Not out of Mind, yet Not Fonder

Image credit:

Image credit:

Before you think this post is about you, let me assure you: It's not.

Two contradictory adages:

  1. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

  2. Out of sight, out of mind.

There's probably some truth in both, I'm willing to wager—and no absolute truth in either. Yet if I had to choose one as the truest, I'd lean toward the latter.

Alas, behavioral scientists haven't done much research on which of the two adages is most correct. Research on infants comes closest to addressing the question. Psychology Today points out that, at birth, something that's out of sight is truly out of mind: Our brains haven’t developed enough to form memories. When something leaves an infant's view, it may as well no longer exist. Yet once memory develops, absence does make the heart fonder—briefly. Research by Julia Vormbrock and her colleagues discovered that babies grow fonder of caregivers over a two-week period of separation. However, once two weeks have passed, infants become "detached."

Absence does not make the heart grow fonder.

Sure, adults aren't nearly as critically dependent upon each other as caregivers and babies. Also, the short time a child has lived makes a week seem a lot longer than a month for most adults. A slight separation may cause a greater rift for infants than it would for grownups. Nonetheless, it appears that "out of sight, out of mind" is more valid in the long term than "absence makes the heart grow fonder."

Certainly absence typically makes the heart less angry and resentful. Hatred is too intense to last long without fodder. Same goes for love. And friendship. All emotional states need regular care and feeding to survive and grow.

I can't be the only one who has had nascent friendships—and even romantic possibilities—die out because one or both of us didn't put in the effort required to turn it into something lasting. I never completely forgot any of these people in the "out of sight, out of mind" sense, but they did fade away.

What do you think? Does absence make the heart grow fonder?