Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Be Familiar, But Not Too Familiar

It is a basic but often overlooked psychological truth that we are more drawn to the familiar than to the strange.

The more a place or a person is familiar, the more feel comfortable in his or its presence. And we are more often drawn to people who belong, or seem to belong, to our group.

At the least, it’s more economical. If a person seems to be one of us, we do not need to run through all the dangers we might incur by engaging a stranger.

A person who has been around for a while, and who is known by everyone to be congenial or even curmudgeonly, is a known quantity. When we have to choose between an unknown and a known quantity, we are far more likely to choose the latter.

Besides, if the two of you hang out in the same pool hall, you have something in common, an easy topic for conversation.

As Susan Walsh explains in a wonderful post on the topic, if you want to meet new people or even to find a lover, you should first become “a regular.” Link here.

It does not even take great relationship skills. You need but hang out in one place with the same people for an extended period of time.

It’s your consistency, more than your charm and good looks, that matters.

You don’t even have to say a word. The more often you're there, the more the quality of strangeness will diminish. Then, you will meet and connect with more people.

You will also find yourself exchanging a few words, here and there, from time to time, with this one and that one. From such modest beginnings great conversations grow.

You do yourself little good if you bounce from one venue to the next, despairing of the fact that you do not connect with anyone in any of them.

The problem is not in the venues; it is not even in you. You have simply made a strategic error. Inconsistency makes you a stranger wherever you are.

You must keep going back to the same place over and over again, be it a bar, a church, a club, or a group meeting.

You do not need to be the most garrulous or outgoing person in the room. You need but put in the time, to the point where you are familiar with and to the other denizens of the place.

As Walsh notes, familiarity does not in itself produce sexual attraction, but if two people find each other attractive, familiarity will place that attraction within a more durable relationship context.

This is another way of saying, as Walsh suggests, that familiarity breeds virtue.

If you belong to a group, you will usually do what is necessary to maintain your good standing in it. This means that you will behave better when other group members know what you are doing. If you treat your lovers like dirt, you will not be long for very many groups.

When people want to let loose, when they want to do something crazy, they are more likely to leave the familiar and turn toward the strange.

Walsh explains that some people are indeed attracted to strangers. This does not mean that opposites attract or that familiarity breeds contempt. It does mean that some people require greater stimulation, a greater thrill from dangerous encounters.

Perhaps they need to have more intense feelings. Perhaps they feel morally numb, to the point where they can only feel when the feelings are very intense.

In either case, the attraction of strangeness is nearly always short term. It is simply too trying and too stressful to continue dealing with someone whose habits always feel strange.

This means that if you want your current relationship to continue, you would do better to try to be more consistent, more reliable, more predictable, more routinized than you might think is good.

There is always a time and a place for surprises, but a relationship full of surprises is a relationship with a short shelf-life.

Familiarity breeds trust and confidence in the other person, and trust and confidence are great sexual lubricants, if you will allow me that phrase. Familiarity makes intimacy less risky. Less risky means that both of you will feel more comfortable letting go.

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