Forming and Maintaining Platonic and Romantic Relationships During Emerging Adulthood Through Social Media

Emerging adults are individuals between the ages of 18-29 who have grown up practically with an iPad at all times.  As emerging adults in the 21st century, you may ask yourself how growing up with technology affected how you maintain and form romantic and platonic relationships.

Many social media platforms form and maintain relationships.  Some apps are specific to finding a romantic relationship, like Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, Christian Mingle, Coffee Meets Bagel,, Grindr, Facebook dating, and OKCupid.  In contrast, other apps such as Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Reddit, and Discord are gearing to stay connected to friendships or meet new friends, and sometimes, a romance develops.  Some may say that digitally creating and maintaining relationships are artificial or disingenuous.  However, individuals in their emerging adulthood adapted to the norm their whole lives and are considered digital natives.  The use of social media to fulfill the need for social interaction began to gain more prevalence over interpersonal connections.

Social media platforms have evolved for several purposes, whether for businesses like LinkedIn, others for dating, and some to be social with others.  They are helpful and valuable ways to stay connected, whether communicating through direct, private messages, liking or commenting on posts or pictures, or “sliding up” to start a conversation.  Whatever it may be, the activity keeps others updated on people’s lives and allows them to stay connected and engaged.

Top researchers Griffioen, N., Lichtwarck-Aschoff, A., van Rooij, M., & Granic, I., in 2021 examined the link between social media and increased and decreased emotional well-being.  However, there are some factors, depending on the app or purpose.  Social media is often used as a decomposer and viewed as giving/receiving social support.  Many emerging adults use social media to expand their networks and find others with similar interests, morals, beliefs, and lifestyles.  By having this easily accessible way to connect with people with similar interests, a person can feel more satisfied and fulfilled.  When it comes to romantic relationships, viewing an individual’s profile allows one to see if there is an attraction, their family wants and values, shared interests, or hobbies.

Recent research provided by academic professionals Décieux, J. P., Heinen, A., & Willems, H. in 2019 has indicated that emerging adults ranked meeting up in person much lower than interacting through social media apps.  Social media connections ranked average for emerging adults in the top three communication preferences.  These results suggest that social media interactions have shifted from what we once knew as interpersonal connections to connecting through social media as the preferred method to some degree.

Platonic Relationships

Emerging adults are in a unique time of their lives.  They may be away from their hometown friends while in college, traveling abroad, or juggling all the new responsibilities as an adult.  It is also when emerging adults figure out who they genuinely are, phasing out their childhood years and trying to find their career path.  This is also a very challenging time in life when it comes to making meaningful friendships.

Social media has become a place for individuals to express themselves, share their personal journeys, and form and maintain meaningful relationships.  We all strive for friendships, which can be difficult to maintain in emerging adulthood.  The development of social media made it extremely easy to do so.  There is a constant flow of sharing information with your friends, being current on what’s happening in your life, and vice versa.  It is the modern-day method of communication, but this is how today’s emerging adults have grown up.  It is all they know.

Social media has become a place for individuals to give and receive social support.  Social media apps such as Facebook have groups to join geared towards something specific, like yoga groups, weight loss groups, or exercise groups, and some colleges have groups for a particular graduating class, even a group for the neighborhood they live in.  New data collections done by college students have examined that people find it easy to relate and connect with people through social media, making it convenient to find individuals sharing the same interests.  Individuals feel connected in their friendships when friends are up to date with their lives, ask questions, and share their thoughts and feelings.  All of these things happen through modern technology.  Simply seeing a friend’s Instagram post can lead them to a text or direct message about the post, leading to further conversation. That further conversation typically leads to friends meeting up in person to catch up. It is imperative that friends make the effort to see each other and connect in person, whether it’s meeting up for brunch, finding new activities to do together, or going to events together, allowing for the friendship to flourish and grow.

Romantic Relationships

Creating romantic and platonic relationships are similar in some ways.  For example, finding someone with similar interests, morals, and beliefs goes both ways.  However, romantic relationships are different when using dating apps.  Attraction plays a considerable part.  Many recent studies have examined dating apps as the new age for finding a significant other.  Many individuals interact through dating apps, where the app offers suggestions of people based on your criteria, or you choose who you are interested in by swiping.  Once there is a mutual connection, communication begins through the app, whether by messaging or sometimes leads to video chat.

Individuals have expressed that dating apps have benefited them from starting to date or reentering the dating world.  It allows them to get comfortable and adjust to getting to know someone without being nervous face-to-face in the beginning stage.  Many apps have a high success rate of a committed relationship, marriage, or friendship if it does not work romantically.

But a big part of social media in a romantic relationship is sharing other posts that display similar interests the couple may have—for example, sharing a restaurant they enjoy or want to explore, sharing a silly video, or a new vacation spot.  Another aspect is validation and reassurance.  You may question how a person can feel validated and reassured.  It is as simple as your partner commenting on your picture or posting a picture of you, even a heart or a like.  The slightest engagement can boost a person’s confidence.  Research has gaged that this gives a dopamine boost to the person receiving validation or reassurance.  It is equally as effective as the person verbally giving reassurance or validation.

Maintaining a healthy romantic relationship takes a lot more than using social media.  Dating apps are great for that initial connection; however, it is extremely important that the users of these apps take the relationship and or connection to the next level.  Video chatting or speaking to the other person over the phone and making plans to meet up over coffee or dinner are great ways to start that in-person relationship.  Building off that first positive interaction and transpiring it to an in-person interaction will allow for the relationship to grow into a true interpersonal connection.  Social media helps spark ideas, and new adventures can strengthen one’s romantic relationship and build an interpersonal connection.

Emerging adults have redesigned the new way of establishing and nurturing relationships.  During this time of their life, everything is changing and evolving, so having a steady path to communicate and get to know others is very important and impactful to one’s well-being.  Emerging adults feel most connected to social media since they have grown during the development of social media.  Social media and technology are familiar places for these individuals.  It is the area in which they strive, and they will continue to evolve and explore.  As the world evolves, technology and social media have become more prominent in our lives.  It is the new era in which we live.  Once the digital relationship begins, it’s up to the individuals to take it to the next level for an interpersonal connection, building a healthy foundation, incorporating each other in their daily physical world, and having a human connection with a sense of closeness in a supportive relationship.

Clinical Reviewed by

John Carnesecchi, LCSW, CEAP

Founder and Clinical Director


Griffioen, N., Lichtwarck-Aschoff, A., van Rooij, M., & Granic, I. (2021). From well-being to social media and back: A multi-method approach to assessing the bi-directional relationship between well-being and social media use.  Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 12.

Décieux, J. P., Heinen, A., & Willems, H. (2019). Social Media and Its Role in Friendship-driven Interactions among Young People: A Mixed Methods Study.  YOUNG, 27(1), 18–31.

Kross E, Verduyn P, Demiralp E, Park J, Lee DS, et al. (2013) Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults. PLOS ONE 8(8): e69841.

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