Love Relationships Among College Students

Love Relationships Among College Students

David Knox

Data from one-hundred-eighty-four undergraduates at a large southeastern university revealed that 94% have experienced a love relationship. Young (age 19 and under) undergraduates were significantly (p [is less than] .03) more likely to believe in “love at first sight” and “love conquers all” than older (age 20 and older) undergraduates. Current involvement in a love relationship was also significantly associated (p [is less than] .01) with the romantic belief that love conquers all. Family life educators and therapists might be aware that age and relationship experience may impact romantic love beliefs.

“Love is the sweetest thing, what else on earth could ever bring Such happiness to everything, as love’s old story?” are the lyrics to an old love song “Love’s Story to You.” Popular music (“All You Need Is Love” “What’s Love Got to do with It?”), movies (Titanic, Bridges of Madison County), and television dramas (Dawson’s Creek) continue to emphasize the importance of love relationships in one’s life. This study focused on romantic beliefs among a sample of college students.

Data

Data were obtained by questionnaire from 184 undergraduates at East Carolina University enrolled in two Courtship and Marriage classes. Sixty-eight percent of the respondents were women; 32% men. Seventy-four percent of the respondents were freshman or sophomores; 26% were juniors and seniors. The median age was 19.

Findings

Love was a common experience among these respondents. Ninety-four percent reported that they had been in love before with over a third (36%) reporting 3 or more love relationships. While the median number of love relationships was 2, over ten percent reported five or more love partners.

Experiencing the end of a love relationship was also a common experience among these respondents. Eighty-four percent reported that they had ended one or more love relationships. Sixty-two percent reported that they had experienced the termination of a love relationship by their partner. No significant differences in sex or age of respondent were found for being in or experiencing the end of a love relationship.

Romantic beliefs of the respondents were also explored. One romantic belief about love is “love at first sight.” Younger respondents (those 19 and under) were significantly (p [is less than] .03) were more likely than older respondents (those 20 or older) to believe that “You can fall in love the first time you see someone.” Indeed, over half (54%) of the younger group, verses about a third (36%) of the older group believed in “instant love.”

Another romantic belief is that “love conquers all.” Again, younger students were significantly (p [is less than] .02) more likely than older students to agree that “All problems can be solved if there is enough love.” The percentages were 61% versus 43%, respectively, of the younger and older respondents who believed that “love conquers all.”

Analysis of the data also revealed that one’s relationship status is associated with one’s belief in the power of love to solve all problems. Respondents who were currently involved in a relationship were significantly (p [is less than] .01) more likely to agree that “love conquers all” than those who were not involved in a relationship. Sixty-two percent of those who were currently involved in a relationship agreed that “All problems can be solved if there is enough love” in contrast to 42% who were not currently involved in a relationship. No significant differences between women and men were observed in regard to believing in “love at first sight” and “love conquers all.”

Discussion

These data confirm, update, and extend the literature on love and intimate relationships. Previous researchers have documented the universal importance of love in relationships. Jankowiak and Fischer (1992) conducted a study of romantic love cross-culturally and found that 89% of the 166 societies they studied had evidence of passionate love (love songs in the culture, elopement due to mutual affection, etc.). Hatfield and Rapson (1996) in their overview of love in different cultures concluded, “People throughout the modern world seem to be equally susceptible to love and to experience it with the same fervor” (p. 88).

In regard to romantic love in the U.S., researchers (Knox and Sporakowski, 1968; Knox, 1970a) found that the younger the respondent the more likely the belief in romantic ideas about love such as “love at first sight” and “love conquers all.” Data from the current study show that after almost thirty years, youth and romanticism are still related. Thus, despite a high divorce rate, premarital education programs, and public awareness of violence in relationships, first and second year college students still believe very much in the mystery of love (it happens on sight and conquers all problems). Montgomery and Sorell (1997) found that relationships characterized by romance and passion are likely to be among the most satisfying.

Previous researchers have also documented that one’s relationship experience is associated with one’s beliefs about love. Knox (1970b) found that young unmarrieds were more romantic than young marrieds. That “moonlight and roses become daylight and dishes” is not surprising.

The current study also confirms recent data that men and women today are more similar than different in their beliefs about love. While older studies (Knox and Sporakowski, 1968; Knox 1970c) reflected significant differences, more recent data comparing 436 undergraduate men and 449 undergraduate women found no significant differences between women and men in attitudes toward romantic love (Knox and Schacht, 1995). As the socialization of genders continues to become more similar, we would expect that similar love views would continue between women and men.

Implications

Family life educators and therapists in university counseling centers might be aware of the importance of love in the lives of college students and the developmental sequence regarding their views on love. Freshman and sophomores are significantly more likely to believe in “love at first sight” and “love conquers all” than juniors and seniors. While some couples experience love feelings upon first meeting and find love helpful in motivating them to resolve conflict, most couples discover that love develops over time and that managing conflict in relationships takes work. These discoveries often come with age and relationship experience. Therapists might be cautious in expecting college youth to have views that their age and experience do not provide.

References

Hatfield, E. and R. L. Rapson (1996) Love and sex: Cross-cultural perspectives. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Jankowiak, W. R. and E. F. Fischer. (1992) A cross-cultural perspective on romantic love. Ethnology 31, 149-155

Knox, D. (1970a) Attitudes toward love of high school seniors. Adolescence 5, 89-100

Knox, D. (1970b) Conceptions of love at three developmental levels. The Family Coordinator 19, 151-157.

Knox, D. (1970c) Conceptions of love by married college students. College Students Survey 4, 28-30.

Knox, D. and C. Schacht (1995) Love attitudes Inventory. Abridged version data. East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina. Unpublished data.

Knox, D and M. J. Sporakowski (1968) Attitudes of college students toward love. Journal of Marriage and the Family 30, 638-642.

Montgomery, M. J. and G. T. Sorell. (1997) Differences in love attitudes across family life states. Family Relations 46, 55-61.

DAVID KNOX, EAST CAROLINA UNIVERSITY CAROLINE SCHACHT, EAST CAROLINA UNIVERSITY MARTY E. ZUSMAN, INDIANA UNIVERSITY NORTHWEST

COPYRIGHT 1999 Project Innovation (Alabama)

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group