Ambiguity, power, and gender roles in the young adult dating scene



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It is well established that patterns of relationship formation in young adulthood are becoming increasingly complex. There is a growing heterogeneity in the types of relationships young adults can form, and there is evidence that the processes of relationship formation are marked by substantial ambiguity. This lack of structure in the young adult dating scene may be accompanied by more flexible gender roles in dating behaviors. Historically men’s roles centered on proactive initiation and women’s roles were characterized by reactive passivity; these gender roles structured the commencement and the progression of early relational ties into formalized unions. However, the deinstitutionalization of dating may have allowed women and men to enact new roles in the pre-relationship phase. This research asks if women and men equally exercise control in both the commencement of relationships and in determining their trajectory. Results indicate that men possess a unique controlling role of the ability to define a relationship, while women typically inhabit a role of clearly communicating their interests levels to men while simultaneously attempting to clarify men’s intentions.