Over the course of the past few weeks, I have had several conversations about interpersonal relationships and how people are attracted to one another. I actually walked into a conversation where there were both men and women talking about what makes a person attractive. Basically, why a handsome man with low intelligence got all the girls and why it seems that the average-looking women were the ones who were in solid relationships. My response was that it was too deep of a conversation to have over a few beers and a pool table. I did find it interesting enough to discuss here.
The foundation of human interaction is relationships, both personal and interpersonal. We are a social being and we require social interaction, in some way, shape, or form. Some of these interactions create relationships that drive our lives. All of our relationships vary with intensity and intimacy. These create personal and interpersonal relationships. Personal relationships are generally those that are very close, such as with family members and friends. Personal relationships are created and develop differently than interpersonal relationships. For this posting, we will be discussing just intimate, interpersonal relationships.
Interpersonal relationships are generally those outside of ‘family,’ such as with co-workers, classmates, neighbors, etc. These also include more intimate relationships such as sexual partners, either definitively like a spouse, or casually such as dating partners (or even more casual such as one-night stands). There are many determinants in the development and stability of interpersonal relationships, especially those that border on intimate. The first and foremost is physical attraction. I know, I know, no one wants to explicitly state that physical attractiveness is a main determinant of dating, but let’s face it, it’s the first thing we see.
Being physically attractive, mind you, may be the reason for the starting of a relationship but if other determinants are not met, then the development of that relationship will fail. Empathy, shared interests, kinship, and intelligence are other determinants. In this discussion, we are going to review the three main factors in the development of intimate relationships, which include all of the previously stated determinants. These three factors are physical attractiveness, propinquity, and similarity.
If you or someone you know uses an online dating site, you know that it is the person’s appearance that gets someone to further check out someone’s profile. Then other attributes can be weighed. Physical attractiveness is important because it serves as a gatekeeper to possible partners who are within the physical standards we are searching for like age, health, sex, etc. Of course, what one person considers attractive, another person may not; however, in today’s society, physical attractiveness tends to be determined by society and social media, making ‘beauty’ more universally the same. This just means that what society sees as attractive is what we, individually, will see as attractive as well. This is not to say that if you like women with more curves, or a man with a lot of body hair is wrong; it just means that you may not fit into the majority of what society considers attractive. I, myself, do not like facial hair whereas the goatees and beards are in fashion.
Furthermore, physical attractiveness is generally a more important determinant in who we initially date over other traits like intelligence, education, personality, etc. We associate physical attractiveness with other important attributes. We see an attractive person as being happier, healthier, richer, and living a more rewarding life. As I stated earlier, however, good looks can only keep a person around for so long.
Proximity or Propinquity
This is basically how close you are to someone you are attractive to; that is, how physically close you are. If you see someone every day at school or work, you become more and more attracted to them, especially if you find them physically attractive. Interestingly, even if you found someone to be ‘nice’, the more time you spend with them the more attractive they can become. You tend to notice those little things, like a gentle smile, a small dimple, the way someone plays with their hair, etc.
The more time we spend sharing with someone, the more attracted to them we can become. The whole long-distance relationships don’t work is based on the lack of propinquity. It’s more than the ability to hug or kiss someone. Propinquity allows repeated exposure, creating familiarity. This Familiarity Effect basically states that people who are seen more often are more attractive.
This proximity has become an interesting topic of discussion because of how social media and texting has blown up over the past few years. Now, if we only see someone every couple of months, we are no longer lacking the propinquity. We seem to be even more connected to people since our messages and photos can be sent instantaneously.
Attractiveness extends past what we find as beautiful, and past whether we see someone every day or not. There has to be a similarity in values and/or attitudes. Some say that opposites attract, but that ‘opposite’ doesn’t tend to withstand the different ways in which opposites think and behave. People who are more similar in their appearance, moral compass, and education tend to be more attracted to each other, thus being able to withstand a long-term relationship. And as two people grow and age, it is the aspects of similarity that helps each person to grow in the same direction and with similar measures of mental and physical abilities.
People who seem vastly different from outsiders can have enough similarities to make it work. For example, many people around the world stay within their own ethnic backgrounds. Here, in the United States, we are exposed to a gazillion number of ethnicities and cultures. It can be exciting, mysterious, sexy, and alluring to have a relationship with someone completely different than your own ethnicity. People of different ethnic backgrounds can be similarly attracted to each other, especially if they are similar in other ways.
Let’s say you are talking with someone from a different part of the world and they say their favorite author is Poe. You agree! That’s the beginning; the more the other person agrees, the more confident each one becomes, creating more attraction to one another.
The good thing is that a lot of times we casually meet people through our friends, co-workers, spouses, school, etc. that we may not initially feel attracted to. Then, as time goes by and we learn more about that person, they can become more attractive. This is because you find that you have a lot in common, or that the other person is really smart or really funny. I’m glad I’m really smart and really funny 🙂