It’s crazy that one of the most popular books on dating written in the 90s was the dating philosophy of a 21 year old man…who was single at the time! In 1997, Joshua Harris wrote his dating manifesto “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” where he talked about…kissing dating goodbye. Instead of casual dating and having lots of relationships, Harris favored courtship, intentionality, rules and boundaries.
It was a popular book.
This philosophy continues to influence people. While Harris didn’t invent these ideas, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” exposed many to these approaches and rules.
This week, the pastor and writer announced that he is working with his publisher to discontinue the book:
In light of the flaws I now see in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I think it’s best to discontinue its publication, as well other supplemental resources tied to it (this includes the two books I wrote after it whose content is similar).
-Joshua Harris statement
In a 2016 interview with NPR, Harris acknowledged his consideration of the results espoused in IKDG: “I think it’s taken time for the consequences of the way that people applied the book and the way the book affected people to play out. And so I’m hearing these different voices saying, here’s how your book was used against me, here’s how it was forced on me, or here’s how I tried to – no one forced it on me, but I tried to apply it and it had this negative consequence in different ways. I’m trying to go back and really evaluate, you know, where did my book contribute to that? Where was it too stringent? And where was that me and what I was writing, and where was that – the families and the church cultures and so on?”
I was never a huge fan of this book. It’s not that everything in it was bad. For instance, of course it’s good to have intentionality in relationships. But Harris’s philosophy wasn’t just conservative on physical intimacy before marriage but also on emotional intimacy.
In wanting people to not get overly emotionally committed before marriage, it risked a person getting too relationally committed to soon to people they knew too little.
Some took Harris’s philosophy as gospel when it came to relationships. Harris argued against a culture where people hopped from one dating relationship to another to another. There needed to be more intentionality in dating. It was a courtship model where relationships were only entered into with people you could seriously see yourself marrying and where activities were largely based on building friendship.
I think these ideas continue to reverberate through American Christian culture. While Harris warned against casual dating, hyper-intentional dating can put tremendous pressure on a couple from the outset of a pursuit. I think in Evangelical Christian circles, when two people do start dating, there can be this tendency to think “well they’re going to get married.”
But there might be some serious reasons as to why those people are not a good fit. Dating without emotional connection (which Harris was weary of) can lead to superficial relationships.
I think that millennial Christians tried to navigate relationships while a “hook up culture” existed for much of the rest of this generation. And while many might not have taken dating and relationships seriously enough, I think Evangelicals pushed too far in taking dating to an opposite extreme which could be just as unhealthy, and where even the beginning of a relationship was taken with extreme seriousness.
There is still be an “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” approach within Christian circles where courtship is seen as being inherently better and more God-honoring than dating. This is absurd, because neither dating nor courtship is the common method in the Bible of finding love.
Some young Christians brought a formulaic approach to relationships and marriage. Almost like good things would happen for avoiding certain pitfalls of dating and relationships.
This approach can lead to legalism and false hope that “if you follow the rules, you’ll have a fulfilling marriage.”
In his statement this week, Joshua Harris touches on this idea that many took from his book: “The book also gave some the impression that a certain methodology of relationships would deliver a happy ever-after ending—a great marriage, a great sex life—even though this is not promised by scripture.”
Dating should be taken seriously. But in our society, it does need to be taken casually enough to where a person doesn’t feel prematurely committed to someone who they’re just getting to know. And this isn’t just a critique of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” because there are other books from the same late 90s, early 2000s period which espouse similar philosophies.
I think it’s worth appreciating the humility of Harris. He obviously took a long look at his book and its impact. It’s a book that sold hundreds of thousands of copies and put Harris on the map. For him to look at his own work and say it should be discontinued and to recommend other books, I think that take a big person.
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Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.