Ever go people watching? Maybe you do that thing where you try to figure out how close two people are? Are they friends, or lovers? On a first date, or out for work. Well closeness is actually quite a complicated thing to figure out, even for psychologists. Some think about it through the lens of the different kinds of love we can feel for each other (there are roughly six, if you want to read about them here). Some look at the basis of the relationship (e.g. a friend is voluntary and fulfils your needs, your boss is involuntary and the relationship is based on rank – more on the difficulties that come with that here). Some look at length. Some look at other things all together. No model is perfect. But sometimes a model is just so beautiful, it has to be shared. In this miniseries, we talk in detail about the five stages of Mark Knapp‘s model of coming together and how we can use it to figure out how close we are to someone (or when we’re people watching, how close two people we’re looking at are).
The first stage: Initiation
First impressions matter. I mean, a lot of decisions get made about you when you first meet someone. Like, whether or not you’re a good person, something that affects how you treat them from then on. Or… well, Google Scholar pulls up 704,000 records of studies about first impressions, so I’lll stop listing them here. In this case, when we think about relationship closeness, the first stage comes down to the impression you make (learn how to make a good one here), the impression they make, and the subsequent decision to get to know each other a little better. How much are they interested in (and available to) communicate with us? That’s the question our brains are trying to answer. If we decide to start talking, we come across the dreaded ‘small talk’. Something that’s super awkward a lot of the time, because your brain isn’t interested in what they’re saying, it’s interested in evaluating whether the other person is a threat (check this article out for more). This stage is characterised by:
- Pleasantness and politeness
- Following social ‘scripts’ (not deviating from ‘normal’ topics of conversation), like answering ‘I’m fine’ regardless of whether or not you are
- Warmth and openness, at least superficially (learn why warmth is one of the three most valued things in a relationship, here)
- An avoidance of talking about controversial topics (like politics and religion)
- A lack of idiosyncrasies – people in this stage haven’t known each other to feel out what the other person’s rules are (every relationship has rules, find out what yours are here) and so develop any uniqueness to the relationships. These two people will look like cookie cutter relationship interaction.
This stage is where social scripts rule, but also where they die. Essentially, we’re relying on our social scripts to navigate to the next stage of the relationship (and finding out whether the other person will follow them too). Once we’ve satisfied ourselves that we’re compatible thus far, we move on to Experimentation.
Be sure to check out our other mini-series on Knapp talking about how relationships look as they’re falling apart, here. Otherwise, perhaps you want to learn how to develop relationships better? You can start by avoiding the four signs that your relationship is about to end. Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and ‘the good life’ at The Dirt Psychology.