Lately there’s been a lot of coupling going on in the Walker apocalypse.  Maybe it’s that Rick’s people are starting to settle into a fair sense of security or maybe it’s because love and romance always raise the stakes in a TV show…Or maybe it’s just psychosocially accurate.  Over the years there have been studies showing that intense situations and intense conversations can make those around you more attractive.  When someone is keyed up, scared, in fear for their safety and/or life, they fall into attraction more easily and more strongly than when not…basically, when you’re fighting for survival in the apocalypse you’re way more likely to fall in love too.  Simply being close to someone on a near constant basis can also cause attraction, just as being exposed to a person over and over can.  Really, it’s no wonder those on The Walking Dead are pairing up like those in an ark.

Scaring Up Some Love:

In 1974 psychologists Donald Dutton and Arthur Aron did an experiment in which they asked men to cross either an unsteady suspension bridge or regular sturdy bridge, then fill out a survey and make up a story based on an illustration of a woman covering her face given by a female on the other side.  The female then gave each man a contact number should they have any other questions.  Those who crossed the fear-inducing suspension bridge called the woman back 50% of the time and were more likely to sexualize their story of the illustration; the guys who crossed the non-fear-inducing sturdy bridge only called 12.5% of the time and their stories were less likely to be sexual.  …Basically the study found if you’re a bit rattled then you’re a bit aroused and thus more likely to make a move should you meet someone.

So how does this translate to Rick and the crew hacking their way through the undead and alive alike?  Think of Rick and Michonne’s first time: Both had been dealing with some intense, potentially dangerous, situations before meeting up at the end of that day…

Rick and Daryl had been out on a supply run most of the day, contending with a previously unknown man called Jesus who stole their truck.  Was Jesus dangerous?  Potentially.  He was certainly a thief who got Rick and Daryl’s hearts pounding and blood boiling as they chased one another around for miles.  Meanwhile Michonne spent the day walking the woods outside Alexandria worrying about Spencer doing something dangerous and ultimately facing off against a Walker Deanna.  While perhaps less physically arousing than Rick’s day it would still be emotionally so.  She would still be keyed up, as it were.  This means, by the end of the day, we’ve got two (now safe enough to not panic) geared up people who have always been comfortable with one another crashing on a couch and wanting to unwind.  It’s honestly not too shocking that their initial platonic touch quickly escalates to intimate on both their parts.

Need another example?  How about Carl and Enid getting super close in that tree?  After hanging out with Enid just outside the walls of Alexandria a fair number of Walkers approach causing them to have to run and hide in a tree.  It’s when they’re relatively safe and well-hidden, but still close enough to danger to make hearts pound, that Carl finally moves to touch her.  (Too bad they didn’t kiss, am I right?)

Baring Your Soul to Bond:

In 1977 those same two psychologists did another experiment concerning attraction…this time they “made” it in a lab.  On the basis of 36 increasingly probing questions they were able to get two people who’d never met before to bond strongly and deeply enough that they wished to meet again outside the experiment.  And Dutton and Aron accomplished it in under an hour.  No matter the genders, races, orientations, or whatnot of the individuals a deep bond was made.  (This was compared to a control group in which pairs were made to ask and answer less emotionally intense questions such as: “What gifts did you receive last Christmas/Hanukkah?  What foreign country would you most like to visit? What attracts you to this place?”)  The experiment itself has been done repeatedly, in various different forms, throughout the years and the results have held true consistently…Aron even stated that in doing a “cross-gendered” version of his experiment the people fell in love, married, and remained so (as of 2008).

How’s this work on The Walking Dead?  Well I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb here to suggest that over the year plus that Rick’s group has been together they’ve shared a lot about themselves with one another.  We know from the latest episode that Tobin knows Carol was a mom, so it’s likely Carol’s discussed the emotionally charged topic of losing Sophia (and maybe the truth about Ed?) even if he initially learned only from watching her Alexandria entry interview.  It’s possible Tobin shared how he lost his family, which I believe included a wife and children.  He also stated he admires that she is still very much a mother figure to those around her, which is both complimentary in a genuine and unusual (for her these days) manner and brushes up against the emotionality of her having been a mother.

In a larger sense all the characters have revealed personal bits and pieces about themselves to one another on-screen, whether it be what they had hoped for pre-apocalypse versus now, their regrets, their losses, what they see (good or bad) in others and how they relate to it.  There have also been examples of characters discovering deeply private things about one another through other means.  While searching for Beth in season five both Carol and Daryl witness sides of one another not previously seen.  One of the potentially most bonding things (though never actually discussed between the two of them) is when Carol sees a book on how to heal from childhood abuse fall from Daryl’s bag.  While Carol’s abuse was never hidden thanks to her husband hitting her in front of the group in season one Daryl always made the effort to hide it – even from his elder brother, Merle.  Carol having this knowledge and Daryl knowing she does could’ve, potentially, made their already close bond ever closer.  (Sadly for the Darol/Caryl fans their romantic potential has not panned out, but you can’t deny they’re still ride-or-die close!)

Close Enough to Care:

Propinquity specifically refers to the physical or psychological proximity between people; it can mean physical proximity, a kinship between people, or a similarity in nature between things (think “birds of a feather”).  Rick’s crew – and nearly any other group on the show – is ALL about ALL the various forms of propinquity.  There are three main forms: Occupational propinquity, which has to do with people working in the same field/job, residential propinquity where people living in the same area or within neighborhoods of each other tend to bond, and acquaintance propinquity when friends tend to have a special bond of interpersonal attraction.

I’ll take on the last first: Acquaintance propinquity is basically the idea behind two besties falling in love.  They already like each other, already hang out together, so take the next seemingly logical step in becoming romantic partners.  It’s Rick and Michonne, even according to Lauren Cohan, who plays Maggie Greene.  When asked on Talking Dead what the rest of the group likely thought about seeing the two as a couple she said it might’ve thrown them for a split second, but then completely made sense.  Like when two of your friends fall in love with each other…it’s an “oh, well, of course they did!”

Occupational propinquity is the basis for office romances or two artists falling in love.  Their professional lives are very similar and they have the opportunity to meet and bond over what they do for work.  Outside the shared “job” of killing Walkers and surviving there are a few, more specific, examples of this sort of bond/relationship on the show including Abraham and Rosita.  Or, if you’d like, Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene.  The trio all entered the show with a strong bond based on the shared mission of getting Eugene to DC in order to stop the Walker-causing virus.  Even after Eugene revealed he’d lied and the mission went bust they remained almost inseparable.  While Abraham has somewhat parted from this bond it is in no small part because of another instance of occupational propinquity: he and Sasha got close while leading a section of the mega herd from Alexandria (and surviving ambushes by the Saviors).

The third propinquity is residential, which explains almost everyone’s relationship on the show since the apocalypse.  Those within communities such as Alexandria and Hilltop pairing off would shock no one given they see each other every day just as anyone in a pre-apocalypse neighborhood might.  The same holds for Rick’s group as some of them have been side-by-side, every day, for more than a year.  While to start many in Rick’s group had no discernible reason to even get along — Daryl was a “redneck” who initially arrived with his brother to rip the group off, Glenn was a scrawny Asian pizza guy, Rick an Alpha male cop, and Carol an abused housewife — now they’re all a family.  A great deal of that is likely the result of having lived together for so long.

A more generalized concept of propinquity is the familiarity principle, a.k.a. the exposure effect, which states that being repeatedly exposed to something – or in this case some one – makes one more likely to like the thing or person.  An example would be not being sure about a new song, but after listening to it a few more times deciding it’s quite a catchy tune.  For a social example think about meeting someone new at school/work/through a mutual friend and then, after running into them a few more times, you find they’re actually pretty funny and cool to hang out with.  It doesn’t always happen, of course, but tends to more than not.  And it explains why, over the last episode or two, Rick and Daryl have warmed up to Jesus…they’re getting used to him the more they spend time with him.

Mix and Make Relationships:

Of course, it’s never just one of these influences that creates a relationship – not in everyday life and not in the Walker apocalypse – but they all work together to aid in the growth and development of bonds between people.  They explain how people who might otherwise never  even meet would form bonds stronger than those of blood relations in a post-apocalyptic world such as that shown in The Walking Dead.  It explains most of the relationships on the show and why some fan-favorite “ships” totally make sense even if they haven’t happened.

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