CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — As much as many of us would like to forget our awkward teenage years, researchers have long found a connection between physical and mental health in adolescence and the quality of an individual’s romantic life in adulthood. Interestingly, a new long-term study conducted at two Virginia Universities concludes that the strongest indicator of a satisfying romantic life in adulthood is an adolescent’s ability to establish and maintain friendships with peers of the same gender.
So many teens get caught up in the idea of finding their first romance or relationship during these years, but according to the research, it will actually be much more beneficial later in life to just focus on making friends. Simply put, if a teen can get along well and develop friendships with members of the same gender during adolescence, they are more likely to form meaningful connections with potential romantic interests as an adult.
“In spite of the emphasis teens put on adolescent romantic relationships, they turn out not to be the most important predictor of future romantic success,” explains study leader Joseph P. Allen in a release. “Instead, it’s the skills learned in friendships with peers of the same gender–skills such as stability, assertiveness, intimacy, and social competence–that correspond most closely to the skills needed for success in adult romantic relationships.”
The researchers, from the University of Virginia and James Madison University, observed and interviewed 165 adolescents from age 13 through 30. The teenagers lived in suburban and urban areas in the southeastern United States. In the beginning, each participant was asked to self-report on the quality of their social and romantic relationships, these self-reports were then compared to statements made by their close friends. As time passed, each participant was interviewed three times in their late 20s on how satisfied they were with their romantic life.
Allen and his team found that the development of totally non-romantic social skills as an adolescent accurately predicted romantic competence at ages 27-30.
More specifically, researchers identified three especially important social skills that should be developed at certain ages:
- By age 13, teens should be able to establish positive, realistic expectations for a peer relationship, and assert themselves around others.
- At ages 15-16, an adolescent should have the ability to build close friendships with a few peers, while simultaneously managing a number of other less personal peer relationships.
- From ages 16-18, teens should have the ability to establish and maintain close, stable friendships.
Surprisingly, these factors were much more closely related to future romantic satisfaction than any romantic or sexual behavior during adolescence.
“Romantic relationships in adolescence are much more likely to be fleeting, and as such, they don’t appear to be the main way teens learn skills needed for the future,” says study co-author Rachel K. Narr.
The study is published in the scientific journal Child Development.