To help you establish godly standards, consider the following advice given by a panel of young Christians between the ages of 20 and 30.
Some are married and some aren't. While the names are changed to preserve each person's privacy, the comments are genuine.
Should you hold hands?
Bill, 28 and married to Sue, said he didn't have a rule about holding hands before he was married but realized that "those first thrilling physical touches when one is young can often open the door to premature intimacy and big life mistakes."
Continuing, he remarked: "If I could do it all over again, I would refrain from hand-holding until becoming engaged (and then make sure the engagement was brief enough so as to minimize any potential problems). Individual tolerances to holding hands or other touching may vary, so there's no hard-and-fast rule. But I would have done better erring on the side of strict conservatism in this area."
Kate, 28, who is married to Luke, wrote: "We didn't hold hands till almost a year after we started dating. We started dating a year or more after we had known each other as friends with the understanding that we were potentially interested in marriage and wanted to spend time together to find out.
"When it came time, Luke actually asked me if he could hold my hand. Looking back, holding hands at that point was a good thing, even though I questioned it at one point because it became a distraction for me for a short time—either wanting him to hold my hand, or having a difficult time reigning in my thoughts when he did. However, he explained to me that he felt like it was important that there be a physical means of communicating with each other and expressing the closeness that we felt. I think that he was right.
"One thing that both of us learned was that in the lead-up to marrying a person, anything has the potential to be physically exciting and distracting. In the midst of the excitement, you have to take your thoughts captive and make decisions about enjoying emotional closeness and small amounts of physical contact based on whether the relationship is deep and solid enough to benefit from these added dimensions, or whether it will only serve to cover up a lack of real communication. For Luke and me, holding hands was a positive thing that physically manifested some of the feelings and ideas that we had already verbalized."
What about hugs?
Once you become good friends with someone, it seems as though hugs become part of the way many people say good-bye before long intervals apart or hello when they reunite. While the majority of this panel felt these kinds of short hugs were appropriate, they did offer a few cautions about regular and lengthy hugging with the opposite sex.
Sarah said: "I think the thing is, the longer two people of the opposite sex hug, the more tendency there would be to kiss. So if that sort of thing is affecting your mind, where it's like you've been hugging this person and all of a sudden you just have to kiss them, then uh-oh! You'd better rethink your actions, because the godly way is to go in the direction of 'flee immorality,' not see how close you can come to it!"
Bill agreed with Sarah, saying: "Hugs between two people who know they are attracted to one another should be brief. Hugs involve even more physical contact and can be misused if one is not careful or has a weakness in this area."
Kate said of the time prior to her engagement to Luke: "We got into the habit of giving each other a brief hug coming and going sometime during the first year of dating. It was good to acknowledge the way we cared for each other with something warmer than a 'Hi.'
"It felt a bit stiff to us both as we grew to care for each other more, but anytime you are holding back feelings for the right time, things can feel awkward. We liked to sit close to each other, but it was not until a few months before we were engaged that we sat together with his arm around me. At first, we only did this in my parents' home when they were near. A little later we also sat like this when we were alone as well—often in the context of a conversation that was on a deep emotional level, and especially after we were engaged and began talking through more personal things. We didn't 'bear hug' until a month before we were engaged, and we were careful with that."
Kissing, according to our panel, is definitely more intimate than holding hands or hugging and should be avoided prior to engagement. After you are engaged, a brief kiss seems appropriate.
As Sarah put it: "I know it is hard to resist kissing someone, especially if they mean a lot to you, or are very attractive. But you have to remember, if God hasn't picked this person for you, your lips are on another person's mate. If you were married already and someone kissed your wife or husband, you'd be pretty mad!"
"One can argue that holding hands and hugging can be shared in a more casual and 'harmless' way," said Bill. "However, mouth-to-mouth kissing is actually one of the beginning stages of sexual intimacy and is an easy way to fast-forward to more explicit sexual contact. Young, single people should avoid mouth-to-mouth kissing at all costs except maybe just prior to marriage (even then they must be careful to avoid lustful behavior)."
Explaining how they first kissed, Kate said: "I had told Luke what a kiss meant to me as we started to grow closer. He honored that understanding and never took advantage of any vulnerable moment. I respected him deeply for that and still do, even as I sometimes wanted him to kiss me. To me, a kiss meant, 'I love you. I want to be your husband.'"
Continuing, she recalled: "I had asked my mother when I was young if it was all right to kiss before you were married. She said that it was as long as you both understood what that kiss meant. As I thought about that, I began to feel that I didn't want the memory of any man's kiss except my husband's, and that for me a kiss was a seal of love and possession. Holding hands is like that to an extent—it implies exclusivity and mutual ownership to a degree.
"To me, a kiss on the lips between a man and a woman implies this ownership in a sexual way that is beautiful and powerful. Luke asked if he could kiss me a month before we were engaged. Because I knew his character and because he was aware of what that meant to me, I knew that he wanted to marry me. We did have to limit our kisses, because it is fun and intoxicating—meant to lead to more. We limited our kisses to coming and going so that they did not take over our time together, or prevent our growth in communication. This was a good decision. It did get harder and harder to finish our good-byes!"
Physical contact that is more intimate than the above is often described as petting. According to our panel, this category of conduct clearly exceeded the safe boundaries Christians should maintain.
As for petting before marriage, Kate wrote: "With exceptions only of his hands on my hair or face and vice versa, we didn't go here. I think that the temptations would not have been fair to either of us. As well, we had resolved that we did not want to feel guilt for anything that we did with or to each other in this area, so we kept away."
Summarizing her thoughts, Sarah said: "The decision to stay totally pure before marriage is hard because of all the feelings we have, but try to look at it in a larger sense. Do you want to be guilty of defiling someone else's special person? Do you want to feel guilty that you are defiled? Do you want your mate to have been close to sex with lots of others before you? The Golden Rule is 'do unto others as you'd have them do unto you.' So put it into practice, and not only will you be happier for it, but God will bless you!"
Sometimes being godly is the most challenging when you meet the person you plan to marry. According to Cheryl: "When I did find the person that I felt I could marry someday, it was then that I had to be very careful. Small things can turn into big things very quickly. Comfort zones are quickly reached and expanded when you are with someone you love and trust. My best advice is not to date exclusively until you find that person. Group dates with trusted friends can be a very fun way to get to know and spend time with someone you are interested in but with less pressure or temptation."
Continuing, she said: "When you are on a date with someone alone, it really helps to be careful not to put yourself in a situation where you are alone and unseen for a long period of time. If you stick to lighter environments, you don't have to come up with reasons to be uncomfortable if your determined limits don't match up with his."
Offering concluding advice to singles about dating relationships, Bill said: "Don't allow yourself to be alone, or at least alone in situations where sexual contact is possible and the privacy necessary to engage in it exists—like parked cars, in a house or secluded room alone, in the woods or a wooded park and so on. The temptation may just be too great. Think of physical contact the same way you might think about virginity. Once the line is crossed, whether having held hands, kissed or slept together, there's no going back. You cannot reverse what is already done." (You can, of course, stop what you're doing if you've already gone too far, but it is always harder to turn back from such things once you've started.)
Kate put it this way: "Know yourselves and set limits wisely with this knowledge. Don't let physical contact take over or lead in communication—it can feel good, and when this happens you may not know what it meant to either of you in the end. Use common sense. Don't let feelings control your actions. Acknowledge feelings without serving them, or you will make miserable mistakes. Don't set too long of an engagement period—as it gets harder to refrain from premarital intimacy after you are more committed. But take enough time to talk about things that were too personal before. Physical contact is powerful. God made it so. Respectfully use it in the way He intended."