How old were you during your first relationship? Whether it was a hand-holding middle school love, a head-over-heels college moment, or a let’s-move-in-together-right-now thing in your late 20s, the age when you first started dating can say a lot about you. Or, at the very least, about the factors that were going on around you.
“Our age during the first romantic relationship appears to be more dependent upon the quality and length of our relationships with our friends during our teenage years than personality factors,” licensed psychologist Dr. Danielle Forshee, tells Bustle. “Our personality is not truly formed until adulthood, and even then, can change as the years pass and we have more life experiences.”
It is interesting to think about why some folks have relationships while they’re younger, while others take more time. But the thing to keep in mind is it doesn’t really matter. “There’s no right time to get into your first relationship,” relationship expert Lily Womble, founder of Date Brazen, tells Bustle. If you’re looking for a relationship, put yourself out there, and meet the right person, it can happen at any age — whether you’re 18, 25, or beyond.
Below, ages have been broken down into brackets based on common experience. Thirteen to 17 are the teen years, 18 to 24 are the college years or when a person might kick off their career, and 25 to 30 (plus) are the young adult years. Here’s what it all might mean, according to experts.
1. Ages 13 to 17
“Personality develops during childhood and throughout adolescence and starts to crystallize during early adulthood,” Dr. Forshee says. “From a developmental perspective, around 16-years-old is around the time we begin having the capacity to experience our first real relationship.”
According to the Pew Research Center, 35 percent of teens ages 13 to 17 have been in a romantic relationship. And that might have something to do with how supportive their friend groups are.
While not everyone is ready to have their first relationship in their teens, if you found love at this age it may have been because of your friends. “By this age, people have had a lot of practice with managing their friendship relationships, which helps build self-esteem, teaches us how to deal with arguments, [and] gives us practice with managing emotions and making decisions,” Dr. Forshee says.
2. Ages 18 to 24
Those same teenage friendships may have set you up for a healthy relationship as you entered into your 20s, too. “Research indicates that friendships offer an important training ground for developing capacities and expectations for later romantic relationships,” Dr. Forshee says.
If your friendships were strong as a teenager, it may have given you the tools to have a healthy relationship at this age. “Several studies have shown positive linkages between adolescent friendships and being able to have positive adult romantic relationships,” Dr. Forshee says. “Specifically, individuals’ support from friends at age 15-17 was positively related to support from romantic partners at age 21, and more support from friends at 16 years was predictive of longer-term committed romantic relationships from 18 to 25 years.
3. Ages 25 to 30+
If you had your first relationship when you were well into your 20s, it may indicate you were more cautious and protective of your time and space.
“Some [people] wait to get into relationship because they’re afraid of how it will negatively impact their independence,” Womble says. You may have chosen to focus on school, or your career, and never found any time to date as a result.
Waiting until this age can also make dating a bit more difficult, as many people begin to create an idealized version of love in their head. As Womble says, “Many times people who wait longer to get into relationship develop high (sometimes unrealistic) expectations of romance or have a lot of fear around being vulnerable, so they’ve put off getting into a relationship.”
But, of course, this isn’t true for everyone. People start dating at different ages for all sorts of reasons, both personal and external. “Currently there is no research to indicate that personality in particular has much to do with the age people have their first real relationship,” Dr. Forshee says.
That said, it may say a lot about what you valued, what you hoped for, and the people you surrounded yourself with.