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Not long ago I was visiting with a Young Single Adult who asked what is the purpose of dating? And when is it okay to kiss?

In 2005 Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke to young single adults at a Church Educational System fireside telecast entitled Dating Versus Hanging Out. He said “Dating is pairing off to experience the kind of one-on-one association and temporary commitment that can lead to marriage in some rare and treasured cases.” (Ensign, June 2006).

He also said that “Simple and frequent dates allow both men and women to “shop around” in a way that allows extensive evaluation of the prospects. The old-fashioned date was a wonderful way to get acquainted with a member of the opposite sex. It encouraged conversation. It allowed you to see how you treat others and how you are treated in a one-on-one situation. It gave opportunities to learn how to initiate and sustain a mature relationship. None of that happens in hanging out.” (ibid.)

The Greek word for romantic love is Eros. For over 30 years, psychologist Dr. Tom Selby has used EROS as an acronym for creating and maintaining healthy romantic relationships: Emotional connection, ROmance, and Sexual intimacy. The foundation is the emotional connection. Then comes romance and finally, sexual intimacy. As faithful Latter-Day Saints, sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage. So if we feel connected emotionally, mentally, spiritually, then we have the gift given to us from the Lord to manifest that connection by literally joining together as one.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said that “Such an act of love between a man and a woman is – or certainly was ordained to be – a symbol of total union: union of their hearts, their hopes, their lives, their love, their family, their future, their everything. It is a symbol that we try to suggest in the temple with a word like seal.” (Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments, BYU Devotional, Jan. 12, 1988).

Many devoted Young Single Adults (and likely, many older single adults) are faithfully and worthily entering dating relationships, establishing emotional connections, enjoying romance and, not breaking commandments of sexual intimacy outside of marriage, but a lot of kissing is going on.

So back to that YSA student’s question about “Why date?” and “When is kissing okay?” Both dating and kissing are okay when mutually agreed upon. Without mutual agreement, there can be damage to the relationship and, in some cases, it can progress to serious spiritual and even legal consequences or Title IX issues at a university. But when it is okay with both individuals, it seems like there are four main reasons people kiss.

FUN. Some people kiss for fun. It feels good. Generally, for men, it feels good because it quickly becomes physically stimulating. Unfortunately, too many men get involved in recreational kissing…kissing just because it is fun without recognizing that women are starting to get emotionally attached.

EMOTIONS. For women, it often is tied to their sense that this relationship is beginning to have a healthy emotional connection. So they give their permission to kiss because it feels good in their heart, not just on their lips.

SELF-ESTEEM. Some people kiss because it makes them feel good about themselves. Somebody likes them enough, accepts them enough, to kiss them. Often in this case, it might not matter so much who the other person is, just that someone accepts me now!

FUTURE. And, finally, probably the best reason to kiss is this means something as a potential eternal companion. It is more than just fun, it is more than feeling good about myself, it is being committed to a future with someone I am connected to and kissing shows that.

President Spencer W. Kimball stated, “Kissing has … degenerated to develop and express lust instead of affection, honor, and admiration. To kiss in casual dating is asking for trouble. What do kisses mean when handed out like pretzels and robbed of sacredness?” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 281).

To create an EROS relationship with a solid emotional connection takes time together in various settings and communication, lots of communication. And it is hard to communicate when your lips are locked!

I actually met one young lady who simply told her boyfriend that she wasn’t ready to kiss yet. He did not reject her. They continued to date, spent time together, got to know each other very well. And after several months of dating, they did kiss, and they got married this year.

By contrast, I met another young lady who went through a devastating break-up. Break-ups are hard. Afterward there is usually a grieving period almost like when someone passes away. There is grieving and healing and recovering and finding the resilience to risk becoming vulnerable again and to enter into another dating relationship. It is worth the risk!

But within a week after the break-up, this young lady went out to a movie with another guy, and they had a “make-out session.” She admitted she needed a boost to her self-esteem. There was no emotional connection, she just needed to feel good about herself. And that few minutes of passionate kissing felt good. But it was counterfeit; it didn’t really mean anything without an emotional connection. She realized that and she did not date him again. She moved on to another guy. After three weeks, they announced on Facebook that they were a committed couple. Is three weeks enough to establish the kind of emotional connection that leads to commitment?

I have asked a lot of people how long it takes to make an emotional connection. One guy said “Our eyes met across the room and I felt something.” Another said two weeks. Some said three months, some a year or more. To make an emotional connection, it seems like we need to learn about the other person, who they are, their thoughts and feelings, their hopes and fears, their dreams and goals. It seems like we need to see each other not only in one-on-one situations, but how they interact with others, with family, with friends.

We need to see each other all dressed up, but also on service projects…see each other sweat (or for her, how she “glows”). How does that happen by only making eye contact across the room? How can it happen when we are too busy kissing to actually talk? Of course, how much talking is enough? Because we have a lifetime to get to know each other even better, but how much is enough to make a commitment and to move forward to marriage?

In the YSA setting, there can be a lot of pressure. When a couple has gone on three dates, friends and family often ask if they have been ring shopping yet. How much pressure is that! So take some time. See if it really is a match. If not, instead of being devastated, how about being thankful for learning about someone, and learning about yourself, then being able to move on and learn about someone else until you find someone with whom you want to share life and eternity together. And still be careful of dating and kissing for the right reasons.

One YSA bishop gave three rules to newly engaged couples: 1) only two kisses a day, hello and goodbye, 2) only side hugs, and 3) be home by 11 pm. President Gordon B. Hinckley said that nothing good happens after 11. This bishop wanted the couples to spend more time talking and planning for their future together and to be worthy when they entered the temple.

For those who are not dating or kissing, Elder Oaks said “If you are just marking time waiting for a marriage prospect, stop waiting. You may never have the opportunity for a suitable marriage in this life, so stop waiting and start moving. Prepare yourself for life – even a single life – by education, experience, and planning. Don’t wait for happiness to be thrust upon you. Seek it out in service and learning. Make a life for yourself. And trust in the Lord.” (Oaks, ibid.)

However, that does not let men escape their responsibility. Elder Oaks further stated, “Men, if you have returned from your mission and you are still following the boy-girl patterns you were counseled to follow when you were 15, it is time for you to grow up. Gather your courage and look for someone to pair off with. Start with a variety of dates with a variety of young women, and when that phase yields a good prospect, proceed to courtship. It’s marriage time. That is what the Lord intends for His young adult sons and daughters. Men have the initiative, and you men should get on with it.” (Oaks, ibid.)

To the young women, he said “Young women, resist too much hanging out, and encourage dates that are simple, inexpensive, and frequent. Don’t make it easy for young men to hang out in a setting where you women provide the food. Don’t subsidize freeloaders. An occasional group activity is OK, but when you see men who make hanging out their primary interaction with the opposite sex, I think you should lock the pantry and bolt the front door.” (Oaks, ibid.)

When Elder Oaks gave this talk, one young woman I knew changed the voicemail on her phone: “If you are calling to hang out, hang up. If you are calling to go out on a date, please leave a message.”

For any who have gone far beyond kissing and have need for the cleansing and healing power of repentance, Elder Holland concluded “I love you for wanting to be on the right side of the gospel of Jesus Christ…If some few of you are feeling the ‘scars…that have come to you in places where you ought not have gone,’ I wish to extend to you the special peace and promise available through the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Holland, ibid.)

Dating and kissing can be meaningful expressions of affection and commitment. And they can be part of something greater that leads to a glorious, divine, and eternal relationship!