Like many parents of 90s kids, I once embraced I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
Written by then-21-year-old Joshua Harris, it was all about how “dating” is dangerous and will wreck your ability to have a good marriage. Instead, what we should aim for is “courtship”, or dating with a plan to marry, only done once you’re in a position to marry, and with the blessing of your families. Then, this courtship has rules on physical touch (he believed no kissing or physical contact until the marriage), so that you remain pure.
I had Rebecca read it when she was 14, and she liked it (but what 14-year-old wouldn’t? It promised her love when she was ready!).
I even wrote about it on this blog, in a post about teenage dating which still pops up on Pinterest and does really well.
But then something funny happened, both in our family and in families all over North America.
We started finding that it didn’t work in practice. I’ve written about my re-evaluation of the book as my own girls grew in several posts, but it boiled down to two things: first, just because you don’t date doesn’t mean that you can protect your heart from heartache. Life isn’t that simple.
But also, how do you know you want to marry someone unless you get to know them? And how do you get to know them unless you spend time with them? By the time Rebecca was 17 she was starting to go out to coffee with several guys, and even out to dinner, and she is still friends with most of those young men (and their now wives!). It was a good time for her to get more confident and to figure out what she wanted, and didn’t want.
There’s nothing wrong with going out for coffee, but when you think that dating is a sin, and that courtship and marriage are the aims, then it makes every date going out for coffee far more serious than it should be. And it makes it seem as if you can’t break up with someone, because then you just “dated”. You failed.
Plus there was the issue that I didn’t even realize I was in love with my husband until we had been hanging out as friends for a year. If you set up a situation where you can’t see someone anymore if you believe you won’t marry them, then I doubt I would have married my husband.
Those were our problems with I Kissed Dating Good-Bye. Other families had other ones.
The biggest critique was this one: It’s all just too good to be true, and it doesn’t prepare young people to build friendships with the opposite sex–so that a whole bunch of them don’t get married.
I remember one comment that was left on this blog on a post about modesty (so not about that book at all). I’m paraphrasing because I can’t find the comment now, but she was saying something to this effect:
I was raised in the purity movement and taught that if I dressed modestly, I would attract boys who would be drawn to my modest character. And so in our homeschooling group I wore the long baggy denim skirts. I wore the oversized T-shirts. I didn’t talk to the boys and wasn’t forward at all. I was waiting for one day one of these nice boys in our group would notice me and ask my father to “court” me. But as we grew up, one by one all of these nice boys who were also raised in conservative, modesty families started dating girls who wore regular jeans and flattering tops and did their hair and makeup. And soon they were all taken. That’s when I decided something had to change.
Quite simply, there are an awful lot of young people being raised in these conservative families who have never found a mate, because they have absolutely no opportunity to get to know other young people. They’re sitting back, waiting for God to provide, and waiting for someone to knock on their door. And all the “brazen” girls who weren’t taught to wait for courtship are snapping up all these Christian men!
I remember seeing a thread on Twitter last year where people were writing about what they missed out on because their families bought into I Kissed Dating Goodbye–“I didn’t go to prom because of I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, “I never had a boyfriend because of I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, “I felt guilty after I kissed my fiance because of I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”
Then Josh Harris gave a whole bunch of interviews where he asked the question,
“It’s like, well, crap, is the biggest thing I’ve done in my life this really huge mistake?”
Personally, I don’t think there’s a one-size fits all answer when it comes to relationships.
I think God likely does call some people to wait for courtship. I think God calls some to wait to kiss at the altar, and not others. I think that for some, dating at 15 may be okay (though likely not for most). I certainly think my daughters were ready at 17, though we always thought we’d make them wait until 18. I think hard and fast rules won’t work because every teen is different.
I think we like rules because they make life less scary. But every person is different, with different temptations, different levels of maturity, even different life paths. And so we should not assume that there is always a right answer.
I saw on the weekend that Josh Harris is making a documentary with a fellow seminary student called “I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye.“
The film’s director, Jessica Van Der Wyngaard, is fundraising to complete production, and eventually release it as a free resource online, which is a vision the two share.
He’s not going to make any money off the movie. It’s just an attempt to look honestly at the cultural milieu that inspired the book, how the book then impacted the Christian culture, and how it hurt many people. It’s trying to start a discussion that can ultimately bless individuals and the church.
I think it’s a discussion worth having.
I firmly believe that we need to be moving away from the “purity culture” idea which has these fixed rules for dating and courtship, and towards stressing Jesus again. Jesus over rules.
When I saw the fundraising campaign, I gave some money. And so I just wanted to give all of you the chance to donate, too. His fundraising appeal is up on August 5. If they don’t raise $49,000 Canadian by then, they’ll scrap the project.
An individual has offered to match all donations made from 12 PT/3 ET today (August 3) until 12 PT/3 ET Friday, up to $4000 Canadian.
During that time, all NEW backers who make a new pledge commitment on Kickstarter for this project will have their dollars matched, up to $4,000 Canadian, by a current backer. This means, whether a pledge is made for $5 or $500 to back this film, every dollar is matched, up to the $4,000 limit. While we prayerfully anticipate this challenge will enable the campaign to meet the original Kickstarter goal of $49,000 Canadian, any pledges which push us past the match and/or past the original goal, will be directed to a Stretch Goal of $55,000 CAN to enable the film crew to take this project to a global level and shoot a segment of the documentary on location in one of three countries overseas. Backers and only backers will be able to vote on Kickstarter for the country they would most like to see included in this important conversation.
One of the hardest things when you get big in any industry is admitting you made a mistake. And yet I believe God works through humility. Here’s the chance to reexamine what we believe, and make sure it lines up with the gospel, rather than just being a lot of extra rules.
If you feel so led, please give. I would love to see this project come to fruition!