What I Learned from Joshua Harris

With his books I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl, Joshua Harris singlehandedly made the word “courtship” popular in mainstream evangelical circles. Yesterday I responded to a post another blogger wrote about what she learned from Joshua Harris. Today I’m following up by discussing what I learned from Joshua Harris. I don’t own a copy of Harris’ book at the moment, but given that this post is about the messages his book gave me at the time, not simply a review of his book, I think that’s fair. When I finish reviewing Created To Be His Help Meet, I may start in on I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

I read Joshua Harris’s books while I was in middle school and high school. They had a huge impact on me, and on how I viewed relationships. I read I Kissed Dating Goodbye almost immediately after it came out. I was in middle school, just starting to develop and have questions about boys. I was a blank slate when it came to relationships. It was the first thing I read, followed later by Boy Meets Girl and Not Even A Hint.

Courtship, Not Dating

As the title of I Kissed Dating Goodbye makes clear, Joshua Harris is not keen on dating. Instead of dating, he endorses “biblical courtship.” Now to be fair, Joshua Harris’ definition of courtship is not the same as the ideas put forward by Christian Patriarchy leaders, which stress parental involvement and control. Rather, for him courtship is “dating with a purpose.” In other words, you shouldn’t start a relationship with someone unless you are actually ready to get married and think the person in question is likely the one you want to marry. Harris condemns “recreational dating” in no uncertain terms.

Interestingly, conservative evangelical World magazine published an article last year about how Harris has messed up the dating scene for evangelical youth. As they explained in an article last year, many evangelical young people today are afraid to date. They avoid asking each other out for fear that a relationship might end in failure and leave them sullied. Indeed, asking someone out has become almost equivalent to asking someone to marry you.

Joshua Harris taught me that dating was wrong. He taught me that having relationships that didn’t lead to marriage was wrong. As a result, my first romantic relationship was serious from day one. It was all about “is this the person I’m going to marry or not?” I obsessed over that question. I knew that if I broke up with him I would be damaged goods, but also that I should break up with him immediately if I felt our relationship was not leading to marriage. I regret this. I wish I’d known that it was okay to date without being being immediately serious. I wish I’d known that dating around helps you learn what you want in a spouse, and helps you gain valuable relationship skills. I wish I had dated around. Instead, I married the first person I ever dated, due in no small part to Joshua Harris’ teachings. Of course, I don’t regret marrying Sean. I do, however, regret not dating around beforehand and making our relationship so serious so fast instead of letting it develop more naturally and with less stress.

Emotional Purity

The reason that Joshua Harris condemns “recreational dating” is not simply because it is in his view a waste of time but also because he believes in a concept I have termed “emotional virginity.” Harris teaches not only that sex before marriage is wrong, but also that if you have a romantic relationship with someone you do not end up marrying, you give that person “a piece of your heart” that you cannot get back. This means that when you marry, you will not be able to give your spouse your whole heart. In other words, every time you have a romantic relationship that does not end in marriage, you are emotionally cheating on your future spouse. He even offers a scenario that has since been the nightmare of many an evangelical teen:

It was finally here. Anna’s wedding day, the day she had dreamed about and planned for months. The small, picturesque church was crowded with friends and family.

Sunlight poured through the stained-glass windows, and the gentle music of a string quartet filled the air. Anna walked down the aisle toward David. Joy surged within her. This was the moment for which she had waited so long. He gently took her hand, and theyturned toward the altar.

But as the minister began to lead Anna and David through theirvows, the unthinkable happened. A girl stood up in the middle of the congregation, walked quietly to the altar, and took David’s other hand. Another girl approached and stood next to the first, followedby another. Soon, a chain of six girls stood by him as he repeated hisvows to Anna.

Anna felt her lip begin to quiver as tears welled up in her eyes. “Is this some kind of joke?” she whispered to David.

“I’m…I’m sorry, Anna,” he said, staring at the floor.

“Who are these girls, David? What is going on?” she gasped.

“They’re girls from my past,” he answered sadly. “Anna, they don’t mean anything to me now…but I’ve given part of my heart to each of them.”

“I thought your heart was mine,” she said.

“It is, it is,” he pleaded. “Everything that’s left is yours.” A tear rolled down Anna’s cheek. Then she woke up.

Anna told me about her dream in a letter. “When I awoke I felt so betrayed,” she wrote. “But then I was struck with these sickening thoughts: How many men could line up next to me on my wedding day? How many times have I given my heart away in short-term relationships? Will I have anything left to give my husband?”

After reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I was afraid to so much as have a crush on a boy. I had always been taught that I should be sexually pure, but adding emotional purity to the mix raised everything to the next level. For me, it was easy to be sexually pure. None of my friends were dating, and I didn’t even really know any guys my age anyway. As for sexual thoughts, I was pretty good at sublimating them. I was not, however, very good at not having crushes on boys. I would make up elaborate daydreams of how this boy or that would ask my father’s permission to court me, and there were of course roses and romantic walks and eventually a ring. But because of Harris, I now believed that these daydreams were wrong. They were a form of cheating on my future spouse. It got to the point where I was afraid to so much as think about guys for fear of cheating on my future spouse.

I wish I’d realized that love is infinite. I wish I’d realized that my girlhood crushes were harmless. I wish I could have enjoyed those feelings instead of hating them and feeling eternally guilty.

Lust and Modesty

Another scene I remember very clearly from I Kissed Dating Goodbye: A guy went to his girlfriend’s house to pick her up, and she came out wearing a tight top, and he told her to go in and change because the shirt was too immodest. The whole point is that we females need to protect our “brothers in Christ” by dressing modestly. I keenly felt the sting of the embarrassment the girl in the story must have felt. I resolved never to give someone reason to send me changing, and was careful to cover up any sign of sexuality. I felt embarrassed by my body, and strove to hide it under loose fitting clothing. Can you say body image issues?

Of course, the whole modesty thing is predicated on how Harris defines “lust.” In Not Even A Hint he defines it as “desiring sexually what God has forbidden.” In other words, the only sexual thoughts or desires that do not count as “lust” are sexual thoughts about your wife. Anything else is sin. Now, it just so happens that women, like men, are also sexual beings. This meant that, naturally, any and every sexual thought I had as a teen I saw as sin. As a result, I suppressed every sexual thought I had, and I got pretty good at it. So good at it, in fact, that by the time I was actually in a relationship I had for all intents and purposes killed my own sexuality. I might have wondered if I were asexual if I had known what that was, but as I sought to open myself up I found over time that I was a sexual being after all. However, those years of repression permanently shaped my sexuality. I wish Harris hadn’t taught me to see my sexuality as a problem to be combated.

Harris’ teachings on lust caused very real problems in my marriage as well. I believed that every time my husband cheated on me every time he had sexual thoughts about another woman. This meant that when we were walking down the street in the summer I would watch his face as well as the people in front of us, looking to see if his eyes lingered on some woman’s legs, breasts, or ass. Any time we passed an attractive woman I would pounce, asking if he had looked at her, or if his mind had lingered on her. If he was away for the day I was waiting when he came back to ask if he’d seen, and thought about sexually, any attractive women that day. This all naturally drove a wedge between us. I felt I couldn’t trust him, since I was taught both that men are extremely sexual beings and that any time they think about sex they are de facto cheating. I feel like what I was taught was “Your husband will cheat on you no matter what. Be ready to resent him for it, and also to resent those sluts who set your husband up for this by their appearance.” And resent I did. He, in turn, felt that I was being unreasonable and that no matter how hard he tried to show me it I couldn’t see that he was head over heels in love with me. If we had gone on like that, Harris’s teachings about lust might have tanked our marriage. Fortunately, I eventually rejected Harris’s teachings about lust, and when I did, my marriage blossomed.

Who’s the Purist One of All?

In I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Harris tells about a car ride with two newly-married friends. The couple was holding hands even though one was in the passenger seat and the other was in the back, and Harris commented that it must have been hard to avoid sexual sin while they were dating, if they can’t keep their hands off each other like this. The couple then told him that they hadn’t kissed each other until their wedding day. Why? Because they knew that they were both such physical people that if they started kissing each other it would be impossible to stop there, and that they would end up having sinful premarital sex. Harris commends them for this, and holds them up as an example.

While Harris says that not everyone has to save kissing for the wedding, that wasn’t enough to counteract his ringing commendation of this couple’s strong chastity. This passage made a strong impression on my middle-school self. What that passage taught me was that there were different degradations of purity. Sure, a couple might save sex for marriage, but if they were already kissing before marriage were they really pure? They sure weren’t as pure as they could be! With that passage Harris raised the bar. Purity became a contest. “Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the purist one of all?” Today there are couples who not only don’t kiss, but actually don’t hug, or even hold hands, before marriage.


Reading Joshua Harris’s books seriously warped my view of sexuality and relationships. I am not engaging in hyperbole when I say that my life would have been very different had Joshua Harris not put pen to paper. Sure, I still would have been taught to save sex for marriage. I still would have been conditioned to feel guilty when having sexual thoughts. But I doubt that I would have ended up seeing purity as a contest without Harris’s raising of the bar, and I don’t know that emotional virginity was even a thing in evangelical circles before Harris championed it. The extent of my repression and guilt would have been less if I’d never heard of Harris, and if his ideas hadn’t permeated evangelical culture. And more than that, without Harris I wouldn’t have seen dating as something wrong, or believed that having relationships that didn’t end in marriage would leave me sullied. I wouldn’t have believed that any relationship had to immediately be 100% serious and marriage focused. And without that, my life would have been very different.

More than that, I’m honestly not sure whether my parents would have been caught up in the (parent-controlled) courtship movement had Harris not made the term mainstream among evangelicals. My parents, after all, dated, and to my knowledge they didn’t see a problem with this until after Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye came out (in 1997). If Harris hadn’t made the term “courtship” common and normal among evangelicals, I doubt that Doug Phillips et al could have swayed so many with their dreams of strictly parent-controlled courtships and, more than that, with their teachings that adult daughters remain under their father’s authority.

You have to understand that by the time Josh came around, the Harris name was already widely respected. His father was a prominent Christian homeschool leader and speaker going back to the 1980s. People like my parents trusted him, and they put a lot of weight on his son’s books as a result. They accepted them without the level of skepticism they might have applied had the Harris name been unknown. When Josh Harris normalized the courtship ideal, he also unwittingly gave credibility to more extreme voices, and that the courtship and stay-at-home-daughter movement came into full bloom in the years following the publication of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and not before, is not surprising. Harris was the gateway drug.

On Orgies, Bisexuality, James Dobson, and Evangelicals
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Red Town, Blue Town
On Indiana
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • kagekiri

    Yeah, this is pretty dang familiar, though I’m on the guy side of the equation. Those books screwed up my relationship development pretty thoroughly from junior high to college.

    I also avoided dating or thinking about girls to the point I wondered if I was asexual, as I didn’t view any person on romantic terms, and shut down thoughts of relationships down pretty much automatically. Sexual thoughts and masturbation were also shut down and confessed to accountability partners to help shame us into line at church, though it seemed adults in the church all admitted they still masturbated.

    I still have the uncomfortable reflex urge to not look at people kissing on TV screens in public, and naturally avoid really seeing people I walk by on the street lest I lust after someone (not that I’d stare, but I pointedly ignore passing people’s looks with trained tunnel-vision and tend to miss really obvious things; I’d be a horrible crime-scene witness), even though I’m an atheist and WAY more sex-positive in values now.

    I was also a bit of a smug jerk about it during that time, as I argued with a fellow Christian friend about how he shouldn’t date because we were early on in high school and there was no way he’d marry his girlfriend at the time. He defended it saying there were high school sweethearts who ended up marrying, but I smugly remembered gloating that I was right when they broke up within the year (not to him or really even aloud, but I remember feeling satisfied nonetheless).

    • kisekileia

      The adults should never have been discussing their masturbation habits in a context where the youth could find out what was being said. That’s a huge boundary violation–it’s totally inappropriate for adults to be discussing their sex lives with minors that way. Masturbation accountability stuff can be seriously gross, possibly sometimes bordering on sexually abusive, with an incredible lack of appropriate boundaries between people of different ages and genders. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that until it was several years too late.

  • http://yeswesam.wordpress.com Sam

    I didn’t read Harris, but my parents did, so his ideas were unspoken house rules. The biggest effect this had is that the “Harris Formula” was thought of as an exact science (much like the “Pearl Formula” is in a lot of authoritarian households). When my first relationship failed, I felt betrayed. I had done everything “God’s way”, and had put off relationships until college, only to have the “perfect method” fail on me. So I was suddenly 20 years old with no idea how to be in a real relationship, because I had only been in one, very boundary-driven one.

  • lucrezaborgia

    What surprises me the most is how even non-fundy Christians will view this issue in stark black and white. If you are not for courtship you are for sex anywhere and anywhen. There is no thought of dating without hookup sex.

    • Rosie

      This kind of thinking is not unusual among conservative Christians in my experience. The virgin/whore dichotomy is well-known. I was well out of college and in my mid-20s before it occurred to me that it was possible for a woman to make sexual choices beyond “none”, “one”, or “everyone”. That she might have sexual *preferences* for this person and not that one, for this act and not that one, or even for this time and not that one.

  • Katty

    Just a quick technical issue: This post appears as having been published on October 19 instead of today, and therefore not on the top of the blog page. I only found it via the comments sidebar. Is this just a problem I’m having or has something gone wrong with the publication of this post?

  • MM

    Thanks so much for sharing this and the broader effects this kind of crap has had on you. I come from a similar background and, although I’m a guy, I certainly am familiar with a lot of the feelings you’ve expressed.

    Beyond the sorts of inwardly focused guilt you felt, I think there are broader cultural implications of the drivel that Harris and his ilk are spewing. If you think about what Harris says, he’s basically saying that guys are just innocent dupes who can’t control their hormones and women wield sexual control of relationships…if that weren’t the case, then there wouldn’t be so much focus on women’s modesty and “leading brothers into temptation.” In my experience, this imparts to Christian men a very entitled/insecure mentality when it comes to sex. If a girl isn’t modest, she’s a slut…if she’s been with other dudes, she’s a slut. Christian men grow up feeling like they’re entitled to this “gift” of a woman’s purity/virginity and if they can’t get it, then they’ve been cheated…ultimately, this translates into a very hostile attitude toward women that don’t fit this mold, and you end up getting a Rush Limbaugh calling empowered women sluts because they use birth control.

    I can’t tell you how long it took me to get over this insecurity as I drifted from the church and started dating “non-christians”. As an example, the girl I ended up losing my virginity to, as a college freshman, wasn’t a virgin when we started dating and I kept her up a lot of nights talking through that because it made me so jealous and insecure. Thankfully that feeling faded as I dated more, to the point where my wife’s sexual history was pretty much of no concern to me whatsoever when we started dating.

  • smrnda

    The Harris emotional purity anecdote about ‘pieces of your heart is just laughably absurd, though tragic in that many people feel terrible about it.

    I mean, people get married in their 40s sometimes. Is the fact that at 16 they had a boyfriend/girlfriend or kissed or had sex really relevant at all by the time they get married? Plus, to me, being in a relationship is a lot like needing a job – you can’t hold out for one you’re 100% sure on.

    Plus, the whole modesty thing inevitably leads to the whole ‘cover up the women so I won’t have sexual thoughts.’ First, someone gives guys a total guilt trip over normal sexuality. Then, they start to resent women for causing inevitable sexual feelings. Women resent men for having normal sexual feelings. This keeps the whole Christianity business in businesses.

    I do agree with MM that this is about male ownership of women too – the ‘used’ woman isn’t as hot a commodity as woman who has had no existence really outside of a daughter and who is now going to be a wife in these circles, as if personality, character or anything else was irrelevant.

    • Saraquill

      I find the concept of non virgins being undesirable to be an odd one. By that logic, why would married people ever want to have sex with their spouse more than once?

      • kisekileia

        The issue isn’t having had sex before. It’s having had sex with someone else, in an “impure” context.

      • ScottInOH

        But it’s also wrong to have sex with the person you’re going to marry, even if that’s the only person you’ll ever have sex with. It somehow damages sex on the wedding night. There’s definitely a sense that “there’s only one first time,” and it’s downhill after that.

        (Except, of course, when you confront them with this argument, in which case they’ll tell you that every time you have sex with your spouse will be miraculous. Although if a woman doesn’t keep up her appearance she shouldn’t be surprised if her husband dallies with a younger model. It’s all so confusing.)

      • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy

        Oddly enough, the first time is not the best, no where near it. Sex, like a lot of other things, improves with experience.

      • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy

        Oddly enough to this point of view, the first time is not the best, no where near it. Sex, like a lot of other things, improves with experience.

      • victoria

        My husband was not my first — and odds are good that we wouldn’t be together if that weren’t the case. In our case there is a fairly substantial age difference with me having been a young adult when we started dating, and he said to me at one point that if he had been my first he would’ve been very nervous about whether I would’ve eventually decided I needed to see what else was out there and probably wouldn’t have pursued a relationship.

        We’ve been together, happily, for over a decade. And I agree with Joy 100%.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    Wow. This is a great post- I’m going to link to it from my blog. You pretty much summed up exactly what I was taught about dating and purity and how it made me so afraid of dating.

    “I knew that if I broke up with him I would be damaged goods, but also that I should break up with him immediately if I felt our relationship was not leading to marriage.” Oh dear goodness, yes. It’s all about judging the other person and dumping them at the slightest hint of incompatibility, because failed relationships are the most horrible thing ever and you should regret them, so you have break up immediately in order to do some damage control. When I started dating my boyfriend a few months ago, at first I was really afraid to discuss anything important with him, because if we disagreed, we’d have to suddenly break up. He told me that was ridiculous. Indeed.

    “Sure, a couple might save sex for marriage, but if they were already kissing before marriage were they really pure?” Yes, I also get this sense of purity just for the sake of purity- as if the ideal situation is that a man and woman don’t even TOUCH each other until marriage. That’s the ideal, and the reason we don’t do that is we’re so attracted to each other, we just can’t help it. UMM NO. I’m starting to question that idea… maybe the truth is, a couple is SUPPOSED to have some level of physical connection, and if they don’t, that’s terribly unhealthy.

    There’s a lot of other good stuff in this post- like I said, you’ve pretty much summed up exactly what I was taught about dating and how it affected me so much.

  • smrnda

    If it’s a horrible thing for a woman to have held hands with a man before marriage, and emotional purity was such a big deal, then why aren’t non-sexual, same-sex friendships bad? I mean, people might get really emotionally invested in these relationships. A Christian guy might have been telling his deepest secrets to a male ‘accountability partner’ before he met his wife. How would this not be a breach of emotional purity?

    • http://thaliasmusingsnovels.com/ Amethyst

      Because sexual attraction between people of the same sex is a choice and does not happen naturally, of course. Unlike sexual attraction between people of the opposite sex, which is the way God made them and can happen any time they’re aware of each other’s existence.

  • http://AztecQueen2000.blogspot.com AztecQueen2000

    My DH grew up in a fundamentalist Jewish family. When we got married, it was a first marriage for both of us. He was 55. Did he have other girlfriends before me? Yes. Does that affect our husband-wife connection? No.

  • Niemand

    Maybe I’m odd this way, but I’m good friends with some of my partner’s exes. If he hadn’t given them a piece of his heart, I would never have met them and my own life would be poorer. Why is love something you have to hoard?

  • Sheena

    I also spent my teens and early twenties caught up in this mindset. I lived on the idea that I HAD TO be pure, because otherwise I would never be worthy of a Good Christian Man. Or that, if he *could* accept that I wasn’t completely blameless (a brand-new, still-sticky strip of duct tape, a perfect rosebud, whatever analogy), he would resent that some other guy Got There First and love/respect me less for it. And I should hope for the same from him, but to keep in mind that boys are more sexual/not as disciplined/just can’t help themselves. Harris’ second book includes his reaction to his wife telling him that she *gasp* wasn’t a virgin, and how DISAPPOINTED he was — but with the implication that HE did everything right. The context, when I read it (at least 10 years ago), was very, very slut-shaming — like, it didn’t matter whether she’d slept with a previous long-term boyfriend or had been working a corner, she *wasn’t a virgin anymore*. That’s so, so damaging.

    I also very much internalized the idea that a couple should be two of a kind — same opinions, same interests, nothing to disagree or fight about ever (but that if they get married, they need to STAY married unless there’s physical violence). I was convinced that as long as I only dated/eventually married a man who was JUST LIKE ME, I would have a perfect life. And that regular dating was inherently sinful, but “courtship” (which I interpreted as “sitting together at church and at post-church lunch and maybe, if we’re feeling wild, holding hands”) is better. And that it was better to wait until I’m 30 for the right Good Christian Man than to date more than one person.

    The purity aspects of what Harris teaches/taught (as well as the Ludys) are so innocuously insidious. They seem harmless, with the focus on “saving” oneself — but the implication that anyone who has NOT saved themselves or has “gone too far” is impure, dirty, or unworthy is just as strong, if not stronger. For every “our first kiss was our wedding day” story, there’s the flip side of couples who hide any kind of sexual activity (even kissing) because it’s “sinful” or “impure” while maintaining that facade of purity.

    • Anat

      I also very much internalized the idea that a couple should be two of a kind — same opinions, same interests, nothing to disagree or fight about ever (but that if they get married, they need to STAY married unless there’s physical violence).

      I knew a man whose first marriage ended up in divorce because he and his wife agreed too much. He was much happier with his second wife who often disagreed with him vehemently.

  • Red

    Yikes. I recognize all this. I never got into Joshua Harris (even as a teen, I thought he was emotionally manipulative and legalistic, and so did my parents), but I knew tons of people who did.

    I absolutely hate that nonsense about “giving away a piece of your heart.” My husband and I were both in serious relationships before we found each other, but neither of us have ever felt like we had less than each other’s full heart. I don’t still struggle with secret feelings or loyalties to old boyfriends, and he doesn’t feel this way about old girlfriends, either. I don’t know how much more plainly to say it: This claim of Harris’ simply is not true when measured against real-world experience.

    Ironically, I know a girl who believed very strongly in courtship (all the emotional purity stuff she could recite in her sleep!) She got emotionally attached to a guy friend, even though they weren’t courting and her parents tried to keep them apart. When their potential relationship didn’t work out, she was devastated. Overblown as this may seem, it really did scar her for years, in all the ways Harris promises daters will be scarred–but her scars came from a backlash of repression and emotional immaturity that were CAUSED by Harris’ teachings. Meanwhile, people like me, who dated and broke up and dated again, did not experience such long-term emotional consequences.

  • http://www.christylambertson.com Christy

    I never read Joshua Harris’ books – I’m older than you so I had already moved out of the conservative evangelical world by the time his books came out – but before there was Joshua Harris, there was Elisabeth Eliot’s Passion and Purity, which I think practically every woman in my age group from a conservative evangelical background read. It’s the same exact stuff – emotional purity, how she and her husband didn’t kiss until they were engaged, all sexual feelings are sinful lust, BIG emphasis on traditional gender roles, etc. – with the added bonus that she and her husband were missionaries to an indigenous tribe in South America that eventually killed her husband. She eventually returned to the area to bring them to Jesus. I attended Wheaton College for a while, and lived in the dorm named after her husband for a year. I burned Passion and Purity in a bonfire once – it was very cleansing.

    So not only are Joshua Harris’s books damaging – they’re not even original.

  • ScottInOH

    This hits home for me, too. I just want to add two observations:

    1. This isn’t all Harris’s fault (which I know you’re not really saying). I was in middle and high school in the 1980s (i.e., before Harris), and I grew up with fairly middle-of-the-road Christian parents, but I got all these same messages from the environment I lived in. All of them, with exactly the same negative effects others are describing here.

    2. It is important to notice just how dangerously these teachings fit together with any sort of natural shyness, awkwardness, or insecurity a person already has. You’re already thinking you might only get one shot at romance/happiness/sex, and your religious leaders are telling you, “That’s exactly right!”

    • JennyE

      And by the same token, they are damaging to those of us who are naturally friendly and outgoing (especially if we have the misfortune to develop early) because every conversation with a member of the opposite sex is “flirting” and you can end up with a reputation as a “slut” even if you’ve never even gotten to first base! This stuff pretty much screwed us all!

  • Antigone10

    Does anyone else notice that they really like sexualizing things that aren’t necessarily sexual? I mean, holding hands?! I do that with the kids I teach in pre-school- it is seriously creepy to me to think that this could be sexualized at all. Or hugs? Hugs abound in my circle of friends (though we respect the people who don’t like them). They also abound in my family. I realize that Harris probably thinks this is impossible, but I hug my opposite-sex friends in non-sexual ways all the time.

    We aren’t Q. We don’t get pregnant by touching fingers. Whatever boundary you want to set on your own body is fine.

  • Sarah

    And yet these same people who claim that by dating, you’re giving away pieces of your heart, don’t make the same claim about the love of children. They believe you can love your 10th child as much as you love your first, not that you’re giving away pieces of your heart to every child you deliver.

    • Kris

      Thank you. This is what I’ve been thinking.

      Plus, if I understand the doctrine correctly, you’re supposed to love God with all your heart. So it’s already committed before you ever consider a life partner, much less children.

      It’s so easy to see the cognitive dissonance when looking backward. So hard to see while standing in the middle of it though…

  • A Reader

    My church’s youth group has read books like this before, and some of my parents’ friends have even given them to me in the past. It was so pounded into me all through middle school that boys were dirty & perverted & evil that I drifted away from all my male friends. I wish so much now that I’d been able to ignore these messages–I’m a senior in high school now, and I’m an atheist. My views on sexuality and sex have changed a lot–I want a relationship, but I feel like I’ve missed the boat. All my other friends have kind of “been there, done that” boy-wise, and I was left by the wayside, sprinting to catch up without any of the experiences, sexual or even general relationship things, to go on. It’s like I don’t even know how to talk to guys who I was once so close to.

    • Ibis3

      A senior in high school? Please don’t feel you’ve missed the boat. The boat is still practically in dry dock. You’ve got years of experimenting and having fun ahead of you. You don’t need to be in a serious or long term relationship (though you can do that if you like) and you’ll have plenty of opportunity.

      • A Reader

        :) Thanks. It gets scary sometimes looking around at everyone else, some of whom have been with their s/o’s for years, and thinking…”and I’ve never had anyone.” Being the eternal third wheel is pretty depressing too. I get scared thinking about college too…like I’ll just totally freeze if any guy tries to talk to me. I don’t wanna be female-Raj.

    • Liberated Liberal

      Don’t ever feel like you’ve missed anything. Feeling the need to be having sex because your friends are doing it is just as harmful as being shoved into the purity mindset. I never felt bad about myself because I didn’t have sex until several years after I left high school; I didn’t feel proud of it, either. I was simply waiting to feel ready. And when I was, I was. Just have a healthy attitude about it, decide what you really want for yourself, and don’t let anybody else tell you the way it should be done.

      • A Reader

        You’re right. Maybe it’s more of a comfortable-with-myself thing than anything else. Actually accepting my past choices/beliefs would probably make this a lot easier.

  • Survivor of the 60s

    I grew up in the 1960s, and I dated plenty. As one who suffered much, I think Josh Harris’ points are right on! I think the scorn and derision being expressed against his views are from people who think the grass is greener on the other side (that is, if only they had grown up dating without the goal of marriage). Yes, sinful human beings can mess up anything, even courtship. But to say that permitting frequent dating would bring emotional balance and marriage success is to ignore all of the victims who suffered heartache, betrayal, giving away our emotional heart, temptation to sin, etc.! Josh is not wrong! You are minimizing the dangers that he warns us against. I know! I was there! I did it! He is right on in his insights.

    • plch

      “giving away our emotional heart”
      what do you mean with this? it doesn’t make much sense to me: how one can give a piece of heart away? love is not finite.
      “‘temptation to sin” which is a problem just if you think that sin is something real.
      Josh may be right about the dangers but, as far as I get, is wrong about the solutions.

      BTW: I did not date but just because nobody was interested in dating me which was really quite painful. I cannot see how my friends which did date were damaged by it, pain and heartache were there but so they come with any kind of human experience. They often experienced a lot of guilt because of sex, but they had to thank their catholic upbring for that.

      • BringTheNoise

        “‘temptation to sin” which is a problem just if you think that sin is something real.

        Even if you accept that sin is real, that doesn’t make dating wrong. Temptation to sin is literally everywhere, and yet I doubt Mr Harris arguing for people getting rid of TVs or going to a gas station in case you get tempted to see some porn.

      • gleannfia

        I had several friends who had abortions in their teens. I am pro-choice, but abortion is never easy and always a tragedy.

    • ScottInOH

      The dangers of heartache, disappointment, STDs, pregnancy, and more are very real. The solution, however, is not to teach people that feelings of attraction–sexual or otherwise–are Wrong and that a deity knows your every thought, so you’d better suppress everything. The solution is to teach them that feelings of attraction are fine; that there’s nothing inherently wrong with sex; that every person has a right to decide what to do with his or her body and mind; and that we (at least as parents and close friends) will be there for them whatever happens.

    • Antigone10

      But to say that permitting frequent dating would bring emotional balance and marriage success is to ignore all of the victims who suffered heartache, betrayal, giving away our emotional heart, temptation to sin, etc.! Josh is not wrong! You are minimizing the dangers that he warns us against. I know! I was there! I did it! He is right on in his insights.

      Not dating will not protect you from ever having a broken heart. A courtship cannot protect you from betrayal. Your ability to love is not minimized having loved before. Having sex (which I’m sure is your actual meaning of “temptation to sin”, though Christians keep telling me there are other sins out there, they swear!) does not make you less or more of a person.

      These are not the dangers we need to protect people of- they are a part of the human condition. A rather sucky part of the human condition, but there you go. Though I wasn’t really looking for it, I lucked into a pretty awesome marriage and dated (and had sex with!) plenty of people. I’m glad I had the opportunity to date, from causal to serious, from high school on. Because what is teaching you is how to deal with someone else and what you want in a partner. I don’t regret any of my partners, and neither does my husband.

  • Louise

    I have to agree with comment # 27. I sympathize with those of you who grew up in authoritarian homes and were denied normal interactions and socialization with your peers. Many of you think you missed out because you weren’t allowed to date at all as teenagers and you were made to feel guilty for normal thoughts and feelings. I feel for you and wish it had been different for you.
    But, I caution you not to romanticize dating and having relationships too much. Some books that helped me and some of my mom friends through tough times with our daughters (and we all had them whether believers or nonbelievers) are the Ophelia books mentioned at this site. http://www.anniefox.com/parents/bookshelf/ophelias_mom.html
    One of my daughters had a clinical depression at age 14 and tried to take her own life. I thought we were just going through teenage angst but it was much more serious. The books are a sobering look at real situations involving adolescent and teenage girls much of it does involve budding sexuality but also many other situations like eating disorders and conflicts with parents.
    I am sure there are equally difficult situations that face adolescent boys these days but the books mentioned are specific to girls. In my opinion it is just as hard for boys in our society to get through unscathed so I don’t mean to focus on only the girls here.
    There are real dangers and evils out there that can trip up your kids despite all the best efforts of the parents (not to hinder and shelter and put fences around their children) to teach and guide them to maturity as best they know how.

  • http://thechurchproject.me Tracey

    60′s Survivor:
    I think most here are saying not that frequent dating brings emotional balance, but that having the *option* available to date as frequently as one would choose brings balance and a healthier mindset. Given the choice, NOT everyone will date lots and lots of people. But those taught it’s wrong to get beyond platonic even once with non-future-spouse? I can see how stuck that makes them and how guilt-filled. I struggle with undeserved guilty feelings myself. It’s not fun.

    • Liberated Liberal

      Exactly. I’d shed all notions of waiting until marriage by the time I was a teenager. I’d already felt at that age that I might not ever want marriage and children. However, I didn’t go out and have a lot of sex or date a lot of people. That simply isn’t my personality. I was in my 20s by the time I entered a relationship and had sex. I gave myself the option to do whatever I wanted, because I wasn’t bound by religious thinking anymore. I just did what I felt was right by me. And that meant, well, having two relationships in 13 years. Period. I think the problem is that so many people have personal issues that lead them to compulsive behavior – alcohol, sex, food, drugs, infatuation and more – and then rather than searching for the root of the personal problem (whatever that may be) they blame the option of alcohol, sex, food, etc., or the society that allows it.

      And, as others have mentioned, not dating doesn’t save you from any of the heartaches, trauma and pain that relationships can bring.

      The point is, humans cannot be shoved into tiny boxes of “all” or “nothing.”

  • Nate Sauve

    I didn’t read the Harris books but growing up Christian-Schooled I had a similar outlook: you should date with intent to marry. I was in a few dating relationships primarily with intent to marry. (At least that’s what I told myself to justify dating one certain hot girl). I think this approach to relationship really is the right one, but that the legalism that tends to assert itself into these situations pushes us to be very harsh with how we handle these relationships. I was fortunate that my reputation or the girls wasn’t sullied as I think there was a lot of grace and understanding in our school. I do believe grace is the key to doing church and family life well and I don’t know how much of that is expressed in any book focused on moralism.
    Libby it sounds to me that your inner dialogue tended towards legalistic, and that could be your inner makeup or something that came from the way your parents raised you. Just the way that you say this book had such a profound impact on the way you viewed yourself and sexuality gives me that impression. Ideally our churches would not be places where only the pastor, or a book or even our parents say things that we must accept or face the consequences. Instead they are designed to be nurturing communities families that encourage and build up, that correct and guide. It’s in modern day America that our teachings and lives are so disjointed that we don’t get the benefits of growing with people who care for us and can see us in ways that our sometimes blind and human (sinful/fallen) parents can’t.

    • Nate Sauve

      And I meant to say, that others not only correct the misperceptions of parents, but more importantly our misperceptions of ourselves.

    • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

      That’s quite a bit of weight to put on a young relationship. I mean, none of my relationships started with the intent to marry. I just knew, I liked this person, so let’s go out. It was only through spending time with them that I was able to know if I wanted to be that serious with them. For me, it was never about the end point, it was about enjoying where I was at the time, and eventually I wound up with someone that I didn’t want to live without. Marriage tends to get set up as the ‘goal’ line, like if you get there you’ve ‘won’ the relationship, and I think the idea that you ‘should’ be aiming for marriage (or that you ‘should’ be in a relationship) misses the point.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    As a person who her first boyfriend at 14 and whose friends dated around the same time or earlier with no harder consequences than the occasional heartbreak, I can attest I think it is a very healthy way to live adolescence. And I say this this being the bookworm pariah in my school who get her sense of worth from getting good marks. I agree that the most important thing is boost the self-esteem autonomy of girls so they are capable of deciding if they want to date, to be able to say no or yes and to withstand peer pressure but I also think that it’s pretty important to tell youngsters than relationships some times don’t work and you’ll have to kiss a few frogs before finding your prince as the saying goes, that dating gives you practice in dealing with relationships and emotions, that you don’t need to be with anyone or get married to be happy (many of my girl friends have decided they don’t want to get married or have kids and some will change their minds but it’s a valid option), … In fact when I started dating my boyfriend I never thought we would last because he was my first boyfriend, he was almost 4 years older (my mom forced me to introduce him to her within the first week to see if he was nice) and becaus I knew most people develop their full personalities when they go to college and that’s one fon the reasonjs HSS don’t marry frequently. but as the relationship progresses now we want to be together forever and have a family and the point I wanted to say it’s that even if you are dating “casually” you can still find your “soul ,mate”.

  • http://unpublishedforareason.blogspot.com Hannah M

    Love this.

    I wrote a very similar blog a few weeks ago on my own site: http://unpublishedforareason.blogspot.com/2012/08/emotional-purity-when-you-use-up-all.html

    I grew up in an evangelical “nondenominational-but-basically-we’re-Baptist” church where Harris’ work was big in the youth group. Until recently, I hadn’t realized how much of an impact they’d had on me. I did remember feeling great guilt and shame any time I had a crush on any guy, and I worked very hard to keep it hidden – not just out of general teenage “OMG what if he finds out teehee” embarrassment, but because I somehow genuinely felt it was wrong. I have since grown out of that, but couldn’t figure out for the longest time where that came from… and then I reread the wedding day story you posted here on the blog and thought, “OH!!! THAT was the story that messed me up!”

    There are so many issues with this “emotional purity” stance. My youngest sister is now in her teens and, although she is reasonable and sensible, she has several friends who are very gung-ho about the emotional purity issues, to the point where they argue that friendships with boys are wrong because you can’t be that close to a guy emotionally and not develop romantic feelings for him, which is wrong because… um… I guess you’re not supposed to date someone until you’re certain you want to marry them, but you’re not supposed to be thinking about wanting to marry someone before you’re dating them because that’s lust? I don’t know. It can get very weird.

  • Hellboy

    “The reason that Joshua Harris condemns “recreational dating” is not simply because it is in his view a waste of time but also because he believes in a concept I have termed “emotional virginity.” Harris teaches not only that sex before marriage is wrong, but also that if you have a romantic relationship with someone you do not end up marrying, you give that person “a piece of your heart” that you cannot get back.”

    Reading that made if think of this quote from C.S.Lewis in the Four Loves:
    “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

    Creepy how Harris and Lewis seem to be saying similar things, but Harris argues in favor of the casket while Lewis argues against it.

  • http://www.kingdomcitizenship.org Tim Price

    If Joshua Harris’ book is slightly extreme or ultra-conservative… One has to wonder what kind of an extremist would read it and be warped by it. Is there such a thing as discernment? Is there such a thing as understanding the author’s perspective and asking the question, does it still fit the reality of culture or you’re own situation? What about the fact that this “feminist’s” timidity is one of the identifying facets of her generation (the generation is so cautious and fearful about making could be seen as “wrong” it verges on psychosis).

    My daughter read Harris’ book and didn’t freak out about dating “mental purity” and all the other buzzwords of Harris’ book. I’ve read parts of it and agree with some of his concepts. The American culture is too loose and fast. Besides there is NOTHING that distinguishes believers from non-believers at any level of age or stage of life in this culture. While I do not agree with Harris across the board, his work lends propriety to opposite gender relationships, moving towards marriage and so forth. And this propriety could be a real defining aspect between believers and non-believers.

    Yes, Harris is a bit religious, but who isn’t? Just because you reject his religiousness doesn’t mean you don’t make his mistakes in some other area or worse yet become meaningless and lack in objectivity in reaction to Harris’ thoughts.

    I find this feminist’s thoughts on this post to be silly. She needs to figure herself out before she starts in on someone else. For all the fault she can find with Harris, you can find 20 times as many people who were blessed by it. Does this make it right? No. Does the feminist’s notions, most of which she reads into Harris’ book or isogetically associates to it which is not really there at all, make it wrong? No.

    If find her post to be self absorbed and missing the forest for her own trees.

    • Aimee

      Do ‘splain some more please. Truly great wisdom pours from you that we all must hear.

      I find it rude to talk about the blog author in third person like she is an abstract concept and not a person. You find “this feminist’s thoughts on this post to be silly?” I find your haughty tone disrespectful. Several commenters managed to disagree without the dripping condensation.

      • Carol

        please, you know this “misogynist” has nothing but mangled ideas and a fervent need to silence women with opinions who are actually able to clearly articulate them publicly on their own blogs.

        Just gotta feel bad for the daughter.

  • W.

    I was raised in a unitarian household with the expectation that I would have regular, casual relationships until I was ready and mature enough to settle on a single person. My parents dated this way, and the both look back on pervious relationships and laugh together about them. They’ve been married for 44 years now.
    In high school I had one encounter with a boy who was raised in this mentality, he asked me to a movie and I agreed. When he came to pick me up, I was in jeans and a solid colored tank top (it was summer), and I am not that well endowed, so the thoughts of modesty didn’t cross my mind. He must have taken a script from this book, because he became angry with me and demanded I do back in and change. I was upset and humiliated, but I told him that if he couldn’t keep it in his own pants then I was staying in. He came back later that night, but my father went out and had words with him. It looks like I dodged a bullet. I hope everyone finds their way.

  • Stony

    I’d like to comment on the emotional purity and giving away pieces of your heart bullshit. There are men in my past that I despise, men in my past that I’ve remained friends with and some that I even still care for. Thank goodness for all of them. Every love, every crush, every heartbreak has made me the person I am today. I am able to appreciate, tolerate, understand and LOVE my current husband better because of my past. I know now that marriage is not a Disney movie. I know now that I don’t have to tolerate emotional abuse or neglect. I know now what makes sex good for me, and him, too! And I’m thankful for the girls and women who shaped my husband…… The ones that broke his heart and taught him to do laundry and that stone cold sexual freakazoid he dated (sweetheart, I’d like to send you a thank you note). They made him the husband I love and respect today.

  • Anna

    Oh my goodness, thank you so much for this post. I also grew up with I Kissed Dating Goodbye and I have still not fully dealt with all of the confusion and mixed signals that it left me with. I remember the story about losing pieces of your heart. Our homeschool group did an exercise to demonstrate this, having us each make a paper heart to represent ours and then rip a piece off of it each time the instructor talked about a theoretical break-up with some fictional boyfriend. The mangled piece left, they said, was all I’d have for my husband.

    I also remember the stigma placed on women to dress modestly so that they wouldn’t cause men to sin. Even at that time, I found it a bit one-sided. A friend of my mom thanked my mom for making my sister and I wear ankle-length skirts and baggy shirts because it kept her sons from being distracted by us. I didn’t really feel like that was my responsibility, but I kept silent, of course.

    The greatest harm that this sort of teaching did me was to suppress my sexuality under layers and layers of confusion. I considered the fact that I utterly lacked an attraction to men to be a sign of my holiness, rather than a sexual preference. I dated a man for 3 years, shuddering any time he attempted to initiate physical contact, and lied to myself that I was just experiencing a holy revulsion against sin. It wasn’t fair to anyone, in retrospect, to live such a lie. In addition, my family confronted me when I came out, insisting that I couldn’t have dated a man for so long while feeling no attraction to him. It was so confusing and shaming and I can easily pinpoint the sort of cultural pressures that led to it. Harris’ books are part of that.

  • Kathleen Schwab

    The ‘emotional virginity’ thing wasn’t invented by Harris – Victorians had it too, although they were more wordy about it. I’m an English teacher and love 19th centuy literature. I was also in a church that was into courtship before Joshua Harris write his book. I was a young, excited Christian, and I went along with it. Well… for less than a school year, by which time i was disillusioned. I had also noticed that people kept talking like an Edith Wharton novel. There is actually a Victorian novel titled “Can You Forgive Her?” about a woman who falls in love and then doesn’t marry the man she fell in love with. She is damaged goods. She didn’t so much as – horrors- touch him, but she loved him, and then he didn’t marry her. Reading a novel like this is fun (at least I thought so) because the story really is so forgein but somehow compelling. You feel for the doomed woman, and the man who agrees to marry her after this sad escapade, though their marriage remains forever haunted by what happened (cue violins). Anyway – living it is a different story.

    My point is that Harris didn’t invent this. (I would bet he has no idea how like a Trollope novel it all is ) And it didn’t work too well for the Victorians either. In fact, they were a particularly messed up set of people. I just couldn’t swallow the whole courtship thing after one disasterous experience, and left it behind. I did have some nagging feelings for a long time it i had just been better, more pure, i could have made it work. (One of the pastor’s of my church in college had asked his wife to marry him on the first date, and they definitely held that up to us as a goal. You know, if you were spiritual enough.)

    I really enjoyed your piece, keep up the good work.

  • Sandra

    This post on the books by Joshua Harris was so illuminating; I experienced a similar experience too. I wish that I had never read the book, Girl Meets Boy: Courtship and I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

  • Lex Dieu

    I am so glad I read this book, it was my first step towards Atheism. I had Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Bi-polar, Alcoholism, and I am above average in looks. It took me many years of reconditioning my mind(using meditation and self talk) after denouncing my faith(became an apostate at around 26 and am 33 going on 34). If it hadn’t been for my issues, observing other people’s behavior in church, reading “Double Your Dating”, noticing there is no such thing as “the one” that “God” has for anyone, it is simply if a guy has no issues(such as BDD) and interacts with the attractive women at church, that’s who he gets with. If a guy has REAL issues(that his so called “friends” deny), then he will get with someone he doesn’t want to be with. That was my first realization there is no god, there are no gods. This book was my first step. Thank you Mr. Harris for my freedom.

  • Insanitydividedbyzero

    I read this book and it totally slipped my mind until I read this post. I didn’t realize how much it affected me. Granted from the start I never wanted to get married but I know I let what he said get under my skin. It wasn’t until 4 years ago when I came out as an Atheist that I finally accepted that I was good enough and I ended up in the first functional relationship that I’ve ever had.
    I feel as though from the beginning after I read that book I knew I was damaged goods having been raped as a child, and then having a few crushes as a preteen. I felt there was no “Godly” guy who would want me. I also didn’t believe in god and was often feeling torn because my lack of faith.
    There are so many thoughts going through my head that this comment is a little disjointed but after years of being confused by my reactions to dating it is weird to see it fall into place. I do remember being angry that it was somehow my responsibility to prevent a guy from thinking impure thoughts about me, it felt as though it was absolving them of any responsibility if they acted out on those thoughts and raped a woman. As a teen I think that was when I really lost my belief in god. I was also contrary by nature so when I was told I had to behave or believe a certain way I automatically started rebelling.
    If I hadn’t gone to college when I was 16 I believe my mother wanted to start a courtship candle for me where there is a candle that is lit when a man comes calling and the candle is lit, when it burns down to a certain point it means the visit is over.
    I really feel as though I dodged a bullet not getting fully into the mindset that Harris promotes. My sister did and she ended marrying a horrible man but now that they have 6 kids together she can’t escape him. He doesn’t actually hit her but there is definitely emotional abuse there and yet my parents often ask why can’t I be more like her. They don’t like that I don’t want to get married or have kids because women aren’t supposed to be able to live on their own and I am supposed to make babies. I’m sorry if this comment doesn’t make much sense, English is my second language and with so much swirling around my head I didn’t want to write a novel as a comment but I wanted to touch on certain points. I really like your blog.

  • http://whatilearnedfromj.harris Haddestiny

    I read i kissed dating goodbye because i didn’t want to b the girl who gets it on with all the guys. little did i know i was at the beginning of having a breakdown. the years got worse for me and i didn’t want to date.i ended up suicidal in hospital before i lost my virginity, over 30. i took his advice to the extreme and it ruined me. so know im nearly 40, haven’t been kissed in over 8 years and Ive hoped n prayed for a decent virgin spouse, due to my limited experience, but im now too afraid to try as i have no job, had a double chin worse than honeyboo boos mum and a disorder. no one wants the fat chick with too much baggage! now as i lie in bed n cant get out i imagine my future spouse out in the world dating everyone. so now ill catch up n start sleeping around n then lucky me i get everybody else rejects. but i to have become a reject. in the last few years i read so many/too many xian books and while u all try to inspire hope , there aren’t many people in the church who actually care about dating and boundaries and safe people. i was told joshua went back to dating after all. did you bow to the money god? if u can write book, so can i.

    • Janey

      You are in a really bad place of despair, so no wonder the rest of you is in trouble. You’ve got to remind yourself that God has a tender affection for you. You are incredibly hard you on yourself; God doesn’t see you as a failure. He sees you as his beloved child who needs help. I hope you surround yourself with emotionally and spiritually healthy people, and find a counselor. You’re too young to give up on life and too smart to believe the lies of the enemy (the lies: “I’ll catch up on what I missed by just sleeping around” and “I’ll get the rejects”). God has better things for you than that. Hang on to him, and watch for his answer. — Janey

  • Kimberly

    Unbeknownst to me, the emotional purity-courtship ideas espoused by Harris made their way into our church’s youth group when my son was in middle school. Only after my son was in college did he tell me about how damaging this was to his sexuality. I had wondered why he, as an older teen and then 20-year old, never dated. The truth about his guilt in holding hands, kissing a girl, or having normal sexual thoughts was revealed in a suicidal rage that lasted for several days. He now has no desire to attend church or date Christian girls. He basically has had to deny religion to be able to function as a normal human being. After this experience and reading these posts, I believe Harris does not understand human development and does not realize the damage that his ideas can inflict.

    • gleannfia

      You wanna talk about damage? Try talking to boys raised Catholic.

  • genie

    Hi. I’ve been reading through a lot of your posts over the last day or so, and will ready plenty more!

    I’m a 30-something, Christian, wife and mother, from Australia. In my late teens, early twenties, I was well and truly on a path towards the legalist fundamentalism that you write so much about. I grew up on the fringes of this culture, but when I was recommended this book when I was 18, I latched right onto it. Before long, legalism was filling my every corner, and I was trying push it onto the youth group girls I was leading, and my friends as well.

    (Fortunately, at the same time, some new people came to our church and took me under their wing, and taught me the gospel and how to read the Bible properly, and in the end that won out.)

    If I may indulge in a long comment, I have something I want to get off my chest.

    I had such a warped view of dating and marriage, that I stuck around with a guy for three years waiting for him to ask me to marry him… and we weren’t even dating.

    I’ll call him Paul. We became really close friends after I’d been dating his best friend. I didn’t do the whole ‘courtship’ thing, because my parents weren’t into it. But, after this relationship, I decided Josh Harris was right, and I was through with dating and I developed this romantic notion of being good friends with someone and then one day he would ask me to marry him. I was 19 at the time. The guy I had been dating ran off on us all and did some soul searching, and left me and Paul both in the lurch pretty much. So Paul and I were kind of a source of comfort for each other. But, while I was still dating the other guy I’d been spending lots of time with Paul and I had worked out he was a far better man for me. We spent so much time together we may as well have been exclusively dating. But it all remained purely platonic, and the whole time I was waiting until he made his move. Because, obviously, him being the man, he had to ask me out!

    About 18 months later, we were at a wedding, and for the first time he seemed to be about to “make his move”, and suddenly I wasn’t sure he was the right man for me! Then two weeks later, he started dating another girl. I was devastated, but logic told me to move on. And so I tried. But he wouldn’t leave me alone. I accepted that it wasn’t going to happen between us, and I beat myself up over devoting so much time to Paul and giving him such a large chunk of my heart. But he kept calling me, and I kept accepting his invites to go places with him, but only when he was ‘off’ with his ‘on again off again’ girlfriend. I kept myself guarded against any advances from other other men, because I didn’t want to be any further damaged, and because I was still sure Paul was ‘the one’. Then, when I graduated, I got a job in another town. I was running away. From my church, from my family, and from Paul. I freaked out for a while, sure I had made the wrong decision. But then I met my husband, and realised I had made the right decision.

    Once Paul realised I was serious about my new relationship, he got serious with his girlfriend, and then two weeks after I announced my engagement he announced his. And I haven’t heard from him since we both got married, him two months after me.

    I’m left tormented that I broke his heart, and that maybe he was the one I should have married. I saw him recently, and pretended I didn’t see him so that I didn’t have to confront him. Part of me still loves him, because the whole relationship was left unresolved. But at the same time, I love my husband dearly, and would quite like to stay married to him forever! I have nightmares that Paul comes and tries to convince me to run away with him, and i have to convince him that I want to stay with my husband.

    If I’d had a ‘normal’ view of dating and marriage, I would have dated him for a while, and maybe even made the first move myself!, and then dated others if it didn’t work out with him. But instead I devoted three years to waiting for him to ask me to marry him… and he didn’t, and I’m still carrying that baggage.

    I regret not dating.

  • DontBSme

    My girl friend whom I’ve been dating very seriously in the past months started to read this book, and told me about it as well…she is a Christian, which I deeply appreciate and respect, however I have found this book to be more damaging to our relationship ever since she started reading it. All of these ideas she suddenly seemed to adopt and expect has started to put a heavy strain on our relation, because she’s now turned into someone completely different since we started seeing each other. We had 3 fights, multiple arguments for things I completely don’t understand…I can honestly say that I respect and have adopted all the “good” things from all religions and theorists, but points in this book are ridiculous and bizarre, they are biased, without basis, and expressed by 1 person’s alone, not GOD! “Those that spreads the word of GOD while making a profit and preys on the fears and anxiety of those already damaged are not pure!” Shame on you mr. author! Your book may have destroyed my chance to be with someone I really care about…

  • gleannfia

    I am a liberal, divorced, feminist of age 52, and I read Josh Harris’ book 12 years ago. I remain amazed at his intelligence and insight, considering his youth at the time. I am not particularly religious, raised Catholic but now more of a Deist. However, I believe women of all ages, as well as men, are far too inclined to give their bodies away as cheap goods. It is sad. Josh’s book made me realize that there are far worse things than being celibate and alone. Even at my age, just try “dating” and see if you can make it to the third date without a man expecting sex. I have dated men in their 50s who cannot be bothered to even learn my last name before wanting to get me into the sack. No thanks.

    I would rather be alone with my family and cat than date another boor who is only concerned with his own self-gratification. Hey, if I never marry again, that is fine with me. But “dating” is far overrated.

    I think that if women were to raise their standards, men would not expect sex by the third date. And maybe more true relationships would develop. Sex is great, but only in the concept of a committed, trusting relationship.

    • Anat

      Why is it necessarily bad to have sex on a third date? Or a first? If you don’t want to then don’t, but not everyone has your preferences. There are women who like sex and want to have it regardless of whether they are in a long-term relationship. I don’t see why they need to change their behavior for your sake. Or why they should adopt your preferences over their own.

      (I wouldn’t recommend sex on a first date to someone with little or no experience, but an experienced person who knows what they like – why not?)

      Anyway, Joshua Harris is opposed to dating at all, he wants people to marry who had barely spent time alone together (let alone had sex). I find this approach dangerous, a recipe for people being stuck in uncompatible marriages.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      How is having sex, and enjoying it, “giv[ing] their bodies away as cheap goods”? That is a terrible thing to say about anyone, man or woman. If someone doesn’t want to have sex casually, don’t do it. Why does that mean you get to be all judgmental about those who do like to have casual sex?