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If you were a conservative Christian in the 1990s and early 2000s, chances are you owned a copy of the bestselling “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” by Joshua Harris.

Harris was a celebrity within the homeschool community: a homeschool graduate, son of a prominent homeschool advocate, and the editor of a magazine for homeschoolers.

It would be easy to dismiss Harris’s fretting as merely advice that preteens, teenagers, or immature people should avoid dating until they mature.

In reality, dating is an artificial environment—a break from real life and away from real relationships.

Moreover, dating isolates the couple from life’s most important relationships: family, friends, and church.

Harris emphasizes that the problem of dating is not solved by “dating right.” In “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” Harris reiterates that dating itself is “an approach to relationships that wants to go in a different direction than the one God has for us.” Nor can Christians redeem the process: “the boyfriend/girlfriend exclusiveness of the dating system is based on a self-seeking, pleasure-seeking attitude toward relationships,” Harris warns in “Dating Problems.” Far from trying to rescue dating from our human selfishness, Harris advocates courtship as promoting the right attitude and approach to relationships.

In Harris’s view, the arc of a godly romantic relationship progresses from friendship, to courtship, then engagement, and, finally, marriage.

Church and family are the “real life settings” where “we’re much more likely to see who a person really is.” “Though courtship has a serious intent,” Harris writes in “Boy Meets Girl,” “it can be low-pressure and casual when it begins.” (This characterization is unpersuasive considering how involved families and the church community are in the courtship process.) Fathers in particular have a deep role in courtship in Harris’s framework. When a man wants to pursue a woman in courtship, he should first ask her father for permission to court.

Indeed, the woman may be the last person to know of a man’s interest.

In “Boy Meets Girl,” Harris denounces abusive and manipulative fathers as “unbiblical.” He genuinely sees fathers as loving, wise, and earnestly wanting the best for their children.

Think about it charitably: if one would ask dad for help with homework, selecting colleges, or getting a job, then why wouldn’t one seek advice in romantic relationships?

Couples become emotionally intertwined and, soon thereafter, physically involved.

The crux of Harris’s critique: Dating leads to broken hearts, even if the couple never had sex or even kissed: each surrendered a piece of his or her heart that he or she can never get back.

Friends participate in “activities that pull you both into each other’s world of family, friends, and work, as well as areas of services and ministry,” Harris explains in “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” Friendship is the avenue to evaluate each other objectively—to gain “an unbiased view of each others’ true nature.” To be sure, Harris is not channeling Aristotle’s understanding of true friendship: For Aristotle, highest type of friendship moves beyond common interests or shared goals and is based on mutual love for one another as virtuous individuals.

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