Despite the explosion of dating prospects, the overall trend through the 20s is not that different from 30 years ago: falling in and out of some number of relationships until the right one comes along. The recent Toledo Adolescent Relationship Study, which followed 1,300 young people from adolescence into adulthood, found that relationships formed in emerging adulthood show increasing levels of intimacy and interdependence. And the vast majority of emerging adults who reported recent casual experiences had sex with friends or ex-partners, not random Internet matches. For concerned parents, it's also reassuring news that 75 percent of young people are married by their early 30s.
Q: What do we say to an unmarried son or daughter who wants to sleep with a partner at our house?
A: This is a personal choice that depends on your values and ease with the guest in question. You might know, for instance, that your emerging adult is sexually involved or cohabiting with a girlfriend or boyfriend, but you may not feel comfortable hosting a sleepover at your home. Things to consider: whether or not this is a long-term relationship, whether there are much younger children at home and whether there's enough room to give everyone privacy. But basically, this is your home — and your call.
Q: Is it OK to keep in touch with a son's or daughter's ex-partner?
A: When a girlfriend or boyfriend spends a lot of time with your family, it's only natural to become close and feel the loss if the pair splits up. But except in rare circumstances (and, of course, if there are grandchildren involved), it may be too hurtful to your grown child to keep contact after a breakup. As one mother of a 24-year-old made clear, "We liked our daughter's college boyfriend a lot. It was hard to go cold turkey when they broke up, but to honor her, we couldn't see him." Your relationship with your own child is the forever one.
Elizabeth Fishel is a widely published writer on family issues and the author of four nonfiction books, including Sisters and Reunion. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett is a research professor of psychology at Clark University and author of Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road From the Late Teens Through the Twenties. They are working on a parents' guide to emerging adulthood, which will be published by Workman in 2012.