We all know that we can’t pick our family, which is what makes picking our own friends and romantic partners so rewarding. There is no pressure to force a bond that does not want to exist or put up with someone that is difficult to get along with (like you unfortunately must with some family members). But, is attraction and relation really our choice, or is it completely out of our hands? Research suggests that, although we may think we chose our own friends and romantic partners, other factors, such as homophily, social scripts, and gender roles, may play a larger role in our choices than we may think.
Homophily, meaning “love of the same,” is the “principle by which similar people have more of a given kind of contact than dissimilar people” (Cohen 2015, 248), or more easily understood as “birds of a feather flock together” (Cohen 2015, 248). Homophily can be found in all sorts of relationships, including casual contacts, friendships, worker collaborations, and romantic relationships (Cohen 2015, 248). These relationships are built as a result of similarity and common connections, including living in the same neighborhood or attending the same school, which results in seeing each other more and sharing common experiences (Cohen 2015, 248). An example of how homophily plays a role in choosing relationships is demonstrated in a study that was conducted at Stanford University. A survey of roughly 500 recent dates that students had attended “showed a strong tendency for the students to date within their own [racial and ethic] group.” These results were especially striking to researchers, as because “students [were] mostly young, geographically concentrated, and often far from the eyes of their parents,” they assumed that the dating pools would be more mixed and diverse (Cohen 2015, 251). Another study conducted that examined homophily among races found that “people in high identity salience would be more likely to associate with others of the same race because of their strong identification with their racial group” (Mollica et al. 2003, 131). That is, the more strongly an individual identifies with a specific identifying characteristic, such as race in this case, the more likely they are to form bonds with others who identify the same way as them. This can be extended beyond race to include other identifying characteristics, such as gender identity, gender orientation, economic class, academic standing, sports teams, etc. I found this to be especially true in my high school. In high school, I identified as a white, straight, middle class, extremely academically orientated female. Almost all of my friends, too, identified with these characteristics. I did not enjoy hanging out or being around those who were not academically focused, therefore steering clear of those who were often in trouble with the law or who were in the easier classes. When I encountered students that identified with the upper class, I found it difficult to relate to them and even annoying to interact with them because their main topic of conversation revolved around money and activities having to do with their money. All along I had assumed that I chose my friends, but now I see that homophily played a role by attracting myself to those I related to and weeding myself out from those I couldn’t. The study also found that “racial minorities exhibited more homophily in their networks as whites” (Mollica et al. 2003, 130). This could be because of whites’ years of oppressing and excluding minorities, making it difficult for minorities to identify with or want to attempt to relate to whites.
Social scripts are another factor in the formation of relationships, as they are “a commonly understood pattern of interaction that serves as a model of behavior in familiar situations” and act as “a metaphor for the way people know how to interact in their differing roles” (Cohen 2015, 226). Social scripts are needed in order to form new bonds and relationships, as they teach us what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable in different situations (Cohen 2015, 226). A relevant example in my personal life would have to relate to swearing. I have a unique and close bond with my parents, which allows me to express myself in a variety of ways that others may find unusual. My parents swear in conversations with me and, as long as I am not swearing directly at them, they allow me to swear in conversations as well. My friends also share in this language. Therefore, because my family and friends view swearing as an expression of emotions in particular settings rather than a form of disrespect towards them personally, I swear in my everyday conversations with them (although I probably shouldn’t). However, my social script with them, which includes swearing, is much different than the social scripts I follow when interacting with my professors here at Siena College, which does not include swearing. Because social scripts “help people locate their behavior in a social setting,” I am able to locate when it is and isn’t appropriate for me to use specific language (Cohen 2015, 226). Another example of a social script is one that is particularly used by women. Because it is perceived as inappropriate for women to reveal any private parts of their bodies, “everyday actions that may cause exposure such as bending over to pick up objects, climbing up ladders or steps, sitting down in low chairs or wind blowing the skirt away are always accompanied by nearly reflex hand movements to ensure that the skirt is maintained in close approximation to the thighs to maintain the visual screen” (Levin 1975, 349). Social scripts help us choose relationships by allowing us hints as to how to act with certain individuals in certain situations. If we are unaware of how to interact with an individual, we encounter difficulties in creating bonds and relationships. An example of this would be the introduction of online dating apps and forming relationships online. In the past five years, one-third of relationships began online, and by 2040 it is predicted that 70% of relationships will have began this way (“Mobile Love Industry”). However, the introduction of this new type of dating has left some unsure of how to act. The traditional process of dating provides individuals with a social script that told them when certain actions were appropriate. For example, after multiple dates, sexual intimacy may become a factor, and after a year of dating moving in might become a factor, and so on. However, there is yet to be a societally accepted social script for online dating that cues when these types of steps are appropriate (“Mobile Love Industry”). Thus, the awkwardness that may come in online dating due to the lack of a solidly formed social script demonstrates just how important they are for allowing us to become comfortable in a situation to form bonds and relationships.
Gender roles are the formation of “identities by learning roles or expectations and then expressing them through interaction with others” based on an individual’s gender identity (Cohen 2015, 151). They are the stereotypes that society uses to “[differentiate] men from women” (Cohen 2015, 246). Gender roles in combination with social scripts give us cues as to how to act in certain situations, and gender roles specifically give us cues as to how to act among specific genders. For example, “the majority of college students expect men to take the lead in formal date situations, especially in the case of the first date” (Cohen 2015, 234). Another example would be my own experience in my father’s household where the chores assigned are based strictly on gender roles. My father completes chores that include manual labor, such as mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, fixing broken appliances, dealing with the family cars, etc. My stepmother’s chores include cooking dinner, cleaning the house, buying groceries, etc. Gender roles also aid in forming relationships through the sexual double standard, or “the practice of applying stricter moral or legal controls to women’s sexual behavior than to men’s” (Cohen 2015, 203). Women are expected to act much more conservatively in romantic relationships while men are praised for having more sexual experience and partners. This sexual double standard has been prevalent throughout all of history and well into recent years, especially when it comes to the concept of virginity. For women, virginity is a concept that is extremely stigmatized as well as given a significant amount of power, value, and meaning (“How to Lose Your Virginity”). Historically, a husband desired his wife to be a virgin when they wed so that he could assume that the child was his. Women suspected of not being virgins were cast away (“How to Lose Your Virginity”). However, there were no implications for men and husbands that were suspected of not being virgins. Gender roles and the sexual double standard provides each gender with a social script that fits which societal norm to follow should they encounter a situation such as a date or a sexual situation.
While we may think that we are the ones who select our relationships, whether they be professional, platonic, or romantic, many factors play into our decisions of who we relate and bond with. The concept of homophily causes us to flock towards those who are similar to us and that we can relate to, possibly making it difficult to find the courage to interact with those who may have lives different than ours. Social scripts provide us with the ability to start interactions with others, but if we do not have a known social script for a certain situation with a certain individual, we may, again, find it difficult to interact or form a bond. Finally, gender roles influence how we interact with those of the same or different gender identity than us as well as determine which social scripts we end up using in situations of diverse genders. With this in mind, it is quite possible that we really do not control who enters and interacts with us in our lives.
- What is the process of “coming out,” and is there a social script that goes along with this process?
- In what ways have dating apps advanced and progressed the world of sexuality, according to The Mobile Love Industry?
Cohen, Philip N. The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2015.
How to Lose Your Virginity. Directed by Therese Shechter. United States: Women Make Movies, 2013. DVD.
Levin, R. J. “Facets of Female Behaviour Supporting the Social Script Model of Human Sexuality.” The Journal of Sex Research 11, no. 4 (1975): 348-52. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3811371.
Mollica, Kelly A., Barbara Gray, and Linda K. Treviño. “Racial Homophily and Its Persistence in Newcomers’ Social Networks.” Organization Science 14, no. 2 (2003): 123-36. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4135155.
The Mobile Love Industry. Performed by Karley Sciortino. The Mobile Love Industry – Top Documentary Films. 2015. Accessed November 9, 2016. http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/mobile-love-industry/.