Psychology of Social Connection

The 1170 Words(ish) That Lead to Love

October 24th, 2020 · 5 Comments

Let’s go back in time for a moment: it’s your freshman year. You’re chilling in your tiny common room on a Friday night when your friends tell you there’s a crazy good party happening in the Pfoho Igloo (despite knowing that nothing “good” happens in the Pfoho Igloo…but oh well). You make the trek over to the Quad, and have a fun night of dancing, hanging out with friends, and feeling absurdly sweaty. Suddenly, you make eye contact with someone across the crowded room (*gasp*) – you try to make your move but oh no! You’ve forgotten that the floors are (literally) drenched in sweat! You fall to the floor, and the moment is ruined. Off you and your friends run to your next (probably sweaty) destination. 

Despite honestly comical encounters like the one we forced you to relive above, now that we find ourselves sitting in our childhood bedrooms, swiping on Tinder when we’re supposed to be watching a lecture, and dreaming of the last time we had any sort of human contact can definitely leave anyone feeling nostalgic for a simpler time. And even in “normal” times, it can feel like you’re constantly in uncharted waters when trying to find (and keep!) a potential relationship. So how do we spark and maintain these romantic connections according to the ~literature~? How can we translate this into our actual normal lives, especially as college students? And how on EARTH do we keep that going now that we’re online? You wouldn’t know it by looking at my love life (disclaimer: this is Rachel, I’m not about to throw James under the bus with my self-deprecating joke), but we’ve got the #hot #tips for all of you lonely (and not so lonely!) readers. 

Rachel: ~Creating That ~Spark~

As we saw in class, any good conversation about forming new romantic connections has to start with thinking about our own dealmakers and dealbreakers. What are the qualities and ~vibes~ that make you interested in someone in the first place? What are the things that send you running the moment you discover them? Even just this exercise of stepping back and reflecting on what pulls you toward or pushes you away from certain people shows one of the biggest parts of sparking new romantic connections — theory of mind and perspective-taking (Ramenzi et al, 2020). By taking the time to understand yourself and a potential partner, you can both forge stronger social bonds and avoid negative ones, like when you try to flirt with someone who isn’t into you (Bohns & DeVincent, 2019). As we’ve seen time and time again, this skill is an essential one for creating those social connections we all crave, both for friendships and romantic relationships. 

So you’ve done plenty of hardcore reflection, you’ve read all the papers, and now it’s time to apply it to your own life. Easy, right? Unfortunately… probably not. In Actual Real Life™, you can’t necessarily just go walk up to someone and start asking them about the last time they cried in front of another person. So how do we go about actually applying what we’ve learned here into our daily lives, especially in a Zoom world? 

First off, as we’ve learned, proximity and familiarity have a LOT to do with forming connections, both romantic and platonic. While before that might have meant living in the same dorm or going to the same party in the Igloo, there are still plenty of chances to recreate that online. Maybe take inspiration from Moreland and Beach’s study on familiarity and attraction to actually turn on your camera for once in that one giant lecture class (Moreland & Beach, 1992). Or, you could figure out their social media habits and both be “active” on Facebook at the same time (basically the digital version of proximity?). If all else fails, Zoom now lets you rearrange the screens in the order of your choice, so at least you can pretend to have some proximity to them! 

Beyond proximity and familiarity, communication and self-disclosure are also two essential ingredients to creating that perfect romance spark that’s still possible in today’s virtual world. It might be strange at first (especially if this is someone you’ve never *actually* met in person), but being willing to be vulnerable in your conversations with another person (whether on Zoom, over text, or in person) can go a long way (Hall, 2019). And above all, resist the urge to ghost! You might not be used to this much social interaction after hiding indoors for six months, but steady and engaging communication really can make the difference between a ~potential flame~ actually becoming a spark, or just burning out. Now go forth and find that person of your dreams, young grasshopper<3

James: Maintaining Romantic Relationships

Now, once you spark a connection with the person of your dreams, what do you do next? Initiating the connection is the first step, but much more goes into fostering a healthy and mutually beneficial romantic relationship.  As we learned in blog posts surrounding friendships, in order for a relationship to blossom into something special, reciprocation is essential.  This means that each member of a relationship must be putting in equal effort to make the relationship flourish.  Basically, if you get lazy and begin to neglect your partner, you can expect long nights filled with sorrow, and way too much ice cream.

One of the major factors in maintaining a strong romantic relationship is to practice gratitude and appreciation (Gordon et al, 2012).  As we talked about before, reciprocation is important, but why?  Most of us can recall memories in which we worked very hard to please another person, but then received no reciprocation or gratitude from them in return.  Not only is this a defeating feeling, but this lack of appreciation for your efforts can also deter you from trying to please this person again because of the fear of rejection.  On the other hand, research suggests that showing gratitude to your partner can lead to more appreciative behavior in the future.  Therefore, the simple action of expressing gratitude to your partner and appreciating the little efforts that they put in on a consistent basis can promote a healthier and more reciprocal relationship. Remember ladies and gentlemen, if you truly care about a particular person, it is imperative to diligently show your gratitude and appreciation for them on a consistent basis.  These behaviors will carry a relationship beyond the initial spark, and strengthen romantic bonds.

There are really two phases of romantic relationships, initiation and maintenance. Simple, right? Wrong! We are not trying to understate the difficulty in finding and maintaining romantic relationships (we understand, times are tough), but we are attempting to relay some concise insight from scientific research about behaviors that may promote healthy relationships. So if you’re like us and struggling in the romantic department, try using some of this information to lock down that special someone just in time for (virtual) cuffing season. Godspeed, friends.

Much love (hopefully),

Rachel & James



Bohns, V. K., & DeVincent, L. A. (2019). Rejecting unwanted romantic advances is more difficult than suitors realize. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 10(8), 1102-1110.

Byrne, D., Clore, G. L., & Smeaton, G. (1986). The attraction hypothesis: Do similar attitudes affect anything? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(6), 1167–1170. 

Friends – Spongebob Rainbow. Google Search.

Gordon, A.M., Impett, E.A., Kogan, A., Oveis, C., & Keltner, D. (2012). To have and to hold: Gratitude promotes relationship maintenance in intimate bonds. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 257-274.

Hall, J.A. (2019). How many hours does it take to make a friend? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(4), 1278-1296. 

Jones, D. (2015, January 9). The 36 Questions That Lead to Love.

Moreland, R. L., & Beach, S. R. (1992). Exposure effects in the classroom: The development of affinity among students. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 28(3), 255–276. 

Movie Needs. (2018, December 7). Dun Dun Dunnn sound effect [Video]. YouTube.

Ramezani, A., Ghamari, M., Jafari, A., & Aghdam, G. F. (2020). The effectiveness of a theory of mind training program in promoting empathy between married couples. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 19(1), 1-25.

Scooby Doo Halloween GIF (2020). Giphy. Retrieved 23 October 2020, from

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5 responses so far ↓

  • Anonymous // Oct 24th 2020 at 9:11 pm

    Hey Rachel and James!

    Awesome post! Y’all hit the perfect balance of entertainment and information, and your voices shone through, making it an overall fun read. The set up of explaining how to create the spark to how to maintain it was great too!

    The intro hooked me right away because it started off literally describing my weekends last school year (sigh). And though I’ve luckily never fallen on those nasty floors, I can totally see myself doing something clumsy to ruin a moment like that when I’m trying to appear confident and smooth.

    When y’all said that “even in “normal” times, it can feel like you’re constantly in uncharted waters when trying to find (and keep!) a potential relationship,” it made me think about my own perspective on relationships with others. Right now I keep lamenting about how much easier things would be, even just for friendships, if things were “normal” but I know there would still be frustrations, challenges, and uncertainty when dealing with this aspect of life. There’s really no getting away from that, and that’s ok because everyone goes through it, so I think it’s super important to be compassionate with yourself when you’re struggling with building or maintaining relationships.

    I also love how throughout the post, y’all made it clear that this stuff isn’t easy and offered tangible solutions for today’s Zoom existence. Rachel’s point on turning your camera on during a giant lecture or engaging in simultaneous social media usage are things that I’ve never thought about, and although I honestly probably won’t do those things, it doesn’t hurt to have them as tools! I also had no clue you could rearrange the screens now so thanks for the tip hehe.

    James did a great job of stressing the importance of reciprocation and how consistent gratitude and appreciation act as catalysts to a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship. I’ve definitely noticed this in my own life; my friends and I often remind each other how grateful we are for each other, and we’ve been expressing it more during quarantine because we’re realizing how much better the presence of friends makes day to day life. I do wonder if there’s a point where expressing your gratitude in the same way to someone becomes less effective, like just saying “I’m grateful for you” every week. Plus, I think it can be obvious when it’s not genuine, like maybe expressing it just to get something. Perhaps it’s best to vary how you show gratitude, putting it into both actions and words when it feels right.

    Also, the dun-dun-dunn link gets me everytime.

    Great job both of you! This was genuinely enjoyable to read.

  • Anonymous // Oct 24th 2020 at 9:19 pm

    Whoops ^that anonymous is Julie hahaha

  • christinelee // Oct 25th 2020 at 9:32 pm


    Super fun post – really fun read and definitely think there is a lot of valuable content that relates to people in college. I love the intro thinking back to being on campus, and even trying to take relationships online. Something I’ve been thinking about a lot is how popular dating apps are. How do concepts like proximity and familiarity help when the closest we get to our next potential date is through a screen while we swipe left or right? The closest connection I could get to proximity is that you set a radius in your preferences so its easier to meet up, and maybe you have something in common with them based on location (like you go to the same gym or hang out at the same bars etc). Familiarity is a hard one too since the only reason you swiped on someone in the first place was because of their looks – so maybe make the conversations feel familiar when you first start talking? Either way, I think dating apps have totally changed the romantic relationship game – for the worst or better, who know?

  • Anonymous // Oct 27th 2020 at 2:03 am

    Hey Rachel and James,

    Thanks for the post – everyone can always use tips about starting and maintaining their relationships!

    It’s so hard to keep relationships alive over Zoom, but I’ve definitely been thinking more and more about familiarity and proximity in terms of the digital world. Sometimes when I see my face close to someone familiar on Zoom it makes me feel closer to the person!

    I feel like often times people think their partner might not be putting in enough effort, but really they aren’t putting enough effort in on their end either. Maybe if that person applies some extra effort, they will in turn encourage their partner to apply more effort, which would help their relationship flourish. Maybe all you have to do is communicate and tell your partner that you want them to plan something fun to do/pick the restaurant you go to tonight – aka just tell them to put in more effort in a nice way. Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to show appreciation for the people in our lives who make us happiest!


  • Anna Pacheco // Dec 13th 2020 at 8:49 am

    Hey Rachel and James,

    Wow…that story in the beginning hahaha! I definitely always had something really embarrassing happen to me at the Igloo every time I went.. This is a great post, and I love how you guys kept on making it relatable as you incorporated research into it. Rachel, it’s really interesting that you bring up the connection to familiarity because I have recently tried to do that manually… The Instagram algorithm makes it so that the first few people who show up on your list of story viewers are people who have been most active on your profile in the last couple weeks. So, I’ve been trying to regularly scroll through the profiles of A&R’s and big artists that follow me so that I can hopefully, fingers crossed, show up at the top of their story list, and they’ll maybe..possibly…check out my music more. I know it sounds insane that I do this, but it’s funny to connect this back to the research behind why this might actually work. Thanks for this awesome article!

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