07 June 2012

I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris

   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.”[1]

   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.”[2] 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.”[3] 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.”[4]

   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.

[1] Joshua Harris, I Kissed Dating Goodbye (Sisters, Or.: Multnomah Books, 1997), page 205
[2] Ibid., page 91
[3] Lydia Brownback, A Woman's Wisdom: How the Book of Proverbs Speaks to Everything (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2012), page 142
[4] Harris, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, page 117


bekahcubed said...

I love this. I re-read I Kissed Dating Goodbye a couple years back and was surprised by how much I liked it--and by how very not legalistic it was.

I'd read I Kissed when it first came out and hopped on the bandwagon whole hog (not that I ever dated before reading it!)

But then a whole raft of people from my church hopped on and I grew disenchanted with what courtship apparently was. I must have read Harris wrong because I didn't hear him encouraging parents to arrange "courtships" for their seventeen- and eighteen-year-old children. Or urging that those courtships are best begun with a family meeting including the young couple, their two sets of parents, and the pastor of the church. Obviously my reading comprehension was a bit poor.

I gladly hopped off the bandwagon (not that I really started dating after that anyway!)

And then I re-read it. And thought, "Yeah, this really is pretty good--and it TOTALLY does not encourage all that stuff those people at my church called 'courting.'" I also realized that I'd managed to grow my way out of the target audience. I might be unmarried, but I'm definitely not the aimlessly-wandering teenager making foolish promises of true love to an equally aimless young pup :-)

Carrie said...

I grinned with glee when I saw this post pop up.

I read this book when I was 14/15 and I haven't read it since. I liked it then and have only heard negative things said about it since. I'm SO glad you decided to re-read it and it makes me want to also.

Laughing about your cultural bonus points for using the word "sharing." :D Kudos to you!

Jasmine said...

Good post Heather!! I'm one of those people who read it, thought it was fine, but then the psycho people who used it as an addition to the Bible freaked me out. I didn't want to hear him quoted to me as rules, but I did appreciate his message. I feel like his message kind of got lost underneath all of the garbage that other people added to it. So thanks for bringing it back. I don't want to reread the book, but I'm going to trust your rational discussion of it. :)

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this Heather. I think I land in the same place as Jasmine.
Thanks for the post, and for making me laugh with your side comments (and footnotes).

BerlinerinPoet said...

@bekahcubed: I was definitely like you. I never dated before and so it was rather easy for me to embrace the book. But I can understand both @Jasmine and @Shosta's dislike of how far some people ran with it. It was good to look up some of Mr. Harris's current thoughts, and find out that he too disagreed with how far people have taken it. Actually, I found it humorous when he talked about how there were some folks who were so busy "guarding one another's hearts" that they had stopped talking to one another! I've definitely seen that before.

@Carrie: I thought you might like that. I actually tend to strongly dislike words like "sharing" these days, but alas! I couldn't think of another word. Glad to make you grin!

Steve said...

You might find my blog of interest where I critique Josh Harris's book.

I Kissed Dating Goodbye: Wisdom or Foolishness?

Unfortunately Josh Harris is quick to point out the problems with dating but reluctant to share any of the problems with his approach.

Hope this helps.

BerlinerinPoet said...

Steve, I question a blog dedicated entirely to being "against" something, but I read a few posts.

I found this in one of your top posts: "Even if one does believe and follow Harris’s thoughts on all of this he unfortunately doesn’t make it clear what he is “kissing goodbye.” This leads to what some call a “shotgun affect” to where all dating is decried as being wrong while his alternative “courtship” becomes the only thing that is acceptable" I think this is key: "He unfortunately doesn't make clear what he is 'kissing goodbye'"

The fact is, he isn't really kissing anything goodbye. Except maybe the world's view of how relationships should go (and surely you and I agree that the way the world goes about romance is awfully skewed). The thing is, it's just a catchy title, Steve.

You refer to a shotgun effect. Well, can someone help that? People even do this with the scriptures themselves. Of course they will do it with books by men. I, and Mr. Harris, and several of my commenters have already bewailed the people who have taken his actual message and ran with it.

Also you talk about the problems with Mr. Harris's approach. What problems are they? As I said earlier, please come with a quote from Mr. Harris himself, and not from someone who has taken his message and turned it into legalism.

Steve said...


Thanks for your comments.

You said "I question a blog dedicated entirely to being 'against' something. I certainly don't consider my blog "against" IKDG but it is asking whether IKDG is wisdom or foolishness. I believe it has and has and has produced both wisdom and foolishness.

The big push of my blog is get to people think about IKDG and question it rather than just blindly accepting it as seemed to happen when the book first came out. It was one teenager's response to his problems. Why so many people assumed that what worked for him should be the practice of many is baffling. Why is there a one size fits all mentaility?

You asked for examples from his book. Much of what I write in my blog is commenting on the results that his book has created. If the book has created bad results perhaps it is time for the author to reconsider what he wrote or do a better clarifying what he means.

Even in Josh's own church there were problems with how singles related though Josh isn't pretty silent about these problems on his blog.

In most of the groups I have seen where IKDG has been promoted the single men and women act as if they are almost afraid of those of the opposite sex. You see singles in their 30's acting more like teenagers in how the relate to those of the opposite sex. Thus something must be wrong with either the book or how people have applied what he teaches.

Josh did actually "kiss" something goodbye. As I indicate on my blog in one of his messages Josh Harris did indicate in his latest IKDG “update” message, “Romance Revisited”, that the title of his book was “confusing.” He said that he could have said I kissed “short term premature selfish directionless romantic relationships” goodbye but that would be too long of a title for a book.

Hope this clarifies where I am coming from.


BerlinerinPoet said...

@Steve: Yes, so it's still a blog entirely dedicated to one book. It just seems like overkill.

The main thrust of his book is to trust God and rethink the way you are looking at romantic relationships. I see no problem with this. Also, if you read my quote, "“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.”" This sort of should respond you your question. I almost feel like maybe you didn't....actually read my post.

You said: "If the book has created bad results perhaps it is time for the author to reconsider what he wrote or do a better clarifying what he means." This is a poor argument. Ought the bible then to be reconsidered? I mean, people have done pretty dreadful things thinking they are upholding the bible as well. Please don't hear me saying IKDG is like the bible. I'm pointing out the logical flaw.

Again, I think in order to adequately critique a book (especially if your entire blog is about it), one must quote the man himself. If you're interested, I have a part two of what the book really is about.

Steve said...


I wouldn't necessarily say my book is just critiquing a book but is also critiquing the "kissing dating goodbye" philosophy and what it produces (whether Josh Harris intended it to happen or not).

When I have read the book, it certainly doesn't come nearly as legalistic as groups have applied it.

I will be curious to see what you write in part 2 on this book.

BerlinerinPoet said...

@Steve: Well, great. I hope you keep reading, and I am glad that you didn't think the book was as legalistic as some people AFTER the book have made it.

I do agree that there are people who have taken it to an absurd extreme. I just don't think we can chalk it all up to Mr. Harris.

Pt. 2 might not be for a while yet, but it's in the works. Thanks for the interaction.

Steve said...


I am glad you have found my dialogue of value.

This is my blog entry where I talk the most about Josh Harris's attitude toward people applying IKDG legalistically:


I won't repeat all that I say there, but as I say in the post Harris just taking the stand that it wasn't his intention I think just doesn't cut it. For someone who champions an ideal like this one would think they would do more to prevent it from happening etc. vs. basically shrugging their shoulders and saying it wasn't my intent.

Will look forward to reading your next post. I am following the comments here so you might add a comment here notifying that a new post on IKDG is up. That way I will be sure and see it.

BerlinerinPoet said...

@Steve: Per your request, I am notifying you that my next IKDG post is up.