The idea of proximity psychology is the tendency to develop close relationships with those who are geographically near us. Relationships take time to build. We are going to have better and easier opportunities to develop relationships with people we see on a regular basis. The more contact we have with someone, the easier it is to get know them and for them to get to know us. It is also easier for us to get to know people when we are in a comfortable environment. Within are local communities, we create a life we ideally feel safe and relaxed in. When people are comfortable, they often feel more at ease to be themselves. Authenticity in combination with frequent interactions with others can encourage the growth of close relationships between people.
Many people might view proximity psychology as having less merit with boom in technology. Social media, Skype, FaceTime, or even newer tools like the Facebook Portal allow people to connect through video, sharing pictures, and instant messaging. Technology has made the world much bigger for us as we have the ability to connect across the world. These tools appear to aid in the connection of individuals. However, much research has shown that is not always the case. People on social media are less likely to show their true selves. They usually show the picture of how they want others to see them. Other video chat platforms are also great, but they are no substitute for real face-to-face conversation. We do crave and need the in-person, authentic contact with people. While technology can help to a degree, it still involves intentionality by each of us as individuals to build and maintain close relationships with people who live far away from us.
Being in close proximity with someone does not automatically yield a close relationship. Close relationships take time to build and involve having a certain connection that we will not find with just everyone. There are going to be certain people we do not connect with due to personality differences or other factors. What proximity psychology illustrates is that frequent interactions with people aid in the building of relationships with others. Technology does enable us to expand our circles to a wider range. However, it helps when we have frequent contact with someone. Being in close proximity will provide an ease in the development of relationships, but the level of intimacy we cultivate with someone else is left up to us.
What we can glean from proximity psychology is to be aware of the relationships nearby. It is likely there are untapped close relationships available right in front of us. Particularly in situations where you start a new job or move to a new place, this awareness can help when building relationships. We are likely to have things in common with people who live close by which can provide a certain ease when engaging in conversations, especially early in the relationship building phase. While factors like living in close proximity to someone and using technology can be helpful in building and maintaining relationships, the depth of each relationship is our own hands as we work to create authentic connection with people.
Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 6 years.