“I Kissed Marriage Goodbye” – Rescuing the Frozen People

Many years ago, my magazine, Practical Homeschooling, featured a column by a teen homeschooler named Joshua Harris.

Joshua went on to write a best-selling book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which he followed with a number of other titles on courtship, sexual purity, and church life.

In I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Joshua confirmed what I and others had said for some time, that modern “dating” – meaning boy and girl hanging out alone, testing the boundaries and usually going too far – was unbiblical. He promoted in its place the idea of treating young Christian women like sisters.

This all sounded OK. My Hungarian grandmother had told me how, in her generation, teens and young adults typically hung out together in large co-ed groups. Only later did they pair off as couples, under the eagle eyes of their families.

However, Joshua’s book went a bit further. The message many received was that young men were supposed to remain aloof right up until the point where they decided a particular girl was “the one” they hoped to marry. Then, and only then, would they ask permission to court her.

Thanks to this belief, in the words of an upcoming World magazine article, “many young men seem frozen” and many young men and women both “think we should never hang out unless we want to marry.”

When my daughter Sarah was a student at Patrick Henry College, this definitely was the mainstream view. In practice, it led to the female students endlessly agonizing over whether young men they liked returned their interest – as there was literally no way to know! A girl couldn’t ask a guy if he liked her without seeming forward. Relationships were either totally casual (in a brother-sister sense) or verging on total commitment, with no range in between.

I believe the Song of Solomon holds the key to unlocking these frozen relationships. In Song of Solomon 4:9, 4:10, 4:12, and 5:1, the author uses the phrase “my sister, my spouse.” I always secretly thought that sounded rather creepy, but now I get it. The Bible is making the point that a “sister in Christ” can also be the object of love and affection – treating “the young women like sisters” doesn’t have to mean “treating them like brothers.” Example, from Song of Solomon chapter 4:

9. Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck.

10. How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices!

This indicates that it’s possible to progress romantically with a Christian “sister” without falling into lust. In other words, a young man doesn’t have to go from carefully neutral brotherly thoughts to proposing without any steps of increasing affection along the way. He can tell the girl he likes her . . . he likes her very much . . . he wants to get to know her better . . . and so forth, without embarking on all the trappings of either dating or a formal courtship, and without expecting her to immediately start considering him husband material.

In fact, I would submit that it is uncharitable and unbrotherly for young men to keep girls in the dark, without a clue as to whether they are attracting romantic attention or not. In the absence of any information, girls will naturally overreact to the tiniest signs, which is great if you’re writing Jane Austen novels or drawing-room farces, but not so wonderful otherwise. The other possible overreaction is to close off all emotion entirely, for fear of being mistaken, which is great if you’re trying out for the part of Mr. Spock on Star Trek, but not so wonderful otherwise.

This “all or nothing” approach is also hard on the young men, who (knowing the young women are watching closely for signs of affection) naturally tend to feel wary and hunted.

The bottom line for young Christian men and women: It’s OK to express growing affection (just not alone in dark corners!). The truth will set the frozen people free.

8 Responses

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  • Amen, amen, AMEN!!!!!! Please send a copy of this to Michael Smith and Mike Farris and have them circulate in the boys’ dorms. ;-)

  • Sue Michaels says:

    Isn’t the “message many received” the exact same message that the patriocentrists have been preaching within the homeschooling movement for many years???? We have become so afraid of any possibility of lust or romantic emotions that our young people have become almost non-sexual creatures. I agree with Sharon that this article should be circulated, not just at Patrick Henry College, but throughout the homeschooling community. Bravo Mary for speaking the truth in love!

  • Tammy says:

    Right on sister! Too many churches and parents are keeping boys and girls totally emotionally separated whereas the Bible teaches that young people should get to know one another like brothers and sisters. And that can involve some emotional connections. I have too many 20somethings girls (my kids included) tell me they don’t even know what guys are like let alone how to discern if one is worthy of attention! And guys are supposed to be completely casual until they pick one they want to court, ask dad and wait until he approves of him. Meanwhile, the guy barely knows what kind of girl he is going to court because all the girls are told to be distant, cordial and emotionally uninvolved. That only leaves a young man to pick a young lady entirely on looks alone. He has no idea what the lady he seeks is like on the inside. Is she fun? resourceful? honest? deep thinker? spiritually deep? trustworthy? diligent? etc?
    Meanwhile, I see girls waiting until they are 30, even almost 40 to finally marry.

    • Steve240 says:

      You might find my blog of interest where I critique Josh Harris’s book.

      I Kissed Dating Goodbye: Wisdom or Foolishness?

      Unfortunately Josh Harris is quick to point out the problems with dating but reluctant to share any of the problems with his approach.

      Hope this helps.

  • sarah says:

    Gosh, it’s been a while since I read that book and Boy Meets Girl. If I recall correctly, the latter book revises a number of the things taught in I Kissing Dating Goodbye. Also, a number of the ways people have taken IKDG are extrapolations from the actual book, not what was written.

  • Mary L says:

    My Comment
    Thank you for addressing this issue. As a homeschool mother of six children rapidly approaching marriagable age, I have prayed and agonized over this marriage issue extensively. As homeschoolers, we have created a burdensome system of rules, distance, and limitations that strongly discourage relationships of any depth between young men and women. Although father-led (too often father-controlled) courtship claims to protect young people from harm, I believe it actually does far more harm than good by preventing many young people from building healthy relationships that can lead to marriage.

    If we truly believe it is God’s desire that there be a substantial next generation of homeschool believers, we must find a better way for our young people to find like-minded spouses. . . perhaps some sort of marriage-oriented dating . . . something that gives young men AND women more opportunities to seek and find the spouse God intends for them. Let us pray that God would guide us to better marriage pathways for our young people, rather than blindly embracing courtship regulations and barriers that leave far too many of our young people lonely, disillusioned, and single.

  • Joy says:

    We’ve seen the spectrum, from engagement when a couple had never had a conversation, to productive courtships.
    We don’t like the former, but both couples are doing fine, very much in love and no one would guess it started that way. The problem is, they really did not know how each other thought and that is NOT ideal.

    The best time for us to get to know other possibilities is when we are pursuing Kingdom work: Like putting on a conference together, traveling to a film academy, family hospitality, or, like some friends, participating in campus outreach. That way, we are able to see how someone communicates, works and thinks. Yes, we do wonder if this or that guy is interested in_____, but when the focus is God’s kingdom and growing in maturity, people come together in productive marriages.

    My brother is currently in a courtship where he had never spoken to the girl before he asked her dad. He didn’t think that was ideal, but knew she was an amazing girl and needed to get started. Asking her dad first, gave my brother an opportunity to share and receive books he cares about, answer their questions and have a great time with her parents. Now that she knows, she is reading my brother’s books, happy to talk, and using a topic he loves for her writing class.

  • Liz says:

    fascinating stuff here. Its interesting how someone writes a book and then other people read it and take it too far. Don’t take this the wrong way, Mary, but I think that happened with your books. I’ve read a lot of stuff on “quiverfull” families and they seem light years away from how you yourself appear to be living, despite some surface similarities. I think that a lot of folks look to other Christians who write books as if those books are the bible instead of possibly a jumping off point for their own thinking. After learning a lot of things the hard way, I’ve found it best to look at the general principle being addressed as opposed to hard and fast rules unless it is something spelled out in specific terms in the bible

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