterns. All kinds of patterns. And then what I do is I would write a big thing of the patterns and the data that shows what the pattern is. And then we work on it until we get to writing the press release.
And the press release generally tries to come out right before Valentine's day for obvious reasons. And I'm generally working with very young women. And they're very nice. They're very respectful with me. I often do a lot of rewriting of the PR people, I guess cause I've had more experience at pop writing really.
And so that's what I do. So we now have data on 50,000 Americans. We collect data on 5,000 plus Americans every year, but we do not, as I say, poll the match members. This is a scientific study. It's a demographically representative sample national demographics representative sample of Americans based on the US census.
So we got the right number of blacks, whites, Asians, Latino, gay, straight, rural, suburban, urban, every part of the country every basic ethnic group, et cetera. I'm deluged with data. Absolute deluge with it. And I really been hoping that Match would create just like the Pew foundation access to all this material that other anthropologists can use it.
Because I'm not going to use it forever. And Justin and I have written over 14 academic articles. We're working on number 15, right this minute from that data. It's very good data on singles in America. It's absolutely peer reviewed the whole deal, but I do it on two levels. The papers are peer reviewed and we write them and get them published. And I also go and talk on the Today Show or whoever will talk with me.
Adam Gamwell: [00:30:44] Yeah. So this is actually, this is a great distinction to think about then. Cause even you mentioned before that obviously if you collect the data yearly and then there's a press release has to be written to let folks know data 2020 is out.
And then obviously you're thinking about. This is great. The idea of that there's the academic publication, and then there's the, if you're talking on the Today Show, so can you think of an example to share that actually is, did you share the same piece of data in an academic article and on the Today Show, for example, and how did you talk about those differently.
Helen Fisher: [00:31:09] Oh absolutely well one is an academic article that I wrote called Slow Love and it comes from all of my data from singles in America. It's called Singles in America and In that article, and this is strictly academic article. I talk about the fact that, for the last 10 years over 50% of singles have had a one night stand, not necessarily this past year, but during the course of their lives or 50% have had a friends with benefits over 50% of live with somebody. long-term before wedding. Okay. So anyway, I began to realize what that data and here's where the academic part is that these singles today are not reckless. This is actually not reckless.
This is caution. What they really want is to get to know somebody very well before they catch feelings or tie the knots. So what we're really seeing is an extension of the pre-commitment stage of courtship. Courtship is changing. It's slowing down one third of millennials, for example, still live at home.
Not because they're lazy. But because they want to get their career going and get them money stabilized before they wed. So today we're married in our late twenties as opposed to our early twenties. And this is actually very good news. It's good news. I've looked in the demographic of books with the United Nations from 1947 to 2011.
And as it turns out, the later you marry, the more likely you are to remain married and also there's good data on 3000 Americans, , the longer the courtship, the more likely you are to create a stable partnership. So that was all in the academic article and actually I called it the articles, Slow Love: Courtship in the Digital Age.
And I am noticing that more titles of academic articles are becoming more pop, more, more friendly, lively, and less academic. So it's an article that was written in absolute academic style. For a book actually. So I can't say that it really was peer reviewed, so that's not too fair but it was an academic book that's for sure. So on the Today Show, all of that has gotta be reduced to three minutes.
Helen Fisher: [00:33:13] What you do is you write the major points and you don't use any caveats. And unfortunately you don't use any names? I cannot say in David Buster's article in 1993, he suggested that in fact, the world was round and we've now established with the work of Janice, Jim and Joe, that it is round. Can't do it.
They'll never get back. That you got to say, the world is round and that you have to be willing to take the criticism for, because you will. And you've got to be able to just say, all right, they're different worlds. Neither world understands each other, by the way, academics don't understand the real world and the real world does not understand academics.
They think we are all eggheads. I think we, none of us can talk. We're here just to stabilize their idea, whatever. And so you know I try to look good and I try to be friendly. And anyway, here is. Something that I'm, I'm doing a lot with the media right now about the impact of COVID.
And here's my thing for Black Lives Matter. Now what I've done is I got on an index card. Exactly what I'm going to say. Wow. And it's in different colors. The colors don't mean anything. A lot of academics, they write it out. I never write it out. I never write it on my computer. I always do it longhand because I learned with my right hand, I'm writing with my right hand and heres happiness in the brain.
And I've got it so that I can really Harvard study on development. And so many men and women exactly what I need to say. And then I memorize it. And particularly the night before I go to sleep. I just sit there on my bed and memorize and memorize so that by the time I get onto the stage, I'm not struggling with what I want to say.
I'm struggling now with trying to smile or not smile. I remember one time I looked at myself and I was talking about the evolution of adultery, I think on the Today Show. And I was smiling all the way through it. Well you cannot it doesn't work.
And so I would watch myself. I don't watch myself anymore. It's too painful. I can't stand it unless it's something really important. I've never listened to my Ted Talks. But just like anything else with the Ted Talks, it's all right there in front of me, I'm sitting in my bed in my pajamas, memorizing.
Over and Over and over, they say it this way, I'll go this. They say it that way, you know people say, Oh you know all that stuff. Well Guess what? You can't remember those one-liners now, for example, there's a one-liner that I don't think I've put in my academic article and I'm sure I said it on the today show or wherever, which is that marriage used to be the beginning of a partnership, now is the finale. Now, it's just a one-liner. It won't work in an academic article. It's too pop, but it clearly says what I have to say and it's memorable. And I will use quotes. I don't use any quotes in an academic article. I might start an academic article with a quote if it's very meaningful, but then I never use any kind of quotes.
Never say anything about myself. What's really interesting now is that now that I've really gotten a lot older, people are more interested in who I am, which is new for me. I've never felt that anybody has invited me to make a speech for Helen Fisher. They're interested in love. They're interested in themselves.
They want to know why. And I have never burdened them with anything about me. I'm finding more and more. Now that if it's a good story. And if it makes me more human to them, then maybe they will listen to the ideas better. So if it's a really good story about my new husband or something that I've learned about personality and that they can, grok onto or whatever then I will do it. But no I don't. I don't bring myself into the mix and I don't think that they want me in the mix.
Adam Gamwell: [00:37:15] It makes sense too. And the you know, not supposed to sound cynical idea that like people are basically quietly narcissistic. They want to hear about themselves.
Helen Fisher: [00:37:23] Why not? That's why they came.
Adam Gamwell: [00:37:26] No, but that's interesting. The idea too, of just I guess I'm curious, like you said, like your finding now, if it's a good story you'll put yourself in there, but maybe a broader question. If anthropologists are thinking about how do they tell their stories better? How do they know if a story is good to tell or is there a good or a bad story? Is it about how you tell it?
Helen Fisher: [00:37:42] Well You gotta have a story and you gotta know how to tell it now, most journalists know how to tell a story, but don't have one, most academics have a story, but don't know how to tell it.
And so I think the job of you guys and others is to show people how you tell their story now, for example as I said, I've never found an anthropologist I didn't find interesting. I don't know. I guess if it was a story about. I don't know, anthropologists don't really study Beetles or
Adam Gamwell: [00:38:09] For example, right?
Helen Fisher: [00:38:09] Yeah. Right Not to tell a good story about a baboon for God's sake. So Bansi or people from Laos or New Guinea or. It'd be hard not to tell a good story. Take out the stories. They have the stories they should feel confident that they got the story, but they have to apply the story.
That's where they need to do the work is applying it. I have had academics, they've written a paragraph and, in something that some article I'm on and. Every single word in that paragraph. I understand. But together they don't make sense. And so when I rewrite it, some of them get huffy. And what they don't understand is that it's just not clear writing. You got to just go by the elements of style and learn how to write for Christ sakes. And this is part of learning to speak in public speak. I've always used index cards. Nobody ever taught me to do it, but the bottom line is you cannot go out there with a sheet of paper because you're going to read it. You cannot read it now, for example, I'm holding this card here next to me, and I can look down casually. Instantly know the whole story instantly. Um Let's see, here's another, this is one that I'm using every day. It's a bit of a mess. I really should rewrite it. But it's my whole story about COVID and you can see that during COVID singles, we're spending more time talking to dates, they were having more meaningful conversations.
They're being more honest in their conversations. They're being more transparent in their conversations. I don't have to look for the words they're right in front of me, quality is changing, et cetera. They're less focused on looks. In other words, I don't have to read through a paragraph to see that it's right in front of my face in different colors.
And so there's several things that I do to make a speech. I don't know. Do you want to hear that or no,
Adam Gamwell: [00:40:01] that'd be great. Yes.
Helen Fisher: [00:40:03] The first thing I do is I'm prepared. I have never in my entire life, walked onto a TV set, a podcast, even a radio interview or a lecture hall without being totally prepared. 100%. Prepared. I know what I'm going to say. I have not memorized it. I got my cards and I don't really like the idea of memorizing it on Ted. They want you to memorize it. I didn't do it. The reason I didn't do it is because I have a very bad memory. I panic easily. My heart's generally pounding. I don't want to try to remember what I'm saying as well.
So my little index cards, nobody sees them as I'm walking onto the stage. And so anyway, I get to the podium and I put my cards out when I get everything under control. The first thing I do is I eat solid food about two hours before. I never have coffee, never have onions or garlic, anything that'll make my mouth stick together.
I used something very solid, like a piece of fish not even iced tea because it'll make your mouth stick together so that when I walk on the podium I'm solid protein, prepared. People say, be comfortable, that's bullshit for Christ sakes. I mean you got to look good. I generally wear a dress because I'm not, I don't now for the first time in years, largely because I talk about love.
And so many academics are coming out in a very informal suit and uh the audience does like to look at somebody. So I try to wear something. It's always a dark color. Cause I wear dark colors. But I try to wear something that is attractive and feminine. I'm talking about love, and then I will stay behind the podium for a period of time until they begin to think that I'm planted there.
And then I will walk out. And that surprises them that this person, and then I will walk back and forth and I will swing around and I will look at them. I will pick particular people who are listening very carefully and I will go back to them over and over. They're the ballast in my boat.
They are the ones who. I can feel good when I know they're listening. I know I'm connecting in some way. So if I'm getting concerned about people listening I go back to them. I've tried to look up in the, I try to lock my eyes onto as many people as I can see at some point. And I swear to God, I think they can feel my eyes the way I am them.
I'm trying to connect with everybody. I tried to make quotes. I try to use a pregnant pause as if I'm really thinking about something. And people get a little nervous when you stop talking and that makes them more alert. And so then you get started again. I try to laugh at my own jokes so that they know that I think it's funny anyway.
So that allows them to laugh. And I try to use different tones of voice. Like now, right now I just went from one tone of voice to another tone of voice. Um, I think people listen to that better. And one of my biggest mistakes that I learned, and I finally learned it. You always learn it the hard way.
Was there's some audiences that are very doer. They don't laugh. it's their culture to not laugh. For example, I did one in Switzerland and they don't laugh and there's some things where there's a lot of academics in the room. So the students don't dare laugh. And in the past, in the beginning, when people didn't laugh, I'd work harder.
I work harder to make them laugh. And I finally really don't. It doesn't make any sense, Helen and I would get back into their world and say to myself, okay, Helen. They're they're listening. It's just their culture that they're in. One time I had people who left too often, it was down at the Smithsonian.
They'd gone giddy on me. And I felt like a lion tamer. I was the chair. And so I began to have to cue them and I would say I had this serious idea some time ago and I would let them know that this was serious. And then I think there was this hilarious moment when I, and that allows them to laugh.
So tuck it turns into a conversation and you've got to listen to them. It's much harder for me when the lights are all on me. And you can't see the audience, but then you just listening to them, the audience reveals themselves just the way a person reveals themselves. And you just gotta go with AR. [Audience Reaction]
One time I was making a speech at a university a long time ago, and I said, I have said this so many times and I'm not gonna, I don't need these notes. And so I didn't bring my notes to the podium and the entire lecture, a whole little second voice in my head kept on saying,haha Helen, you don't know what's next Helen, and I said never again.
Never ever. I take them. For example, I got a pile of them right now. And I memorized all of this but I'll spread it all out the way I always do because you want to reduce any of the anxiety that you don't need.
You don't want a skirt that might fall off, you don't wanna have any drinks before it or anything else either. I'm always solid sober. Sometimes there's a dinner before it, and that's exhausting for me. I'm basically an introvert. But then I'm just very careful about what I drink.So anyway, that's my things about making a speech.
Adam Gamwell: [00:45:08] That's amazing. Thank you. This is, yeah. It's funny, it's the anthropology of Ted talks, right?
Helen Fisher: [00:45:12] Oh, that's terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. Your heart is pounding and pounding, but you said it enough. And you've eaten properly, you're dressed properly and then you just pray, then you just hope for the best.
Adam Gamwell: [00:45:24] So maybe as a wrapping question area, just thinking about, what advice might you have for students or other young professionals that are trying to get into doing more media work? Who are anthropologists?
Helen Fisher: [00:45:34] Yeah. Write a book, write a good book. Write it very carefully learn how to write a good book on a topic that's important to Americans today and Americans will listen.
They will listen. Go to make a good topic, write a good book, learn how to write it. Learn how to say it. Americans will listen.
Adam Gamwell: [00:45:56] It's funny that reminds me just of Margaret Mead too. I think that was her approach also, right? She's like we have, cause we have to put it out there in ways that people are going to be interested in hearing. And that's why I agree with you too. She's one of the pioneers with helping anthropology be more in a general public mindset.
Helen Fisher: [00:46:09] Yeah. And don't be afraid of your colleagues. I'm hoping we get to the point where people admire this kind of work better because you changed so many people, you affect so many people.
They really think differently. I get emails almost every day. I finally understand why I'm married. . I finally really look at my cat differently, my dog differently, and I really liked chimpanzees now or whatever it just so brought anthropology.
As Margaret means, that is a way of seeing, and it's a huge way of seeing, and it really goes along with all others. It's the field of all fields, there's sociology in it and psychology, there's biology in it. There's brain science in it. There's primatology in it, it's everything. And the more we can, there's room for all of us, there's room for you. If you're going to go that direction.
Adam Gamwell: [00:47:01] This is so much fun. Thank you for sharing your story and walking us through all these ideas. I have it's funny, cause I'm talking, I'm taking notes as we're talking to it just cause it's such great stuff to think with.
Helen Fisher: [00:47:09] Thank you.
Adam Gamwell: [00:47:11] A huge thanks once again to Helen Fisher, it’s been so fun to hear your story and learn about the tricks and tools you’ve learned over the years. Not only about understanding the biology of attraction and love bust also how to convey these ideas across academic articles, trade books, Ted Talks and hell even on the Today Show. So you heard her anthro listeners. It’s time to get out there and tell our stories. One thing I want to tell you that I’m really excited about is that this interview as well as a number of other interviews we will have show up on This Anthro Life are also part of this incredible project we’ve been working on with a number of colleagues with funding from the Wenner Gren. And what were doing is were putting together a video series thats drawing from luminaries like Helen Fisher and Jillian Tett, and Chip Colwell, and Paul Stoller, about how to convey your stories to the public, how to write op-eds for multiple audiences, how to think on your feet, tell stories, work on video, and even podcasting. We’re super excited. This will be coming out slowly over 2021. We’re working on the pilot idea right now but I wanted to let you know that this story or interview may seem a bit different since we're focusing on tactics and this is why. We’re bringing you some really awesome training and upscaling videos that will be joining us soon enough. SO for now stay tuned. Thanks for hanging out with us. It’s been fun. As always we love making this content for you. Today’s episode was produced by Sara Schmieder, Elizabeth Smyth,Sarah McDonugh, and myself, Adam Gamwell. It has been great to hang out with you all and we will see you all next time. This is This Anthro Life and I’m Adam Gamwell.