A couple (Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash)

💡What To Know:

  • “Just talking” is not just a code for young adults hooking up.
  • College students actually placed significance on deeper connections.
  • Scientists found “just talking” played a role in relationship-building among young adults.

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — We’re “just talking.” That’s the answer many parents get when they ask their college-aged children if they’re dating anyone. But what does “just talking” actually mean? This phrase, familiar to many yet confusing in its true meaning, may finally have a concrete definition thanks to researchers at Binghamton University.

Their study, published in the journal Emerging Adulthood, delved into the world of “just talking” to uncover its significance among young adults in college. Contrary to assumptions that today’s youth prioritize casual hookups over deeper connections, this research suggests that emotional intimacy and the quest for romantic relationships may play a more central role in the lives of young adults.

“Nearly everybody is familiar with the phrase ‘just talking,’” says Melissa Hardesty, co-investigator at Binghamton University’s Human Sexualities Lab, in a university release. “Some of the common themes are that ‘just talking’ is ‘a label without a label,’ it’s ‘not exclusive,’ and it’s a way of getting to know somebody, possibly for the purpose of starting a relationship or, conversely, for the purpose of avoiding a relationship while still engaging in relationship-like activities.”

The study’s findings challenge the notion that the college experience is solely defined by alcohol-fueled encounters and fleeting connections.

“I do think romance is more important to emerging adults than people may think,” adds Hardesty. “My guess is that romance never went away, but the dominant college culture is centered around drinking alcohol and finding sexual partners. My best guess is that a cultural shift has been in the works for some time, but social scientists don’t usually detect these things until they’re well underway.”

Friends having a conversation outside
The research suggests that emotional intimacy and the quest for romantic relationships may play a more central role in the lives of young adults. (Photo by Samsung UK on Unsplash)

The investigation into “just talking” involved a survey of 403 undergraduate students, followed by a series of focus groups designed to probe deeper into the experiences and expectations associated with this phase. Respondents frequently mentioned physical intimacy, the potential for future commitment, and the predominant role of smartphones and social media in facilitating communication. These insights reveal “just talking” as a nuanced stage of relationship-building, where intimacy is pursued and developed in a modern, technology-driven context.

One of the study’s key revelations is the differentiation between “just talking” and hookups.

“In hookup culture, emotional attachments are taboo (though they do occur); just talking allows students to form emotional intimacy while downplaying the significance of such intimacy – they’re just talking,” explains Hardesty. “It’s striking to me that students have difficulty recognizing courtship, which is a process rather than a status. I think this may be because a sex and gender-integrated social environment allows people to meet potential partners without a formal courtship strategy in place. Students almost certainly courted one another outside of hookup culture prior to the emergence of ‘just talking,’ but there didn’t seem to be a dominant/recognizable strategy.”

Hardesty’s observations point to a broader societal trend: despite the pervasive influence of hookup culture, the desire for romance and meaningful connections has not diminished among young adults. Instead, it has adapted, finding expression through new terminologies and behaviors that reflect the changing landscape of interpersonal relationships.

As the research team continues to conduct interviews with individuals engaged in “just talking,” their work promises to shed further light on the evolving dynamics of love and intimacy in the digital age, offering valuable insights into the emotional lives of today’s college students.

StudyFinds’ Matt Higgins contributed to this report.

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