I Kissed Dating Goodbye: A.H.’s Story

This week we are joining with Life After I Kissed Dating Goodbye to share stories about how Joshua Harris’s book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” has impacted us. You can read more stories at LifeAfterIKDG.com and discuss on Twitter using the hashtag #IKDGStories. 

Editorial Note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. ‘A.H.’ is a pseudonym.

For me, there was no dating prior to reading Josh Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I had already committed to courtship thanks to Bill Gothard and his teaching materials. Although my parents did not force me to commit to courtship, I do not think it accurate to say I chose it willingly. There was an unspoken expectation that I would choose courtship and everything that came with the courtship package.

I was probably sixteen when I first read I Kissed Dating Goodbye. At the time, I actually enjoyed reading what Josh Harris had to say. He normalized the courtship concept in conservative Christian circles. No longer was courtship merely an oddball choice that I had to explain upon every mention of the word, courtship was emerging as a trend!

However, looking back now I can see how Mr. Harris perpetuated some rather dangerous mindsets in his courtship books. While I believe he was sincere and well-meaning in wanting to offer a pattern that would allow people to enjoy friendships and create real, lasting relationships, I think the application of that throughout the conservative Christian realm got stuck on trying to emulate a subjective ideal and the appearance of courtship.

Instead of increasing my circle of friends, that circle shrunk fast. I may have had quite a few guy friends, but I couldn’t get close to any of them. Once committed to courtship, I was allowed less time with my guy friends. Sadly, some of those good friendships fizzled. I continued to feel, until quite recently, that it was wrong for me to have close guy friends. As a teenager and even into my twenties, I could never appear to be romantically interested in a guy because that would not be saving myself for this mythical husband-to-be. This courtship mentality also limited my friendships with girls who were not committed to courtship. My friendships were indirectly controlled by my parents. They may not have said that I could spend time with certain people and not with others, but they tightly controlled where I went, the groups with whom I spent time (predominantly church, but even there my involvement with the youth group was controlled by my parents), and my level of involvement with any group or person.

I believe the overbearing emphasis on purity in the courtship realm and within religious communities is quite damaging. Christianity in general seems to regard and esteem virginity much more than the woman (or man) themselves. The implication behind what I was taught was that I had to protect my virginity, my purity, my innocence. I also had to protect my not-yet-existent relationship with my future husband (whom I had not yet met), and I had to help my friends and acquaintances protect their future marriages. Never was I taught to protect myself.

I also believe that the assertion that one’s body belongs to his/her future spouse is very unhealthy. I am in my mid-thirties. I have been married for over a decade. And only recently have I become aware of my own autonomy. As the obedient and devoted daughter under the patriarchal ideology, my parents acted as stewards over me and my life. From the Christian theology, I also grew up believing my life and body were not my own, but God’s. Upon getting married, I accepted and had lived with the belief that my body belonged to my husband. My body has never been my own, belonging just to me. I believe this way of thinking and perceiving oneself is very dangerous, especially for women.

My husband is an incredibly good man, and he has been a catalyst in empowering me to come into my own as a person and as a woman. However, I am keenly aware that my husband is that way because he chose to reject the patriarchal teachings of his past and instead has pursued a relationship based in mutual respect and equality.

I have many friends who embraced and adhered to the courtship principles who haven’t been as fortunate in their marriages. Many of them have had to fight for their voices to be heard, their needs recognized. They had guarded their purity and virginity, yet in their marriages they have not been valued for the strong, amazing, caring individuals I know them to be. This is a pattern I’ve seen far too many times. And I believe the courtship – and the pursuit of an ideal rather than a healthy relationship with a person – has perpetuated a lot of that.

I feel that the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye was less about building healthy relationships and more about how an individual can feel more godly. Courtship was just another step-by-step to success tool that was hurled at my generation of homeschoolers. At least in my experience, it seems my parents were afraid of talking about guy/girl relationships. Most “conversations” consisted of my mom reacting to something she saw. For instance, she saw me playing mercy with a friend – the game in which you twist each others’ fingers until the other one can’t stand the pain any longer and says, “mercy.” “You’re too old to be playing that with boys!!” was her single explanation. I was left to assume it’s because our hands were touching – Egads!!

I wish, instead of handing me a manual, they had taken the time and endured a bit of discomfort by having honest conversations with me about relationships with the opposite sex and how to not just guard my purity but how to protect myself. I wish they had had the confidence in me to make more choices myself. Courtship – via Josh Harris, Bill Gothard, and others – offered them an illusion of protection (that I could stay safe by keeping physically and emotionally distant from others) but in reality it left me very vulnerable to toxic relationships and quite ignorant of the realities that exist in the world around me.

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