Late adolescent perceptions of romantic relationships and romantic experiences

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Education, Health & Human Development


Late adolescence (18-25 years old) is a developmental time period where a person is in a state of transition, growing out of adolescence and preparing for adulthood. Romantic relationships are a typical component of late adolescent development. In early adolescence, the concept of love has been described as being experimental, temporary, or short-term, while in late adolescence love involves deeper exploration of the qualities of a partner and of one's self. There are other romantic encounters late adolescents may experience that may not be considered relationships. Contemporary literature discusses romantic experiences as an attraction to another, interacting with individuals that are prospective romantic partners, and nonromantic or casual involvements with another. A closer examination into these activities suggests late adolescents may engage in hooking up behaviors and dating potential romantic partners during this developmental stage. Presently, there are not consistent definitions of romantic relationships and romantic experiences and these definitions vary across empirical studies. The purpose of this qualitative study was to identify how late adolescents conceptualize romantic relationships and romantic experiences. A sample of 263 college students between the ages of 18 and 25 was surveyed. A qualitative content analysis approach (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005) revealed distinct characteristics of both romantic relationships and experiences. Conceptualizations of romantic relationships included mutual exclusivity and boundaries, specific physical qualities, large amounts of time spent together, and positive relational qualities. Romantic experiences were conceptualized as using sex recreationally, exploring or dating without commitment, and moments of extraordinary connection between two people. Participants indicated that romantic relationships and romantic experiences were most distinct in terms of level of relational commitment and whether enduring emotional connection was present or not. Finally, participants indicated that romantic experiences can occur within and outside of a romantic relationship. Participants in this sample reported having had significantly more romantic experiences since the age of 18 when compared to their reported number of romantic relationships. Results are discussed in regard to existing literature.




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