Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dating, Sex, & Marriage

A reader asked me if I'd read I Kissed Dating Good-Bye by Joshua Harris. I had to admit, I had not, but I was intrigued by the title. Sadly, my library does not carry this book, but I did read several reviews and summaries of the book. I've passed midterms with less prep work, so I feel slightly prepared to discuss the topic.

According to wikipedia, clearly the ultimate authority on everything, “dating is a form of courtship consisting of social activities done by two persons with the aim of each assessing the other's suitability as a partner in an intimate relationship or as a spouse.”

Um, okay. Is that really applicable to the modern world of dating, though? I mean, is that honestly how we treat dates?

Before we go any further, I don't want anyone to form the mistaken conclusion that I am, in any way, shape, or form, an expert on dating. I have been on exactly seven official dates with four guys. (Four of them being with man friend... le sigh). But I am the queen of secondhand experience. Both my guy friends and my girlfriends come to me for relationship advice all the time. I also read a lot. Between the two, I've picked up on a thing or two.

So. Dating. Why do we do it? My first real date was with my best friend's boyfriend's best friend. Yeah. My best friend thought I was too picky when it came to guys, and I guess I was trying to be more open-minded? But the date wasn't about him; it was about me. What could I get out of it? What could I learn? What could I experience?

The whole thing was very self-centered. According to Harris, that's the attitude most people have about dating, and it's the wrong attitude to have. He states, “Every relationship for a Christian is an opportunity to love another person as God has loved us.” We should be putting God first, other people second, and ourselves last. This should be true not just in romantic relationships, but all relationships.

So far I'm totally down with this idea. I think generally I do a good job of balancing my own needs and desires with those of the people I love. I almost always put other people first unless that would negatively impact me. If putting someone else first affects me neutrally, or positively, then I usually do it. I'm not a doormat; I just like to see other people happy.

But... four steps? Casual Friendship – Deeper Friendship – Courtship – Engagement? It's a great idea in theory, but I'm not sure how great that works in practice. How many of my best guy friends have I fallen for? (Five out of eight. Rather hard for one and borderline in love with another). How many of them fell for me? (Just one). Was it mutual? (No, that would be too easy). Clearly forming deep friendships with (mostly) godly men did not lead to courtship for us.

What does Harris say about intimacy?

Again, I've just read through about 100 reviews and summaries of the book, not the book itself. Finding his exact stance on intimacy is not as easy as the aforementioned points. Overall, though, his thesis is that intimacy is the reward of commitment. That you should save intimacy for commitment. That one of our problems today is sharing intimacy with someone without commitment.

I have trouble articulating if I agree or disagree with this. I think that young people jump into sex too quickly. I think they use physical intimacy selfishly. I think the emotional scarring you can suffer by being too intimate too fast with the wrong person can affect your future relationships. So in this sense, I agree. You should save intimacy for commitment.

But. I also feel as though the two go hand in hand. Yes, there are a lot of people I consider my best friends (at last count, I think I hit 27...). But out of the thousands of people I've met in my life? It's a very small number who are rewarded with the best friend title. I click with some people in a special way, on a deeper level. They go on to be my best friends.

It's the same concept with men. I can't commit myself romantically to someone unless we've reached a certain level of intimacy. The reverse is true as well. For true intimacy to occur (aka not just hooking up, which I've done on many an occasion), I need to have a certain level of commitment as well.

I've refrained from blogging about man friend (even if I tweet about him incessantly) since sharing my present private life with the world is just a little more personal than sharing my past private life. But I feel as though a quick overview of my relationship with man friend is a good example of commitment and intimacy happening at the same time. (More detailed stories about us to come at a later date!)

Man friend contacted me via an online dating site. Soon we were emailing each other almost daily. After a few weeks, we met for dinner: our first date. A week later, we had our second date, and I kissed him at the end of the night. After our third date a few days later, we enjoyed a very nice make-out session. After our fourth (and final) date a week later, I stayed the night with him. During this time, we were still emailing and instant messaging constantly. I also saw him several other times that were not dates. My last night in town, he told me that if I were staying, he would ask me to be his girlfriend. I told him if I were staying, I would say yes. Now that it's been a month exactly since I last saw him, and probably still three months away from when I can see him again, I can say that I feel even more strongly about him. I don't even want to go make out with random guys and girls in a club (which is saying a lot for me). I just want to be with him, even in our current undefined long-distance unofficial whatever.

The more I learned about him, the more I liked him. The more I liked him, the more I wanted to kiss him. The more I kissed him, the more I wanted to know about him. See a cycle here? Commitment and intimacy went hand in hand.

At the end of the day, I think we need to be intentional in our relationships. We can't just sit back and let them happen. We need to consider carefully who our friends are and who are significant others are. We need to put love and effort into our relationships. We need to have a conversation with God about what we're doing and where we're going and who's coming with us.

What this looks like is different for everyone. For me and romantic entanglements, I don't have hard and fast rules. I'm careful with my heart, but I also let myself love freely. I have blurred guidelines for physical intimacy, but not black and white lines of yes and no. I talk things out with God, but I also express myself in writing and turn to my friends for advice. I make mistakes, I allow myself to be hurt, but then I learn from my experiences, and I move on.

Purity and goodness are different for everyone. As long as I can look myself in the mirror at night and be proud of my reflection, I'm doing okay.

Edit 05/27/2012: I just found this blog post with a thoughtful criticism of Harris's approach.


  1. Funny. I haven't either. I grew up hearing so much about I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and I wasn't allowed to date, and I had grown uncomfortable with my body, with boys, and with dating, that I just never saw the point of reading it.

    1. I honestly hadn't heard of it until a reader emailed me and asked me if I had read it. It sounds like I somehow missed all the lectures on saving sex for marriage that other teens in conservative churches received. Of course, my church was too small to have a youth pastor, and when they first hired one, we clashed with him horribly. So we had our own set of problems that had nothing to do with sex. =/

      Thanks for commenting!


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