The Friend Making Formula

The following conversation comes from a family favorite show in my house, The Big Bang Theory. I tried to remember the words as accurately as possible. The conversation is between two neighbors (who are also friends) as they are discussing how Leonard and his roommate Sheldon actually became friends:

Penny: How did you and Sheldon become friends?

Leonard: There was a flyer on the bulletin board at the university: “roommate wanted: whistlers need not apply.”

Penny: What about Howard and Raj, how did Sheldon become friends with them?

Leonard: I don’t know…how do carbon atoms form a benzene ring? Proximity and valence electrons.

Although the excerpt above comes from a television show, the premise to making friends is very similar – minus the valence electrons. Leonard and Sheldon are both physicists at the same university, but prior to the flyer on the bulletin board were not friends. The others listed above, Howard and Raj, also worked at this university, and were friends of Leonard, but not Sheldon. In life, as well as the television show, friends are typically made based on physical proximity, which is being close to someone in space, or conveniently located near a person (Schneider, et al, 2012). Although these two gentleman worked in the same university, their work location was not close in proximity. When they moved in together however, the level of accessibility increased and they had more opportunities to interact with one another. As their interactions became more frequent, the feasibility of a friendship developing became more likely. This too is how Leonard’s friends, Howard and Raj, became acquainted with Sheldon. Now that Leonard was living with Sheldon, and Howard and Raj were visiting Leonard, they too became better acquainted with Sheldon through a closer physical proximity.

Physical proximity alone is not sufficient to create a friendship, however. But proximity did help these men to establish a connection that bred conversation. At first, Leonard, Howard, and Raj did not like Sheldon. They found him to be narcissistic, germ phobic, and possessing annoying idiosyncrasies, but due to the proximity effect they began to like him more and more. The proximity effect is the tendency to increase the liking of another person based on physical closeness and psychological commonalities (Schneider, et al, 2012). The same is true in life; if we frequently see a person and then increase our exposure to that person by way of conversation, then we are likely to continue to engage in conversation with that person. If we begin to learn that we have things in common, then again, our liking for them increases.

The proximity effect usually only breeds increased liking between two people who like each other to begin with. For example, if I see my neighbor and we chat occasionally, and I find that we have things in common than the more time I spend with her, the more I will like her. But what happens if I chat with my neighbor a few times and ascertain that I can’t stand the sight of her. Then the likelihood of me growing to like her is minimal at best. It is actually more realistic to say that the more I have contact with her, the less I will like her; this is environmental spoiling (Schneider, et al, 2012). This has actually happened to me with my mother-in-law. I tried for years to get this woman to have a relationship with me, but as her eldest son’s wife, no one would be good enough for him in her eyes. Eventually I stopped trying and began to see her for the woman she truly is, which is not someone I like. Now, years later, with every visit, my dislike for her grows – environmental spoiling in action. Back to the television show, Sheldon is not an easy person to get along with, and Howard in particular seems to detest him greatly. As the episodes go on, Howard’s disgust with Sheldon grows and he becomes ever more vocal in sharing his discontentment with Sheldon’s behavior. But in the end, in order to maintain his relationship with Leonard, Howard bites his tongue.

Whether it is making friends, meeting neighbors, or trying to deal with someone you loathe, proximity seems to intensify a person’s original feelings toward another. Whether a person’s feelings towards another starts as positive or negative, an increase in exposure to that person will strengthen a person’s original feelings. Even though repeated exposure to someone you dislike can cause you to dislike them even more, as according to the environmental spoiling theory, the opposite is typically true: recurrent contact with someone that you dislike usually results in more positive feelings towards that person (Schneider, et al, 2012).  This is how the relationship between Sheldon and Howard grows; they begin not liking each other; then Howard begins to detest Sheldon (which lasts for a long time); over time, as Howard becomes familiar with Sheldon’s sense of humor and idiosyncrasies, his fondness for Sheldon grows.

This concept of proximity and familiarity is a promising outlook in the world of friend-making. It can give hope to those that feel alone and incapable of making friends. If two people can start out as acquaintances who are accessible to one another, and gradually spend increasing amounts of time with one another, then the chance of a friendship blossoming is a promising one. Even if there are idiosyncrasies about one another that they can’t seem to overcome, with time, as they become more familiar with each another, these differences can be looked at quirks rather than roadblocks, and a friendship may very well develop.


Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

1 comment

  1. Gretchen M Baker

    I enjoyed reading this blog on friendships and I find it fascinating how friendships are created and sometimes kept for a lifetime. Growing up, I was a very shy person. I had friends, but never had anyone I would call my “best friend” until I was 11 When I was in the sixth grade, our grade school merged with two other elementary schools and believe it or not, I can still remember how I met my best friend who I still see after 29 years. We were sitting in science class and I asked her if her dad lived up the street from me. From there on, we were best friends and did everything together until we went to college. We still to this day talk about that significant moment that definitely changed my life for the better. When I went off to college, I was extremely scared and hated school the first month. My roommate was nice, but she already had lots of friends from her area that went to our college and I felt lonely. One evening, I told her I was leaving and she insisted on taking me “under her wing” and hanging out with her friends who then became part of my friends. Just like what happened with Sheldon and Leonard that happened with my roommate in that every day spending together made our friendship develop even more significantly. Friendship is very similar to a “domino effect” in that your friends become friends with other friends. Every significant friendship was created through physical proximity whether it was an eventual “best friend” I met at college, at my workplace or lived very close to meet when I did move ( Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2012) .
    I first met my husband when I was in college and worked as a server at a restaurant near campus. I liked him as a friend and eventually he won me over and we have been together for almost 19 years. While one of my only regrets was not finishing school 20 some years ago, my regret only goes so far. Had I finished school, I probably never would have spent as much time with my future husband, and we both agree that “physical proximity” which occurred when we worked every day together and created a good friendship and eventual relationship that’s lasted since 1995. My husband is definitely the complete opposite of me and that is where the “proximity effect” occurred. We both know that if we just met at school a few times, our relationship would not have probably happened because of our differences.
    All of my best friends, including my husband do share common traits though. We are all optimistic people who think positive thoughts and feel grateful for all the things that we have. We usually will stay away from pessimists because honestly, they will just tend to bring you down if you listen to them enough. I have one friend who I like, but can’t stand to listen to her at times. Her life always has drama, and she never seems to appreciate the many things that she has going for her. She complains everyday that she “doesn’t have enough money,” she says she “can’t stand people” and she works with people on a daily basis. She’s my friend, but she is just miserable and if I listen to her long enough, I start to complain. So I would have to agree with one of the blogs that says “birds of a feather, flock together.” While I know this sounds a bit strange, but I find it completely fascinating how all my best friends and I share the same zodiac sign, Cancer, and even my husband‘s sign is Cancer. I agree that proximity and familiarity is a great attribute of friendship. It truly is amazing how those who seem so insignificant in your life when you first meet them, may become an important part of your life and are a part of your family that you couldn’t even imagine living without. I feel extremely blessed to have all these kind and amazing people to share in my journey of life and make you want to be a better person because of it. I just hope all of you have those types of friendship or relationships in your life that make life worth meaning! Have you ever met someone who you didn’t quite get along with, only to in the end, become great friends? It’s amazing how if we spend time with someone, eventually, we can learn a lot about friendships and even maybe learn a little about ourselves!


    Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., and Coutts, L. M. (Eds.) (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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