After 20 Years, ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ Author Kisses His Book Goodbye

I kissed dating goodbye
Photo: Amazon/JoshHarris.com

If you were a Christian kid in the late 90s and early 2000s (like I was), you have no doubt heard about, and most likely joke about, the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. The book, written at the height of the True Love Waits abstinence movement in the late 1990s, immediately rose to HUGE popularity among evangelical teens—or at least among their parents. Lucky for me, the book came out while I was in my early college years; I was already dating my now-husband, and had dated a couple of nice Christian guys before him. I did read the book when it came out, though, and immediately smelled a rat. Dating, I had seen in my own life and the lives of many others, wasn’t all bad; if done in a healthy manner, it ultimately ended for a lot of people in the choosing of a good marriage partner.

Though I agreed with the book’s assertion that one should save sex for marriage, I didn’t agree with the hardcore I Kissed Dating Goodbye tenet that it was necessary to not kiss before marriage or only ever “give your heart”/fall in love with ONE person. In my own life, I’d been able to date with the intention of choosing a marriage partner; for me this meant dating more than one person, it even meant falling in love more than once. I truly believe God used some of my young relationships to make me more aware of what kind of man I should choose as a marriage partner, and when I found him, I knew.

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I disagreed with most of Harris’ non-dating laws set forth in his book that a friend and I even did a video project for a communications class at our Christian college on why the book was bad (we got an A, we were SO ahead of our time! This was in 1998 or 99).

Yesterday I happened to see (in a Facebook forum I’m part of about 90s Christian music) a person post a link to this Relevant article about Josh Harris. The person who posted it was like, “UGH nice. Did anyone else get married WAY TOO YOUNG because of this book or just me?” The comments that followed are sadly typical of Christian kids who were raised to follow this model. “And divorced!” said one commenter. “Married at 19, divorced at 21,” said another. Still another said, “I am angry about the guilt I felt for kissing my fiancé. I feel like this culture stole the joy of young love. This culture also pushed us to marry way before we were ready. We are still together and thriving, but it’s despite this past and not because of it.”

Now I am not saying that ALL of this relationship trouble is because of Harris’ book, because all of humans are capable of turning our relationships into a crap show.

BUT. The truth is, this movement was unhealthy, and it pushed a lot of well-meaning Christian young people into a rocky relational start.

This is something that Josh Harris himself now admits, and apologizes for.

In a statement on his website, Harris said he is ceasing publication of the I Kissed Dating Goodbye and all its companion books. No more will be sold after the ones that have already been printed.

His statement says, in part:

While I stand by my book’s call to sincerely love others, my thinking has changed significantly in the past twenty years. I no longer agree with its central idea that dating should be avoided. I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner. I recommend books like Boundaries in Dating by Dr. Henry Cloud and True Love Dates by Debra Fileta, which encourage healthy dating.

There are other weaknesses too: in an effort to set a high standard, the book emphasized practices (not dating, not kissing before marriage) and concepts (giving your heart away) that are not in the Bible. In trying to warn people of the potential pitfalls of dating, it instilled fear for some—fear of making mistakes or having their heart broken. The book also gave some the impression that a certain methodology of relationships would deliver a happy ever-after ending—a great marriage, a great sex life—even though this is not promised by scripture.

Harris was barely into his twenties when he wrote the book, and that alone makes me wonder what Christian parents were thinking (other than: ooh, my daughter can’t get pregnant out of wedlock if we never even let her be alone with the guy!) letting an inexperienced twenty-one year old kid tell them how they should direct their kids into their permanent marriage relationships. It boggles my mind now as it did then; all I can think is that now and then, a lot of well-meaning Christian parents parent out of fear of what might happen if they don’t force their kids to tow the line, rather than praying and asking God to help them parent their child as He would want them to.

But anyway. What Harris says next truly touched me. Though it may be “too late,” as he says…an apology is still an apology, and I believe his is sincere. He says:

To those who read my book and were misdirected or unhelpfully influenced by it, I am sincerely sorry. I never intended to hurt you. I know this apology doesn’t change anything for you and it’s coming too late, but I want you to hear that I regret any way that my ideas restricted you, hurt you, or gave you a less-than-biblical view of yourself, your sexuality, your relationships, and God.

And to those of you who benefitted from my book, I am so grateful that something I wrote helped you. The fact that a flawed man could write a flawed book and somehow that could help some people is amazing to me. But, to borrow an analogy from the automotive industry, if a car serves some people but a flaw in its design causes damage to others, good intentions by the carmaker and even the endorsement of other customers don’t override the problem. I cannot recall all the copies of my book that have been published. However, my public critique in written and documentary form, and the numerous media interviews I’ve done in the past two years, are my attempt to both apologize and spread the word of about the problems I see in it.

As Harris alludes to above, there will be a documentary about the change of heart he’s had since I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and I for one look forward to seeing it. I think Josh Harris is a great example of how it’s never too late to change, to say you’re sorry, and to attempt to right wrongs (even if they were well-intentioned). I hope the Christian community will extend grace to him as he moves forward to embrace and preach new-to-him truths, and I pray all those who were hurt by his books can find healing.

Were you an I Kissed Dating Goodbye kid? Why or why not?


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Jenny Rapson
Jenny Rapson is a follower of Christ, a wife and mom of three from Ohio and a freelance writer and editor. You can find her at her blog, Mommin' It Up, or follow her on Twitter.