I’d seen him at the last two stake dances and thought he was cute, but hadn’t really talked to him. But that night, things were different. We danced, and he spun me in circles as we both laughed. When we wanted a breather, I jumped on his back and he ran me around the stake center. Eventually, we ended up sitting in the hall, and when too many people complained about stepping over our outstretched feet, we moved into a classroom, where I snuggled into his side and he held my hand. At the end of the night, we walked out to the parking lot together, and just as my dad was turning into the parking lot, Matt kissed me for the first time.
I was fourteen.
After that, we were inseparable. Or at least as inseparable as a fourteen-year-old and a fifteen-year-old who live forty miles apart can be. We talked on the phone every afternoon while watching videos on MTV. We begged rides from our parents, his older brother, and any friends willing to take pity on us. We went to church dances and school dances and parties after his high school football games. We kissed. We kissed a lot. We kissed in his bedroom with the door closed. We kissed in his family’s cabin when we were the only people there. We were probably extraordinarily lucky, but we never did anything that would land us in the bishop’s office to confess. Matt and I dated on-and-off (mostly on) for the next three years, until he left for college.
As far as active Mormon kids go, we broke a lot of the rules. For the Strength of Youth says: “You should not date until you are at least 16 years old. When you begin dating, go with one or more additional couples. Avoid going on frequent dates with the same person. Developing serious relationships too early in life can limit the number of other people you meet and can perhaps lead to immorality.” We basically turned a blind eye to that paragraph. My parents didn’t seem to care. His parents didn’t seem to care. None of our church leaders seemed to care, or at least seemed to care enough to tell us to knock it off.
My son is going on his first date this weekend. It’s a group date, with three other couples, and they’re going to the zoo, to dinner, and to a high school dance. Sounds innocent enough, right? This spring baby of mine has watched most of his friends turn sixteen and start dating this year, and he seemed sheepish and apologetic about wanting to go to the dance, the last one for sophomores this school year, even though he won’t be sixteen for a few more weeks. He’s had to defend himself to more than one friend, and I find myself justifying the date to my friends too (even when they don’t ask for the justification).
It’s going to be an even more difficult stretch for my daughter, who won’t turn sixteen until 2/3 of the way through her junior year of high school.
It feels disingenuous of me to put down a hard and fast prohibition against dating before sixteen when I flouted that rule, and so did my husband (when he was fifteen he had his first kiss with a seventeen-year-old girl). I find myself being more of a “spirit of the law” kind of girl, but I wonder if I’m misjudging the symbolic importance of the age.
I’d love to have a discussion. Did you wait until you were sixteen to date? What were the upsides and downsides of waiting? Do you have rules for your kids or do you do the whole “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves” thing? Is the age sixteen benchmark something that feels less like a rule and more like a guiding principle outside the jello belt?