How did you get involved with Match.com and Chemistry.com?
They called me, a few days before Christmas in 2004. They were familiar with my work, particularly my most recent book, Why We Love, and they wanted to know my views about why we fall in love with one person rather than another. We almost immediately found that we had a great deal in common.
Match.com was committed to using my emerging research to create a website that would go beyond conventional ways of testing personality to match people based on a broader and deeper understanding of biology and behavior. And we all believed that men and women are looking for more in a relationship than mere similarity of background, interest and values. That's carbon-copy compatibility. People want to be deeply in love with their future partners too. That's chemistry.
So a couple days after Christmas we spent the day together talking about love and online dating. And during this first meeting we spontaneously began to design something new, something that would match people to not only fall in love but stay in love.
Our joint effort became Chemistry.com, for which I am the Chief Scientific Advisor. And I am really proud of what we've done together.
Briefly describe your research, particularly the science of attraction, why we fall in love.
Romantic love is one of three basic brain circuits that evolved for reproduction: the sex drive motivates all of us to look for a range of partners. Romantic love, the elation and obsessive thinking that is produced when you first fall in love, focuses our mating energy on just one individual. Following that, attachment sets in, the calm and security you can feel with a long term mate, enabling you to sustain your relationship to rear your children as a team.
Romantic love is the most powerful, and the beginning of the cascade. And what we found in our brain scanning experiments is that romantic love is a drive, an instinct that arises from primitive parts of the brain associated with dopamine, a powerful stimulant. Romance is a chemical high, which is why your beloved begins to take "special meaning." As a man once said to me, "The world had a new center and that center was Mary."
Why do we have that special feeling for one person rather than another?
Many forces play a role in who we fall in love with. Timing is important; you tend to fall in love when you are ready. Proximity is crucial; we fall for people we interact with. Both men and women are excited by those who are mysterious—probably because mystery triggers the activity of dopamine in the brain. And both sexes tend to fall in love with those of a similar background and values, which anthropologists call "positive assortive mating" or "fitness matching."
We also fall in love with someone who fits within what I call your "love map." This is an unconscious list of traits you seek in your ideal partner that you build as you grow up.
But there is even more to falling in love: biology. I think we are unconsciously attracted to those who complement ourselves biologically, as well as socially, psychologically and intellectually. I think we fall in love with someone who has a different chemical profile for dopamine, serotonin, estrogen and testosterone that complements our own. This is the basic premise behind my work with Chemistry.com.
What role did you play in the development of Chemistry.com?
I designed many of the questions that people answer when they join the service. These queries are of several types. But foremost, I asked questions designed to establish some of the basics of your brain and body chemistry, chemistry that scientists now believe are associated with specific aspects of temperament and personality.
To that extent, I have named 4 main personality types: the Explorer, the Builder, the Negotiator and the Director.
Many of the questions on the site are designed to establish the degree to which you are these various types. Of course, we are all a vast mix of all of these chemical components (and many others). And we are all unique individuals. But people do seem to fall into broad general categories—types that even Plato and Aristotle recorded some 2,500 years ago. And scientists now think that some 50% of one's personality has a genetic and hormonal basis.
I also have questions designed to establish which chemical types you tend to be attracted to. Last, we ask you what you are looking for in a mate. And using your various answers, the folks at Chemistry.com and I hope to introduce you to individuals who will not only spark your brain circuitry for romantic love but also keep that passion percolating for years.
Can your research be applied to people who meet online?
Absolutely. Online courtship is basically no different from any other way of wooing. In fact, Internet dating is more natural to the human brain than meeting in a bar. In a bar you often interact closely with people before you know anything at all about them. But for millions of years our ancestors lived in small hunting/gathering bands where people were connected through marriage and ancestry. So long before a young man and woman actually met, they probably knew quite a bit about each other's family background, values, and interests, even some of his or her idiosyncrasies of personality—because people talked and people introduced them. Matchmaking is thousands of years old, much older than the bar scene.
Is online dating a viable solution for people looking for enduring relationships?
Yes, definitely. These days most people are marrying later, in their mid twenties or thirties. They are less likely to wed after high school or college—so these big pools of potential mates are no longer available to them. People move away from home, too, far from their natal social networks. Then most of us build incredibly hectic lifestyles and work long hours, so we have less time. And as people get older, they often begin to find bars and nightclubs less appealing. So online dating has become practical, efficient—and a safer and more effective—way to find love. Most important: it works. Since I began working with Chemistry.com, so many people have told me that they met their spouse online.
I think online dating will continue to work, too. People are living longer, extending their middle age. We also have a high divorce rate. So more people of all ages are looking for a long term partner—and discovering the benefits and opportunities of online dating. This process simply enables them to expand their possibilities, control their destiny and connect with like-minded people in their area or around the world. Online dating is an ingenious 21st century development.
How is online dating changing the way people meet and form relationships?
Online dating cannot change who we are at our core. We are built to fall in love, and to fall for those who fit within our love map and are also chemically complementary. These human habits will never change. But online dating is enabling more people to fall in love by opening up a wider universe of people and providing considerably more information about a potential partner before the courtship starts.
But once a couple meet, the primordial ways that men and women flirt and court and fall in love will just continue. Incorporating my recent research on the science of human attraction into an online relationship site, like Chemistry.com, just refines this ancient process.
How is Chemistry.com different from the other offerings currently available?
Chemistry.com is very different. Before I decided to work with them, I took all the questionnaires given on the other major sites. They all seem to match largely by similarity of background, interests, values and goals. Chemistry.com does, too, of course, as these are important elements to a good relationship. But matching by similarity is only half the story. Chemistry.com's hypothesis is that you need chemistry as well as compatibility for a successful relationship.
Many of our scientific questions are fun, too. For example, we ask you to evaluate the length of your fingers on your right hand, because as testosterone washes over the brain in the womb, it builds aspects of personality and lengthens the fourth finger. So, your "digit ratio" and by this I mean the length of your second (pointing) finger as opposed to your fourth (or ring finger) can indicate several aspects of your personality, including the degree to which you are, by nature, assertive, verbal, musical, analytical and systematizing.
But what I like best is that after you meet someone, you come back to the site and report on how the date went. This "feedback system" helps the folks at Chemistry.com get to know you so they can deliver better matches next time. It also helps people become better at dating. And it enables the site to be self-correcting. As we watch what works for you and everybody else, we can make our matching system better and better. Most important to me, this feedback mechanism provides a lot of rich data on who falls in love with whom—data I can use to further understand this vital aspect of human life. Chemistry.com has a smart, elegant design.
Can you really predict chemistry?
There will always be magic to love. No one can predict exactly who becomes electrified by whom. But Chemistry.com focuses on the core of who we are as human beings rather than offering just another personality test or psychological assessment. This is a fresh approach—and I think it will significantly elevate peoples' chances of falling in love, forming a partnership, and even staying together long term.
What have all your years of studying romantic love done for you?
Well, my studies have giving me a deep feeling of connectedness to people in all the corners of the earth. I know how men and women feel in the Kalahari Desert of Southern Africa, up the Amazon river, and in New York, Tokyo and Moscow. Everywhere people fall in love. I also have a clearer view of the complex situations people struggle with when they are in love, even how to handle some of them. And I have learned some of the things one can do to sustain romance in a long term partnership. But none of my work has jeopardized my feelings of romantic love. You can know every single ingredient in a piece of chocolate cake, but when you sit down and eat it, you still feel that joy. In the same way, I know a lot about romantic love, but I still feel that magic.