The three ingredients to the beginning of a relationship
In the first instance, we may consider proximity in terms of the mere factors of how often we meet, where, when and how. When we are in frequent contact with individuals either through a working environment, community such as church, mosque, synagogue, religious or other, we begin to form relationships with those around us. People become familiar to us through shared activities and interests whether work, education or social so there is immediately common ground from which to begin a relationship. If we are social individuals we are able to form bonds with those around us, so we may say that familiarity breeds fondness.
In contrast, what also needs to be taken into consideration is individuals who, for whatever reason, do not conform to any social 'norm', those who choose to follow a more solitary path rather than 'follow the crowd or group'. So we may argue that for some, relationships may be made in a very different way depending on how our patterns of relating evolve as we grow towards adulthood (at whatever age that may be). For many who are unable or afraid to form close relationships, an example here may be the phenomenal growth of social media internationally and the millions of 'friends' we have on Facebook. We may add that in some ways exposure and proximity are indeed frequent and as close as our bedroom. The disadvantage is that the real relationship may actually be with a phone or a computer. Though for many this seems safe, it is actually an avoidance from making a genuine connection with another, which for many who have difficulties in forming relationships may feel extremely unsafe.
Another example in today's society may be the increase in the use of Internet dating. It has been proven beyond doubt that it may work very well for some and lasting partnerships and marriages have been formed through dating sites. Indeed many of my clients who come for therapy met their partners through dating sites. Thus, we may argue here, what, in this day and age, is proximity? A church or synagogue community, a leisure centre, an office... or the internet?
In the second instance, physical attraction plays a dynamic role in how we start a relationship. Initially our instant impression as we meet someone for the first time is based on how we 'see' them, what do we see first? The face, the eyes, the mouth or do we look at their body, the clothes they wear, do they 'look' like us or are they very different? Then, as inherent in all human nature, we form an opinion or make a judgement. Does this individual fit in with our own idea of physical attraction? If we're seeking a relationship, we may question whether we can imagine physical intimacy with the man or woman or do we merely feel that we could be friends perhaps but not lovers?
Depending on how we function, whether through the need for an external or an internal locus of evaluation, trusting in our own sense of self and inner knowing rather than turning to another to 'tell us what to do' will play a role in partner selection. Will this girlfriend/boyfriend be accepted or admired by our friends and family? Will our friends be envious of the attractive new partner or will they disapprove perhaps?
Our sense of who we are and our level of self-esteem also plays a part. Frequently we may feel threatened or anxious in finding someone who is considered more physically attractive than us, so we may look for a partner whose 'looks' do not define them but with whom we do not feel personally unattractive. Another factor, again in relation to our sense of self, is whether we feel we deserve anyone better than the partner we have found and so we may unconsciously seek out those who are as needy or much needier than we are regardless of how they appear physically.
As we grow to know our partner, physical attraction becomes less important as we begin to see beyond the surface and acknowledge the real person. Exceptions will obviously occur depending on our reasons for choosing a partner and whether based on genuine feeling or the need to have a 'trophy wife' or 'rich and powerful husband', in order to secure our perceived place within society. However, in a genuine and true connection of mind, body and soul, physical attraction becomes irrelevant as we grow towards a more mature understanding of what being in relationship with 'the other' really means.
In the third instance, similarity, shared interests, belief system, culture, religion, habits, life experience and so forth, will impact on our choice of partner. As discussed above, our self-image may define our choices by falling into a pattern of finding those who like us possibly because our fear is that we may not find anyone at all. The only similarity is that two people who have little self-esteem have been drawn together. In contrast, we may question the cliché 'opposites attract’ and although similarity plays its part, in many instances we seek out those whose psychological make-up seems very different to our own, as we search for those hidden and unconscious aspects of ourselves which are revealed in our choice of partner.
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About Elise Wardle
Elise Wardle MA is an accredited counsellor, psychotherapist and supervisor in private practice. Integrative and Jungian in orientation, her specialisation is in depth psychology with a focus on dreams and the journey within, or for those who need intervention therapy, brief focused counselling is also frequently offered to clients.