Author Joshua Harris believes that having intimacy without commitment in a relationship is damaging to each person involved. In his book, "I Kissed Dating Goodbye," he describes a model for relationships in which couples make a strong commitment to one another before they become emotionally or physically attached.
Joshua Harris won't kiss a woman until his wedding day. In fact, he won't even date one. This past year, Harris wrote a book titled "I Kissed Dating Goodbye." In his book, Harris says that he's given up traditional dating and he's hoping that Christians everywhere will do the same.
Harris, a 22-year-old national speaker, was motivated to write the book after experiencing failed dating relationships during high school and finally discovering a biblical alternative to typical dating. In his book, Harris describes the problems associated with typical dating and presents an alternative he calls "principled romance."
Harris said in an interview that he believes there are biblical principles that every single person should consider when building relationships. "[In my book] I focused on what it looks like to practice sincere love, true purity and purposeful singleness," he said.
"Principled romance" follows the key principles associated with courtship. He doesn't use the word "courtship," however, because he said that the term cannot be clearly defined. Because most people view courtship as a legalistic set of rules, the term puts the focus on adhering to a specific formula rather than glorifying God, Harris said.
Harris believes that relationships are too individualized to be forced into a mold. Rather than laying out a specific plan, he encourages readers to pursue a biblical attitude toward romance by giving some basic guidelines for building Christ-centered relationships.
Principled romance differs from dating in two major areas: motives and timing.
The motive behind a principled romance is getting to know someone for the purpose of marriage. Having marriage as one's goal implies a high level of commitment.
In contrast, Harris said dating relationships generally lack long-term commitment and tend to be driven by selfish motives. "People date because they want to enjoy the emotional and even physical benefits of intimacy without the responsibility of real commitment," Harris writes.
The timing of dating is also different from that of principled romance. Dating can take place at any age and time, allowing people to shop when they have no intention of buying.
On the other hand, principled romance takes place only when a couple is prepared to pursue marriage. Harris said a person must feel confident that God is calling him or her to pursue marriage before entering into a principled romance. This means that individuals should seriously consider whether they are prepared emotionally and spiritually to fulfill the commitment of a principled romance before forming romantic attachments.
Harris recognizes two flaws as being the most damaging. First, typical dating leads to intimacy but not commitment. "In a dating relationship, two people can become close and develop feelings for each other, but there's no defined level of commitment," Harris said. "Intimacy without commitment awakens desires--emotional and physical--that neither person can justly meet."
See "The Seven Habits of Highly Defective Dating."
Dean Bob Bailey expressed a similar concern. He said that dating encourages two people to reach a high level of intimacy too quickly. He believes that it is dangerous for couples to become emotionally intimate before they have expressed any level of commitment.
"Once you awaken the soul issues in a relationship, you're not playing games anymore. You're dealing with someone's heart," Mr. Bailey said.
Harris said another flaw he sees in dating is that the friendship stage of a relationship is frequently glossed over or even skipped. The reason for this is that the dating system encourages romantic expectations. Couples who date usually develop romantic feelings for the persons they are dating before they have built a solid friendship.
Multnomah professor Bonnie Kopp said that it concerns her that so many couples jump into intimate relationships without allowing time for friendship to develop. Two people don't really get to know each other until they have become emotionally attached and lost objectivity.
Mrs. Kopp said she thinks that it is important for a couple to allow time for friendship to develop before moving to a more intimate level. "I would like to see less intensity in relationships and more freedom to develop friendships," she said.
Another concern that Harris expressed is that dating gives people access to all the benefits of marriage without commitment. "Dating has allowed us to take more and more outside of marriage both physically and emotionally," Harris said. "Dating makes marriage irrelevant."
In his book, Harris outlines the steps of a principled romance: casual friendship, deeper friendship, purposeful intimacy with integrity, and engagement. He emphasized that these are guidelines, not a formula.
Harris said that a principled romance must begin with friendship. Casual friendship takes place when two people meet and begin getting to know each other. They spend time doing things together in groups and learning about each other's personality and character.
Harris emphasized that the casual friendship stage of a relationship is very important. "So much can take place within friendships, outside of dating, that is so beneficial," he said.
Mrs. Kopp said she would like to see Multnomah students getting to know each other in the safe environment of group activities. She said small groups of four to six are ideal for building friendships. "I would encourage Multnomah students to initiate group activities for the purpose of developing deeper friendships," she said.
Deeper friendship is the next stage of principled romance. Harris said that a couple should pursue a deeper friendship before becoming romantically involved. This step is frequently skipped in dating relationships.
During this stage, a couple should seek to get to know each other on a more personal level, Harris said. "The first priority for a guy and girl is to get to know each other better as individuals--to gain an accurate, unbiased view of each other's true natures," he writes.
He suggests that couples try to include each other in their real lives. Instead of getting to know each other in romantic settings, a couple should engage in activities together that reveal true character. If possible, they should observe how the person relates to family members, worships and approaches ministry.
Multnomah professor Garry Friesen said that one of the merits of principled romance is that it brings the family into the process. "Any model that asks the family to stay out of it is asking for trouble," he said. He also sees the benefit of couples getting to know each other in a real-life context under the protection of the family.
Harris cautioned that during the deeper friendship stage of the relationship, both people should carefully guard their emotions. Because the couple is seeking to deepen their friendship, they should refrain from expressing romantic feelings. "Once those feelings are expressed, objectivity is very hard to hold on to," Harris said. "When we focus on indulging those romantic feelings, that's not helping us to honestly evaluate whether or not we are made for each other."
After the couple has developed a deep friendship, Harris said they may feel ready to consider marriage. By this time, romantic feelings will probably have developed in the relationship, an important step before planning to pursue marriage.
"There's nothing scriptural about saying, 'I'm going to marry this person [even though] I don't have any feelings for them. I don't even like them. I'm not attracted to them. I think they're ugly.' That's not noble; that's foolish," Harris said.
Although Harris doesn't discount the importance of romantic feelings in a relationship, he warned that feelings shouldn't become the main focus.
After the couple has developed a deeper friendship, it is the man's responsibility to state the purpose of the relationship. "At the right time, the guy needs to lead in the relationship and say, 'The purpose for this [relationship] is marriage. I'm getting closer to you emotionally and spending more time with you for a specific purpose. I want you to test me, and I want to ask these tough questions about whether or not we are uniquely suited for each other,'" Harris said.
Harris said he hopes his book will challenge men to take on this responsibility at the appropriate time. "Being men of integrity involves waiting until you're ready to pursue someone, and when you are ready not being a wimp," Harris said. "I think guys need to go out on a limb more."
After the man has stated his intent in the relationship and the woman has agreed, the couple moves into the third stage of principled romance: purposeful intimacy with integrity. At this stage, the actual romance begins.
"This is the time for the young man to win the girl's heart and for the two of them to test the wisdom of their potential marriage," Harris writes. "It's a time of growing intimacy, but, unlike intimacy in many dating relationships, this intimacy has a purpose."
Harris said that during this time the couple should spend much of their time together with family and friends. Although times alone may be appropriate at this stage in the relationship, a couple should always have a clear motive and avoid temptation.
The couple should also maintain high physical standards throughout the romance. Harris said couples shouldn't act as if they own each other's bodies before marriage.
Once the man and woman are confident of their love and the wisdom of their union, the man asks the woman to marry him and they move into engagement and eventually marriage. Harris lists four "green lights" that a couple should consider before entering engagement.
Although principled romance causes people to guard their hearts and is more emotionally safe than dating, Harris pointed out that it doesn't guarantee no one will ever get hurt. The principled romance will not end in marriage every time. However, Harris said that avoiding heartache shouldn't be the first goal of godly relationships. "The goal should be to be obedient to God and serve others," he said.
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