Feminism

“I Kissed Dating Goodbye” review: Introduction

I Kissed Dating Goodbye: A New Attitude Toward Romance and Relationships by Joshua Harris originally came out in 1997, when I was ten and Joshua was twenty-three, although I didn’t read it until I was in college because my church considered him far too liberal. We followed something that has more in common with betrothal and arranged marriage than it does with Joshua’s vision of “courtship,” although we both called it the same thing.

I mention both of these facts because it makes two things very clear: Joshua was an incredibly young man when he wrote this, and this is book is not the be-all-end-all of the courtship method that some have made it out to be. There are as many different ways to “court” as there are people, and I don’t want anyone coming at me with “but this book doesn’t represent real courtship”– from either those who think he went too far or not far enough. I’m aware.

I’m also aware of the fact that a twenty-three-year-old is going to say some laughably naïve things about relationships, and I think that Joshua might be aware of that, too. I reached out to him and asked if he’d like to be a part of this review series, but since he’s in seminary now he said he couldn’t. Because of all of that, I’m going to do my best to keep in mind that what he said in 1997 may not represent his views now (although I am working with the updated 2003 edition).

However, it’s important to keep in mind that although he might have matured and changed, his book is probably the most popular book on courtship (and possibly on Christian dating in general) ever written, and it’s continuing to have an impact today. Goodreads reviewers have writtenIt just gives me whole new perspective between courtship, dating and in relationships” and “I wished to have had this book before I got married” and “Life changing” and “a must read!” as of last month, and on Amazon the recent reviews are even more glowing, including one that went up last week. Over 70% of the thousands of ratings this book has gotten are 4 or 5 stars, and it’s still relevant, still influential.

I mention all of that because it honestly surprised me. When you lovely readers suggested that I dig into IKDG, I was hesitant at first because I thought of it as a relic from my college days. Were people still reading this? I wondered … and it turns out, yeah. They are. And while mine won’t be the only critical review– there are plenty on Amazon and Goodreads– I think it may be the first in-depth review that gets down into the trenches and examines the details of what went wrong in this book.

***

I think that, like most of the other books I’ve reviewed, my principle problem with this book is a problem I have with pretty much any book in the Christian “self-help” genre, especially books in the “gender and relationships” sub-category. In short, when this appears on the first page, in the foreward by Sam Torode:

it’s a book about following Christ and what that means for all our relationships with others– romantic or not. Joshua writes, “Every relationship for a Christian is an opportunity to love another person as God loved us.” That sums up the book’s message Once we embrace this principle, the rest is just details. (8)

… I’m going to end up massively disagreeing because the rest is almost absolutely not “just details.” I agree with the idea that every relationship is an opportunity to show the love of God to a person. Of course I don’t disagree with that– what Christian could possibly say “no, relationships have nothing to do with us showing God’s love to people”? However, the rest of the foreward is dedicated to how he didn’t kiss his wife until they were at the altar together, and that’s a pretty significant detail. “Showing God’s love in my relationships” doesn’t necessarily equal “I don’t kiss my girlfriend,” but that’s an idea that’s going to get lost a lot in the next 200 pages.

Like on the next page: “This book tells you how to make your life pleasing to God– even if that means taking a break from dating” (9). Or the next: “I want to help you examine the aspects of your life that dating touches … and look at what it means to bring these areas in line with God’s Word” (10).

All the other books I’ve reviewed have done this: they continually conflate their ideas with “God’s will” or “what God wants for your life.” This is always done honestly– Stasi Eldredge and Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Mark Driscoll and now Joshua Harris are all convinced that they’re representing God and “wisdom” and “Christian living” and whatever else, and they’re doing their best to do that faithfully. The problem enters with their pride and arrogance, because they haven’t really asked the question “could I be totally, utterly, 100% wrong about this?”

I get that. I hadn’t either, when I was twenty-three. That monumental shift in my thinking, in admitting that I could be fundamentally wrong about everything didn’t occur until I was twenty-six, and I’d already been blogging here for a while. I spent a decent amount of time on this blog saying similar things– making proclamations about what the Bible really means and what God really wants. I still do it on occasion, if I’m being perfectly honest.

We all think we’re right. It’s human.

However, when what you think is right becomes a massively popular book that has done a lot of harm to a whole generation of Christians, then people like me should definitely spend some time kicking your pile of blocks over.

Photo by Zach Zupancic
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  • Gina

    Can’t wait to read more on this topic! I distinctly remember reading this book as a young middle-schooler. It was hugely influential on the ways in which I viewed love, sex, and dating. All things that I had to deconstruct later when I started living in the real world.

  • That’s a very heavy responsibility these authors are taking on, claiming their words represent God’s True Intentions. It took me a long time to get over my fear of being wrong, making an idol of certainty. Of course I have my own views on what Scripture says in places, but I doubt I’ll ever be so confident as to claim a monopoly on the truth.

    I haven’t read this book, though it was definitely name-dropped in college bible studies, so I’m looking forward to this.

  • lupiter

    I’ve never read this, although it was quite popular when I was a teenager among a certain set. And laughed at by others! I always wondered how it defined “dating”, I think I used to imagine something like Sex in the City, ha!

  • Yeah, it’s always funny how everyone thinks their interpretation of religion is the right one.

    • Kevin

      Also funny how they think anything they don’t agree with is of the devil, deception, blah blah. As some friends pointed out, it’s a bit arrogant. My policy is if it promotes life and involves loving God and your neighbor chances are God’s involved; if it involves death, destruction, and hate the devil’s in the details, to use the cliche.

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    I heard this courtship thing for the first time over 20 years ago, while in college, and since then I’ve lived all around the country and been in many different churches. One thing I have noticed is that the courtship model has a powerful attraction for people with significant emotional and personal problems. I’m not talking about people whose parents & churches raised them that courtship is the right (or only) way to go about life – I mean people whose families had never heard of such an idea, but who discovered it on their own, who chose it from a number of different ways of doing things. There may be something about the safety that courtship says it offers, and about the rules that seem to guarentee success. I think some are also attracted to the idea that courtship demphasizes the role of emotions, and that can sound appealing to young people who have realized they are not adept at handling emotions.

    • That was my take, too. The implied promise of courtship was to find a safe passageway to marriage without the risk of rejection or break ups. Sex was always the demon to be avoided, but it was avoided because it led to rejection and breaking up.

  • I read it, and I remember it really affecting me as a teenager, but I don’t really remember it after 15 years. I’m going to get a copy from the library and reread it, and I’m looking forward to your thoughts.

  • Read it years ago, not long after I became a Christian. My wife and i were certain this was how we were going to raise our kids.

    And then after a while, I began to wonder. How did I know I was going to be right when I directed her toward a particular person? I wasn’t exactly a poster child for judging people well even then; I was on my second marriage!

    We discourage one-on-one dates with our kids who are under 18, because they’ve got enough going on with their lives at that point. It seems to have worked well so far.

    Really looking forward to more on this.

  • Sheila Warner

    “That monumental shift in my thinking, in admitting that I could be fundamentally wrong about everything didn’t occur until I was twenty-six….” It didn’t occur to me until I was 56, so don’t feel bad.

    • Northwoods Dan

      Thank you Sheila! I’m glad I’m not the only one here north of 50! I’m still learning and the older I get, the more I realize I never had things figured out in the first place and the more cautious I am in thinking I’ve got it all figured out now. Yet, there is a certain comfort that comes from the caution and the willingness to live with more questions than answers. I mean this humbly when I say that I think I’m on solid ground in believing in listening more and speaking less. I partly follow Samantha’s writing because I want to hear from a different generation and, perhaps, see some shortcomings in the collective baggage of my era. Feeling challenged at times is not nearly as threatening as it used to be or needs to be.

      So, I’m all for any honest admissions of being fundamentally wrong at 26, 56 or whenever. If headed in the wrong direction, a course correction is always a good thing.

      • Sheila Warner

        Now I’m 60! The more I learn, it seems, the less I know! Learning brings me delight.

  • I remember couples breaking up over this book. They’d read it together, and it was always a dreaded moment when one of them concluded that she or he agreed with it. Some of them decided to reverse course and follow Harris’s blueprint until they got married, while others (even happy couples) decided that all their dates and kisses left their relationship irreversible corrupted.

    But the biggest legacy that this book left was the pressure it put on young people. Instead of asking someone out because you were attracted to them, they had to focus exclusively on marriage. So guys would hit on women with lines like “God is calling on me to marry you.”

    • Wow. Breaking up over this book. Wow. But yeah that totally sounds like something purity culture would have people doing.

    • Aram

      The good news is if they broke up over this book then they wouldn’t have gone the distance anyway. Everyone involved saved time 🙂

    • kittehonmylap

      The exclusive focus on marriage was a huge deal when I was in college. Women wouldn’t want to go on even the most low-key of dates because they might not guard their hearts properly. Or would break up after the like, second date because they didn’t think the relationship was heading towards marriage. Asking a woman out was tantamount to proposing to her. Women (it was always women) would be convicted in chapel that they had made an idol of their boyfriend (usually during revival week) and spend hours or days agonizing over whether they needed to break up.

      It was BATSHIT.

      • carter

        Strangely enough, I saw an article by a popular pro-homeschool, conservative Christian blogger who said exactly this– that the courtship model put too much pressure on relationships in their early stages, blurred the difference between courting and being engaged, and that perhaps a better model would be to go on lots of dates with lots of different people, but not get seriously involved.

    • Amanda Morrow

      Exactly this.

  • Kevin

    This is basically how I was raised. I have the book but have never read it; however we watched the videos in youth group. (I think this a major contributor to my never having been on a date at 31.) I’m looking forward towards this review.

  • Anna

    Oh, I remember this book. I read it because the boy I had a crush on really liked it. Then I dreamed that he told me that God wanted him to marry me. That never materialized, thank whatever gods there might be; we wouldn’t have been a good match. But he did sort of seem to like me and because of this book and the whole courtship culture, blew hot and cold with me all the time so I was mostly just confused. But since he was “the man” he was supposed to take the lead, which meant that I felt like I couldn’t turn to him and say, “Dude, you’re weirding me out by acting like you like me and then ignoring me five minutes later.”

    Then when I started dating someone who genuinely liked me and wasn’t afraid to say so, I definitely was way too serious at the start of things. We’re still together ten years later, so it’s not like that was irreparable, but our relationship would have been a lot less bumpy and overly-dramatic at the beginning if I’d been able to relax and forget what this book had told me about relationships. And I certainly wouldn’t have made my boyfriend wait six weeks to kiss me because I wouldn’t have put so much weight on kissing to begin with. Also, I would have been less likely to be weirdly jealous of his first girlfriend and weirdly guilty over still caring about the first guy I ever fell for, since “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” had all that nonsense about giving away pieces of your heart.

  • Looking forward to this series! I never read “I kissed dating goodbye” but I did read his second book “Boy meets girl” about how courting is supposed to work.

    And yeah I can’t stand how Christian writers/pastors are always like “this is what God says about xyz” or “this is God’s way to do xyz” when it’s not- it’s their interpretation, and they may have reasons to back it up, but definitely nothing that can guarantee that kind of certainty. This is taking the Lord’s name in vain.

    That’s how I ended up in purity culture, even though my parents and adults at church didn’t really even know all of what purity culture was teaching, about how dating is horribly dangerous, etc- I ended up in purity culture because all the Christians who are like “this is what GOD SAYS” are the purity-culture people. The ones who are like “yeah dating is normal for teenagers, it’s not a big deal, just don’t have sex” aren’t claiming their view is THE VIEW Christians MUST have. I really really wanted to be a good Christian and follow God as well as I could. So which group do you think I believed?

    • Kevin

      Love the line on taking God’s Name in vain — I think I’m gonna share it with people I know IRL! Upon seeing this series I flipped through another book I have in this genre(God Is Your Matchmaker), which says a lot of the same things. The author(who used to be a missionary in France) told of a botched attempt to introduce purity culture into France, but the French pastors wouldn’t listen. The author accused the French of not wanting to pay the cost and thought the pastors should be willing to refuse to marry couples. Like I said in a previous comment, I’m looking forward to this, you an alternative perspective that works better.

  • Aram

    “We all think we’re right. It’s human.” Though I agree this is a common human downfall, it certainly does seem more prevalent when the humans in question are convinced that ‘God’ is talking to them.

  • Amanda Morrow

    In a lot of ways I hold this book responsible for a generation of Christians who are perpetually single. I know way too many people in the 25-35 bracket who would very much like to have a partner but this book poisoned so many people to view the opposite sex as the source of sin and temptation, to be feared and avoided, rather than just… people. I know of one person who was a college sophomore when this book came out. She was involved in a very lively prayer group that involved men and women when she was a college freshman- Christians just hanging out, enjoying each other’s company, praying together, etc. Completely innocent. This book comes out and bam! Co-ed prayer groups dissolved, friendships abandoned. Every interaction became incredibly guarded, with so much fear and suspicion. For the generation which was hit with this book at the time of life when they are learning to interact with those to whom they may be attracted, and to do it in a healthy way, this book caused irreparable damage. I read this book early in college. I read “Boy Meets Girl” with my now-husband while we were courting/dating. We didn’t kiss until the altar. And I would change that and so many other things if I had the opportunity to do it over again with hindsight. I hope one day Mr Harris has to answer for the harm he wrought upon this generation. I cannot WAIT to see you rip it to shreds!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • LadyGrey23

    Long time reader, first time commenter…..I’m really looking forward to this!