Simply Solo Spotlight: Word of the Day – Propinquity
Today’s Simply Solo Spotlight is written by Bill Stuart, an associate professor of communication studies at Longwood University. When Bill and I started discussing topics about which he could write a guest post, I knew he would come up with something interesting and unique. And I knew I’d learn something from his post (I mean, he is a professor, after all!). I hope you enjoy today’s Spotlight, and be sure to use the word of the day at least once.
Oh, and an unrelated note: Happy Fat Tuesday! Being a pseudo-Catholic, I have decided to give up ice cream this year for Lent. If you need to find me tonight, I will be eating my last serving pint of ice cream until Easter. Wish me luck!
Quick shameless plug: Do you have a story to tell? Advice to offer? Did you just have literally the worst date of your life and you must write about it? I’d love to have you as the next Simply Solo Spotlight! Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Word of the Day – Propinquity
I’m a college professor. My students seem to be in the midst of a wave of break-ups. In most of the cases, the no-longer-so-significant other did the student a favor. Many readers will recall their own “bad boy” or “bad girl” phase, whether you were the moth or the flame. This seems to beg the question, “Why are we ever attracted to the attention vampires we never should have dated in the first place?” Several of my students would have us believe that it’s all Disney’s fault. Beauty, you must redeem the Beast. Fair prince, you must be attracted to someone who needs rescuing, and fair princess, you must be a victim so that you can be rescued. Obviously, there’s much more to it than that.
Tons of research are available about this (did I mention the college professor thing?). There’s a real-live, Google-able guy named Steve Duck who has written extensively on attraction. In an oft-cited 1994 publication, Duck argues that physical attractiveness and similarity are the strongest predictors of attraction. He also cites today’s word of the day, propinquity, as a factor in attraction. Propinquity can be defined as the likelihood of being attracted to people whom you see and with whom you interact. A no brainer, right? We’re attracted to people we find physically appealing and people whom we see. So why does this lead us down the folly-prone path of becoming romantically entangled with assholes, sociopaths or others who your friends will talk about and your parents won’t talk to? (Apologies to National Grammar Day, which was March 4th.)
The answer is simple: ATTENTION. In just the way your gaze was drawn to the word in all caps, assholes, jerks, the über-needy and other various forms of train wrecks are individuals that draw attention to themselves.
Does this mean that we should never date any of these people? No. There can be something refreshing about dating Party-Girl or Party-Boy (until they puke on your parents’ living room rug). It can be intoxicating to be with someone who is so fully into you (until they start showing up unexpectedly everywhere you go, and boiling the family pet). More importantly, these individuals provide useful benchmarks for people we actually might partner with in the long-term.
So what’s the mechanism? It’s hard to take interest in someone if you’re unaware the person exists, or in someone who seems unaware that you exist. Folks who crave attention tend to behave in such a way that they actually get it. They want people to notice them. So you might actually notice the gal or guy standing on the bar, leading everyone in a Neil Diamond sing-a-long. Actually, it’s kind of hard not to notice that person. It’s harder to notice the wonderful, amazing person having a cocktail with her/his friends, talking about subjects that you’d find interesting, because they’re not drawing attention to themselves.
In the other circumstance, there is the person who showers you with attention and affection. Not that you’re not worthy of this (stop pretending you’re not special). However, in this scenario, the attention being paid to your wonderful awesome-ness is driven by the desire of the other person to be similarly romanced and romanticized. Everybody needs some attention, and we tend to do better with people who have similar needs for autonomy and/or connection. However, there will be no satiating the emotional vampires, who will feed off your attention until/unless you drive stakes through their hearts (metaphorically, of course).
It is not my intent to demonize propinquity. Propinquity simply helps us partially understand why we might be initially attracted to people who ultimately aren’t good for us or to us. Propinquity, in its positive sense, also explains why you wound up dating the cute girl in physics class, why you had a summer camp crush on the boy from Group 7, or why your parents met (mine worked together).
So, if you’re venturing out for Fat Tuesday or St. Patrick’s Day, remember that propinquity is fickle. Sometimes it’s your friend, sometimes it’s not. If you don’t believe me, ask the girl you just threw the beads to, or the guy in the green-and white jester hat.
Bill Stuart is an associate professor of communication studies at Longwood University. Bill and his wife Amy live in Richmond, Virginia. They met using the computer-mediated propinquity of match.com. They have two sons, ages 8 and 2. Amy & Bill last slept in 2009.