Because Valentine’s Day approaches, I’m writing today about my real-life experience of Kissing Dating Goodbye. In the late nineties, Joshua Harris wrote a popular, sometimes controversial book called I Kissed Dating Goodbye. The basic premise was this: dating sets you up for marriage failure because it essentially teaches you to be a serial monogamist. Christians who are serious about marrying only one person for life shouldn’t date until they’re ready for marriage — and it shouldn’t look like modern dating; it should look like traditional courtship, where marriage is the goal of the relationship from the start, and physical involvement (if there is any) should be taken seriously and entered into extremely gradually. Sex, of course, was saved for marriage, but some members of the courtship movement would save kissing for the altar; some even saved holding hands. Together with the True Love Waits movement, I Kissed Dating Goodbye was all part of the sexual purity message that any youth-group kid of the nineties will be familiar with.
The “I kissed dating goodbye,” movement seems strange to both Christians and non-Christians, and it seemed strange to me, too, when I first heard about the book as a sophomore in High School. While I was a dedicated Christian and quite indoctrinated by the “True Love Waits” movement, I thought that giving up dating was dumb and looked suspiciously like a form of legalism. Then I read the book, and much to my surprise, the book was, as Joshua Harris puts it on his website today, more about “living your life for God” than about dating. I felt that familiar, gut-twisting feeling that Christians call “conviction,” and I knew that dating, at this point in my life, was not something I needed to do. I wasn’t ready for marriage yet, and being in relationships was distracting me from God. So, at 16 years old, I kissed dating goodbye. And it was probably the most important decision of my life. Here’s why:
1. While I still had crushes on guys and wished I could date them, my life wasn’t all about boys. I focused on academics, on youth group, and on the extracurricular activities I loved, such as drama and choir. I read classic literature, I wrote and recorded my first album in a home studio with my dad, and began to perform music across the city. If I had been dating, I probably would have been hanging out with a guy instead of developing myself as a person and an artist. And guess what? If you are well-developed person, you’ll actually have something to talk about when you do start dating.
2. I learned to be friends with guys. This has proven to be a great life skill. It’s important to know how to relate to the opposite sex without being distracted by sex. I learned that I really enjoyed hanging out with and having conversations with guys, and this became even more important when I got to college.
3. I didn’t let a guy determine my college choice, and I didn’t have to go to college with the baggage of a High School Boyfriend.
4. I avoided a lot of heartbreak. Sure, there was still some heartbreak, especially of feeling that I wanted to date people, but knowing that it wasn’t the right time, and I’m sure I sent some mixed signals to guy friends I was interested in but felt I “couldn’t” date. But because I didn’t date, I avoided the deeper emotional attachments that somehow entwine themselves with physical attachments; moreover, it’s a lot easier to practice sexual abstinence when you’re not dating someone.
5. I was friends with my now husband, who I met in college, for over a year before I knew he was interested in me romantically. Since I wasn’t interested at the time, we remained friends for a total of 5 years before we ever dated. Now I admire his persistence and patience, and he probably didn’t appreciate being “just friends” at the time, but I have to say, being good friends with my husband before becoming romantically involved was probably the best gift our marriage could have been given. Because we were friends first, we learned that we were intellectually compatible, that we could have great conversations, that I could watch Star Wars with him and that we knew the same Simon and Garfunkel songs, all without the haze of post-makeout-oxytocin clouding our brains. Because we were friends, we learned to laugh together and to appreciate each other even without the best clothes and flawless hairstyles that we would have worn on dates. We learned to see each other as complete humans, not just members of the opposite sex who could fulfill our romantic fantasies. When we finally dated, our brains and bodies were concerned with very different things than getting to know one another as friends, and the choice to get married was easier, knowing that decision was based on more than the primary urge of two twenty-something virgins.
Don’t get me wrong; there were downsides to not dating; it was lonely at times, and as I got older, it became harder to be friends with guys, as I often viewed them, Jane Austen style, as potential husbands before I even got to know them. Also, not-dating can set up marriage as some sort of Holy Grail that will solve all problems — and viewing marriage in this way can imperil the marriage. I was never as strict with the non-dating as Joshua Harris; I simply delayed dating until marriage was a viable option, not until I was sure I would marry whoever I was dating, so my experiment with “courtship culture” was not quite as dramatic as some in the movement. But looking back, I now believe that kissing dating goodbye set my marriage up for success.
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)