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We Might Ditch Our Friends For Relationships, But Not Our Parents

The central relationship on “Gilmore Girls,” the beloved TV show that made a triumphant return on Netflix in October, is that between mother and daughter. Through all of Rory’s breakups with boys and her ups and downs with her best friend Lane, her bond with Lorelai never wavers (barring the occasional, epic fight).

A new study shows that this kind of unwavering parent-child bond is not that uncommon. The paper, by three researchers at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, shows that while young people increasingly prefer their romantic partner over their friends, their attachment to their parents—particularly to their mothers—remains strong.

The researchers recruited 1,021 young people between the ages of 18 and 30 and asked them to fill out questionnaires over a three-year period. In these questionnaires, the participants evaluated their preferences for attachment figures (parents, romantic partner, friends), answering questions such as “Who is the person you don’t like to be away from?,” “Who is the person you want to be with when you are feeling upset or down?” and “Who is the person you would want to tell first if you achieved something good?” The study also assessed the length and commitment of participants’ romantic relationships, as well as their level of independence from their parents.

While the study confirmed that we tend to choose our romantic partners over our friends—particularly in the first two years of a relationship—it also showed that the parent-child bond remains intact. One possible explanation, according to the researchers, is that we detach from our parents at an earlier age, so that by the time we have romantic partners, our relationships with our parents are already established, whereas our friendships are still evolving once we hit dating age. Another reason the study suggests is that as we age, we’re more capable of appreciating our loved ones simultaneously. Instead of choosing one person over another, we understand that they are not interchangeable and can coexist. For instance, many people would want to see both their parents and their partner when in the emergency room.

Women, in particular, were more attached to their mothers and romantic partners than to their fathers and friends. In fact, women who were closer with their mothers were more likely to stay in longer romantic relationships. This corresponds with previous studies, which have suggested that mothers play a more important role than fathers in adolescents’ emotional development. A 2009 University of Denver paper showed that children who interacted negatively with their mothers were more prone to struggle with communication and to fight with friends. The same wasn’t true for fathers. I guess “Gilmore Girls” was onto something.