Teen Dating Isn't Really the Best Practice for Adult Relationships

April 8, 2021 3 min read

When our daughter announced in middle school that she had a boyfriend, my husband was really uncomfortable. He saw this as a distraction from school and more important things. I comforted my husband by saying that teen love was practice for when she's older. I thought it helpful she experienced romance on a smaller scale while still at home in a safe environment. We could help her navigate those new emotions and physical attractions that go along with dating. And that's what we aimed to do as parents. But was I right? A new study says maybe not.

Researchers from the University of Virginia and James Madison University followed 165 adolescents as they aged from 13 to 30 to learn what best predicted who would experience satisfying romantic relationships in their late 20s and much later in adulthood.

It turns out the best practice comes from friendships.

The study's lead researcher, Dr. Joseph P. Allen, Hugh P. Kelly professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, says the "greater stability found in same-gender friendships, allows for more long-term practice with the kinds of give-and-take needed to successfully handle romantic relationships in adulthood."

Happily coupled adults experience emotional intimacy that, outside of the physical component, feels like deep, long-term friendship. The study further identified key developmental milestones that proved important down the road. None were related to adolescent dating. Rather, the most important predictors of adult romantic satisfaction were the following:

— At age 13, the ability to establish positive expectations of peers and be appropriately assertive with them.

— From ages 15 to 16, the ability to manage an array of peer relationships and establish close friendships.

— From ages 16 to 18, the ability to establish and maintain close, stable friendships.

Bottom line? Dr. Allen says, "although teen dating could in some ways be viewed as practice for adult romantic relationships, in reality, teen same-gender friendships provide far better practice."

Turns out that famous quote from 17th-century author Jeremy Taylor has been right all along: Love really is friendship set on fire.

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a wife, mother and award-winning columnist. She is the media director of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Find her on social media @WriterBonnie, or email her at [email protected] To find out more about Bonnie Jean Feldkamp and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: Daniel_Nebreda at Pixabay

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