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3.1: Dating and Romantic Feelings

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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What is love all about?

During adolescence, the nature of friendship between boys and girls may change. It gets harder to pal around together. What is the difference between getting together with a friend and a date?

“I don't date. My religion forbids it. My marriage will be arranged”

-Abdul, 17, Afghan

New Kids on the Block

Janet Bode


Dating gives us the chance to spend time with another person without making any serious commitment. Adolescent dating may take one of many different forms. Some couples go out just once or twice. Other couples may go steady, dating each other exclusively for a time. Most of the time, dates are short-term relationships, but sometimes they can be the first rung of a ladder that eventually leads to a committed relationship and even marriage.

This pattern of dating became common in the United States early in the 20th century among high-school-aged students. But it is unusual in much of the rest of the world. In some countries, young people are still not free to interact with members of the opposite sex without supervision and, often, marriages are still arranged or influenced by one's parents.

“In a true Filipino family, the daughters can only go out when they are a ‘good age’ and then a brother goes-along.”

-Emiro, 19, Filipino

New Kids on the Block

Janet Bode

The age at which adolescents, as a group, begin to date is generally tied to the onset of puberty. However, the age at which a particular boy or girl starts dating has less to do with biology than with current custom and social factors, such as parental approval, peer expectations, and who they happen to meet.

There is a range of physical and emotional maturity among adolescents who date. Yet, it is the level of physical development that often plays a greater role in who dates whom and when among adolescents. For example, in middle school, girls are likely to date older boys who may be from other schools.

What do adolescents look for in the people they date? In various studies, both girls and boys say they look for a good personality, intelligence, considerateness, good manners, a sense of humor, and politeness, as well as physical attractiveness. While many are attracted to people who are good-looking, they may find that personality and a sense of humor are more important for wanting a second date with a person.

What Do You Think?

Who should do the asking for a date-the girl or the boy? Does it matter?

Dating also gives couples a chance to learn what characteristics they find unpleasant or irritating. Research shows that both boys and girls are turned off by profanity (bad language). Heavy drinking, drug use, and the inability to communicate feelings also turn off girls. The research also shows that boys dislike girls who arc too possessive or who are boring.

Sometimes people date to raise their status among their peers. Of course, for both boys and girls there are other ways to gain status in the peer group as well. The status of boys with other boys is more often based on traits such as sports or academic ability.

Me Call? No Way! Calling about and going on a date can be a very nerve-racking experience. Think of some ways that make arranging and going on dates more fun and relaxing. Share your ideas with the class.

Dating is valuable for things other than defining characteristics you find desirable in a partner. Through dating, you increase your network of friends. As you go to the movies, listen to music, and get to know various people on dates, you learn about parts of the culture that may be new to you. You also learn how to get along with a variety of people.

Dating is generally a fun and pleasant experience. But it can also be stressful. It may involve competition and fears of rejection. As adolescents start dating, they may have doubts and fears about knowing how to act and what to do. Sometimes there is anxiety and self-consciousness about sexuality. Learning to cope with these stresses is important.

Activity 2-1: Scripts for Dating


The thought of dating may either terrify you, excite you, or both. How do you ask for a date? How do you say yes or no? What would an ideal date be like? How do you deal with a bad date? In this activity you have a chance to role-play dating situations and practice what to say and how to say it.


  • One Activity Report per group
  • Props-brought in by the group (Optional)


Step 1 Your teacher will divide you into groups and give each group an Activity Report.

Step 2 As a group, discuss the questions. Have one member act as a recorder to write down what you say, or rotate the job for each question.

Step 3 After you have answered the questions, write two short scripts, one for a good date and one for a bad date.

Step 4 Decide which two members of your group will act out the good date and which two members will act out the bad date. Practice your scene, remembering that it's okay to be funny but not to be silly. The laughter should come from the audience, not the performers!

Step 5 Present your scene to the other members of your group. Give each other constructive criticism. That means to point out things that are done well and to suggest things that might be done differently. Discuss whether or not any props might be useful. With your partner, make your scene even better. Decide who will bring in any materials for your presentation to the class the next day.

Step 6 On the second day your teacher will give you a few minutes to rehearse. Then take turns presenting your scenes to the class.

Step 7 After you have seen all the scenes, discuss the qualities of a good date and the things to avoid.

What Do You Think?

People often refer to a chemistry between people. Do you think chemistry in relationships is a function of biology, psychology, or culture? Why?

Sexual Feelings

As adolescents get older, their interest and curiosity about each other's bodies increases. They also may become more openly sexual. There is a desire to touch and be touched. This desire may, in turn, lead to activities such as kissing and caressing. Whether or not a teenager acts on these impulses depends on many factors. For some, interest in such activity remains at the level of fantasy and daydreaming rather than action. Others are willing to experiment and act out their interests. Most young adolescents fall somewhere in between.

How do we explain the development of sexual interest and activity during adolescence? As we will discuss in the next section, these may be part of the changes of puberty brought about by hormones.

Hormones may exert their effect directly on behavior or indirectly through the changes in the body brought about by puberty. For example, growth of secondary sexual characteristics is clearly an important part of becoming sexually attractive. In this respect, breast development among girls plays a special role since it takes place early and is obvious to other people. Facial hair and the changing of the voice play a similar role among boys.

“Being sexually attractive for sex is a different kind of feeling that I believe is wrong and dangerous.”

-7th grader

However, the development of sexual feelings or behavior during adolescence cannot be explained only by hormones (chemical substances the body produces that bring on the changes of puberty) or other biological factors. Psychological (having to do with thoughts and feelings) or cultural (shared attitudes and values of a social group) factors are also very important in determining when, why, and how we behave sexually.

What does it mean to be sexually attracted to another person? We are all aware of how we look and often judge others in terms of how they look. People in most cultures seem to value looks, but what they consider attractive or unattractive varies a lot. The same is true for the various ways used to make a person more attractive. As members of the same society, we share many common standards of beauty but also have our own personal preferences as to what looks good.

“I do not believe I am attractive. As a child, I was told I was not and therefore the concept was never a reality for me.”

-7th grader

Physical attractiveness has a lot to do with sexual attractiveness, but they are not the same. How an individual behaves and what sort of person they are also has a lot to do with whether or not they are attractive.

Many people go to great lengths to enhance sexual attractiveness by the way they dress and groom themselves. Others exercise, keep healthy, and behave in ways that will make them appealing. Others go to even greater lengths and become preoccupied with their looks and clothes even to the point of hurting their health through dieting.

Standards of sexual attractiveness, or sexiness, vary a great deal among different cultures and in the same culture during different historical periods. Compare the way movie stars looked during your grandparents', your parents', and your own generations. Although there are many differences, there also are some common characteristics of physical attractiveness. For example, symmetrical features (both halves being similar) of the face and average dimensions of the body (not too large or small) are generally appealing.

Activity 2-2: Judging People by Their Looks


Sometimes you will find yourself attracted to someone just because of the way he or she looks. Is this the best characteristic to use when choosing a relationship? In this activity you focus on this issue and try to decide what role looks do have and should have in choosing friends and dates.


  • One copy of Activity Report per group
  • Construction paper or poster paper
  • Markers or crayons


Step 1 Read Section 2 in your text.

Step 2 Your teacher will divide you into groups.

Step 3 Within each group, discuss the questions on the Activity Report and choose someone to record what you say.

Step 4 When you have finished the discussion, create two posters. Title one “What to Look for in a Friend.” On it list the characteristics that most members of the group agree that they look for in a friend. Call the second “Making the Most of Who You Are,” or “The Do's and Don'ts of Being Attractive.” On it, write tips for presenting yourself in the best way possible. For example, positive comments might include-exercise, stay healthy, smile when you can. “Don'ts” might include don't be negative all the time, don't let yourself become exhausted.

Step 5 Compare your posters with other groups. Are there some things that the entire class agrees on?

What Is the Difference? Love comes in all kinds of forms and is called all kinds of names. Can you explain what the following terms mean? A good dictionary can help you.

  • puppy love
  • infatuation
  • crush
  • love

Romantic love

What is love? You may find it hard to explain love, but you know how it feels to love someone and to be loved in return. Take a moment and think about the people that you love-the special people in your life.

Love is a basic human emotion. Children come to love family members or their friends long before they reach puberty. Such affectionate bonds persist through life. But during adolescence another form of love may develop. We call this romantic love (or falling in love).

Have you ever been in love? A lot of people your age might not have had that experience yet, but you may have been in love or known someone else who has been. You have probably watched people in love on television or in the movies or read about them in books and magazines. A lot of our literature, art, and music focus on romantic love.

Some of the most famous lovers in history, such as Romeo and Juliet, were adolescents. However, during the 15th century (when this Shakespeare play is set), by the time people reached age 15 or so they were considered adults. Though biologically they were basically similar to today's 15-year-olds, the sexual role of 15-year-olds in today's society is not the same.

The majority of teenagers sooner or later have a romantic involvement with a member of the opposite sex. By age 13 or 14 over 80% say they have a boyfriend or girlfriend. But less than 20% consider it to be a serious relationship. And less than 5% say such relationships are important during their teens.

Activity 2-3: What Happens When You Are in Love?


What are the differences between liking, loving, and being in love? How do you know the difference? How does your behavior change with each form of affection? In this activity you discuss these issues, then prepare skits which show the differences between these types of feelings.


  • One copy of Activity Report per group
  • Props for skits (Optional)


Step 1 Your teacher will divide you into groups and give you an Activity Report.

Step 2 As a group, discuss the questions on the Activity Report. Choose someone to act as a recorder and write down what you say, or rotate the job for each set of questions.

Step 3 After you have answered all the questions, go back and think about how the different levels of affection are expressed. Divide your group into three pairs. Each pair will prepare and present a quick, two-minute example of what it is like to either like someone, love someone, or be in love with someone. (Don't get TOO carried away on that last one!)

Step 4 Decide which pair will take which feeling, Prepare separate skits and practice, remembering that it's okay to be funny but not to be silly! As was mentioned in an earlier activity, the laughter should come from the audience, not the performers!

Step 5 Share your skit with the other members of your group. Give each other constructive criticism. That means to point out things that are done well and to suggest things that might be done differently. Discuss whether or not any props might be useful. With your partner, make your scene even better. Decide who will bring in any materials for your presentation to the class the next day.

Step 6 On the second day, your teacher will give you a few minutes to rehearse. Then you will all take turns presenting your scenes to the class.

Step 7 After you have seen all of the skits, discuss the good points of each type of feeling. Are there any bad things about these feelings?

Figure 2.1 Love is not a single emotion, but one with several parts. The ideal form of love, consummate love, is a combination of these three elements.

Different Forms of love

To understand the many variations of love, some psychologists describe love not as a single emotion but as a variety of types of love. They are made of several parts.

  • One part of love is intimacy. It involves being close to a person and sharing private thoughts and feelings.
  • Another part of love is passion. Passion can be described as being sexually attracted to someone.
  • The third part of love is commitment, which is a bit different because it is not an emotion as much as a thought process. It involves a decision to love someone and to make a firm promise to remain loyal to that person. Depending on which of these three components is strongest or how they are combined, we get different types of love.

Love Designs You are a successful card designer and have been commissioned to design a line of 5 cards about love. Use art, music lyrics, and/or poems of your own creation for your cards.

Romantic love is what most people think of as being in love. It is the combination of intimacy and passion. There are some couples who feel they have been in love with each other since they met. You may know couples who have been happily married for 50 years (maybe your grandparents are such a couple). However, while it is possible to love someone deeply over many years, the special experience of being in love is usually time-limited-it has a beginning and an end. In other words, it usually does not last forever. You may be disappointed to hear this. Or if you happen to be in love right now, you may be convinced that you will always be in love. But the experiences of countless other people make that unlikely, Adolescent love experiences, in particular, tend to be shorter lived. Why does the experience of being in love usually come to an end? One reason is that the feeling of love is so intense that it is difficult to sustain over time. When you are in love, you will have a very strong attachment to the other person. You want to be constantly with that person or think about him or her all the time. This makes it hard to pay attention to other important matters in life (such as school or work). Everything else seems to get pushed out of one's mind as if nothing else mattered.

Love Is in the Air For two or three days, write down the names of songs you hear that deal with some aspect of love. Indicate whether they deal with intimacy, passion, and/or commitment.

Another reason the experience of being in love usually comes to an end is that you tend to think of the person you love in a highly idealized manner. You may think of him or her as perfect, not as he or she is in reality. As far as you are concerned, there are only good things about the person. Yet no one is perfect. What this means is that the person you love is someone you have largely created in your imagination, but who does not fully exist in reality. And reality, sooner or later, catches up with you.

The feeling of being in love changes or may come to an end in a number of ways. Sometimes there is a lover's quarrel and the couple breaks up. There are often a lot of bad feelings associated with such breakups.

Among other couples, people move away (such as after graduation from high school), meet new friends, or develop other interests. So gradually, they drift apart from one another. Sometimes their romantic relationship is transformed into a friendship that often is longer lasting.

What Do You Think?

What reasons might keep you in a relationship in which you otherwise might not be involved?

For many people, the best outcome of a love relationship is that the couple gets married and they live happily ever after. Some of these couples may remain in love for many years. Or, their feelings become transformed into a stable form of love, which is high in intimacy and commitment, but lower in passion. This is known as companionate love.

The most fortunate people (or those who work hardest at maintaining their love) develop the best, or ideal, form of love that combines all three elements-intimacy, passion, and commitment. This is called consummate love. It is the most satisfying and fulfilling form of love. It is hard to attain and takes work to maintain, but it is well worth the effort. Consummate love includes the passionate aspect of being in love, but since it also has intimacy and commitment, it is far more lasting.

“Why couldn't we just let each other go? It was a first love, and it was cooling. There'd be others for both of us. I can say that now, I couldn't then. I'd have bitten off my tongue first.”

-Gail in Are You in the House Alone?

Richard Peck

Often, adolescent loves do not last into adulthood. Yet they are important for learning how to be intimate with another person and to share one's inner thoughts and feelings. Young love may be among the most cherished experiences in life.

What Do You Think?

Why is the divorce rate so high in this country? Take into account the three different kinds of love in your thinking.

Relating to a loved one makes one more concerned with others and more sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. The experience of loving someone helps define the sense of identity (who you are) of young people. The intimacy and closeness they feel make it possible to reveal their true selves and to be exposed to the inner selves of others. Loving someone is one of the best ways of becoming more caring and giving, which are the signs of maturity. Love and intimacy do not require sex, and one need not engage in sex to prove that he or she loves another.

Debate! Humans should choose one mate for life. Debate this issue.

Love and Sex

What is the relationship of love and sex? We obviously love many people to whom we are not sexually attracted. But what about romantic love?

In many cases, romantic love has a strong sexual aspect to it. Those who are in love often want to express their love physically. However, some might be in love but not feel a sexual attraction. Some people may feel that physical expression or exploration of their love will ruin the experience. Similarly, many people may be sexually attracted to others and not feel in love.

The association of love and sex is important at many levels. The ideal for many people in our culture is that sex, love, and marriage should go together. Others are willing to settle for love and sex alone, especially when they are young. Actually, for many young people, love has now become the necessary condition for engaging in sex. Think about whether or not this is a good strategy.

What Do You Think?

Do you think males and females think about love and sex in different ways? Explain how and why.

Finally, there are those who think that sex is OK without love, as long as you have a willing partner. Love would be nice but it is not necessary. This type of sex without love, or outside of a committed relationship, is often referred to as casual sex.

Combining Sex and Love As a class, make a chart on a sheet of paper that shows the positive and negative aspects of the three different ways of combining sex and love. Your chart should look like the one in Figure 2.2. If there are strong disagreements, conduct a structured debate to discuss the issues.

Positive Negative
Sex & love & marriage ? ?
Sex & love ? ?
Sex alone ? ?

Figure 2.2 Create a chart like this on a sheet of paper for Mini Activity: Combining Sex and Love.

What do you think about dating? Let's say you were in charge of dating at your school, and you could create any system you wanted, what would you do? What would the purpose of dating be? What aspects of dating that currently exist would you promote? Eliminate?

Review Questions

  1. What factors influence an adolescent's readiness to date?
  2. What are three positive aspects of dating and three negative aspects of dating?
  3. How can you explain the development of sexual interest during adolescence?
  4. What are the three components of love?
  5. What is the difference between romantic love and consummate love?
  6. What are three relationships of love and sex?

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