For whatever reason, Josh Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye has cycled back into my life. I find myself having conversations with friends about it and oddly, none of them have been positive. One friend suggested I reread it, thinking that with age and experience (<-- haw haw), I would have a different opinion. I reread it. I retain the same opinion. I found I Kissed Dating Goodbye to still be the helpful and honest book, I found it at fifteen or sixteen. And it’s a book still needed at a time when purity and commitment are rare.
Before I say a whole lot here, I need to point out that while I was writing this review I realized my notes were going on far too long for my readers to read, unless they are committed friends in real life, who will struggle through a ridiculously long blog post just for me. So, in order to hold the attention of my readers, and spare my IRL friends the sacrifice, I condensed my thoughts into two posts. Really this is quite a feat considering I have SO much to say about this book....and considering that I...just like to talk. Probably need this blog from Carrie actually.
I’d like to begin by getting some misconceptions out of the way first. I feel like whenever I talk to people about this book, they quote Mr. Harris incorrectly or talk about one of his anecdotes and apply it in some way that I was fairly sure he didn’t mean it to be applied. If I can recall all of them I’ll attempt to set the record straight. (Now isn’t THAT bombastic? My small time blog post is going to be the DEFINITIVE answer on I Kissed Dating Goodbye…yes, Mr. Harris, you may now write me an e-mail and thank me for the good work I do on your behalf. Haha…I joke)
At the time I Kissed Dating Goodbye was published, Mr. Harris was very young. He was younger than I am now, and I’m young. Some people saw this as presumptive and still others view this book as the final say in all romantic entanglements at all walks of life. I believe both of these are inaccurate. To the charge of presumption: please reread and listen to Mr. Harris’s tone. If it doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will. He’s not “telling others what to do.” He’s sharing (aha! Look…I used “sharing.” Points for cultural relevancy!) his life and his own experiences with friends. He’s challenging others to think about what they are doing and whether the values they accept are from the world or from the word. If we don’t allow our young people to challenge other young people, we are discouraging them from acting as a part of the body in holding one another accountable.
Let me bring something out that I just said: “allowing young people to challenge other young people.” This is a man barely out of his twenties writing to other people in their late teens or early twenties. I hope I don’t’ step on any young reader’s toes when I say romantic relationships begun in the late teens and early twenties rarely end up in marriage and often end up in compromised purity, broken hearts, and hurt people. This is the group Mr. Harris addresses. He isn’t absolutely explicit in this (and there are DEFINITELY things that are helpful to read even now as an adult), but the book wasn’t written with a thirty-year old man with a steady job and a house in mind. One of the ways I know this is Mr. Harris’s continual refrain of not seeking intimacy before you can commit. Obviously, my hypothetical thirty year old man, is ready to commit.
Something else I feel needs to be pointed out is that the entirely semantic issue of “dating” v. “courtship” is completely overblown in discussion of the merits of failings of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. On both sides. There are groups who have taken the “courtship” movement so far that they think those who date might as well be living together. There are still others who refuse to listen to anything Mr. Harris says because he thinks dating is sinful. To both groups I’d like to bring to the front this quote from Mr. Harris: “The Bible doesn’t provide a one-size-fits-all-program for moving from friendship to marriage. Our lives are too different, our circumstances too unique, and our God too creative to have only one formula for romance.”
Some smaller issues are that some people accuse Mr. Harris of saying you absolutely cannot ever, under any condition touch one another before you are married. I read the whole thing. There is NO point in the book where he says this. The only place I’m guessing this is coming from is that he questions what right we have to act like we have access to someone’s body, if we are not married to them. And this is a fair question? When you are married you give one another access to your bodies. If you haven’t pledged this to someone, why are you acting as if you had? Mr. Harris never gives us a line like, “no kissing before marriage” or “only hand holding…anything else is out.” In fact, he says quite the opposite, “We have to understand purity as a pursuit of righteousness. When we view it as merely a line, what keeps us from going as close as we can to the edge.” Don’t we all know this to be true? When given a rule, human nature will get as close as we can to the letter of the law, well before we embrace the spirit of it. Lydia Brownback in her book A Woman’s Wisdom addresses this problem in our relationships as well, “"Nowhere in Scripture do we read that sex is okay if you love someone enough. Nor do we find passages that address the oft asked question, "How far can I go before it's sinful?" To even ask this question is to reveal a divided heart.” Later he gives practical suggestions of how one can avoid situations where there might be temptation, but he’s very clear when he says, “Rules by themselves won’t change our hearts, but once we’ve taken on a new attitude, protective boundaries can help keep us on course.”
Another misconception is that Mr. Harris insists on a chaperone at all times and that your parents basically dictate the terms and rules and direction of your relationship. This is never said either. Some of this stuff, I don’t even understand how it got to be a misconception in the first place. Mr. Harris’s comment on chaperones is actually quite negative. He mentions that when a person is dating according to the world’s attitude, they often pick up on things like, “don’t go anywhere one-on-one” and think that just adding another person will take the intimacy out of things. Again, the divided heart asking what is the least one can get away with. He then talks about how he didn’t appreciate being asked out by friends, only to realize that he was only there to play some kind of rule fulfilling role by being the “third person.”
When he talks about parental involvement, he explicitly calls it building a team. He suggests we ask our parents to be on our team. Why? Because they’ve been there and because they love you. Ideally if you are a Christian person with Christian parents, they can hold you accountable in your relationships, like they (again…ideally) do in everything. Now, he also takes into account that you may not live with your parents. Or you may not have a great relationship with your parents. Or your parents may not be Christians. He then suggests finding another (preferably older and wiser) Christian to bounce ideas off and get on your team. To me this doesn’t sound like anything revolutionary or unwise.
The only semi fair misconception I've heard is that Mr. Harris says you must be sure you know you will marry someone before you date them. Excuse me, court them. Woo them. Romance them. Seek a deeper relationship with them. Whatever you want to call it. This, isn't exactly what he's saying. I understand how someone would read the book at come away with that, but I think it's reducing his words by a lot. Almost to the point of misquoting him. He does suggest we take relationships more seriously than many people do. He does suggest you have a fairly good idea that you could seek something long term before you involve someone's emotions. But he never says, you must know you will marry someone before you seek something deeper with them. Again, Mr. Harris seems more concerned with the attitude than the "rules."
So, when I came to the end of the book and found absolutely nothing upsetting or strange or ill advised, I was a bit confused. I don’t know what my friends were seeing that I missed. I have smart friends. I have godly friends. I have friends who do pursue righteousness and the knowledge of God and don’t want to live their lives like the world. I wonder if perhaps the reaction to the book from the more conservative section of Christianity (as in the people who rabidly embraced the concept of “not dating” and turned it into a NEW set of rules that will again just be followed to the letter and not the spirit), is perhaps closing my friends off to the actual message of the book. Mr. Harris in some of his own blogs now says that he still stands by what he wrote, but stands against the ways in which more legalistic minded people have taken his book and run with it. Perhaps it is the after affects that my friends object to?
What is the actual message you might ask? Well, if you haven’t already read it or are in some way aware of it, I’ll be getting to this in part number two (which might not actually be consecutive by the way). The reason I did this backwards is that I figure most of my friends have read it or know about it in some way. At least in my little corner of Christendom, it was big. Also, the reason I reread it in the first place was because of its vilification in conversations with friends. So, in actuality, I was combing the book as critically as I possibly could and all I could come up with was the post above. However, if I have completely read this wrong, and you know something I don’t know, I’d love to hear your thoughts. In all fairness to Mr. Harris though, I feel like you should come with a quote from him and not from others tending to legalism who took his message too far.