Adolescents’ Love Lives: Heterogeneity in Relationship Status Trajectories and Links with Affect


Journal Article

Romantic experiences are more fluid and heterogeneous during middle adolescence than at any other life stage, but current understanding of this heterogeneity and flux is limited because of imprecise measurement. A sample of 531 adolescents (55% female; 28% non-Hispanic White; 32% Black; 27% Hispanic; 14% Other) recruited from an ongoing birth cohort study (Mean age = 16.7 years, SD = 0.358), was administered bi-weekly diaries over 52 weeks to prospectively record transitions in and out of romantic and sexual relationships and to assess links with positive affect (frequency of happiness) and negative affect (frequency of sadness). Relationship statuses considered included not only dating, but also liminal and asymmetrical statuses such as talking/flirting and crushes. Latent profile analyses revealed six relationship status trajectories, or love life profiles, based on the number of intra-year partners and on the extent of involvement in each of the relationship statuses. Approximately half of teens either were in stable dating relationships or uninvolved romantically during the year; however, half experienced variable levels of flux in their love lives. Relationship instability, not romantic involvement per se, was associated with higher levels of sadness and lower levels of happiness. Snapshots of teen romantic involvement based on one or two points in time obscure the extent of relationship heterogeneity and flux and how relationship status trajectories are associated with positive and negative affect.

Journal of Youth and Adolescence