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Whether we realize it or not, theories are involved in our daily lives, usually more than once each day. These theories involve all subjects ranging form communication to the behavioral sciences. This paper, talks about my interactions this semester with my dyadic partner, Beth and how the Social Penetration Theory shows the development of our interpersonal relationship throughout the course of the semester. I had never met Beth before we were assigned to be dyadic partners for the semester. I had no previous information about her and actually had no idea who she was.
Before I give my impressions of Beth, it was by chance that we were assigned to each other. My original partner was absent on the day of the first interaction and the first thought that went through my head was, “Why does my assigned partner always have to be absent?” But fortunately on that day, another person was absent and I was assigned Beth. I think that our relationship started off well and deteriorated as the semester progressed.
It did not deteriorate in a way that we hated each other, just that we are both different people. My first impression of Beth was that she was a bright young lady. We talked about a variety of subjects during our first conversation, and I found her to be extremely interesting. Beth and I are both from Long Island. She lives about five towns over from me, and we are both from middle class families. This helped our interactions because we had a common ground and understood what we were talking about.
Beth in a junior mass communications major and I am a Public Relations major. For the second and third interactions, Beth and I continued to get to know each other. She always seemed very open and willing to talk during our conversations, and did not mind taking the initiative.
She usually made good eye contact and spoke very clearly. I think as the semester continued to progress, the development of our interpersonal relationship deteriorated a bit. I do not think, as previously stated, that this has anything to do with Beth or myself. I just think that as our conversations went on, we just realized we were both different people. On a side note, Beth was absent for the last interaction and I had it with Amber, whose partner was also absent. I will now explain the Social Penetration Theory and show how this theory supports the development of Beth and mine interpersonal relationship. I feel that this theory fits our relationship perfectly as will be shown. The Social Penetration Theory of Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor is one of the theories we talked about earlier in the semester dealing with relationship development. It is important to remember while discussing this theory that it does not directly tell us how to maintain a relationship, but only how we naturally delve deeper into a relationship as we get to know someone better and gain trust.
Altman and Taylor compare people to the layers that are in an onion. This is to represent our multi-layered personalities. The outer layer of the onion is like the outer layer of a person; it is visible to everyone. This layer includes an array of details that can help describe who a person is. The outer layer can reveal a person’s tastes, school major, world views, dating status, etc. We then have the inner layers. The closer we get to the core of a person and the innermost layer, the more there is to know about the person. For instance, as we get to the second layer, we might learn about biographical data, and then delve deeper into their layer of more personal beliefs. The core of one’s personality is made up of their concept of self, values, unresolved conflicts, etc. This is extremely hard to reveal to other people and takes a lot of trust among them.
A person’s closest friend, parents or spouse might not know exactly what is at the inner core. There is also, according to the theory, a permanent guard that limits the closeness that people can actually have to each other. The Social Penetration Theory has two main ideas. These ideas are the concept of self-disclosure and the rewards/costs component. Self-disclosure is when we reveal information, previously unknown to others, to that person. It is information that others would not normally know about us if we did not tell them. Early in a relationship we will first talk about surface information, then gradually, if we feel comfortable with each other, get to more personal information. Altman and Taylor suggest that in the beginning, self-disclosure is reciprocal.
That is, if I tell you something, you will tell me something back in return. As we continue to teach and learn more and more about each other, the rate of self-disclosure slows down. This is where the protection barrier of just how much we want to reveal about ourselves comes into play. The Social Penetration Theory also gives the following observations about self disclosure.
There is also the idea of depenetration. This is a gradual process of layer-by-layer withdrawal. As a relationship deteriorates, people begin to close off areas of their lives that had previously been revealed. This is important because it gives us the opportunity to come and go with the information we reveal about ourselves.
The second concept of the Social Penetration Theory is the idea of a rewards/costs component. This part of the theory states that relationships will continue to develop if we look at them in terms of rewards and benefits. If the factors are positive or beneficial, we will continue the relationship. There are three ideas in this concept.
This is where we look at our alternatives to being in the relationship and decide if it is worth staying in. To sum it up, this is the worst outcome a person will accept and still stay in the relationship. The overall purpose of the Social Penetration Theory is to help explain how we delve deeper into our interpersonal relationships and what factors come into play when deciding to continue or end the relationship. It does not explain why we start relationships, but in my opinion, is an excellent way to understand in a simple matter how relationships continue to go into more depth. My relationship development with Beth fits perfectly into this theory, as I will now outline. During our first interaction, we did not really reveal any personal information about each other.
We started by just making small talk. This including talk about general things, such as home on Long Island, our majors, plans for after graduation and some of our interests. As I stated previously, Beth was very into initiating the conversation and was an interesting person. I am not as shy as I used to be, but am still a bit shy when meeting people and having to talk to them for the first time. I think that through the next couple of interactions, we slowly learned more about each other by delving into another layer of the onion. This included more personal information, such as job history, and her boyfriend and my girlfriend. We also discussed our family lives. During the interaction about how we react to different words, we learned plenty about each other in regards to some of our more personal beliefs. I will most remember Beth’s association with the word “Mexican” based on her bad experience on a recent trip there. I agree with the self-disclosure idea in the theory. In the beginning the exchange of information was reciprocal. Beth told me something or vice versa and then I told her the information or she told me relevant information back. As the interactions progressed to the second and third time, the rate of self-disclosure decreased as we tried to get more personal. I also agree with the idea that there is a natural barrier that will prevent every person from knowing stuff about each other.
There is stuff that I would never in a million years disclose to Beth about myself and I’m sure that she feels exactly the same way. This is the same with my best friends and Amber during the last interaction. I would also like to bring Amber into the picture since the final interaction of the semester was with her. As previously stated I have known Amber for a year and am more comfortable around her. We just naturally “click.” As a result, self-disclosure is more natural between us and the rate of information exchanges as we delve deeper into each other’s personal lives occurs at a more rapid rate. This was a good thing considering the nature of the final interaction about relationships. I do not think that I would have been as open with Beth in that interaction as I was with Amber. As for the depenetration part of the theory, I will also use Beth. As we entered the fourth, fifth and sixth (never happened) Oscheduled interactions, the rate of information exchanged declined. This was in part due to Beth being absent for two of those interactions.
In the first absence we had to quickly meet at another time so nothing was really accomplished and the final time I talked to Amber instead. Information that I would have told Beth originally I do not think I would at this point in time. I think this is the same with any person as the rules of a relationship go. If we have the perception that we are growing apart, the eagerness to tell them something and the trust that goes into revealing information decreases. This is absolutely what happened between Beth and I as the semester went on. Now to add in the rewards/costs factor of the theory with Beth, and also Amber. I think that when I look at the outcome aspect, the rewards do not outweigh the costs of continuing an interpersonal relationship with Beth. We are just not the same people and there would probably be no future benefit to maintaining a relationship with Beth on anything more than a classmate level. On the other hand, the rewards of continuing a relationship with Amber outweigh the costs. Sure there are some costs in maintaining a friendship, but it is natural. The rewards of having Amber as a friend to me are definitely beneficial.
The satisfaction level component also tells me to end this relationship. When I compare the relationship with Beth to others, it just does not compare and I am not satisfied. On the other hand, I am very satisfied with my relationship with Amber. As far as the stability level, when I look at my alternatives, I think I can do better (nothing personal to Beth), than if I continued the relationship with her. As far as with Amber, I would not like not being friends with her and therefore I know it would take a lot not to remain friends with her and continue our interpersonal relationship, and I am satisfied with my friendship with her. I feel that I learned a lot this semester about how much goes into developing our interpersonal relationships. I also can now understand why what happens in our relationships occurs. Overall, I feel that these dyadic interactions were a good idea. It forced us to communicate and interact with people who we might not have ordinarily gotten to know. I am a perfect example of this. I know most people in the class, myself included, would have selected a friend, as their partner, but then the true objective of the interactions would not have been achieved. The topics of discussion were interesting and it gave us a chance to apply what we learned in class to real life situations, which is what we will need to do in the real world. While it did not work out between Beth and myself, it was a great opportunity to get to meet a new person and force ourselves to work together, even after it was clear that we would not be acquaintances after the required exercises were complete. This class has given me a much better understanding about all that goes on in our daily lives, from general interactions, to family and personal relationship. I feel it was taught in an excellent, interesting manner and the handouts were beneficial. I feel is a very good class for communication students to take.
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