Monday, February 10, 2014

Lessons Learned from my real-life tale of kissing dating goodbye

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. 


Brian Franklin said...

I completely, totally agree. So well said. This book truly changed my life when I read it at age 14, and all for the better. Seeing your post was also encouraging, because I've been quite surprised over the last decade at all of the backlash against this book/movement I've encountered in Christian circles. I was beginning to think that maybe I was the only one who thought positively about it any more!

Alanna said...

I never heard of this book, but as a Mormon, we're told not to date at all until we're 16, and then to date in groups and not pair off or be exclusive until we're ready for marriage. It's not quite as strict, but it's the same basic idea. And I agree that it really helps you to be interested in actual LIFE as a teenager and not just get caught up in romance.

Ironically, I think within my religion, we are starting to have a problem where too many boys stay in the "let's just hang out" mindset, even once they're well into their 20s and there isn't any particularly reason (except, apparently, immaturity) why they shouldn't be actively courting a girl they feel they could marry. But that's completely the opposite problem of what you're talking about here!

I'm glad I met my husband when I did, at a time when we were both ready and looking for a suitable spouse. And that neither of us had a ton of baggage from dating scores of people since we were 12 or whatever! And I'm glad to read your post and see that it isn't just Mormons who think this way!!!

Christine Hand Jones said...

Alanna, thanks for your comment! I have also observed the trend of young people who choose not to date staying in the "just friends" phase for longer, and I wonder if that's part of the overall trend of people today marrying at increasingly later ages. I also wonder whether not-dating can be taken to such an extreme that people don't know how to relate to one another once the situation becomes romantic. Some middle ground between the hyper-sexualization of dating portrayed in popular media and the hands-off approach of various religious sub-cultures could be helpful in teaching members of the opposite sex how to relate to one another respectfully. At any rate, learning to be friends first is still a good start.

Jon said...

Putting marriage/dating on the back burner until you're reading is definitely a good thing. The problem with it, as noted above, is when people want to stay in the "just friends" phase longer than they should.

By all means don't court in high school, but also don't wait until you're thirty. In general people are waiting too long to get married. I got married at 23 and my wife was 22. In retrospect we feel like we should have gotten married 1-2 years earlier. There really was no good reason for waiting. There's no point in "learning how to be single" or living by yourself if that's not how you plan to spend the rest of your life.

AmaindeJH said...

I love your post. Good to see someone who had a good experience with this movement (I did not). I didn't "date" conventionally, even once I decided the "courtship" type of dating was not working for me, so books like these still influenced my love-life choices. Anyway, nice post. Great blog.

Donna said...

I strongly disagree with the statement made by Jon that "there's no point in 'learning how to be single' or living by yourself if that's not how you plan to spend the rest of your life." Just because you don't *intend* on spending your life married doesn't mean you will. Your spouse could easily be gone tomorrow, and if you haven't ever lived on your own, you're likely going to be missing some serious life skills I'd wager you wished you had. Additionally, if you haven't spent time developing yourself outside of the relationship, you're likely going to experience something similar to "empty nest syndrome", only in regards to your spouse being gone, not your children, obviously. Given that in our current society there is an issue with (I think they are calling it) prolonged adolescence, it would seem that a person moving from one dependent state to another (from mom's basement to marriage) might not be for the best. I'd be worried about that person ending up in a codependent state in their relationship. No trying to say that a relationship where this has never been the case for either party can't work. Just saying that the blanket statement that there is "no point" in livign by yourself is problematic.