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Taking chances in romantic relationships.

A 64 item Internet questionnaire was completed by 381 undergraduates at a large southeastern university to assess taking chances in romantic relationships. Almost three fourths (72%) self-identified as being a "person willing to take chances in my love relationship." Engaging in unprotected sex, involvement in a "friends with benefits" relationship, breaking up with a partner to explore alternatives and having sex before being ready were the most frequent risk taking behaviors. Both love and alcohol were identified as contexts for increasing one's likelihood of taking chances in romantic relationships-60% and 66% respectively. Being male, a senior, a "player," and Black were associated with higher frequencies of risk taking. Learning theory was used to explain the findings. Implications and limitations of the study are identified.

Introduction and Research Questions
   On the ball again
   I'm riding for a fall again
   I'm gonna give my all again
   Taking a chance on love
   Taking a chance on love


These words from the classic love song Taking a Chance on Love by Vernon Duke, John Latouche & Ted Fetter emphasize the connection between taking risks and romance. Couples in love, do indeed, take chances- they move in together after knowing each other for a short time, they change schools to be together, and they forgo condom usage thinking "this time won't end in a pregnancy." Taking chances has been studied under the rubric of "risk taking behavior". Previous research has focused on emotional risk taking (Carter and Carter, 2010), online risk taking (Baugartner et al. 2010), and sexual risk taking behavior (Cooper, 2010). Researchers have also identified personality (Turchik et al. 2010) and gender associations (Okonkwo, 2010) of those most likely to engage in risk taking behavior.

The current study focused on five research questions:

1. To what degree do college students express a willingness to take chances in their romantic relationships?

2. To what degree does being in love and being under the influence affect chance taking behavior?

3. How does defining oneself as a risk-taker predict taking chances in romantic relationships?

4. What variables are associated with taking chances in romantic relationships?

5. To what degree do individuals who have misgivings about taking chances in relationships but go ahead anyway?

In order to answer the first (% risk takers) and second (love/alcohol as risk contexts) research questions, we examined the responses to the following survey statements (with 5-point Likert-scale response categories ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree).

1. I view myself as a risk taker.

2. I am a person who is willing to take chances in my love relationship.

3. When I am in love, I am vulnerable to taking chances.

4. When I have been drinking alcohol, I am more vulnerable to taking chances.

In order to answer the third (self definition of risk taker related to taking chances) and fourth (variable associated with risk taking) research questions, we analyzed 3 logistic regression models for each of the 8 variables of chance-taking activities as dependent variables (see Results section for descriptions of variables). The first model included independent variables of the responses to "I view myself as a risk taker" and "I am a person who is willing to take chances in my love relationship." The second model added the variables of responses to "When I am in love, I am vulnerable to taking chances" and "When I have been drinking alcohol, I am more vulnerable to taking chances." The third model included the following variables: sex, race, drinking habits, relationship status, class in college, age, religiosity, religious preference, total number of serious relationships, and political views.

In order to answer the fifth (misgivings) research question, we filtered the dataset to include only "yes" responses to each of the 8 chance-taking activities identified earlier. We then examined the responses to the statements (with 5-point Likert-scale agreement levels):

1. I had misgivings/reservations about [participation in activity], (strongly disagree-strongly agree)

2. The outcome of [activity] was: (extremely negative-extremely positive)

In regard to having misgivings but taking chances anyway, we continued to filter the dataset by each of eight chance-taking activities used in the analyses. Then, we used regression analysis to determine any relationship between the dependent variable of (1) having misgivings/reservations about participation in each activity and (2) perceptions of the outcome of each activity.

Questionnaire, Sample, and Methods Questionnaire

A 64-item questionnaire (approved by the Institutional Review Board) on "Taking Chances in Romantic Relationships" was posted on the Internet. Students in lower division sociology classes at a large southeastern university were emailed the link and asked to complete the survey. In addition to questions about gender, race/ethnicity, age and year in school, students were asked about their relationship status, religion, number of serious relationships, etc. before being asked about their taking chances in romantic relationships.

Sample

A total of 381 respondents completed the survey. The majority of respondents (over 80%) were female, white (approximately 74%), and undergraduate (98%). Over half of the respondents (53%) described their relationship status as emotionally involved with one person, with 4% engaged or married. Nearly 30% (28%) were not dating and not involved with anyone; 12% were dating different people. The mean age of the respondents was approximately 20 years old with a range of 17 to 56.

Methods

Descriptive analysis was used to reveal the degree to which these undergraduates self-identified as risk takers and the degree to which they were vulnerable to taking risks in their relationships when they were under the influence of love and under the influence of alcohol. Similarly, descriptive analysis was used to reveal the percent of respondents who had misgivings about taking chances. Regression analysis was used to identify factors that were significantly associated with taking relationship chances.

Results

Of the examples of chance taking behavior presented on the questionnaire, 8 were identified by 25% or more of the sample as having participated in the activity. These 8 are identified in Table 1.

Risk Takers.

Research question 1 was "To what degree did the sample consider themselves to be risk-takers in their romantic relationships? Almost three fourths (72%) of the respondents self-identified as being a "person willing to take chances in my love relationship."

Love and Alcohol.

Research question 2 was "How did being in love and drinking alcohol influence taking chances? Sixty percent of the respondents reported that "When I am in love, I am vulnerable to taking chances." For a specific example, undergraduates in love were more likely to report having sex before they are ready (Nagelkerke r-square=.059).

In addition to love, alcohol had a similar effect on risk taking with almost two-thirds (66.3%) of the respondents taking chances when under the influence. For example, respondents reported that they are more likely to cheat on their partner when they have been drinking (Nagelkerke r-square=.065). Respondents also noted a greater likelihood to break up with their partner to explore alternatives when they had been drinking (Nagelkerke r-square=.051).

Finally, being under the influence of alcohol was associated with being in a friends with benefits relationship (Nagelkerke r-square=.066).

Effect of risk taking self concept.

Research question 3 was "How does having the self concept increase the risk of taking chances in a romantic relationship?" The data revealed a self fulfilling prophecy effect with those who viewed themselves as risk takers reporting a greater likelihood to have taken chances- particularly in terms of cheating on a partner (Nagelkerke R-square=.044) and breaking up with a partner to explore alternatives (Nagelkerke R-square=.031)

Factors associated with risk taking.

Research question 4 was "What are the personal/social factors associated with taking chances in romantic relationships?"

a. Males- more likely to drink more, be involved in casual relationships and have unprotected sex (Nagelkerke r-square=.395)

b. Seniors- not being a sophomore and being politically liberal is associated with greater likelihood to cheat on a partner (Nagelkerke r-square=.231).

c. Players- having had a large number of relationships is associated with greater likelihood of breaking up with a partner to explore alternatives (Nagelkerke r-square =.205).

d. Black- associated with greater risk taking in reference to being in a friends with benefits relationship.

Misgivings prior to taking risks.

Research question 5 was "To what degree do undergraduates have misgivings about taking chances but go ahead anyway?"

There was considerable concern on the part of these undergraduates in regard to taking chances. Over three fourths (76.6%) reported that they had misgivings/reservations about cheating on their partner. Seventy percent recalled that they had misgivings/reservations about having sex before they were ready. Almost sixty percent (59.8%) reported that they had misgivings about lying to their partner that they were in love.

The misgivings/concems are often warranted in that the outcome of taking these chances was negative. In regard to cheating on their partner, 42% said that the outcome was negative. For having sex when not ready, 45% said that the outcome was negative. Of those who lied about being in love, over half (52.9%) reported a negative outcome. Other examples of having misgivings about taking changes and their being a negative outcome when they took the chance anyway were in reference to involvement in a long distance relationship (47.8%/28.1%), breaking up with the partner to check out alternatives (46.3%/10.4%), and involvement in a friends with benefits relationship (41.4%/25.2).

Discussion and Theoretical Explanation

Almost three fourths (72%) of the sample self-identified as being a "person willing to take chances in my love relationship." Engaging in unprotected sex, involvement in a "friends with benefits" relationship, breaking up with a partner to explore alternatives and having sex before being ready were the most frequently indentified risk taking behaviors in romantic relationships. Both love and alcohol were identified as contexts for increasing one's vulnerability for taking chances in romantic relationships-60% and 66% respectively. Being male, a senior, a player, and Black were associated with higher frequencies of risk taking.

Learning theory may be used to explain risk taking in romantic relationships. Individuals calculate the rewards and costs of a proposed act and predict if there will be a "profit" or "loss." A perceived profit increases the chance that the person will take the risk just as a perceived loss will decrease the chance that the person will take the risk.

An important factor in one's decision to take a risk is the interval between the risk taking behavior and subsequent consequences--the longer the interval before a negative consequence, the greater the chance that risk taking behavior will occur. For example, if after lighting a cigarette and taking a puff a large black sore immediately appeared on one's neck, few would smoke cigarettes. But because getting lung cancer may not occur for 40 years (or ever), the positive consequence of nicotine in the brain right now is worth the risk. Similarly, when John Edwards had the opportunity to have sex with his video journalist, if his marriage and political career would have ended the same day, he would probably not have taken the risk. But because he felt he could avoid the disapproval from his wife, public embarrassment and end of his political career, he took the risk. Similarly, the undergraduates in this study took chances in their romantic relationships because the immediate consequences for their doing so were positive and the potential negative consequences were delayed.

Implications

There are three implications of this study. One, taking chances in romantic relationships is common. Almost three fourths (72%) of the undergraduates in this study reported a willingness to take a chance in their love relationship. Signing up for love involves signing up for a ride that includes taking chances.

Two, both love and alcohol are contexts which increase the chance of risk taking behavior. Both love and alcohol alter the consciousness/judgment of the individual such that taking risks is more likely. Third, being able to forecast negative consequences does not seem to stop risk taking behavior. Indeed, these undergraduates often had misgivings about taking a risk in their relationship which often later became reality. The explanation for overriding one's misgivings/ reservations can be understood in terms of delayed consequences. Today the partner cheats but only much later the partner finds out/ends the relationship.

Limitations

There are several limitations of this study. First, the data should be interpreted cautiously in that they are skewed toward white females (74%) as well as freshmen/sophomores (60%). Second, the convenience sample of 381 undergraduates is hardly representative of the 19.8 million college students throughout the United States (Proquest Statistical Abstract of the United States 2014). Third, the data are also quantitative with no qualitative interviews to provide insights on the raw statistics. Subsequent research might include interviews with students who have taken chances to elicit their feelings and thoughts in regard to taking chances. Fourth, there were numerous low r-squared values which explained very little variation in the dependent variables.

LINDSEY ELLIOTT

East Carolina University

BETH EASTERLING

Mary Baldwin College

DAVID KNOX

East Carolina University

References

Baumgartner, S. E., P. M. Valkenburg and J. Peter. 2010. Assessing causality in the relationship between adolescents' risky sexual online behavior and their perceptions of this behavior. Journal of Youth & Adolescence. 39: 1226-1239.

Carter, P. and D. Carter. 2010. Emotional risk-taking in marital relationships: A phenomenological approach. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy. 9: 327-343.

Cooper, M. L. 2010. Toward a person X situation model of sexual risk-taking behaviors: illuminating the conditional effects of traits across sexual situations and relationship Journal of Personality & Social Psychology. 98: 319-341.

Okonkwo, A. D. 2010. Gender and sexual risk-taking among selected Nigerian University Students. Sexuality & Culture. 14: 270-305

Proquest Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2014. 2nd ed. Bethesda, MD.

Turchik, J. A., J. P. Garske, D. R. Probst and C. R. Irvin. 2010. Personality, sexuality, and substance use as predictors of sexual risk taking in college students. Journal of Sex Research 47: 411-419
Table 1 Most Frequent Chance Taking
Behaviors in Romantic Relationship
N = 381

Chance Taking Behavior                         Percent

Unprotected sex                                  70%

Being involved in a "friends with benefits"      63%
relationship

Broke up with a partner to explore               46%
alternative

Had sex before feeling ready                     41%

Disconnected w/friends because of partner        34%

Maintained long distance relationship            32%
(1 year)

Cheated on partner                               30%

Lied to partner about being in love              28%
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Author:Elliott, Lindsey; Easterling, Beth; Knox, David
Publication:College Student Journal
Article Type:Report
Date:Jun 1, 2016
Words:2391
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