More than Myth: The Developmental Significance of Romantic Relationships During Adolescence

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1 JOURNAL OF RESEARCH ON ADOLESCENCE, 13(1), 1 24 Copyright r 2003, Society for Research on Adolescence More than Myth: The Developmental Significance of Romantic Relationships During Adolescence W. Andrew Collins Institute of Child Development Adolescents romantic relationships have attracted popular interest, but, until recently, little scientific curiosity. Research has been impeded by erroneous assumptions that adolescent relationships are trivial and transitory, that they provide little information beyond measures of the influence of parent-child and peer relationships, and that their impact is primarily associated with problems of behavior and adjustment. This article proposes that distinguishing five features of romantic relationships (involvement, partner selection, relationship content, quality, and cognitive and emotional processes) is essential to describing adolescents relationships and their developmental significance. These distinctions also help to clarify the role of context, age-related variations, and individual differences in the impact of romantic experiences. Research is needed to illuminate questions of how and under what conditions romantic relationships affect individual development and how romantic and other close relationships jointly influence developmental trajectories during adolescence. Adolescents romantic relationships have inhabited the popular imagination as few other topics have. Popular culture is suffused with images of the dreaminess, preoccupation, shyness, self-consciousness, and sexual awakening of teenagers in love; and news of homicides and suicides involving adolescents frequently prompts speculation that romantic despair may have played a part in the tragedy. Requests for reprints should be sent to W. Andrew Collins, Institute of Child Development, 51 E. River Road, Minneapolis, MN

2 2 COLLINS Until recently, however, scientific interest has not matched this public fascination. As a result, serious attempts to study the significance of adolescent romantic relationships often have been short-circuited by erroneous and unsubstantiated beliefs. In this essay, I first look backward to some myths that for many years hampered our progress in this area, and then I look ahead to the promise of emerging research on romantic relationships for understanding adolescent development. Like most other researchers, I have adopted a definition of romantic relationships that emphasizes both the dyadic nature of these relationships and their distinctiveness. Romantic relationships, like friendships, are on-going voluntary interactions that are mutually acknowledged, rather than identified by only one member of a pair. Romantic relationships, however, also have a peculiar intensity and the intensity can be marked by expressions of affection including physical ones and, perhaps, the expectation of sexual relations, eventually if not now (Brown, Furman, & Feiring, 1999; Reis & Shaver, 1988). This definition does not mention gender, because adolescents may have relationships that meet all of these other criteria with partners of the same sex as well as partners of the opposite sex (Diamond, Savin-Williams, & Dubé, 1999). Relationships that meet these criteria are both normative and salient during the adolescent years. In one study, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (commonly known as Add-Health), about 25% of 12 year olds reported having had a special romantic relationship in the past 18 months. As Figure 1 shows, that percentage increases to just under half of 15 year olds, and then leaps upward at 16 to reach more than 70% by age 18. Moreover, at each of those ages, the majority of adolescents who consider themselves to be in a special romantic relationship also say that they describe themselves that way to others and that they have met each others parents (Carver, Joyner, & Udry, in press). These figures depend heavily on the methods used for surveying adolescents about their relationships, of course, but they imply increasing likelihood of romantic experiences across the adolescent years. CHALLENGING THE MYTHS OF ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS Why were experiences as normative and salient as this in the lives of adolescents neglected for so long? Three types of objections historically played key roles. One objection was the conviction that these aspects of life were private and should not be scrutinized by others. At my own university in the 1930 s, a professor in the Psychology Department was summarily fired

3 MORE THAN MYTH 3 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% 12 years Males Females 13 years 14 years 15 years 16 years 17 years 18 years FIGURE 1 Percent of adolescents reporting a romantic relationship in the past 18 months. (Adapted from Carver et al., in press) for administering a questionnaire that asked undergraduates such intimate questions as, Have you ever blown in the ear of a member of the opposite sex? It was said at the time that such questions were shocking (Berscheid, 2002). These attitudes were still evident as late as the 1970 s (Berscheid & Kelley, 2002). Two social psychologists of that era complained: There seems to be a strong fear that by studying love we will somehow destroy its spontaneity and magical powers (Kazak & Reppucci, 1980, p. 213, cited in Kelley, 2000). In the past decade, squeamishness about research on romantic relationships has been amplified by ideologically driven objections. Near the end of the first Bush administration in 1991, Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan rescinded funding for research that would have included questions on adolescent romance and sexual behavior, despite a high priority score and recommendation for funding by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Sullivan said that he withdrew the funding because of my concern that the study would inadvertently convey a message that would be counterproductive to our efforts to discourage casual sex among teenagers (personal communication cited in Gardner & Wilcox, 1993, p. 973). Parts of that ill-fated proposal eventually survived in the Add-Health study, but the suppressive effect continues today (Berscheid, 2002; Gardner & Wilcox, 1993). The most pernicious early prejudice, however, probably was the objection of scientists themselves that romantic relationships were not amenable to laboratory experimentation, which for decades was the only acceptable method of scientific investigation (Berscheid, 2002;

4 4 COLLINS Berscheid & Kelley, 2002). Now that other methods have joined experiments in the armamentarium of social research, even among psychologists, that objection seems both dated and short-sighted. Closely linked to these objections were three myths that have undermined efforts to bring romantic relationships into research on adolescent development. I outline these myths here, in each case showing how contemporary researchers are now replacing them with a more differentiated picture of the role and impact of romantic relationships. The first of these myths is the assumption that adolescent romantic relationships are trivial and transitory. Scientists once believed that the only reason to study relationships was to understand how long-lasting relationships work; and since adolescent dating relationships were assumed to be both fleeting and superficial, scientists either chose to study adults or to eschew the study of relationships altogether (Brown et al., 1999). Findings from current research challenge that assumption in multiple ways. Adolescents relationships now appear to be somewhat less uniformly transitory than casual observation suggests. Figure 2 shows that a surprisingly large proportion of adolescents in dating relationships say that their relationships have persisted 11 months or more: about 20% of adolescents 14 or younger, 35% of year olds, and almost 60% of 17 and 18 year olds (Carver et al., in press). In addition, some findings imply that adolescent relationships may be less sharply differentiated from adult relationships than once was thought. Levesque (1993) reported that 17- year-olds impressions of romantic relationships bore striking resemblances to adult relationships in terms of the impact of commitment, Percentage <14 yrs yrs >16 yrs FIGURE 2 Percents of adolescents reporting romantic relationships that persisted for 11 months or more. (Adapted from Carver et al., in press)

5 MORE THAN MYTH 5 communication, companionship, and passion to relationship satisfaction. Moreover, Levesque identified dimensions of exhilaration, growth, toleration and appreciation in his interview that imply subtleties of which adolescents were once believed incapable. The degree and nature of similarities and differences between adolescent and adult relationships, however, are questions for the future. Even when relationships are relatively transitory, evidence implies that, far from being trivial events in development, romantic relationships are significant for adolescent functioning and for longer term outcomes. Adolescents in romantic relationships, for example, report experiencing more conflict than other adolescents (Laursen, 1995); and mood swings, a stereotype of adolescent emotional life, are more extreme for those involved in romantic relationships (Larson, Csikszentmihalyi, & Graef, 1980; Larson & Richards, 1994; Savin-Williams, 1996). In a finding that has become one of the most widely cited in the field, Joyner and Udry (2000) have reported that participants in the Add-Health study who had begun romantic relationships in the past year manifested more symptoms of depression than adolescents not in romantic relationships. Recent findings have revealed important moderators of this global correlation (e.g., Ayduk, Downey, & Kim, 2001; Darling & Cohan, 2002; Davila, Steinberg, Kachadourian, Cobb, & Fincham, 2002; Harper, Welsh, & Wooddy, 2002). For example, break-ups, rather than involvement in a romantic relationship per se, may explain the elevated depressive symptoms reported by Joyner & Udry (2000); indeed, the most common trigger of the first episode of a major depressive disorder is a romantic break-up (Monroe, Rhode, Seeley, & Lewinsohn, 1999). Personality characteristics and the relationship history of one or both partners may exacerbate depressive reactions to relationship events, as well (Ayduk et al., 2001; Grello, Dickson, Welsh, Harper, & Wintersteen, 2001). Dating and romantic relationships also have an impact on psychosocial development during adolescence (Furman & Shaffer, in press). Having a romantic relationship and the quality of that relationship are associated positively with romantic self-concept and, in turn, with feelings of self-worth (Connolly & Konarski, 1994; Harter, 1999; Kuttler, LaGreca, & Prinstein, 1999), and longitudinal evidence indicates that, by late adolescence, self-perceived competence in romantic relationships emerges as a reliable component of general competence (Masten, Coatsworth, Neemann, Gest, Tellegen, & Garmezy, 1995). Whether or not adolescent romantic relationships play a distinctive role in identity formation during adolescence is not known, although considerable speculation and some theoretical contentions imply a link (e.g., Furman & Shaffer, in press; Sullivan, 1953).

6 6 COLLINS Close links are apparent, however, between romantic relationships and an aspect of adolescent experience that is central to self-definition: connections with peers. In the minds of adolescents themselves, being in a romantic relationship is central to belonging and status in the peer group (Connolly, Craig, Goldberg, & Pepler, 1999; Levesque, 1993). The link may be a transactional one: peer networks support early romantic coupling, and romantic relationships facilitate connections with other peers (Connolly, Furman, & Konarski, 2000; Milardo, 1982; for reviews, see Furman & Shaffer, in press; Zani, 1993). In their futuristic view of adolescence in the twenty-first century, Larson, Wilson, Brown, Furstenberg, & Verma (2002) argued that the significance of romantic relationships may increase as youth face greater and more complex demands of living in an interdependent world. The evolving nature of romantic relationships may entail key challenges and potential growth opportunities in connection with these adaptations. Today, the myth that adolescent romantic relationships are transitory and trivial increasingly appears to have been a relic of the twentieth century one that is deteriorating as the impact on adolescent functioning comes into focus. A second obstacle to research on the significance of romantic relationships is the frequent assumption that adolescent romantic relationships merely reflect the influence of other, more accessible social systems. The interpersonal correlates of romantic relationships are indeed well established. In the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, in which we have followed 180 individuals from before birth to age 26, we find consistently that history of parent-child relationships in childhood and in early adolescence significantly predicts the stability and quality of adolescent and young adult romantic relationships (Collins & Sroufe, 1999; Collins, Hennighausen, & Christian, 2000; see also Conger, Cui, Bryant, & Elder, 2000). The impact of experiences with peers on later relationships is well documented, as well (e.g., Brown, 1999; Connolly, Furman, & Konarski, 2000; Connolly & Goldberg, 1999; Furman & Wehner, 1994). There is little reason to doubt, however, that independent assessments of the nature and significance of romantic experiences would contribute additional significant variance in predicting adolescent outcomes. One reason is that romantic relationships are distinctive from the contexts created by familial and work settings and even by friendships. Adolescents own views of romantic relationships support this point. Even 9-year-olds differentiate expectations of friends from expectations of romantic partners (Connolly et al., 1999). Furman, Simon, Shaffer, & Bouchey (2002) recently reported that correlations among high-school

7 MORE THAN MYTH 7 seniors representations of their relationships with parents, friends, and romantic partners ranged only from.00 to.26. Although some of these correlations were statistically significant, suggesting some degree of relatedness between representations of different types of relationships, especially between friendships and romantic relationships (see also Feiring, 1999), these findings are not consistent with a conclusion that the influence of romantic relationships is merely redundant with the impact of adolescents other close relationships The question of whether adolescent romantic relationships contribute distinctively to adolescent development is unlikely to result in either a simple or conclusive answer, given the multifaceted nature of romantic relationships and the diverse outcomes to which researchers may wish to predict. For now, clearly, it is premature to conclude that statistically significant correlations among different close relationships imply that they are developmentally redundant. Finally, research on romantic relationships has been truncated by the common belief that romantic experiences, if they warrant attention at all, do so because they forecast maladaptation. It is true that considerable evidence points to early involvement in dating as part of a cluster of adaptation-related measures such as behavior problems, alcohol use, school difficulties, and so forth (e.g., Davies & Windle, 2000; Neeman, Hubbard, & Masten, 1995; Thomas & Hsiu, 1993; Wright, 1982). Contemporary findings, however, reveal that focusing only on problem outcomes distorts the picture of romantic relationships as a feature of adolescent development. Positive correlates, as well as negative ones, are now well documented (e.g., Connolly & Konarski, 1994; Connolly et al., 1999; for a review, see Furman & Shaffer, in press). Moreover, when risks clearly exist, compelling evidence of moderator effects and mediator effects specify the conditions under which the risk is especially great. For example, in data from the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, changes in externalizing behavior from age 12 to age 16 were associated with the degree of dating involvement, operationalized as the number of different people dated during the past year (see Figure 3). Adolescents, both females and males, with many different recent dating partners increased significantly in externalizing behaviors from 12 to 16, compared to those who had dated fewer different people (Zimmer- Gembeck, Siebenbruner, & Collins, 2001). In short, whether romantic relationships can be conflated with negative behaviors is conditional on specific features of adolescents romantic behavior and experiences. The social historian John Modell has suggested that the over-emphasis on problems associated with adolescent romantic relationships may be partly a vestige of views that arose under cultural conditions that are no

8 8 COLLINS Change in externalizing behavior - 12 to 16 yrs Males Females β=.84*** β =.31** Females Males Low High Degree of dating involvement FIGURE 3 Change in externalizing behavior (ages 12-16) as a function of dating involvement. (Adapted from Zimmer-Gembeck, Siebenbruner, & Collins, 2001) longer relevant. In his book, Into One s Own: From Youth to Adulthood in the United States , Modell (1989) points out that the problem assumption stems from the shift from an earlier era in which dating, marriage, and parenthood typically were linked, occurring in the second decade of life and soon thereafter. The 1960s were a period of transition toward what Modell calls the increasing injection of volition in the youthful life course (p. 331), marked by an unlinking of sexual activity and marriage, of marriage and parenthood, and of control of dating and courtship by the older generation and conformity by the younger generation. The accompanying loss of social control intensified adults fears that adolescent romantic involvements threatened the status quo and endangered adolescents. Now that the norm for young people in the U. S. and other Western cultures is a succession of premarital romantic relationships, however, it is important to examine the potential developmental advantages of these experiences, as well as their detrimental effects. TOWARD POST-MYTHICAL RESEARCH ON THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS This brief account illustrates how the research of the past decade has demythologized some long-standing obstacles to documenting the nature and consequences of romantic relationships during adolescence. Research on the developmental significance of these relationships, however, barely

9 MORE THAN MYTH 9 has reached the toddler stage. I turn now to the question of what should be included in a useful framework for research on the developmental significance of romantic relationships. I first outline a set of features that may serve as a basis for organizing and rationalizing research findings and for identifying important lacunae. These features are present in all close relationships, a unit of analysis that is receiving increasing attention in the behavioral and social sciences (e.g., Reis, Collins, & Berscheid, 2000). I then briefly consider some implications of this framework for three key concerns of developmental scientists: the significance of context and culture, age-related variations in functioning, and individual differences. A Five-Feature Framework Involvement. The first feature long has been the most frequently used indicator of romance during adolescence. Involvement typically refers to whether or not adolescents date, and the age at which dating begins, the frequency and consistency of dating, and the duration of a relationship. Considerable evidence shows that timing and extent of involvement are correlated with indicators of individual functioning for the adolescents involved (e.g., Collins et al., 1997; Neeman et al., 1995). These measures are limited if the goal is understanding the developmental significance of romantic relationships, though, because they capture little about the nature of experiences in those relationships. For example, being involved tells us nothing about the characteristics of the other person in the relationship or about the cognitive and emotional ramifications of the involvement. Many adolescents date early and frequently, but the content and quality of those dating experiences can vary widely; and that variation is potentially important information for determining how and why romantic relationships make an impact on their development. Moreover, the cognitive, emotional, and social ramifications of not being involved in romantic relationships when many agemates are involved also may be significant for adolescents. In short, other less frequently studied features of relationships may illuminate what it means to be involved in a romantic relationship. Partner selection. With whom adolescents have romantic experiences undoubtedly influences their developmental significance, just as the identity of friends helps to determine the impact of friendships (Hartup, 1996). Although social psychologists have accumulated a vast literature on processes of attraction and partner selection in adult relationships (Berscheid & Reis, 1998), little is known about either the nature of

10 10 COLLINS partner choices during adolescence or their significance. Rudimentary findings from the Add-Health data show that, like adults, adolescent males prefer same-age or younger prospective partners, while females prefer somewhat older partners (Carver et al., in press). We do not know, however, whether the findings of developmental psychopathologists (e.g., Rutter, 1996) and life-course researchers (e.g., Elder, 1998) that partner selection often constitutes a developmental turning point in adulthood applies to adolescent partner choices as well, and if so, to what degree and under what conditions. This knowledge gap partly reflects two methodological realities (Reis et al., 2000). One is that studies of dating and other adolescent romantic relationships begin with existing couples who are long past the point of selection. The other is that the most common method, retrospective selfreports, is at least as limited in providing valid insights into selection as it is in providing insights into other aspects of behavior. If researchers can solve these problems, though, they may find that many of the correlations between involvement in romantic relationships and negative patterns of behavior and emotion are attributable to the characteristics of partners, rather than to involvement per se. Content. Content refers to the shared activities of relationship partners what adolescent partners do together, how they spend their time, the diversity of their shared activities, and also activities and situations they avoid when together. More highly interdependent partners typically share a wider variety of activities than less close pairs, and many of those activities bear on the relationship itself (e.g., communicating, completing tasks together, enjoying common recreational activities, working toward common goals) (Berscheid, Snyder, & Omoto, 1989; Hinde, 1979). Unfortunately, speculations about the likely content of romantic relationships under different conditions and for different individuals exceed actual research findings. One reason for this knowledge gap is that few observational studies of adolescent couples have been reported. Without knowing how time devoted to romantic relationships is spent, it is difficult to identify possible functions of the relationships, whether positive or negative, for long-term growth. Whether adolescent partners engage in sexual relations almost certainly is less important in predicting long-term outcomes than knowing that their relationship is comprised exclusively of having sex together. Assessing relationship content is the key to important differentiations of this kind. Quality. The quality of a romantic relationship refers to the degree to which the relationship provides generally beneficent experiences. By

11 MORE THAN MYTH 11 high-quality romantic relationships, I mean those in which the partners manifest intimacy, affection, and nurturance; whereas partners in lowquality relationships manifest irritation, antagonism, and notably high levels of conflict and/or controlling behavior (Galliher, Welsh, Rostosky, & Kawaguchi, 1998). Many findings show that qualities of supportiveness and intimacy in relationships are associated with measures of functioning and well-being for the individuals involved and also that more negative qualities appear to be linked to a variety of negative outcomes (for a review, see Berscheid & Reis, 1998). In recent work with an Israeli sample (Shulman & Levan, 2002), for example, relationship stability was related to indicators of quality in the couples interactions. Late adolescent and young adult couples who stayed together over a period of nine months or more were less confrontational, more positive toward one another, and more frequently negotiated their disagreements. The impact of such variations can be long-term. In longitudinal research in Germany (Seiffge- Krenke & Lang, 2002), quality of romantic relationships in middle adolescence was significantly and positively related to commitment in other relationships in young adulthood. Quality differences almost certainly explain many of the differences among relationships that have been attributed to measures of involvement. In our Minnesota study, for example, we have repeatedly interviewed adolescents about their current and past involvement in romantic relationships and have derived from their responses ratings of the overall quality of their current relationship. In a recent growth-curve analysis of relationship quality from age 16 to age 23 for individuals at different levels of involvement, those individuals with consistent high involvement (meaning an early beginning, claiming a romantic relationship at each of the three time points, and a notably large number of different partners over time), the slope of relationship quality over these seven years was significantly negative (Collins & Madsen, 2002). Cognitive and emotional processes. Finally, characterizing relationships in any life period requires considering distinctive emotional responses, perceptions, expectancies, schemata, and attributions regarding oneself, the other person, and the relationship. For example, representations of romantic relationships are linked to representations of other close relationships, especially relationships with friends; and these interrelated expectancies parallel interrelations in features like support and control (Furman & Wehner, 1994; Furman et al., 2002). Other cognitive measures have been found to mediate relationship behavior and adjustment in samples of young adults and may be fruitful directions for studies of adolescent romantic relationships as well. Among these are

12 12 COLLINS social goals (e.g., Sanderson & Cantor, 1995), attributions (e.g., Fletcher, Fincham, Cramer, & Herson, 1987), and relationship processes such as account-making (Sorenson, Russell, Harkness, & Harvey, 1993). Relationship representations, such as those associated with measures of attachment style, predict accommodation to potentially destructive behaviors by young adult romantic partners (e.g., Scharfe & Bartholomew, 1995) and also predict vulnerability to depression for individuals in romantic relationships (Davila et al., 2002). Emotions and cognitions are closely intertwined in romantic relationships and play a major role in determining their functional significance. For example, experiences that conform to idealized romantic scripts heighten positive emotions, and those that diverge from them are common sources for feelings of frustration, disappointment, and hurt. Moreover, tendencies to make attributions about the behavior of self and other are heightened in the early stages of romance; and, because relevant cues are likely to be hidden, vague, or undifferentiated in this phase, misattributions are especially likely, often resulting in anxiety, anger, and distrust (for a review, see Larson, Clore, & Wood, 1999). It is ironic that relationship cognitions and emotions have been studied far more often in relationships after adolescence than in adolescent relationships. After all, the view of adolescence as a time of both intense and unpredictable emotionality and expanding, but still immature, cognitive abilities is a fairly widespread, generally accepted one. As highly ecologically relevant and salient experiences, romantic relationships may provide an ideal context for examining these processes in greater detail (Keating, 1990). Furman s (Furman & Wehner, 1994) concept of views is a hopeful sign for re-integrating cognitive and emotional processes into our conceptualization of romantic relationships and their impact. Considering progress in the study of romantic relationships within this five-feature framework clearly reveals that romantic relationships are complex, multifaceted experiences to which we have paid very uneven attention. It now seems clear that one cannot describe these relationships and their developmental significance without distinguishing between simple involvement and the identity of partners, the content and the quality of the relationships, and the thoughts and feelings associated with them. The Five-Feature Framework and Variability in Romantic Relationships The five-feature framework also sharpens the implications of variations in relationships. Let me illustrate by drawing from findings regarding three

13 MORE THAN MYTH 13 common foci in research on adolescence: the significance of context, agerelated cleavages, and individual differences. Context. Contexts impinge on the age at which an adolescent begins to date, the consistency of dating, the choice of partners, and the timing of sexual debuts (e.g., Carver, Joyner, & Udry, in press; McBride, Paikoff, & Holmbeck, in press; Silbereisen & Schwarz, 1998). Moreover, even young adolescents select dating partners based on actual or anticipated reactions from peers (Connolly & Goldberg, 1999; Feiring, 1996; Roscoe et al., 1987; Zani, 1993). Cultural forces shape the romantic experience of adolescents. In Figure 4, Add-Health data show that Asian-American adolescents are less likely to have had a romantic relationship in the past 18 months than adolescents in other racial-ethnic groups (Carver et al., in press). (Dating involvement is remarkably similar across African-American, Hispanic, Native, and White groups.) Cultures also influence the expected timing of romantic relationships and the activities that are expected and approved within them (Feldman, Turner, & Araujo, 1999; Meschke & Silbereisen, 1997). Constraints on adolescents romantic experiences arise in part from interpersonal cultural patterns, such as the implications of voluntary or arranged marriages and whether coupling is construed in socioemotional terms, as it is in most Western societies, or as an economic or childrearing arrangement (Reis et al., 2000). Community and cultural norms and ideals also regulate the field of availability, or social norms for who is Males Females White African Hispanic Asian Native FIGURE 4 Percent of adolescents from five ethnic-racial groups reporting a romantic relationship in the past 18 months. (Adapted from Carver et al., in press)

14 14 COLLINS acceptable as a romantic target. Whether or not an adolescent forms romantic alliances within a culturally or socially prescribed field of availability affects both the relationship and the individuals in multiple ways. The experiences of gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents are a striking example (e.g., Diamond et al., 1999). Interracial couples also encounter obstacles that oblige the partners to adapt both their relationship and their joint interactions with larger social units (Coates, 1999). Examining contextual variations that impinge on features of romantic relationships is an essential first step toward better understanding how context influences the impact of these relationships (Rothbaum, Pott, Azuma, Miyake, & Weisz, 2000). Age-related variations. Adolescents at every age experience romantic relationships, but early, middle, and late adolescents appear to differ considerably in what they experience. In fact, the existing evidence looks very much as though there is a shift between 15 and 17 in multiple aspects of romantic relationships. Let me review some illustrative findings: Involvement in dating increases dramatically between the ages of 12 and 18, growing from 25% at age 12 to 75% at 17 and 18. Only 35% of year olds report relationships persisting for 11 months or more, whereas 55% of those 16 and older did (Carver et al., in press). Early adolescents choose partners in accord with the expectations of their social networks and the characteristics that promise status in those groups, placing relatively greater emphasis on superficial features of potential partners (e.g., fashionable clothes) and approval by others. By contrast, older adolescents more often attribute their partner preferences to characteristics that underlie intimacy and compatibility (Roscoe et al., 1987; Zani, 1993). Exchanges within the romantic relationships of older adolescents are more likely to reflect greater interdependence and more communal orientations between the partners than is the case with early-adolescent romantic alliances (Laursen & Jensen-Campbell, 1999). As one example, conflict resolution between late-adolescent romantic partners more often involves compromise than conflict resolution in early-adolescent romantic pairs (Feldman & Gowen, 1998). This apparent mid-adolescent shift undoubtedly represents an accumulation of gradual changes that appear abrupt because most studies are cross-sectional comparisons of age groups. As evidence of age-related patterns in key aspects of romantic relationships accumulates, though, pressures increase for developmental accounts that explain the

15 MORE THAN MYTH 15 findings. The eventual explanation almost certainly will implicate cognitive and emotional maturation, achievements regarding identity and autonomy, increasing diversification of social networks, and contextual changes associated with impending adulthood. The fivefeature framework, moreover, implies that it will be important to consider the changing nature and meaning of relationships per se a topic that is still virtually unstudied. Individual Differences. Within these persistent normative age differences, some striking individual variations exist as well. The most widely studied patterns have to do with variations in the timing of involvement in both romantic relationships and sexual activity, typically showing that early dating and sexual activity are risk factors for current and later problem behaviors and social and emotional difficulties (e.g., Davies & Windle, 2000; Zimmer-Gembeck et al., 2001). Although individual differences in timing of romantic involvement sometimes have been attributed to the timing of puberty, most current research findings imply that the significance of the variations as much from a culture that emphasizes and hallows romance and sexuality as from the physical maturation of adolescents. Studies repeatedly have demonstrated the independent contribution of social and cultural expectations, especially age-graded behavioral norms, to the initiation of dating (Dornbusch, Carlsmith, Gross, Martin, Jennings, Rosenberg & Duke, 1981; Feldman et al., 1999; Meschke & Silbereisen, 1997; Silbereisen & Schwartze, 1998). In this more endocrinologically sophisticated age, studies frequently demonstrate that gonadarche, which long has been the defining event of puberty, is distinct from changes that may be relevant to the phenomena of adolescent romance. For example, adrenarche, or the increased involvement of adrenal glands, appears to be more strongly predictive of sexual interest and awareness than gonadarche, which comes much later (e.g., McClintock & Herdt, 1996; also see Halpern, in press). A possibly complementary view is that timing of involvement is associated with familial and peer-group dysfunctions, which may be partly responsible for the risks attached to early romantic involvement. In a Canadian sample of year olds, family stress, family separation, and poor psychological adjustment emerged as risk factors for early timing (Connolly, Taradash, & Williams, 2001). In the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, following individuals from birth to age 26, a combination of early and later familial factors and peergroup behavior is predictive (Collins, Hennighausen, Schmit, & Sroufe, 1997; Collins & Sroufe, 1999). Other studies have documented that both the extensiveness of peer networks and the intimacy and social support

16 16 COLLINS derived from peers correlate with variations in romantic relationship quality (Connolly & Johnson, 1996; Taradash, Connolly, Pepler, Craig, & Costa, 2001). Consistent with this pattern, poor relationships with parents and peers contribute to the incidence of both physical and relational aggression between romantic partners in late adolescence (Linder, 2002; Linder, Crick, & Collins, 2002). Variations in relationship expectancies also reflect prior relationship experiences. The cognitive and behavioral syndrome known as rejection sensitivity arises from experiences of rejection in parent-child relationships and also in relations with peers and, possibly, romantic partners. Rejection sensitivity in turn predicts expectancies of rejection that correlate strongly with both actual rejection and lesser satisfaction in adolescent relationships (Downey, Bonica, & Rinćon, 1999). Other person differences play a role, as well. In adult relationships, selfesteem, self-confidence, and physical attractiveness influence the timing, frequency, duration, and quality of relationships (Long, 1983, 1989; Mathes, Adams, & Davis, 1985; Samet & Kelly, 1987); and the few studies that have been done with adolescents suggest that something similar may occur in their romantic relationships as well (e.g., Connolly & Konarski, 1994). ENVISIONING A POST-MYTHICAL ERA IN RESEARCH ON ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS Re-framing research on adolescent romantic relationships has two advantages. First, re-framing organizes a body of research findings that has grown too rapidly to permit integration of findings and or to profit from the lessons learned along the way. Second, re-framing points toward more systematic and ultimately more informative strategies in postmythical research on adolescent romantic relationships in short, to a new era in which romantic relationships are included among adolescents potentially significant experiences. What may this new era promise? First, with the charge behind us that adolescents romantic relationships are trivial and transitory, researchers can turn to the larger question of how and under what conditions romantic relationships affect individual development. A reasonable starting place is examining how the content and quality of relationships impinge on hallmarks of normative development during adolescence, such as autonomy and other self-regulatory capacities, identity, and accommodation to the transitions from adolescence to adulthood. The meager evidence now available

17 MORE THAN MYTH 17 makes it at least plausible to think that relationships marked by harmonious, affectively positive, and responsive interactions facilitate normative developmental trajectories; whereas those marked by angst, preoccupation, and insecurity may disrupt optimal development. The five-feature framework proposed in this essay challenges researchers to examine the developmental implications of these variations in the content and quality of adolescent romantic relationships, rather than stopping with questions of whether it makes a difference that an adolescent begins to date early, dates a number of different people rather than experiencing a few long-term relationships, or is sexually active. Second, the nature and functioning of close relationships will broaden our view of which outcomes are especially significant in adolescent development. Developmental research has been dominated since the 1940 s by outcome variables that reflect a highly individualistic view of mature competence (Collins, 2002). Maccoby (1992) recently has proposed that the variables that are consistently found to predict optimal outcomes for children and adolescents pertain to inducting the child into a world of reciprocity a world, in short, of relationships and the competence to be effective in relations with others. In the post-mythical era, outcomes such as cooperation, collaboration, and effectiveness in close relationships increasingly will supplement the array of individualistic outcomes which have been our bread and butter for so long (Collins, 1999, 2002). Adolescent romantic relationships may play an important role in socializing young people for that world. Third, leaving behind the concern that romantic relationships merely reflect variance emanating from parent-child and peer relationships, the post-mythical era of romantic relationships research challenges researchers to examine interconnections and possible synergisms among significant social influences during adolescence. In a recent essay (Collins & Laursen, 2000, p. 59), I proposed that affiliations with friends, romantic partners, siblings, and parents unfold along varied and somewhat discrete trajectories for most of the second decade of life and then coalesce during the early 20s into integrated interpersonal structures. The initial differentiation process is essential to a range of adolescent developmental achievements autonomy, individuation, identity, and sexuality in appropriately distinct settings, whereas the coalescing relationships of the third and fourth decades of life undergird the psychic and social integration that support adult functioning. In this perspective, romantic relationships are not merely reflections of the impact of parent and peer relationships, but are integral to systems in which all three types of relationships mutually influence each other and jointly contribute to developmental outcomes. The intertwining of individual and relational

18 18 COLLINS forces is likely to be most evident when researchers differentiate among the five features of relationships outlined in this essay. In the classic sense, myth is nature or culture writ large, but we commonly appropriate the term to mean widely held misperceptions of ordinary circumstances and events. In the case of romantic relationships during adolescence, myths in the form of premature assumptions about the nature and relative importance of romantic experiences once meant decades of neglect for these common and salient experiences of adolescence. Happily, the stage is now set for researchers to move beyond myth toward broader knowledge about the contributions of romantic experiences not only to adolescent development, but to the human life course. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The author is indebted to many colleagues for discussions through the years about issues of close relationships generally and adolescent romantic relationships in particular. Among these are Ellen Berscheid, Harold Grotevant, Willard Hartup, Brett Laursen, and Arturo Sesma. Special thanks are due to research collaborators, including Byron Egeland and Alan Sroufe and many graduate and post-doctoral students who contributed to the research findings cited in the article. Among these are Katherine Hennighausen, Jennifer Linder, Stephanie D. Madsen, Jessica Siebenbruner, Manfred van Dulmen, and Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck. Gratitude also is expressed to Richard A. Weinberg for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Preparation of this article was supported partly by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to Byron Egeland, L. Alan Sroufe, and W. Andrew Collins. REFERENCES Ayduk, O., Downey, G., & Kim, M. (2001). An expectancy-value model of personality diathesis for depression: Rejection sensitivity and depression in women. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Berscheid, E. (2002). On stepping on land mines. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), Psychologists defying the crowd: Eminent psychologists describe how they battled the establishment and won (pp ). Washington, DC: APA Books. Berscheid, E., & Kelley, H. H. (2002). Introduction to the Percheron Press edition. In H. H. Kelley, E. Berscheid, A. Christensen, J. H. Harvey, T. L. Huston, G. Levinger, E. McClintock, L. A. Peplau, & D. R. Peterson, Close relationships (pp. vii xxvi). Clinton Corners, New York: Percheron.

19 MORE THAN MYTH 19 Berscheid, E., & Reis, H. T. (1998). Attraction and close relationships. In S. Fiske (Ed.), Handbook of social psychology 4th ed., pp ). New York: Addison-Wesley. Berscheid, E., Snyder, M., & Omoto, A. (1989). The Relationship Closeness Inventory: Assessing the closeness of interpersonal relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, Brown, B. B. (1999). You re going out with who? Peer group influences on adolescent romantic relationships. In W. Furman, B. B. Brown, & C. Feiring (Eds.), The development of romantic relationships in adolescence (pp ). New York: Cambridge University Press. Brown, B. B., Feiring, C., & Furman, W. (1999). Missing the love boat: Why researchers have shied away from adolescent romance. In W. Furman, B. B. Brown, & C. Feiring (Eds.), The development of romantic relationships in adolescence (pp. 1 16). New York: Cambridge University Press. Carver, K., Joyner, K., & Udry, J. R. (in press). National estimates of adolescent romantic relationships. In P. Florsheim (Ed.), Adolescent romantic relations and sexual behavior: Theory, research, and practical implications. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Coates, D. L. (1999). The cultured and culturing aspects of romantic experience in adolescence. In W. Furman, B. B. Brown, & C. Feiring (Eds.), The development of romantic relationships in adolescence (pp ). New York: Cambridge University Press. Collins, W. A. (2002). Historical perspectives on contemporary research in social development. In P. Smith, & C Hart (Eds.), Blackwell Handbook of Social Development (pp. 1 23). Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishers. Collins, W. A. (1999). Willard W. Hartup and the new look in social development. In W. A. Collins, & B. Laursen (Eds.), Relationships as developmental contexts: The Minnesota symposia on child psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 3&11). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Collins, W. A., Christian, S. D., & Hennighausen, K. (2000, March). The course of true love(s)y : Longitudinal correlates of occurrence and quality in adolescents romantic relationships: In I. Seiffge-Krenke (chair), What can the past and future tell us about adolescents romantic relationships? Symposium presented at the biennial conference of the Society for Research on Adolescence, Chicago. Collins, W. A., Hennighausen, K. H., Schmit, D. T., & Sroufe, L. A. (1997). Developmental precursors of romantic relationships: A longitudinal analysis. In S. Shulman, & W. A. Collins (Eds.), Romantic Relationships in Adolescence: Developmental Perspectives (pp ). San Francisco: Jossey Bass. Collins, W. A., & Laursen, B. (2000). Adolescent relationships: The Art of Fugue. In C. Hendrick, & S. Hendrick (Eds.), Sage Sourcebook on Close Relationships (pp ). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Collins, W. A., & Madsen, S. D. (2002, April). Relational roots of romance: Beyond chumships. In S. Shulman & I. Seiffge-Krenke (chairs), Antecedents of the Quality and Stability of Adolescent Romantic Relationships. Collins, W. A., & Sroufe, L. A. (1999). Capacity for intimate relationships: A developmental construction. In W. Furman, C. Feiring, & B. B. Brown (Eds.), Contemporary Perspectives on Adolescent Romantic Relationships (pp ). New York: Cambridge University Press. Conger, R. D., Cui, M. K., Bryant, C. M., & Elder, G. H. Jr. (2000). Competence in early adult romantic relationships: A developmental perspective on family influences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, Connolly, J. A., Craig, W., Goldberg, A., & Pepler, D. (1999). Conceptions of cross-sex friendships and romantic relationships in early adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 28, Connolly, J. A., Furman, W., & Konarski, R. (2000). The role of peers in the emergence of heterosexual romantic relationships in adolescence. Child Development, 71,

20 20 COLLINS Connolly, J. A., & Goldberg, A. (1999). Romantic relationships in adolescence: The role of friends and peers in their emergence and development. In W. Furman, B. B. Brown, & C. Feiring (Eds.), The development of romantic relationships in adolescence (pp ). New York: Cambridge University Press. Connolly, J. A., & Johnson, A. (1996). Adolescents romantic relationships and the structure and quality of their close interpersonal ties. Personal Relationships, 3, Connolly, J. A., & Konarski, R. (1994). Peer self-concept in adolescence: Analysis of factor structure and of associations with peer experience. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 4, Connolly, J. A., Taradash, A., & Williams, T., (2001). Dating and sexual activities of Canadian boys and girls in early adolescence: Normative patterns and biopsychosocial risks for early onset of heterosexuality. Working paper series. Applied Research Branch of Strategic Policy, Human Resources Development Canada. Darling, N., & Cohan, C. L., (2002, April). Romantic anxiety and avoidance and middle adolescents depressive symptoms: In D. Welsh (chair), When love hurts: Adolescent romantic relationships and depressive symptoms. Symposium at the conference of the Society for Research on Adolescence, New Orleans, LA. Davies, P. T., & Windle, M. (2000). Middle adolescents dating pathways and psychosocial adjustment. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 46, Davila, J., Steinberg, S. J., Kachadourian, L., Cobb, R., & Fincham, F., (2002, April). Early romantic experiences and depressive symptoms: Emerging depressogenic patterns: In D. Welsh (chair), When love hurts: Adolescent romantic relationships and depressive symptoms. Symposium at the conference of the Society for Research on Adolescence, New Orleans, LA. Diamond, L. M., Savin-Williams, R. C., & Dubé, E. M. (1999). Sex, dating, passionate friendships, and romance: Intimate peer relations among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adolescents. In W. Furman, B. B. Brown, & C. Feiring (Eds.), The development of romantic relationships in adolescence (pp ). New York: Cambridge University Press. Dornbusch, S. M., Carlsmith, J. M., Gross, R., Martin, J., Jennings, D., Rosenberg, A., & Duke, P. (1981). Sexual development, age, and dating: A comparison of biological and social influences upon one set of behaviors. Child Development, 52, Downey, G., Bonica, C., & Rincón, C. (1999). Rejection sensitivity and adolescent romantic relationships. In W. Furman, B. B. Brown, & C. Feiring (Eds.), The development of romantic relationships in adolescence (pp ). New York: Cambridge University Press. Elder, G. H. Jr. (1998). The life course and human development. In W. Damon (Series Ed.) & R Lerner (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of child psychology, Vol. 1, Theoretical models of human development (5th ed., pp ). New York: Wiley. Feiring, C. (1996). Concepts of romance in 15-year-old adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 7, Feiring, C. (1999). Gender identity and the development of romantic relationships in adolescence. In W. Furman, & B. B. Brown (Eds.), The development of romantic relationships in adolescence (pp ). New York: Cambridge University Press. Feldman, S. S., & Gowen, L. K. (1998). Conflict negotiations tactics in romantic relationships of high schoolers. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 27, Feldman, S. S., Turner, R., & Araujo, K. (1999). The influence of the relationship context on normative and personal sexual timetables in youths. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 9, Fletcher, G. J. O., Fincham, F. D., Cramer, L., & Herson, N. (1987). The role of attributions in the development of dating relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53,

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