Life

“How my teenage friendships impacted my adult romantic relationships”

Posted by
Moya Crockett
Published

Stylist’s Moya Crockett has always suspected that her attitude towards romance was influenced by her youthful female friendships. And now, new research confirms it. 

As a teenager, I had one serious boyfriend and a smattering of disappointing flings. Those boys were my first real induction into feelings of lust and longing and heartbreak, and for that, I’m grateful. But if you asked me what I actually learned from any of them, I’d struggle. OK, I’ll give it a go: one was incredibly passionate about the fiction of Bret Easton Ellis, and another taught me how to smoke weed without coughing. But I am now 27, and find both marijuana and Ellis’ writing intensely boring.

My female friends of that era, in contrast, taught me almost everything. I don’t want to sentimentalise or fetishize adolescent female friendships, which are rarely the intense, dreamy melodrama of popular imagination. (My own formative years were much more Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging than The Virgin Suicides.) But it’s not an exaggeration to say that those relationships were the foundation on which the rest of me was built.

It was through endless conversations with my teenage best friends, for example, that I really learned how to talk about my feelings. It’s because of those girls that I know how to navigate arguments with people who have every right to walk away. It was them who taught me the importance of nurturing relationships, and what it means to know another person so intimately that you can practically read their mind. 

You may also like

How your relationship with your dad affects your love life

These are priceless lessons in many contexts, but I’ve found they’re particularly useful when it comes to actual, adult romance. I am cheerily, unabashedly affectionate towards my boyfriend, both physically and verbally. (If I think something nice about him, I say it.) And if I sense trouble brewing, I don’t dwell; I insist on a conversation. He is approximately 250% more reserved than me, and would probably be quite content to leave some things unsaid. But thanks to my teenage girlfriends, talking about everything – good and bad – has become a reflex for me. I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to. 

Moya (seated, left) with her best friends, aged 16 

So I was delighted, but not surprised, to read a new study that confirms that strong same-gender teenage friendships are closely linked to positive romantic relationships in adulthood. The research, which was published in the journal Child Development, shows that you’re likely to enjoy happy romantic relationships as an adult if you also had healthy, platonic, same-gender relationships during adolescence.

On the flipside, a person’s teenage romantic history – such as whether they dated, had boyfriends or girlfriends, or engaged in sexual activity – was found to have little bearing on their adult relationship satisfaction. 

You may also like

“Vows, tears and a RuPaul pep talk: why officiating my best friend’s wedding was my greatest honour to date”

“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,” said Joseph P Allen, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, who led the study. (Who’d have thunk it?)

“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.”

“Teenagers learn different skills through friendship at different stages”

Isn’t that the loveliest thing you’ve read in weeks? 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. And the research gets even more heart-warming when you dig into it a little.

Essentially, teenagers learn different skills through friendship at different stages – and the benefits are felt well into adulthood. Those who could “establish positive expectations of relationships” and “be appropriately assertive” with their peers aged 13 were generally found to have healthy romantic relationships in their late 20s. And those who could establish and maintain close, stable friendships between the ages of 16 and 18 were most likely to be satisfied romantically as adults.

The group of teenage girls who helped create me are women now. Almost all of them are still present in my life, offering wisdom and humour and telling me to shut up when necessary. It comes as no surprise to me that our friendships have made us all more capable when it comes to navigating the choppy waters of romance – but it is rather lovely to have it confirmed by science.

Images: Getty Images / Moya Crockett

Topics

Share this article

Author

Moya Crockett

Moya is Contributing Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk and Deputy Editor of Stylist Loves, Stylist's daily email newsletter. Carrying a bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

Recommended by Moya Crockett

Life

How to “friend date”: the art of pursuing new female friendships

Making new friends as an adult can feel daunting – but it’s totally doable

Posted by
Moya Crockett
Published
Life

4 experts on the importance of female friendship

From the sisterhood to psychology

In partnership with
Wicked
Long Reads

This is how group chats have changed female friendships

Do they keep us close with our loved ones - or are we more isolated than ever?

Posted by
Katie Bishop
Published
People

What volunteering taught me about the magic of intergenerational friendships

“People think volunteering is this staid, martyr-ish thing, but it really doesn’t have to be like that”

Posted by
Sarah Biddlecombe
Published
Long Reads

30 things I still don’t know despite being 30

“I assumed I’d be at peace, full of wisdom and on the right path by now...”

Posted by
Alexandra Jones
Published