Dating can be separated into several different kinds of activities, depending on who is defining the term and what they mean by "dating". They include:
- Hooking-up for sex regularly with the same person.
- Discerning marriage. Once you are in serious discernment, the dating should be exclusive.
- Getting to know one another. There should not be an exclusive commitment in this kind of dating.
- Some combination of the above.
#2 is the real ultimate purpose of dating, but if you are on your first date, you shouldn't really be worried about whether you are going to marry someone or not.
#3 is something we are missing all too often in our culture today, even among faithful Catholics. We need to have a time to get to know someone without all the strings of dating someone exclusively. That way, you can get to know someone as a friend.
I believe there should be little, if any, kind of physical affection for a couple who is dating without exclusivity.
Now, the real question becomes, if I am exclusively dating someone, and we are discerning marriage, what kind of affection is good? This is a very good an reasonable question, but it isn't the primary thing we should ask. The first thing we should ask is - how can I better love the person in front of me? How can I avoid too much physical, emotional, or even intellectual intimacy? How can I protect them, even from my sinful desires? These questions should guide you.
Remember that whenever we say "no" to something, we say "yes" to something else. We just have to remember that our "yes" to loving God and others is always bigger than any "no" we can ever speak. Chastity frees us to always say "yes" to loving God and others.
With that being said, there is a clear guideline I would like to put out there for you.
--Any physical affection which causes either person to lust after another person is not good. This is using them for your own pleasure and is not a loving act.--
With this principle in mind, I think the rest is easy enough.
I hope this helps.
**How Far Is Too Far?