When we think about the interactions we’ve had in the past, we know only a small handful of relationships that we refer to as “friends.” Social psychologist have always wondered how one becomes attached to another individual, and they have broken it down into five simple components.
1. Proximity – People who share environments with us are likely to understand the pressures that affect us and the goals we hope to obtain. Such as two students in the same class room. This component may be somewhat mediated by other factors, such as propinquity and similarity.
2. Propinquity – This is frequency of exposure, and some suggest it may actually be one of the most important factors. If two people interact more often, clearly they are going to have a stronger relationship than individuals who never interact. It is impossible to have a relationship without interaction, of course.
3. Similarity – This is actually a multi-faceted feature. In younger children, you may see individuals playing with each other who like the same toys. As we get older, we gravitate towards those who hold the same ideals as we do. If two people agree on their fundamental ideas about life and philosophy, they are going to have an easier time getting along than those who are polar opposites. Once again, this is no big surprise.
4. Mutual liking – It’s much easier to interact with people who you believe enjoy your company. The constant reciprocation further fuels repeated interactions as well. If you do not like someone who is interacting with you, you may be “short” with them and push them away. It’s hard to invest in others if they push us aside.
5. Attractiveness – Some say this is the least important aspect of all. It both is and isn’t at the same time. Attractiveness is especially helpful in forming new relationships (both intimate and platonic). This is because of the halo effect that is observed with attractiveness. The halo effect causes people to assume if someone is attractive they also posses a number of other positive qualities (smart, funny, hard-working, etc). However, once people have “broken the ice” and are actually getting to know one another, similarity and propinquity are above and beyond the most important features.
So when we look back at our relationships, we can assume that the best friends we’ve had share a few things in common. My best friends are similar to me, we like each other, and at some point in our pasts we spent a lot of time together.
Once again, social psychologists have a knack for taking the mundane and making it sound complicated. Honestly, I agree with this model of relationships, and it helps us organize our thinking of our relationships, but I would not say it defines it. Just something interesting to think about the next time you ask the questions, “woah, how did I ever become friends with this guy??”