Perpetual adolescence: The new world of stayover relationships

Dominika Osmolska Psy.D.'s picture
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The younger generation is redefining – or perhaps introducing – committed relationship parameters. They are increasingly engaged in what researchers call “stayover relationships.” University of Missouri researcher Tyler Jamison defines them as relationships in which young people spent three or more nights together a week and still kept their own places.

Jamison conducted a research study among college students and found that committed couples in their 20s are redefining dating and breaking social norms with this new relationship model. “This seems to be a pretty stable and convenient middle ground between casual dating and more formal commitments like living together and getting married,” says Jamison, a University of Missouri doctoral candidate and researcher in the department of human development and family studies in Columbia, Mo.

She says stayover relationships represent a comfortable arrangement between two people who are not totally sure they want to end up in a permanent situation or who don’t want to end up living together and then having to find another place to live if they do break up.

Jamison believes stayover relationships represent a general trend in which young people want to delay permanent relationships because they ostensibly want to finish their education or pursue other goals. She’s expanding her research to examine unmarried parents, and suspects that people of all ages enjoy stayover relationships. She points out that stayover relationships come with a lot of benefits but not too many consequences – unless, of course, the couple do have children. In that case, all bets are off.

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Aaron Turpeau, a licensed professional counselor and relationship expert in Atlanta, believes that America’s obsession with independence is driving these stayover relationships, and he does not see that in a necessarily positive light.

“We don’t want anyone hindering us from doing our thing,” he says. “You hear people say it all the time: ‘You do you, and I’ll do me.’ Unfortunately, this obsession with independence leads to unhealthy human relationships.” He adds that what results is a large segment of young people living on the fence, never committing one way or the other.

“We don’t value what we don’t need, and we don’t love what we don’t value,” he says. “I can say I want a relationship, but I don’t need a relationship. I want a man, but I don’t need a man. So we play house; we play marriage and as soon as we get tired, we go back to our own places.”

Jamison, at least, is not convinced. She does not believe that stayover relationships have major implications for later commitments or marriages.

If anything, stayover relationships appear to be symptomatic of a larger trend towards delayed adulthood, a delay which keeps getting extended from the early twenties well into the thirties. While it is wise not to make major life commitments during our teens, when, developmentally speaking, we are still in the process of identity formation, this does not hold water for someone in his or her twenties or thirties. Adulthood is about taking risks, which is what making a commitment is all about. There simply never will be a time when we have it all figured out and know the best course of action, or the best person for a partnership. We learn these things as we live them.

Jamison’s study is being published in the current issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

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