What Are Liquid Relationships in Adolescents?

Adolescent bonds have always been characterized as changeable and short-lived. But liquid relationships can generate negative emotional consequences.
What Are Liquid Relationships in Adolescents?

Last update: 18 July, 2021

For human beings, social relationships are fundamental. Quality, interpersonal ties are necessary to maintain good psychological and emotional health. However, the globalized societies in which we live have drastically changed the way we relate to each other. Young people are those that these changes affect the most. Liquid relationships in adolescents have become a daily reality.

Adolescence is a time of great social changes. Family relationships lose prominence and certain routines such as visiting aunts, uncles, cousins, or grandparents disappear. In their place, the peer group takes center stage and the first romantic ties begin to emerge.

These early experiences can profoundly mark adolescents and contribute to building their identity, their beliefs, and their expectations. Therefore, it’s important to provide them with the necessary tools to make these experiences as positive as possible.

Two teens--a boy and a girl--sitting on a couch and looking in opposite directions.

What are liquid relationships?

It was sociologist Zygmunt Bauman who coined the term liquid relationships to refer to fleeting, superficial, and fragile interpersonal bonds. These are relationships that are based on the selfish desire to fill an emotional void. What’s more, they end due to a fear of commitment and of being hurt by the other person. Therefore, this type of relationship’s characterized by being temporary, not very empathic, and lacking in involvement.

The goal of these relationships is freedom and independence, two aspects that one’s not willing to give up in order to establish a solid connection with another human being. In liquid relationships, people remain in our lives for a specific period of time, but their duration is ephemeral and future projection is non-existent.

Why do liquid relationships occur in adolescents?

Personal relationships during adolescence have always been characterized by being brief and changeable, as this is related to the emotional lability and impulsivity that’s typical of this stage of growth. Adolescents aren’t yet adults and, therefore, can’t be expected to act with complete maturity. But beyond this, there are other factors that favor the emergence of liquid relationships.

Changing and uncertain context

In previous generations, it was common for people to stay in the same job for most of their working lives, for their environment to be similar over the years, and even for them to stay with their partner into adulthood or old age.

Today’s young people face a constantly changing reality that requires them to be flexible and versatile. In this context, emotional commitment has come to be seen as a tie, a burden that can hinder personal development and, therefore, tends to be avoided.

Social networks

Social networks have also contributed to changing the way we relate to each other and the way we view relationships. Accustomed to the immediacy and infinite possibilities at just the click of a finger, empathy, and emotional responsibility in relationships have been lost. Teenagers have become accustomed to engaging in virtual connections in which practices such as ghosting (which wouldn’t take place in any other context) are the order of the day.

Globalization

In general, globalization has led to the perception of bonds as just another consumer product, something to be easily accessed, enjoyed effortlessly, and discarded or replaced at the slightest failure or difficulty.

A pre-teen lying on her bed, looking at her cell phone.

The consequences of superficial connections

Liquid relationships in adolescents can cause emotional damage. Firstly, because they can lead young people to see themselves as replaceable and worthless. Secondly, because the psychological after-effects of these first experiences can condition the way young people relate to each other in the future, increasing their fear of commitment and emotional intimacy.

But, above all, because they deprive them of enjoying the deep and meaningful bonds that all human beings need; those that give us a sense of belonging and rootedness and to which we know we can turn.

It’s not possible to change the reality of the times in which our adolescents live. However, boosting their self-esteem and educating them in values at home can help prevent the consequences. Talking to them about the importance of building meaningful relationships and valuing interdependence over independence can prevent the fear of emotional intimacy that sustains liquid relationships.

It might interest you...
How to Face Your Child’s First Teenage Love
You are MomRead it in You are Mom
How to Face Your Child’s First Teenage Love

Someone's first teenage love can make them feel on top of the world, or in the gutter. But whatever the case, it certainly makes it mark on all of ...

 



  • Bauman, Z. (2012). Amor líquido: acerca de la fragilidad de los vínculos humanos. Fondo de cultura económica.
  • Linne, J., & Basile, D. (2013). La discoteca virtual. Búsqueda de pareja en adolescentes de sectores populares a través de Facebook. Razón y palabra18(85). https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/1995/199531506029.pdf