Feminism

I Kissed Dating Goodbye review: 123-136

“Just Friends in a Just-Do-It World”

I’m just covering one chapter for today’s review– I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this, but I got a job at a local used bookstore. Usually I only work two days a week, which makes it doable with my fibromyalgia, but I’ve needed to work the last four days. On top of that, my childhood dog passed away this afternoon (she was 15), so today has been … rough. It’ll be back to the regular schedule on Wednesday, though, never fear.

This is one of those chapters where I just want to throw my hands up into the air and shout “I reject this entire premise!” since it’s basically all practical advice on how not to date, since we all know dating is like falling off a cliff. In fact, being just friends is as difficult as walking a tightrope over a “gaping chasm” (124). Images like these are frustrating because they don’t reflect reality at all. Dating someone and breaking up is not as harmful as falling off a cliff. That kills you. Dating is educational. Breakups are educational. As long as everyone’s boundaries and autonomy are being respected, a little bit of the blues at the end of the relationship isn’t going to kill you. Not even close.

I just do not understand why Joshua believes experiencing some temporary sadness is as horrifying as falling to your death. So, instead, lets take a look at the advice this barely-not-a-teenager person has for people trying to keep things “just friends.”

For this chapter, he’s drawing upon the biblical metaphor of “brothers and sisters in Christ” in order to inform his opinion on friendship. According to him, there are a few characteristics of being someone’s brother or sister in Christ: biblical fellowship, affection, and genuine care.

Biblical Fellowship

He argues that Christian friendships won’t be “shallow and meaningless” like what you see on television sitcoms, instead “their passion isn’t to appear witty, but to grow in godliness” (129). First, I’m pretty confident that most people are aware that their relationships don’t look like sitcoms, but I’m not sure Josh knows that. If he was anything like me at his age, he was told by the authorities he trusted that Seinfeld and Friends are an accurate depiction of secular friendships. Except, things like How I Met your Mother and anything written by Aaron Sorkin are good television because they’re not like real life. No one steals a blue french horn off a restaurant wall in order to impress a girl. Women do not show up in coffee shops wearing their wedding dress looking for their high school buddy and a place to live. But why am I telling y’all this?

The problem with Joshua’s attempt to contrast supposedly secular and Christian friendship fails, because in truth it’s more of a comparison than I think he realizes. I don’t think non-Christians walk around spending all their time trying to appear “witty,” but plenty of the Christians I’ve known do walk around trying to appear “godly.” Most of the relationships I’ve had with church folk have been shallow and meaningless because everyone was making sure they appeared “godly” instead of human. I’ve known some church people for half a decade that I barely know because the only thing I’ve ever heard them talk about is how much God’s blessed them. It’s difficult to form a “deep friendship” with someone who’s never honest because being transparent would threaten their reputation for “godliness.”

Affection

He uses an example in order to explain what he means:

On one occasion the men of the group planned a special dinner for the ladies, served all the food, and even had special gifts for each girl. After the meal the men shared reasons why they respected and valued the friendship of each girl. This is genuine affection! (130)

No, Josh, that’s weird and creepy. This kind of event is also a marker for a cult– churches that actively foster this sort of environment are establishing a boundary-erasing over-involvement. One of the things I’ve had to unlearn is how incredibly bound up together the members of my cult-like church were. There were so many strings tying us up, it was like being caught in a spider’s web. At that place, an event like the one Joshua describes would be commonplace, but I’ve never experienced anything like it at healthier churches … for a reason.

Genuine Care

This one was just sad because the entire section is focused on criticism.

God used our conversation to convict Christina and reveal the dangerous path she was on. She involved her mom and other girlfriends and changed the nature of her friendship with the guy.

I’ve benefited from being challenged as well. My friend Heather provided this kind of care for me when she talked to me about the way I was interacting with the girls in our singles group … It was hard to hear, but God used Heather’s words to help me change. (131)

There’s nothing in here about encouragement, or support, or compassion, or empathy. Nothing about kindness, or faithfulness, or even forgiveness. To Joshua, apparently the only way to “care” about someone is to criticize them. This doesn’t surprise me, considering the only two things I heard about friendship growing up were “faithful are the wounds of a friend” and “iron sharpeneth iron.”

No we get to the practical advice section of the chapter. It’s a lot of “do group things” and “mostly be friends with other men, guys” (which I’ve had words about before), but I want to focus on his first piece of advice:

Understand the difference between friendship and intimacy.

I have no idea what he’s talking about, and I read this section over a few times trying to figure it out. He’s basing this on a C.S. Lewis quote: “We picture lovers face to face, but friends side by side; their eyes look ahead.” He’s saying that friendships are about “things outside the relationship,” while intimacy is supposedly focused on the “relationship itself” (132) and I’m just not following. Friends “do things together” while lovers … don’t?

I’m confused.

I’m a bisexual woman, so theoretically any friendship I have with another woman could potentially turn romantic. None of them ever have for reasons that I can’t possibly explain since, supposedly, staying “just friends” is like “walking a tightrope over a gaping chasm.” Most of my friendships involve us chatting about our lives and things we find discussion-worthy … as does my relationship with my partner. The only difference is I fell in love with him and decided living in the same house as he does sounded pretty amazing. Otherwise, the substance of the things I do with him and my friends don’t look different (except, of course, for the sex. Duh).

I think the problem with this piece of advice is that Joshua simply didn’t have the life experience to talk about it. He’s never been married, or even really experienced adult friendships– all his buddies are still in high school and college at this point. I wonder, given that, what Joshua thinks about this section now.

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  • Beroli

    If he was anything like me at his age, he was told by the authorities he trusted that Seinfeld and Friends are an accurate depiction of secular friendships.

    After everything I’ve read about fundamentalist upbringings, here and elsewhere, that still made me go “wait what?”


    On one occasion the men of the group planned a special
    dinner for the ladies, served all the food, and even had special gifts
    for each girl. After the meal the men shared reasons why they respected
    and valued the friendship of each girl. This is genuine affection! (130)

    No, Josh, that’s weird and creepy.

    I also notice the terms used: “men” and “men” paired with “ladies,” “girl,” and “girl.”

    I hope you feel better soon. Virtual hugs, if you want them.

    • Jackalope

      Yes, that always drives me crazy too. I’m fine with people who say “men and women”. I’m even fine with people who say “boys and girls”, as long as they’re consistent. But those people who say “men and girls” drive me up the wall, especially since they never realize what they are saying here. When I point out that the relationship they are describing is actually a relationship between a pedophile and his victim they look at me like I’m crazy and then say I’m too sensitive. While I will admit that this isn’t the biggest deal ever, it is frustrating that many people routinely assume that male humans should be referred to as adults, while female humans should be referred to as children.

  • Lindsaydoodles

    Since when are friendships about things “outside of the relationship”? Sure, I have friendly people I might do something specific with, but my friends, my confidants? Those are definitely about the relationship, not about some hobby we have in common.

  • Melody

    “but plenty of the Christians I’ve known do walk around trying to appear “godly.” Most of the relationships I’ve had with church folk have been shallow and meaningless because everyone was making sure they appeared “godly” instead of human. I’ve known some church people for half a decade that I barely know because the only thing I’ve ever heard them talk about is how much God’s blessed them. It’s difficult to form a “deep friendship” with someone who’s never honest because being transparent would threaten their reputation for “godliness.”

    This so much ^^ It’s hard to be yourself, or be allowed to be yourself, when you have to be perfect and can’t really let people in, because then you might appear sinful in some way. You have to be careful and honest tentative questions or doubts are already seen as a huge thing: too “human” for comfort, not “godly” enough. It’s about finding yourself in a larger goal, or rather hiding/losing yourself in a larger (communal) goal.

  • You hit on something that I’ve noticed as well.

    Obviously people can homeschool in healthy ways, but when kids are brought up in a purposefully sheltered way to keep them safe from the evils of the outside world, their sense of that evil becomes very disproportionate.

    So, I might see a girl squeeze her guy friend’s hand and think of it as a gesture of friendship, but to Mr. Harris, it’s foreplay. This extends into about every area they’ve been protected from. If a girl stands me up, I can get over it and move on, find out the explanation, ask her out again – it’s a temporary dip that I can “forgive” and move on. But to Josh, I imagine that would be the worst thing anyone could do to him and be immediate grounds for dissolving that relationship completely.

    • Kevin

      Interesting thoughts on sense of evil. I know someone who thought the show Bones was raunchy due to the sexual references; my mom, who had lived life before having a born again experience, told me she sees that as just life.

  • Jewelfox

    Have an offer of internet hugs ._.

    I think the very concept of friendship was alien to him. He knew the word, but doesn’t seem to have understood what it meant.

  • “This kind of event is also a marker for a cult– churches that actively foster this sort of environment are establishing a boundary-erasing over-involvement.”

    Would you be willing to elaborate? Stuff like he described rankles me, but I’ve never been able to articulate why. So while I agree that it’s creepy, I can’t see how it’s boundary erasing or overinvolvement.

    • I’ll try. 🙂

      In my opinion, what makes an activity like the one he describes boundary-erasing is that it encourages people to take positions in other people’s lives that they haven’t actually earned. A church like mine or Joshua’s basic assumption is that simply being a member of the church gives everyone the “right” to be overly intimate or nosy in the guise of things like “accountability” and such.

      In the example he gives, it’s a church small group where it happens. Small groups are usually a somewhat artificially structured environment– they’ve been brought together in this instance because of their age and marital status, not because they’re all mutual friends with an established history and relationship. So what happens– gift giving along with a speech about what the men like about the women– is something that would ordinarily happen in a far more intimate, historically trust-worthy relationship. It’s not natural, it’s forced. The gender split just makes it weirder.

      • Jackalope

        Thank you; I had the same question. I wouldn’t like something like the experience he described, but I couldn’t put my finger on why, so this is helpful.

        Also, just wanted to say that I’m so sorry to hear about your dog dying. Critters can make such a difference in our lives, and I’m both glad that you had a dog that mattered to you and sorry to hear that she is not with you anymore. Jedi hugs!

        (And I’m glad you made it back; I was hoping that your long absence was due to something good, and not something negative like a fibromyalgia flare-up. Here’s hoping that the job at least is good, even though the other things aren’t.)

  • Timothy Swanson

    Obviously, he never had the experience of friendship with the opposite sex. Not surprising, since a core teaching of his brand of Christianity is that men and woman *cannot* just be friends, because it will *always* turn sexual. That this is absurd seems beside the point, which I suspect is to be sure that men and women are *not* friends, because that would threaten the hierarchy. Friendship might mean that males learn that women are their equals in intelligence, emotional strength, leadership ability, and so on, and that would threaten the idea that men should rule women. Instead, by claiming that men and women can only interact in a sexual way, it prepares for a marriage in which there is sex, but not real friendship. It’s more like (as a friend put it), slavery with benefits, not a divine partnership.

    On the other hand, true friendship often leads – as it did in my case – to an egalitarian marriage.

    I kind of wonder if Josh himself found this out later. He married a non-virgin with a different set of life experiences, and he seems to be growing up these days. Which is more than I can say about the people in the circles he grew up in and who mentored him, who seem intent on protecting abusers and circling the wagons.

  • Sheila Warner

    Wow. I’m so very sorry about your dog’s death. I lost a dog who was 16 years old. Losing a long-time furry friend can be devastating. While I read this post, I couldn’t help but wonder what Josh thought of the “friendship” (wink wink) between David and Jonathan. Looks more like face to face to me, I’m just sayin’.

  • calvinandhobbesforever

    First, I’m so sorry about the loss of your dog. They really can be best friends can’t they?

    Speaking of friends, it’s so obvious that Josh is very young and immature, and inexperienced. Youth isn’t always a problem, but it is when you’re attempting to lecture young adults (some of whom may be a decade older than you), on how to conduct human relationships. What Josh fails to realize is that true friendships can also bring pain. You don’t get a pass on human experience just because you’ve taken sex out of the equation. He seems to want to reduce all relationships to a shallow fellowship, to ward off real feelings and attachments. The problems with this go beyond dating relationships.

    • Sarah S

      Yes, this!

  • Northwoods Dan

    Sorry about the death of your dog. Dogs seem to understand the whole relationship thing much better than humans. Imperfect but humble, loving, loyal and willing to be our friends whether we deserve it or not.

  • “I just do not understand why Joshua believes experiencing some temporary sadness is as horrifying as falling to your death.”

    Because this is what purity culture EXPLICITLY teaches. The whole “you’ll lose pieces of your heart and you can never get them back.” When you’re just a kid, you have no way of knowing how nonsensical this teaching is. But the adults in church who are saying these things, who have enough life experience to know that no, breakups don’t forever haunt us and taint our entire future- they have no excuse.

    Back when I was in purity culture, I thought, being single and having no emotions is safe, and being married is safe. But in between, you have dating, which is a minefield. Because breaking up is The Worst Thing Ever.

  • LadyWoman

    You know, this made me realize something: in college (small Christian college, though fairly “liberal”) one my best male friends told me a lot of my guy friends thought I was flirting with them at first, but then they realized, “Oh, that’s just her being herself!” He was telling me this to amuse me, not “convict” me, God bless him. I can indeed be pretty straight forward in my friendliness and I’m not afraid of touch, so I just found this funny rather than bothersome.

    I suddenly wonder if they thought I was flirting with them not because I was being freakishly forward, but because they’d all been raised in the church and maybe heard how “dangerous” or “unusual” male/female friendships were. They weren’t super strict complementarian dudes by any means, but certain ideas and ways of viewing the world can certainly creep into your perceptions, so now I’m really curious!

    • LadyWoman

      Or they could just have been, y’know, teen/20-something boys reading way too much into stuff 🙂 Just curious because I never heard anything of this sort from non-Christian guy friends.

  • Candace L

    In my church, via books including I Kissed Dating Goodbye, this eventually morphed into not only avoiding the opposite sex, but also avoiding non-Christians. Since I came of age in Utah, this meant that most of the state of Utah was off-limits. I remember telling Mormon friends from school that dating was bad, and that men and women could not be friends, and even my devout LDS friends were like “that’s crap!” so eventually the evangelicals and Catholics were I lived were isolated from like 90% of my high school. Even the Orthodox Jewish kids and the devout Muslims were weirded out by the whole “emotional virginity” thing. They did not get it. Their youth groups encouraged boys and girls to become friends, so that maybe it might become something more and they would possibly marry. I ended up terrified of men, taught that they were monsters, and saw anyone who wasn’t Christian like I was raised as a monster. What was I going to think otherwise? Even the Muslim teens went to coed bowling events. My church said being friends was bad!

  • Lauren C

    My .o2… When I was in junior high, I used scribble my name with the last name of
    a boy I fancied in my notebook – but that is no way to choose a life
    partner. So, if I were to meet someone and ask myself “Do I want to spend the rest of my life with this person?” I think the first thing I SHOULD do is see if I can stand being alone with them for an evening FIRST.

    Also, I once thought that parents should be fairly involved in the whole “courtship” process, but now, on the other side of seeing my grown children get married and start their lives, the more I realize that parental involvement in courtship is a BAD IDEA. It’s as bad an idea as being a 3rd wheel in their marriage. My children are welcome to seek out my advice, but my mantra, the refrain I play over and over in my head, is “Stay out of it Mom, this is their life.”