I didn’t begin dating until I was 17 which wasn’t as much a conscious decision on my part as it was the universe’s imposition of obesity and awkwardness onto my adolescent life. And although I waited until I was 17 to begin dating, there’s still a lot that I regret: I regret not speaking up more, about not being honest with how I was feeling. I regret not ending certain relationships sooner when they had clearly passed expiration. But when I look back on the time I spent dating, I don’t regret the relationships, for the simple reason that they made the ones later better as a result.
That’s why what I’m about to make reference to doesn’t surprise me: The author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, an abstinence/purity/dating manifesto aimed at Christian youth, is hinting toward the fact that his book may have done more harm than good.
Without context that may not make much sense so allow me to provide some.
Toward the end of high school I began really, truly trying to deepen my relationship with God. I read my Bible regularly, I spent a lot of time in prayer, and I sought to gain a better understanding of my own personal faith. And it worked. Much of my college career was defined by my relationship with God. Looking back, I never would have made the right choices, much less finished, had God not been at the helm. But during that time, during what was definitely a growth period in my life, I met two kinds of Christians: the ones that were secure in their faith, that knew where they stood, knew how to grow, and were confident due to those qualities, and the ones that weren’t, that sought out friendships and relationships, superiority and status as a means to cover up hurt. And to someone like me who believed myself to be the former, it was obvious who was who.
Now even, I speak to and observe people who surround themselves with others, who hop in and out of relationships (or don’t even date at all) to mask a part of themselves they’d prefer to keep hidden. And don’t get me wrong, that’s all of us; we all have parts of ourselves that we’re compensating for. But the difference I feel like, especially in Christians, can be traced to books like this, books that proposed ideas and solutions about how to deal with Biblical issues, books that, while brought about with good intentions, twisted the decrees set forth by the Bible into something that was unhealthy.
I Kissed Dating Goodbye was written by a man named Joshua Harris who aimed to provide an answer to the state of Christian dysfunction that was marriage and dating. He approached this by proposing courtship over dating, by challenging couples to abstain from physical intimacy–the more, the better–so as to keep their relationship pure. And while it was no doubt thought of from a well meaning place: his seeking to minimize the common mistakes that teenagers and young adults make when it comes to love, the ideas he proposed, which were adopted my millions, may not have worked out so well–even Harris realizes this. The reason being is avoidance. Too often in college and too often now I see how tentatively Christian’s approach dating and their relationships with the opposite sex: the men are noncommittal, the women are waiting for the “perfect man,” and both of them live alongside each other, forever guilty, for simply having feelings for one another.
And again, there’s good to be gleaned from the ideas from which this book came. You shouldn’t date someone if you couldn’t see yourself marrying them. You shouldn’t set your standards low. You shouldn’t become intimate with someone you aren’t married and committed to. But what books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye, what the True Love Waits movement, what Joshua Harris has done through these works, these ideas, has screwed up the people who listened to them, the people who made mistakes and saw themselves as unredeemable. Just look at this feedback section on Harris’ personal website. Very few of the people giving accounts of their personal experience with I Kissed Dating Goodbye seem angry with what they view as issues in their marriages and relationships, but many of them have every reason to be. Some have never dated, some of them face unfounded guilt in their marriages, some feel broken, or tainted, or hollow for things they either did or thought when they were teenagers. And that’s sad. It’s sad that a book dedicated to the idea of preserving the sanctity of love, to protecting the newly initiated, the teenagers on the cusp of the romantic realm, caused so many to feel this way for no other reason than its existence. It’s sad that men and women that made mistakes in their past feel as though they are unable to recover from where they were because, at one point, they may have been viewed as “impure.” It’s this, this book, these ideas, these movements, that have put Christian youth where they are today, where women are left frustrated by the man-boys they have the option to pull from, where men are left defeated by women who feel guilty because “good” shouldn’t be an option they have. And Joshua Harris realizes that. And he probably isn’t the first.
I had the good fortune of not growing up in a church that clung to the purity movement, but some people weren’t so lucky. While there are probably so many that grew up just fine, that dated, got married, don’t hate their spouse and don’t hate themselves, there’re some that do, that did, and that’s a problem. Love is something that should make us feel joyful, blissful, full of life and full of hope. Something that causes someone to doubt that, even worse something that does that with the intention of doing the opposite, is dangerous–so I’m glad for Joshua Harris, a person who may have very well realized he made a mistake, who is searching for understanding over what his role may have been in harming the functional relationships of so many. Because we all make mistakes, we do things we regret, we do things wrong, but we can recover from them, and that’s the truth about love: it’s forgiving, not hollow, not resentful, not guilt ridden, but forgiving; maybe that’s what we should have been preaching all along.