Early adolescents’ “crushing”: Pursuing romantic interest on a social stage

F. Scott Christopher, Sarah J. McKenney, Franklin O. Poulsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Bredow, Cate, and Huston hypothesize that individuals initiate romantic relationships by engaging in four stages—deciding whether another is attractive, whether to approach that person, how best to initiate contact, and how to build rapport once contact is made. It is unclear, however, whether this model applies to early adolescents’ pursuits of romantic relationships. It is equally unclear whether factors that are a large part of adolescents’ lives, specifically peers and electronic communication, play a role when early adolescents initiate romantic contact. To address these lacunas, we conducted same-sex and same-age focus groups with sixth and eighth graders. Using a grounded theory approach, our findings revealed that these youth made strategic choices to be noticed by potential partners; sixth graders engaged in play-like behaviors, eighth grade girls flirted, and eighth grade boys planned ways to cross paths with girls at school. These early adolescents also texted and used peers to see whether their romantic interests were reciprocated. In fact, peers played active roles by helping to evaluate potential partners. Further, friends of sixth graders were frequently a direct physical influence, pushing partners into hugging and holding hands, while friends of eighth graders were frequently a direct social influence, working to join two individuals even when those involved may not have wanted this. Our findings suggest a need to broaden Bredow et al.’s model to include social influences while also showing that early adolescents use peers and electronic messaging to reduce uncertainty when pursuing romantic interests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)515-533
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2015


  • Adolescence
  • dating
  • early adolescents
  • relationship formation
  • relationship initiation
  • uncertainty reduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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