I love to throw dinner parties. Part of it is that I like to entertain; to make a big meal, arrange flowers, drink heavily. But the main part of it is that I like to bring interesting people together to have incredibly fun conversations. Asking someone who's invited to their dream dinner party is a pretty clichéd question, but I came pretty close this past weekend when I had eight for dinner.
My boyfriend, a screenwriter and all-around dreamboat; my best friend, freelance writer and mother to my one-and-a-half-year-old other boyfriend Nate; her husband, a documentary-film editor; my college friend and his girlfriend, both visual effects artists; two of my boyfriend's college friends, a television story editor and actor respectively; and me, your favorite Flo & Franker! It was a great night of hilarious conversation. This particular night was very arts-and-related-fields heavy, but I do usually like to mix things up and throw people from all professions in mix. And this episode of On Being presented me with a new dream dinner party guest.
Helen Fisher is the Chief Scientific Advisor at Match.com. Basically, she's an online sexual anthropologist. As On Being host Krista Tippett puts it, "She wields science as a sobering, if entertaining, lens on what feel like the most meaningful encounters of our lives." Throughout the 50 minute podcast, Helen does just that.
I've written before about being a sucker for a story where someone ends up doing the job they were truly meant to do and Helen's description of her early life proves she is definitely one of those people. She was born to work in sociological science. "I'm an identical twin. And, long before I knew that there was a nature/nurture controversy, I was very busy trying to measure how much of my own behavior was biological and how much of it was cultural," she says. "As a child, I was very interested in people. I—as I lived in this glass house. And my neighbors lived in a glass house. And by the time I was 6 and 7, I would sneak into the woods and sit on an old stone wall and watch them eat dinner." She's been watching people and studying them, trying to figure out what makes us alike and what makes us different, her entire life. So when it came time to choose the topic for her PhD dissertation she says, "I figured that if there was any part of us at all that we had all in common, it would be our reproductive strategies. It would be our sex lives, our romantic lives, and our reproductive lives."
In her position with Match.com, Helen has the opportunity to study all aspects of relationships and sex. Like most people, I'm most interested in the sex parts—and the bits of science that make me feel more normal. I was very relieved to hear Helen talk about casual sex. She basically says it's impossible for casual sex to remain casual. She says, "When you have orgasm, you get a real flood of oxytocin and vasopressin. And these are the basic bodily and brain systems for attachment." Where was Helen when I was in college? "I mean, people can do what they want to do. I'm not in the 'should' business," she expounds. "But the bottom line is, if you don't want to get attached to somebody, it's easier to not sleep with them." THANK YOU!
To me, the most interesting part of this interview comes when Helen is asked to describe the reality of love. She makes it personal, and real and relatable. "I use the — I don't know if it's a metaphor or not — of a piece of chocolate cake. You can know every single ingredient in a piece of chocolate cake. But then when you sit down and eat it, you just feel that rush of joy," she says. "And in the same way, I know a lot about love. I know a lot about marriage. I know a lot about adultery and divorce. Know something about the brain. Certainly know — hopefully know something about evolution. But when it hits you, you're off to the races. I — there's been times that I've walked towards the phone saying, 'Don't call him, Helen.'"
She may study love, but when it comes down to it, Helen is just like we all are. See? Perfect dinner party guest!