How Social Propinquity Leads to Love

The article explains how social propinquity and residential proximity affect our interpersonal relationships, love, and marriage.

Men and women tend to like those with whom they get together frequently. In social science, this is called the “propinquity effect.”

They have favorable attitudes and interpersonal attraction towards them, unless there is some aversion from the first encounters. Social psychologists call this phenomenon the “mere exposure effect.”

This is often how our positive relationships and in-group bias develop. This is how we often find friends and fall in love with a girl or boy in our immediate proximity. This can be a benchmate, a classmate sitting next to you, or a guy living nearby in the neighborhood. This can be a spatial or virtual proximity between people who meet in person or online.

The Effect of Residential Proximity and Social Propinquity on Love

Residential propinquity is the geographic proximity and physical closeness between people residing in certain neighborhoods. Spatial nearness is an important factor for the initiation of different kinds of relationships (e.g., Alphonso, 2016).

As for romantic and marital relationships, the role of propinquity is evident both in traditional and modern societies.

How Residential Propinquity Affects Marital Choice in the United States

In America, the early studies examined the residential propinquity of couples in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and New Haven, Connecticut. In 1931, sociologists examined the residential distance between the partners before they dated each other. About one-third of married couples resided within five or fewer blocks of each other when they first met. In cases where men and women resided farther from each other, the chance of marriage was lower—markedly and steadily (Bossard, 1932; Davie & Reeves, 1939).

Residential segregation was the most likely ecological factor explaining why propinquity influences marriage selection. Homogamy of economic, social, and cultural traits as well as ethnic endogamy could also explain why closer neighbors are more likely to marry each other. The propinquity effect was especially strong among American Jews, American Italians, and African Americans, probably due to their tendencies to settle in proximity to their cultural residential communities (Kennedy, 1943).

Another American study was conducted in the 1950s in Duluth, Minnesota, demonstrating the same propinquity effect.

Only “one-fifth of all the couples lived within five or less blocks of each other. The percentage of marriages decreased as the distance between residences increased…”

(Marches & Turbeville, 1953, p. 592).

However, the results showed a weaker propinquity impact than the earlier study in Philadelphia 20 years before. The effect of residential propinquity in marriage selection was once again confirmed. However, the importance of geographical location was lower—likely due to historical changes in the degree of residential segregation.

How Residential Propinquity Affects Marital Choice in New Zealand

Researchers also found the effect of residential propinquity and segregation of social status groups on marital choice in their study in Christchurch, New Zealand (Morgan, 1981).

How Residential Propinquity Affects Marital Choice in Israel

Another study was conducted in Israel, a society where young men and women often reside far from their permanent home regions (due to military service) for several years. As a result of such high mobility among youth, the effect of residential propinquity on dating was less important. The marriage records of 1974–1975 obtained in a centrally located town showed that the effect of residential propinquity on marital choice is lower in that country, with some variations. Cultural factors, however, influenced the effects of residential propinquity: Jews of Eastern origins were more affected by propinquity than Jews of Western origins (Tabory & Weller, 1986).

Residential propinquity and marital choice in India and Pakistan

How Residential Propinquity Affects Marital Choice in India

The factor of territorial propinquity is salient in tribal and traditional societies with limited relational mobility, such as the Lingāyats, a religious group in southern India. Interviews with the heads of the Lingāyat families in a suburb of Dharwar City showed that kinship marriage is preferential. Endogamy and hypergamy are very important rules of mate selection. The rules of this cultural group’s endogamy determine the geographical propinquity of their marital relationships (Chekki, 1968).

How Residential Propinquity Affects Marital Choice in Pakistan

The same role of residential propinquity was found in the study of an urban Muslim community in Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, conducted in 1961–1964 (Korson, 1968). While among the lower class, the residential distance between husband and wife at the time of marriage was shorter, in the upper social class, the residential distance was higher.

Residential Propinquity and Homogamy in Relationships

The residential structure of a neighborhood according to socioeconomic class, race, and ethnicity, as well as limited communication between cultural groups, certainly lead to segregation. Such segregation, along with propinquity, can be a factor affecting in-group bias in marital choice. Propinquity usually causes homogamy: partners are more favorable to one another in the same local community, church, city, or country. Due to these factors, partners in a dating relationship are often similar to each other in social class, culture, religious affiliation, and education.

Although propinquity generally means physical proximity, modern online technologies of mating extend the concept and expand the opportunities for meeting potential partners. The reported level of intimacy in computer-mediated relationships is not related to the physical distance between partners. Geographical distance does not play the same role in this case as the level of self-disclosure (Merkle & Richardson, 2004).

Among the Other Topics of Interest in this Regard Are:

We Love Those Who Are Similar to Us

“Similarity psychology” and positive assortative mating play an important role in love relationships. We like others who are not only beautiful but also similar to ourselves.

It seems natural to like and love those who are beautiful. Men and women tend to favor physically attractive men and women. When asked, they frequently express their preferences for good-looking prospective partners (Buss and others). Do they really choose those with attractive appearances for a relationship? Are men more likely to fall in love with beautiful women than women are to fall in love with handsome men?

Do We Love Others Who Are Beautiful or Similar to Us?

The puzzle remains: if beautiful women and men are so attractive, why don’t we fall in love with the most beautiful ones? Three explanations are possible.

  1. Men and women perceive them as beautiful yet unattainable. The anxiety of not being accepted by a beautiful person makes them cautious, even subconsciously, to avoid the frustration of implied and tacit rejection. This might work as a psychological defense mechanism.
  2. It is possible that we love someone for reasons other than their beauty. Beauty just adds to our admiration. However, causation can also work in the opposite way: we perceive our beloved as beautiful because we love him or her.
  3. People tend to prefer homogamy in relationships and similarity with another person in their physical appearance and other personal, social, and cultural features.

Let us consider how “similarity psychology” and positive assortative mating work in love relationships.

“Similarity Psychology” Attracts Us to Similar Men and Women

The early studies showed that partners in marriage were more likely to resemble each other than to differ in physical and psychological traits, even though those similarities and differences varied among social characteristics (Brockner & Swap, 1976; Burgess & Wallin, 1943).

The similarity in values, beliefs, attitudes, and personality traits also plays a role in the choice of a mating partner. Partners with similar attitudes, as well as those who see each other more frequently, are more attracted to each other in general (Aron et al., 1989; Byrne et al., 1971).

The studies in different cultures confirmed these tendencies.

In the 1990s, a large survey of the Spanish population showed that individuals are more likely to fall in love with potential partners who they view as similar to themselves in physical attractiveness (Yela & Sangrador, 2001).

Due to romantic idealization, they have a positive bias toward a partner and perceive him or her as a little more attractive than themselves. Over the course of a long-term relationship, habituation diminishes the value of the partner’s physical attractiveness. Over time, familiarity and cognitive dissonance counterbalance physical attractiveness. The role of these and other attributes increases.

How Positive Assortative Mating Works

There is strong evidence that people who prefer positive assortative mating choose to mate with those who are similar to themselves. This type of selection—also called homogamyis quite common in several individual characteristics.

Positive assortative mating also works with physical traits. For example, a person of short stature tends to mate with another person of similar height. This tendency of men and women to select mating partners with similar phenotypes motivates them to fall in love with those of similar physical appearance.

Many studies have demonstrated that individuals prefer relationships with others who have physical characteristics similar to themselves (e.g., Bereczkei et al., 2002; Zajonc et al., 1987).

Furthermore, individuals decide to initiate a dating relationship with those whose “social desirability” is similar to their own. They are associated with a lower likelihood of possible rejection (Berscheid et al., 1971).

Why Do Mates Look Alike?

Two effects can play roles in such preferences:

  • early childhood imprinting and
  • self-referent phenotype matching.

The relationship with caregivers during childhood plays a role. The early childhood imprinting of caregiving experiences can shape the expectations of desirable partners for mating (e.g., Bateson, 2004; Bereczkei et al, 2004).

Specifically, due to sexual imprinting, people see others they grew up with as sexually attractive. The opposite-sex caregiver’s phenotype can be used as a model for future mate preference. This can be a parent, stepparent, or other early caregiver with whom a child spends much of their time in the early years. For example, women tend to choose partners that resemble their adoptive fathers (Bereczkei et al., 2004).

Due to self-referential phenotype matching, an individual may prefer a person who resembles themselves. Or, alternatively, the homogamy can be due to the sexual imprinting of the parents in childhood. The results of the study demonstrated that a tendency to homogamy in facial characteristics between partners in a relationship really exists and occurs largely due to self-referent phenotype matching and, to some degree, due to sexual imprinting (Nojo et al., 2012).

Do Partners Become Alike Over the Course of a Relationship?

Since men and women prefer phenotypically similar mates, this leads to mating homogamy in physical traits between partners.

Another factor can also play a role in increasing facial homogamy.

One study demonstrated that partners who live with each other for a long period of time become physically similar in their facial features. Their facial similarity increases and becomes apparent after 25 years of cohabitation. Moreover, those with such an increasing resemblance experienced greater marital happiness. The authors proposed a “vascular theory of emotional efference” (VTEE) to explain this effect (McIntosh, Zajonc, et al., 1997; Zajonc et al., 1987).

According to this idea, emotional processes cause vascular alterations that are influenced in part by facial musculature. The face muscles are thought to operate as ligatures on veins and arteries, allowing blood to be diverted away from or directed toward the brain. As a result, habitual usage of facial musculature may have a long-term effect on facial features. Two people who have lived together for a long time will develop physical similarities in their facial features as a result of frequent empathic imitation. Kin resemblance may thus be more than just a result of shared genes but also of long-term social contact and the mere exposure effect.

The Other Articles of Interest on the Topic

Genetic Secrets of Love Attraction

Attraction to Familiar Others

Genetic Diversity and Genetic Sexual Attraction

Our Predisposition to Homogamy in Love

Sexual Preferences for Physical Attractiveness

What’s an Ideal Age Difference in Dating?

Physical Beauty of Men and Women Across Cultures

Women and Men Who Are Physically Attractive in Different Cultures

Our Predisposition to Homogamy in Love

Genetic similarity and social homogamy play important roles in our interpersonal attraction and love.

As I showed elsewhere, genetic resemblance between individuals predisposes them to fall in love. Partners in a couple share more genetic traits than random strangers. Nonetheless, it may be misleading to conclude that people fall in love solely due to their genetic similarity.

Many other life circumstances, individual preferences, and socio-cultural characteristics also play an important role. Besides, social and cultural predispositions to homogamy increase the similarity of loving partners even more.

Assortative mating, or homogamy, as a predisposition to choose a similar partner for a relationship, is evident in many social, economic, and cultural characteristics. Among those are social class, socioeconomic status, education, religion, ethnicity, caste, gender, and age. They can have a significant impact on who men and women select to love and marry. Let us consider some of them.

The Interpersonal Attraction of Social and Economic Homogamy

In many societies, homogamy and endogamy in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic status are especially important for marriage. Generally, people prefer relationships with individuals of similar social and economic groups, ethnicity, religion, age, and educational level (Kalmijn, 1994, 1998).

The principles of homogamy intentionally or unintentionally motivate men and women to select partners from similar social, economic, or cultural backgrounds. They tend to date and mate with those who are similar to them in social and economic status and belong to the same cultural group. At the early stages of a relationship, men and women often pay less attention to this homogamy with a prospective mate. They tend to rely on their immediate emotions. Nonetheless, as the relationship progresses, they certainly take these factors into consideration.

However, in some traditional cultures, such as India, the economic exchange often takes place in marriage arrangements. In some cases, when a person marries a spouse from a higher social stratum, sociologists call such a marriage hypergamy—“marrying up.” In this type of mating relationship, women often marry men of a slightly higher social class than their own (Van Den Berghe, 1960).

This is also considered “upward mobility,” when women or men from low socio-economic classes prefer to date a potential partner of high economic status. This relationship would advance their status in society (Blossfeld & Timm, 2003).

Nonetheless, in many modern societies, there is a tendency toward homogamy in mating based on economic status. The plots in which a rich prince accidentally meets and marries a poor girl are good for fairy tales and modern romantic movies. However, they are far from the reality of life.

A good financial prospect in a prospective mate is important for both women’s and, surprisingly, for men’s preferences (Eastwick & Finkel, 2008).

Interpersonal Attraction of Religious Homogamy

According to surveys, people consider similar faith and affiliation to be a very important factor in their marriage choice. Their religious families often care about this even more (see for review, Karandashev, 2017, 2019).

For instance, in Jordanian traditional conservative culture, people expect as their top preference that a prospective mating partner should be of the same religion (Khallad, 2005).

In modern Western European societies, many people do not consider religious beliefs important for love. For example, many American university students do NOT rate the religious affiliation of a prospective partner as an important quality.

However, in the seemingly modern society of the USA, where religion has historically played an important role in societal life and politics, the value of religiosity for mating varies across states and cultural groups. For example, American respondents from Texas, a conservative state, rated a similar religious background as essential in prospective mates (Buss et al., 2001).

Some cultural groups in America also place a high value on the religiosity of a prospective mating partner. For instance, modern Muslim women living in the United States prefer and seek a religious marriage partner (Badahdah & Tiemann, 2005).

Interpersonal Attraction of Educational Homogamy

Across many societies throughout history, husbands were usually more educated than their wives. Husbands might need education for their breadwinner’s work, while wives working in the household and taking care of children presumably did not need education.

In recent decades, women have received more opportunities for education and have expressed an interest in studying. Gender educational equality has substantially increased, providing more opportunities for contact and communication between educated men and women. Because of this, they frequently preferred relationships with equal partners. Colleges and universities have become the places where men and women have the opportunity to meet and marry (Blossfeld, 2009; Blossfeld & Timm, 2003).

Educational homogamy between men and women in dating relationships has increased in many modern societies. Marriage partners become homogamous couples in terms of education in such countries as

However, in many countries, another trend occurs. College education became more prevalent among women than among men. Women with higher education outnumbered men. Therefore, the number of women who marry downward has increased (De Rose & Fraboni, 2016; Esteve, García‐Román, & Permanyer, 2012).

Interpersonal Attraction and Love in Egalitarian Societies

Nowadays, in modern egalitarian societies, many men and women usually have equal access to financial, social, and educational resources. That means better chances for equal relationships and marriage. All these societal factors reflect on the ways young people form relationships (see for review, Karandashev, 2023).

The other articles of interest on this topic are

Genetic Secrets of Love Attraction

From a biological evolutionary perspective, the genetic similarity must be important for sexual attraction. Intersexual attraction helps sexually dimorphic animals, such as birds and mammals, select a proper mate because they cannot reproduce offspring with anyone. They can do this only with those with whom mating success is possible and higher than with others (Karp et al., 2017; McPherson & Chenoweth, 2012; Owens & Hartley, 1998; Rigby & Kulathinal, 2015).

Do People Fall in Love with Genetically Similar Others?   

For a weird example, a human individual can be attracted by a sexual relationship with a horse, cow, goat, or gorilla. They can even be a nice couple. They may attain sexual pleasure. Nevertheless, such relationships, from an evolutionary point of view, are wasteful expenditures of energy because they are destined to be childless. They are genetically too distant to produce offspring.

However, humans and chimpanzees are more similar in this regard—they have a genetic distance of less than 2%. Therefore, reproductive success in that case could be possible (Lampert 1997).

Therefore, we can expect that genetic factors and corresponding similarities in the physical appearance and chemistry of human individuals can determine their sexual and love attraction. The chemistry of love, which makes some partners more compatible with each other than others, can be real, not metaphorical.

Do we have a genetic predisposition to fall in love with someone?

Optimal Genetic Similarity

In biology, the principle of optimal genetic similarity is important for the evolutionary selection of partners among animals (Lampert 1997). Individuals tend to be attracted to others who are genetically similar to them. However, they prefer to keep their distance from those who are genetically very dissimilar from them. Both factors play their roles in the selection of mating partners with optimal genetic similarity to them.

This principle of genetic similarity may also work among humans. An individual tends to fall in love with a person who, to some extent, is genetically and physically similar. Biological evolution has developed a psychological mechanism that unconsciously attracts individuals to mates who are similar and excludes those who are significantly different. 

Why Are Genetically Similar People Sexually Attractive to Us?

Here is one piece of evidence that such an unconscious attraction is possible (Rushton, 1988). Rushton examined the thousands of court cases in which courts investigated the validity of fatherhood. Genetic testing was used to identify whether a man with whom a woman had sex was actually the father of her baby. Examining those cases, Rushton (1988) was interested in knowing how men and women, at the beginning of their sexual relationship—at the time of conceiving a baby—were genetically similar to each other. The data showed that they were genetically more similar to each other than a random couple. These results indicated that it was likely that potential mates unconsciously recognized their genetic similarity with a partner and, therefore, felt sexual attraction (Rushton, 1988).

Another study used genome-wide SNPs and also supported this genetic similarity explanation of sexual attraction. In a sample of American Whites (non-Hispanic), researchers found that married partners are genetically similar to each other—more than random pairs of individuals (Domingue, Fletcher, Conley, & Boardman, 2014).

The Words of Tentative Limitations

It shall be acknowledged, however, that these findings are descriptive and can be considered tentatively true for a causational explanation. The genetic similarity between partners can be due not only to their genetic assortative mating but also to their shared ancestry (Abdellaoui, Verweij, & Zietsch, 2014). The genetic similarities in couples can be due to genetic population stratification that evolved in a society due to geographical proximity, social homogamy, and ethnic homogamy.

Are Close Relatives More Likely to Fall in Love?

According to the findings presented above, genetically similar relatives in nuclear and extended families perceive each other as physically similar and attractive. Does the genetic similarity of close relatives make them more likely to be attractive and love each other? For example, they can perceive each other as more sexually appealing. Then, the psychoanalytic myths of a boy’s unconscious sexual attraction to his mother (the Oedipus complex) and a girl’s attraction to her father (Electra complex) can be partially true due to their genetic similarity, although the effect of imprinting can also play a role.

Many cases of consanguinity in sexual relationships and marriages have been documented throughout history. In these cases, blood relatives find each other attractive (see Karandashev, 2017, 2022 in press for a review). Consanguineous marriages are still widespread and preferred in many societies in West Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa (e.g., El-Hazmi et al., 1995; Hamamy, 2012). Surprisingly, these cultural traditions have been persistent.

However, the negative impact of incest (sexual intercourse with a child, sibling, grandchild, or parent) on offspring is well documented. Therefore, to safeguard against this harmful effect of incest, cultural norms and incest taboos have evolved in many cultures.

Other Articles of Interest on the Topic:

Genetic diversity and love attraction

Love attraction to familiar others


Abdellaoui, A., Verweij, K. J., & Zietsch, B. P. (2014). No evidence for genetic assortative mating beyond that due to population stratification. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences111(40), E4137-E4137.

Domingue, B. W., Fletcher, J., Conley, D., & Boardman, J. D. (2014). Genetic and educational assortative mating among US adults. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences111(22), 7996-8000.

El-Hazmi, M. A., Al-Swailem, A. R., Warsy, A. S., Al-Swailem, A. M., Sulaimani, R., & Al-Meshari, A. A. (1995). Consanguinity among the Saudi Arabian population. Journal of medical genetics32(8), 623-626.

Hamamy, H. (2012). Consanguineous marriages. Journal of Community Genetics3(3), 185-192.

Karp, N. A., Mason, J., Beaudet, A. L., Benjamini, Y., Bower, L., Braun, R. E., … & White, J. K. (2017). Prevalence of sexual dimorphism in mammalian phenotypic traits. Nature communications8(1), 1-12.

Lampert, A. (1997). The evolution of love. Praeger.

McPherson, F. J., & Chenoweth, P. J. (2012). Mammalian sexual dimorphism. Animal reproduction science131(3-4), 109-122.

Owens, I. P., & Hartley, I. R. (1998). Sexual dimorphism in birds: why are there so many different forms of dimorphism?. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences265(1394), 397-407.

Rushton, J.P. (1988). Genetic similarity, mate choice, and fecundity in humans. Ethology and Sociobiology, 9, 328-335.

Rigby, N., & Kulathinal, R. J. (2015). Genetic architecture of sexual dimorphism in humans. Journal of cellular physiology230(10), 2304-2310.