Documentary Dismantles “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”

I remember when Joshua Harris first released his book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” I was a freshman attending Multnomah University, and when I returned from Christmas break in early 1997, students were buzzing about it. Harris was 21 at the time, and his book became a conversation starter for college students across the country.

Having grown up in homeschool circles in the Pacific Northwest, I was already familiar with Harris and his family, pioneers in the homeschool movement. I had heard him speak. He was witty and engaging; he clearly loved God and had a heart to encourage and exhort others.

When I interviewed him for my college newspaper and wrote a feature article on his book (see photos), I had no idea the impact IKDG would have on Christian dating or my own dating journey (I would remain single until my early thirties). When I talked to a jovial Harris by phone, he seemed exhilarated by the book’s breakout success (what author wouldn’t be?), and he excitedly told me about the book’s premise.

A Rule-Follower’s Dream

Harris’ ideas — a courtship-based method he called “principled romance”— made a lot of sense to me. He prescribed a way of pursuing romantic relationships that seemed both godly and safe. That appealed to me as a rule-follower who longed to do things right with as few mistakes as possible. His instructions for avoiding sexual temptation seemed foolproof: Never be alone with the person you like, and don’t express romantic feelings until you’re sure you will marry the person. You couldn’t make a “mistake” if you were never alone with the opposite gender.

I started writing for Boundless in 2004, and that’s about the time criticisms of IKDG started flowing in. Some people claimed that Harris’ book had made an entire generation of Christian singles afraid to date and marry. While I didn’t agree that Harris’ book was to blame, I did experience the fruit of a confused dating culture. In a decade of single adulthood, I went on only a handful of dates.

A Documentary That Says “I’m Sorry”

Fast-forward more than 20 years. In a new documentary* released globally for free streaming today, Harris reevaluates his best-selling book. In “I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” Harris listens to critics, fans and relationship experts to try to understand the phenomenon of IKDG, and in turn apologizes for the ways the book has hurt people.

One thing the documentary looks at is the larger “purity movement” of the late 1990s that primed the pump for Harris’ ideas. Organizations like True Love Waits emphasized saving sex for marriage by having students sign a purity pledge.

But Harris now believes the emphasis was on the wrong thing. The “sales pitch” was future sexual fulfillment in marriage, Harris says, not a fulfilling relationship with God through obedience. In addition, premarital sex was seen as the irrevocable sin that would taint every future relationship and make true love, as God intended it, unattainable.

In IKDG, Harris built upon these ideas. Yes, you should wait to have sex until marriage, he affirmed. But you should also strive to have a chaste heart. You should guard your heart (and the hearts of others). Your virginity should extend to your thoughts, attitudes and actions within relationships.

The Fatal Flaw

Much of this was good advice and reflective of overall concepts in Scripture about walking in holiness. But Harris’ book came into a culture that was hungry for a Christian formula for dating. Instead of trusting the Holy Spirit to help us be different, we accepted a 21-year-old’s advice that we merely needed to do different. We needed to abandon dating and switch to something better — something that kept us many steps away from sin. IKDG was part sound biblical wisdom and part legalism. But we wanted it. And we ate it up.

The funny part is, Harris’ ideas were largely untried in his own life. Only a year after the book released, he married his wife, Shannon (ironically, not pursuing her through a traditional courtship model). “The book had reshaped the world for Christian singles, but I had moved on,” Harris says. The author scarcely noticed how his book was changing the face of Christian dating.

I always thought it was unfair when people blamed Harris for their own romantic misfortunes. His book was one person’s ideas on conducting romantic relationships in a godly way. When I interviewed him in 1997, he admitted that his ideas were still untested and said: “The goal should be to be obedient to God and serve others. I think the bottom line is: Give your life away for the kingdom of God, and if God wants [marriage] for you, He will add it unto you. I think a lot of singles waste a lot of time trying to play their own matchmakers instead of giving their lives away.”

I can’t argue with that. (Only I would say, “A lot of us—single and married—waste a lot of time doing a lot of things instead of giving our lives away.”) One of my professors at the time, Dr. Garry Friesen, predicted IKDG’s fatal flaw. He warned that the concepts were not a clear biblical paradigm. “I think when Harris says, ‘Jesus has a better way,’ he’s acting like the way he is presenting is a biblical model,” he said. “If there is a biblical model, it would be parents picking out a mate for their children. And that may be a better way, but it would never make it in our culture.”

Another professor, Bonnie Kopp, said, “The biblical pattern is purity and integrity, not the method of dating or courtship.”

Harris feels so strongly that “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” is unhelpful that he has asked his publisher to halt its production. Toward the end of the film he says these sobering words: “Just because something sells doesn’t mean it’s giving people what they really need.” The Bible tells us to “test the spirits” (1 John 4) to discover what is true and beneficial. I admire Harris for testing the merit of his book and having the humility to recognize its flaws.

*Editor’s note: To access the free documentary, you’ll enter your email and be sent a link shortly thereafter. Check your spam folder for any related messages and to authorize the sender.

Copyright 2018 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Suzanne Gosselin
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin

Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a freelance writer and editor. She graduated from Multnomah University with a degree in journalism and biblical theology. She lives in California with her husband, Kevin, who is a family pastor, and her four young children: Josiah, Sadie, Amelia and Jackson. When she’s not hanging out with her kids, Suzanne loves a good cup of coffee, conversation with friends, musical theater and a trip to the beautiful California coast.