I Kissed Dating Goodbye worked for Ly, and it worked for many others. It worked too for author Joshua Harris, who married at 23 and wrote a follow-up book about his courtship with his wife. But that’s not the story of many other readers who followed the book’s ideas and now, years later, voice disappointment and regret. Some have called the book “legalism at its finest” and claim it “ruined lives.” Some say it engendered a culture of judgmentalism, pressured inexperienced people into marrying the first person they dated, and caused them to fear intimacy of any kind with the opposite sex.
Back when the book topped the bestseller list, many of its readers were in their teenage years—a stage typically marked by raging hormones and dating experiments, when peers were trembling over their first kiss and parading their first official boyfriend or girlfriend in school. Kids broke love vows, lost their virginity, broke hearts. Those who adhered to the no-dating rules of the courtship movement avoided those messy experiences for something they hoped would be bigger and better.
Now most of these individuals are in their 30s—a different season in life, when they’re paying their own bills. Some say they’re ready for marriage, yet have been unable to find a mate through the means of courtship. Others have married yet now have negative feelings about the impact of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. If you ask young Christians to explain how the book shaped their views on dating and marriage—as I did for this story—some will tout the benefits. But many others will claim it did them more harm than good.
DONNA ROSS’ COPY of I Kissed Dating Goodbye is dog-eared and marked with highlights and annotations. As a homeschooled teenager in Florida, Ross attended Harris’ book tours, bought the cassette tapes of his speeches, even tacked a poster of his face up on her bedroom wall (“What, he was cute!”). She bought extra copies of I Kissed Dating Goodbye and passed them out to her friends: “I wanted everyone to see this vision of a beautiful community, of heaven. I thought if everyone was doing this same thing, no one would get their hearts broken.”
Ross’ parents were divorced, and she didn’t want that to happen to her or anyone else. The idea of dating also terrified her: What if she never got picked? What if the relationship didn’t work out? How would she deal with that gallows of rejection? I Kissed Dating Goodbye, with its admonitions against casual dating, gave her enormous relief: “I thought if I abided by these rules, God will bless me with the perfect man.”
But Ross started questioning I Kissed Dating Goodbye during her college years. Though she had hoped to find her life partner by graduation, she quickly realized she didn’t know how to express or reciprocate interest in a man, because for so long she had associated that with “emotional fornication.” Anytime she made prolonged eye contact, initiated a conversation, or smiled too much with a man, guilt shut her down. It took about 10 years, Ross said, before she was able to disentangle from those deeply ingrained thoughts. By then, she was 30 and still single.