Thoughts on I Kissed Dating Goodbye

Life after I Kissed Dating Goodbye…

Like most kids growing up in a conservative evangelical church, I was aware of Joshua Harris’s book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye long before I read it halfway through high school. Upon finishing the book, I fully endorsed Joshua Harris’s teachings as the best way to date and “guard your heart.” I had a purity ring, the first guy I dated asked my dad, it was really serious, and we had no idea what we were doing. Even for my independent fundamental Baptist church, it was a little too far when it came to purity culture and dating. My youth leaders didn’t fully support the courtship model of dating, but they didn’t speak out against the harms of the model either. My parents didn’t enforce strict courtship dating rules but I wasn’t allowed to date until after I was 18. (Yes, I was homeschooled after elementary school to protect me from “the world’s” teachings.)

Personally, this book taught me that there was only one right way to date and any other way that implied dating could be casual or fun even should be condemned. And I did adhere to it so very well with the first guy I dated. The problem was that even though I did all the “right things” and did it the “right way,” this particular courtship model gives men full control over the relationship. The gender roles are so strict and women can only be on the receiving end of the relationship according to Harris. It was the woman’s job in the relationship to protect the guy and not lead him astray. I felt held responsible for maintaining my first boyfriend’s purity because he couldn’t handle his “lust” and needed accountability (his words, not mine).

It terrified me that I could possibly marry the “wrong person” or go “too far” on a date and become forever ruined by the shame. I think that’s the word I most identify when I think about this book—shame. Not guilt. Guilt implies that something wrong actually happened/a wrong act was committed. Shame is what a group of people or a culture causes you to feel for not fitting into the status quo or “norm.” And I didn’t fit the norm. I spent so much time fighting against gender stereotypes because I’m not “feminine” enough and I’m an independent thinker. All that changed when I started dating and tried to follow IKDG in my relationship.

Giving the guy full control of my life even when we dated and were never engaged much less married led to emotional and sexual abuse. It didn’t matter how much I prayed about it and thought he was such a great “godly” guy, I felt trapped in the relationship. When I finally did end the relationship, I didn’t know who I was. My whole identity had been wrapped up in this one person and in molding myself into who he and my church/purity culture said I had to be. I’m more of the quiet, “submissive” type, I thought. I did everything right. So why didn’t this work? It has literally taken me years to undo what Joshua Harris’ teachings in his book taught me. It’s still a work in progress.

Another issue with IKDG was that I was only allowed to be straight and interested in men. Later I would realize that I was gay and no matter how hard I tried, regardless of what dating model I used, a relationship with a guy was never going to work out for me. Believe me, I tried. I spent a lot of time faking my attraction to men and not even knowing why my relationships never worked out. I even had convinced myself halfway through college that maybe I was just bi and that gave me some hope to have a relationship with a guy. And yet, the first time I attempted to be honest about this, the third and most recent guy I dated made me feel shame for being attracted to women and was afraid of me leaving him for a woman. So much was the shame of being queer compounded with the shame of losing virginity or giving my heart away to the wrong person. Now I identify as gay and gender queer, but it took a long time to get here. I wasn’t “allowed” to explore these parts of myself until after college.

Before I ended up in an abusive dating relationship, growing up in a very patriarchal anti-feminist church culture led me to giving someone else control of my body and my future. I was also sexually abused by someone in my church when I was a child. It felt very natural for me to let others control me because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. This book basically destroyed my life as a young adult because trying to live out the model outlined in IKDG doesn’t work out well in real life. It’s abusive spiritually, emotionally, and can lead to sexual abuse and physical abuse. Maybe Joshua Harris won’t own up to the damage his book caused so many in his lifetime. But I hope that having a platform for those of us impacted by the book like Life after I Kissed Dating Goodbye has done will help bring attention to the damage. I hope that each of us finds healing and love in a way that’s good and wonderful in spite of how we grew up.

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