Proximity and Persistence

I have been asking myself lately (and my friend has been questioning too) why we like what we like. Researchers have come up with a few thoughts on this.

Here is one example: People tend to dislike foods they did not grow up with. Say you don’t ‘like’ broccoli. There could be a few reasons. One might be that you had a Broccoli barf-fest (i.e. a bad experience). Another might be that you have a certain set of taste buds that respond to certain chemicals. Having few taste buds for salt is a common thing. One might be lack of exposure. Scientists say that it takes approximately fifteen times (attempts, not just bites) before you like something.

When we have relationships we say we are “attracted” or not. Well, certainly we are biological entities and there is a good deal to the idea that we like what we like because we are what we are. But we are also, malleable, and to a great extent, we are what we choose to be. We use these same three lines of reasoning when determining our attraction to someone else.

The Barffest: I got a date request from someone recently who had seen a recent picture of me and thought I was attractive. We had a few email exchanges with good report, but then he found out I was 7 years older than him and declined. Why? He had just gotten out of a relationship with an older woman and it ended badly. Please follow this line of reasoning for yourself – are all people of a certain age the same? If this guy thinks in such blanket-statement terms he is an idiot and I don’t care to waste my time.

The taste buds: This is the equivalent to pheromones. Perhaps someone just smells good to us. This is probably the most difficult thing to account for, but it is not immutable. What people eat changes their body chemistry. Or what birth control they are or are not on, what medications or drugs they might be taking. These things can drastically change your attraction to someone, but it does not mean it is permanent. This, I think is more important when you are in a relationship than when starting one. You’ve all heard someone say to you, or said to someone, “oh, I just don’t feel attracted to you anymore.” This might be one factor. Please follow this line of reasoning – is a steak for dinner every night or the kind of birth control you use more important to you than the person that you are with? If so, they should leave your sorry ass.

Proximity: Or lack of exposure. According to the psychology of attraction physical proximity increases the attractiveness of a person as a result of the continues exposure that happens. A theory called the mere exposure effect states that people tend to become attracted to a novel stimuli if it was repeated over and over again.

JJ had some serious issue with proximity. So do I. He mentioned often that he thought his friends relationships worked out because of the way that they met (though school, work, etc.) and to a large extent, he is right. In fact, proximity is second only to physical attractiveness in our personal recipes for liking someone. The more you are exposed in a causal context, the more similarities socially and culturally you are likely to share and the more you like someone.  Please follow this line of reasoning – when your children move away or you move away from your parents, will you decide to stop associating with them because it’s more difficult? Or because you have less things in common? If so, they should dis-own you.

When we meet someone new, someone not in our inner circle, someone with new ideas and new ways of doing things, it can be every exciting, but also very unnerving. With people we give ourselves an average of three tries if we don’t feel something right off the bat. Researcher tells us that just isn’t enough. Additionally, if we don’t have proximity, we have to re-set the counter, because what happens with other people or events in between meetings also sways our opinions of someone. For instance, we might be susceptible to feeling swayed by what other’s are doing or feel a need to be rebellious and not do the same thing. We chose our partners based on external criteria rather than on the person themselves.

In all of these situations, it is plain that very little of our decision making processes for attraction actually stem from the other person. They stem from us. But here is my favorite ironic part of human psychology – when things go wrong, we will first and most often blame the other person.

I have made a fairly conscious choice not to date anyone this last year for a reason. One of the things that my divorce and my subsequent relationship with JJ brought  up for me in a new (and harsh) way, is the concept of self-responsibility in a relationship. Can we take responsibility for our hormones? Sometimes. Can we take responsibility for our feelings? Sometimes. Can we change our selves without losing our selves? Yes, I think so. I believe that it might be called taking responsibility for your actions. Can we always act with certainty that what we do will produce the best results? No.

Relationships are a balance between change and holding your own center; between learning to control and learning to let go; between faith and reason; between sticking to the known and exploring the unknown; and between self-assurance and vulnerability. There is a relationship between how much self-responsibility you are both willing to take on and how successful, fulfilling, and fruitful your relationship will be.

So, I’ve learned since posting my last recipe for roasted broccoli that lemon is something I was missing. A chemical reactions that just might change everything. Let’s try it again, shall we?

You preheat the oven to 425.

Take 4 to 5 pounds of broccoli (I just got two large bunches), cut into florets (but relatively big ones.) Here’s the key that she doesn’t mention in the recipe: dry them THOROUGHLY. That is, if you wash them. I saw an episode of Julia Child cooking with Jacques Pepin once when Pepin revealed he doesn’t wash a chicken before putting it in a hot oven: “The heat kills all the germs,” he said in his French accent. “If bacteria could survive that oven, it deserves to kill me.” By that logic, then, I didn’t wash my broccoli; I wanted it to get crispy and brown. If you’re nervous, though, just wash and dry it obsessively.

Now, it’s easy. Put the broccoli on a cookie sheet. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. (She says 5 Tbs olive oil, 1 1/2 tsps kosher salt, 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper, but I just eyeballed it.) Now add 4 garlic cloves that are peeled and sliced and toss them in too.

Roast in the oven 20 to 25 minutes, until “crisp-tender and the tips of some of the florets are browned.”

I shook the pan around a bit as it went, but not sure that’s necessary.

When it’s done, take it out of the oven–and here’s where it gets really good–zest a lemon over the broccoli, squeeze the lemon juice over the broccoli, add 1.5 Tbs more olive oil, 3 Tbs toasted pine nuts and 1/3 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Add 2 Tbs julienned fresh basil. Eat. Yum.


The art of love is largely the art of persistence. – Albert Ellis

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.  – Albert Einstein

Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.  – Mahatma Gandhi


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