Opposites attract. The oft-heard phrase may be true for magnets, but not for people (PSU, 2017). It is human nature to want to spend time with people who are similar to us, so although we might enjoy engaging with a friend or co-worker who is radically different from ourselves, we typically would not enjoy having this person as a friend or romantic partner—at least not for long. Relationships last because the two (or more) people within them are similar to each other. Let’s say we hit it off with a friend that has similar political views, likes the same movies, and laughs at the same jokes. After a few dates things become “official” and, much later, the couple decides to marry. It’s fate! Or is it?
I hate the term “soul mate.” There is no such thing. The reality is that there are a lot of people who could be right for us—I mean, there are over 7 billion people on Earth. Frankly, it’s nonsensical to think that your significant other is the only one for you, and you just happened to meet and fall in love. The truth is, proximity has a lot to do with relationships, whether romantic or otherwise (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012). Although the internet has made our world much smaller, most relationships (even formed online) are still between people who are close to each other physically. The proximity effect, or the propensity to become more intimate with people who are closer to us physically, shapes our relationships just as much as our personal preferences. When you think about it that way, there are not actually so many “fish in the sea.” I think a better phrase would be “there are a handful of fish in the pond.”
This doesn’t mean your spouse isn’t the one though—I believe my husband is the one for me, but that’s because we’re already together. Had I met another man, I would think the same thing about him. Actually, the main reason my husband and I are together is due to proximity because we would have never met each other through mutual friends (we had none) or activities (we like different things). We worked together and began a friendship while at work, which eventually blossomed into a romance and a marriage. I wish I could say it was like a movie where one of us didn’t like the other at first and warmed up to each other slowly but, you guessed it, that’s not typically of real life either. If there is someone you can’t stand—an annoying office mate or frustrating friend-of-a-friend—spending more time with them will not make you like them. Environmental spoiling is when you dislike someone even more after spending more time with them (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012). Although it’s theoretically possible to end up liking someone after you get to know them better, in most cases that annoying person in class will always be the annoying person in class.
I believe that recognizing how relationships are formed takes the stress out of finding a friend or a partner. You don’t have to wait on fate. Instead, put yourself physically closer to someone you’re attracted to, or join a group of people who are interested in something you like to meet those with similar interests. Eventually, you will find one (or more) fish in that small pond that you’re surrounded by.
Pennsylvania State University. (2017). Relationships/Everyday Life. [Online
Lecture]. Retrieved from http://cms.psu.edu.
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