Dating works to meet the needs of both identity achievement and the development of intimacy (both of which are chief tasks of adolescence), in that as one gradually becomes closer to another, one becomes more self-aware. In coming to know the self, adolescents begin to move away from the known world of family relationships and toward the world of peers. In doing so, adolescents become aware of differences between self and others as they work to develop a system of personal values and beliefs, honing a sense of who they are and who they wish to be. In this search for self, dating can have a positive impact on self-esteem and self-image.
This exploration also includes coming to know the sexual self, by exploring aspects of sexuality in terms of both dress and behavior. As adolescents work to find their place in the adult world, they develop a more distinct sense of ownership of their bodies and how that body functions. In addition, they become more aware of those to whom they are attracted, what they find sexually pleasing, and how it feels to be involved both physically and emotionally with one person.
The capacity for intimacy is initially developed in same-sex friendships and then extended into opposite-sex relationships. For females, dating typically provides a context for further expression of intimacy, while the experience provides for males a context for further development of intimacy. In general, intimacy skills of the average young adolescent are poorly developed; consequently, the art of managing close relationships tends to develop through a process of trial and error. As the individual matures and acquires more dating experience, she becomes more comfortable with aspects of self-disclosure, emotional closeness, and the experience of being cared for by a member of the opposite sex.
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