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Helen Fisher's Love Letter

Noted authority on love, sex and relationships, anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher recently donated her materials to The Kinsey Institute. She reflects on moments of insight, and on her hopes for building knowledge upon knowledge:

"Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of joy you must have somebody to divide it with." So wrote Mark Twain. I am writing to share my joy for the opportunity to give the fruits of my career and personal life to The Kinsey Institute. It's an honor. Over 40 years ago I bought Alfred Kinsey's two great books, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female; they still sit on my bookshelf at eye-level beside my writing desk. To me, Kinsey was a hero. He dared to document and discuss sex in prudish America after World War II. To know that my work will reside near his, and that of many other intellectual pioneers in the fields of sex and love, is cause for profound celebration.

I look out; not in. Yet as I packed my first batch of documents off to the The Kinsey Institute, I began to look at my past. I vividly recalled the moment I came up with my PhD dissertation idea, writing it down just before falling into a deep sleep. When I found that note the following morning, however, I couldn't understand it; it took me a couple days to comprehend what I had groggily envisioned. I recalled writing the first three chapters of my first book, with each paragraph on a separate sheet of paper. As well as when it occurred to me, as I was walking through Washington Square Park in New York, that humankind had evolved three distinct but related brain systems for mating and reproduction--the sex drive; romantic love; and feelings of attachment.

Oddly, I was reaching across a buffet table at a wine and cheese reception after an anthropology lecture when it dawned on me that the worldwide 'four year itch' that I had documented may stem from an ancestral human need to stick with a partner at least long enough to rear a single child through infancy -- about four years. Then, more recently, the moment at my desk when I came to believe that humanity had evolved four broad personality styles linked primarily with the dopamine, serotonin, testosterone and estrogen systems in the brain. Perhaps most memorable for me was the moment, in a darkened office at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, when I realized that romantic love was not an emotion, but a primordial human drive that evolved so that our forebears could focus their mating energy on a single individual and start the mating process.

Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in Ode to the Western Wind, "Drive my dead thoughts over the universe, / Like withered leaves, to quicken a new birth..." My hope is that researchers of many varieties will incorporate scraps from among these documents to fertilize their own ideas and together our thoughts will scatter over the universe and push the web of human knowledge a bit further toward eternity. My ideas may live. And if any of my discoveries help just one woman understand why she chose "him;" if they enable just one man to understand how to keep his partnership in good health; if they aid just one person on antidepressants (who doesn't need them) to get off drugs that blunt the emotions and may jeopardize their ability to love, I will have succeeded. And I will dance around my campfire in the stars.

Thank you to everyone at The Kinsey Institute for this boundless opportunity and joy.

For more on Dr. Fisher's work, visit her website.

The Kinsey Institute invites scholars and collectors to contribute personal and professional archives. Please contact Liana Zhou, zhoul@indiana.edu, if you are interested.


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