Hanging out or actually dating—what’s the difference, and why does it matter?
The longer I stared at the phone, the more nervous I became. I kept going over and over in my mind what I would say. Then I worried that the girl I wanted to call might say no. Finally, I managed to punch in the phone number, hoping no one would answer. They didn’t. What a relief—except I had to start the whole process over again later!
On my second attempt, her mother answered and agreed to get her daughter. Now the sweat was really starting to build. I thought about hanging up, but then I was greeted by a friendly hello. I managed to stumble my way through asking her out. Instead of giving an immediate answer, she said she needed to check with her mom. To me that was code for, “Let me talk to my mom to see if she can help me get out of this one.” Instead she returned to the phone with a cheerful, “That would be great.” I tried not to act too surprised and ended the call. I sat in my chair emotionally drained yet feeling great. I did it; my first date was on its way!
The first time a young man asks a girl out for a date takes courage and can be uncomfortable. Just being around those of the opposite sex can be a little awkward at first. But these associations are important. Young men and young women, you need each other. You really can make a difference by helping each other stay active in the Church and live by its standards.
Young men and women will be better prepared to meet life's obligations and create happy, healthy families of their own if they will:
- Show proper respect for one another.
- Learn how to socialize in appropriate, mixed-group activities.
- Do more than just getting together without doing anything planned.
- Learn how to date properly and then do so.
Respecting Young Women
Young women are choice daughters of our Heavenly Father, created in His image, with the power to one day become co-creators with Him. Women, by nature, are tender, kind, and sensitive. Each one is of infinite worth with a sacred mission. Each deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Sadly, the world is debasing womanhood, but you young men can treat women with respect and recognize them as daughters of God.
After a school dance, our daughter received a note from her date telling her how much he appreciated her dressing modestly. This was impressive! This is one example of how young men can encourage young women to live the standards of the gospel. Young men, commit to respecting young women.
Respecting Young Men
Young women, can you see beyond young men’s occasional awkwardness and immaturity and imagine them as future leaders in the Church and in their homes? Are you treating them as they can become? There are many ways you can show respect for the priesthood and manhood.
As you dress and behave modestly, you can have a great impact on young men. Your modest actions and dress will help them control their thoughts and focus on virtue and that which is wholesome. Your positive actions can help them be worthy priesthood holders. You can encourage them to develop strong testimonies and be worthy to serve missions.
Be patient with them as they go through the awkward teen years. Sometimes they are a little clumsy—physically, socially, and spiritually. But compliment them when they’ve been gentlemen, when they’ve treated you with respect, and when they have made righteous choices.
Socializing before Sixteen
Of course, socializing with people of the opposite sex doesn’t start when you go on your first official date. Sometime, usually during the early teenage years, young men and young women start noticing each other more. They socialize at Mutual and other Church- and school-related activities. And many get together with friends in informal, non-dating settings. Some good things can come from these associations, such as:
Making new friends. Being in mixed company outside a classroom setting can be a great way to make new friends in a non-dating environment.
Helping one another live gospel standards. You can help one another stay strong and make good decisions. For example, some teens gathered to watch a video. Someone suggested they watch a video that didn’t meet gospel standards. When a few in the group quickly protested, the group decided to watch a more appropriate video instead. Some in that group may not have been willing to speak out against the first video. But after watching the example of others, maybe next time they will be the ones speaking up or even suggesting more wholesome movies in the first place.
Learning social skills. Getting together as friends can be a great setting for learning how to socialize properly. Some youth feel comfortable talking and socializing with members of the opposite sex. But others feel very nervous and awkward. This is not unusual. Those who are less comfortable can learn from those who are more comfortable. The examples of those who are comfortable can help make it easier for those less comfortable.
Hanging On to Church Standards
Having fun, wholesome activities in a non-dating setting can be a great first step on a path that eventually leads to group dating, then to one-on-one dating, and finally to courtship dating. But unless you hang on to Church standards and some common-sense guidelines, “just hanging out” can lead to problems. Here are a few good guidelines to hang on to:
Make sure there’s an adult around. This is your best way of making sure you don’t end up in situations you won’t be comfortable with. The next steps on the path—group and individual dating—are the appropriate time to begin socializing on your own, without adult chaperones.
Make a plan and a time frame. Too often, unstructured activities are so casual and open-ended that you could find yourself making poor, last-minute decisions that can have unwanted, and even dangerous, outcomes. Also, if people are coming and going throughout the activity, the activity will lack direction and focus. This can make it harder to avoid bad situations. But if you plan activities ahead of time, you are more likely to avoid those problems.
Don’t pair off. Unfortunately, casual, unplanned get-togethers sometimes lead to pairing off. This, even if called by another name, is nothing less than dating.
Follow common-sense safety rules. This includes making sure everyone uses seatbelts whenever you’re in a car and making sure everyone can get home by curfew. For your spiritual safety, one of the best rules is to never be in a bedroom or other private area alone with someone of the opposite sex.
Get ready to move on. Dating seems to be on the decline. Some teens never leave the “hanging-out” stage. They get too comfortable and shy away from the discomfort of asking someone out for a date. There comes a time when older teens and young adults need to start dating.
Why move on at all? Why not just keep spending time with friends until you eventually find a good marriage partner? Consider the following good reasons for dating:
Learning to lead. When a young man plans a date, he is developing leadership skills. He learns to be assertive and to work together with a young woman to make decisions. It is important for a priesthood holder to learn to lead. Young women also gain essential skills as they help plan and participate in dates.
Showing responsibility. A young man shows responsibility, trying to ensure that his date has a safe and pleasant evening. A young woman also learns to take responsibility for her own safety and well-being, as well as that of her date.
Recently, a mother was urging her shy son to accept an invitation to a girls’ choice dance. He finally agreed to go. When he returned home, his mother asked how the evening had gone. He said, “I had a great time . . . except my date kept following me around all night.” This young man was not used to the responsibility that comes with dating!
Improving friendships. Dating increases the number of friends you have. On a group date, two or more couples can mingle and visit. In casual, non-dating gatherings, people come and go as they please and leave if they are bored. You usually don’t talk with the same people long enough to get to know them. But when you are on a date, you are with the same people until the date ends. By focusing on each other, you get to know each other better than if other people were around joining in the conversation.
Developing social skills. Dating helps you to learn how to show interest in others. You make sure your date is part of the conversation and having a good time. You learn to avoid talking too much about yourself. Young men learn to be gentlemen—getting the door for their dates or helping them with their coats. Young women learn to accept these courtesies and to be similarly kind and courteous.
Preparing for the future. Dating provides an opportunity for observation. On a group date you see your date interacting with others, as well as with his or her family. It gives you a chance to see qualities in your dates that you may not see in a less-formal setting. By dating several different people, you can see in others those qualities you want in your future spouse. This is one of many reasons to avoid steady dating during the teen years.
Thinking fun, inexpensive, and creative! For the Strength of Youth teaches: “Plan dating activities that are positive and inexpensive and that will help you get to know each other. Do things that will help you and your companions maintain your self-respect and remain close to the Spirit of the Lord” (, 25). Many people are afraid to ask someone for a date. Asking someone out can be uncomfortable the first few times you do it. It takes courage to step out of your comfort zone. However, dating can be a fun, exciting time! It can be inexpensive and creative. Dating can be a time to reinforce gospel standards. It is an invaluable time for observation that will prepare you for courtship and marriage.
From First Date to Eternal Mate
For the Strength of Youth gives inspired direction that will help you enjoy fun and uplifting friendships with young men and young women. As you learn to properly interact with those of the opposite sex, you will be prepared to progress through dating and courtship and into an eternal relationship.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke about dating in a CES fireside for young adults on May 1, 2005. You can read his talk at LDS.org: “Dating versus Hanging Out.”
And for more about non-dating social experiences, see “Just Hanging Out” (Brad Wilcox, New Era, Aug. 2001).