You’ve completed 60% of this course! Yay, you! I know you’re busy, so let’s get to it. Today, we’ll talk about propinquity. (It’s a funny word, I know.)
The word propinquity refers to the physical or psychological closeness between people. Psychological proximity means how similar and familiar you are. For instance, two people who share profession, ethnicity, religion, or political affiliation have higher propinquity than two who don’t.
Propinquity matters because the more propinquity someone perceives they have with you, the more they like you.
Smith is the most common last name in the US. Would it surprise you to know that Smiths marry other Smiths three to five times more frequently than they marry people with any of the other four most common last names combined?
It’s true! But why?
Could this have a scientific foundation?
Let’s turn to a scientist, internationally acclaimed expert and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Professor Leonard Mlodinow, PhD.
“People have a basic desire to feel good about themselves, and we therefore have a tendency to be unconsciously biased in favor of traits similar to our own, even such seemingly meaningless traits as our names,” Mlodinow explains. Neuroscientists have actually identified the part of our brains responsible for this—the dorsal striatum.
The similarities you find with another don’t need to be huge—as you just read, even superficially insignificant commonalities make a difference. Do you both hate Brussels sprouts? Do you both hit the elevator button several times? Do you both lie to your doctor when they ask about your alcohol consumption? (Is there anybody who doesn’t?)
Sharpen your listening and questioning skills to find similarities with others fast. Then point them out!
We tend to prefer certain things over others just because we’re familiar with them. This phenomenon is called “the mere exposure effect” or “the familiarity principle.”
Picture this: You’re traveling in a foreign country, and you realize you didn’t pack toothpaste. You google “toothpaste near me,” find your way to the right aisle in a store, and see tons of brands. You’ve never heard of most of them, so you’re relieved when you find “Colgate” or “Crest.” Finally, a brand you know! You grab it. (Even the most adventurous will likely save their intellectual curiosity for wines, foods, or historical buildings, not toothpaste.)
We tend to treat people like toothpaste.
Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt; familiarity breeds liking. The more frequently someone sees you, the more pleasing and likable they’ll find you (assuming that you’re not an egomaniac, a stalker, or a politician).
So, find ways for the people whom you want to like you to see more of you. Be persistent.
A while ago, my daughter left home for college. After one week, when I thought she was fine because she’d met several nice people and hung out with them, I was shocked when she called, crying.
“Mom, I feel lonely and unpopular. I don’t understand why I have no friends, when I know most people like me when they meet me, and I make an effort to be nice,” she said. “I’m tired of being the one who initiates texting or invites people. Why don’t they seek me first?” she lamented. “What do I do?”
Believe me, a teenager willing to follow her parents’ advice is as unlikely as three wolves and one sheep agreeing on what to have for dinner, so I had to give her well-researched advice.
“Keep doing what you’re doing,” I told her. “Don’t keep tabs—as long as you enjoy each other’s company, you’re in business. Be patient.”
“For how long, Mom?” she asked. Great question. At what point do you give up on someone and accept that they’re not interested?
I replied by quoting a study by University of Kansas Professor Jeffrey Hall. He wanted to know how long it takes to make friends. If you thought that it was just a few hours, brace yourself. Here’s what Hall found:
• It takes 40 to 60 hours of together-time to turn someone you met and clicked with into a casual friend.
• It takes 80 to 100 hours to make a friend.
• It takes 200 hours to make a best friend.
These are just guidelines, and each situation is different, but they bring home this lesson: Some things take time. Don’t give up too soon on those who might not initially reciprocate your proactivity—they might not be aware of the benefits of making time from the responsibilities of life to develop friendships.
Research has proven those who have social support live healthier, longer, and happier lives, so keep it up!
Tomorrow, you’ll learn how to develop the skill of turning small talk into meaningful conversations and why this matters so much. (You’ll be surprised.)
See you then!
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