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Why I Kissed Dating Goodbye 20 Years Ago

Disclosure- this post is not aimed at any one person or one group specifically.  It's just my story that I'm telling- a chance for me to process many of my thoughts and emotions.  Like all of my blog posts, this is only my opinion.

20 years ago, I kissed dating goodbye.  Back then, evangelical Christians were talking about the radical book by Joshua Harris and making their own purity pledges.  Being the young, impressionable, Christian girl that I was back then, I committed to kissing dating goodbye too.  At 14/15, I had even even thought about dating a boy, but it didn't matter.  I kissed it goodbye, and I didn't look back.

After Joshua Harris renounced his book and purity culture in general a few months ago, many people were again talking about kissing dating goodbye.  It seemed like the vast majority of the conversation was centered around how bad courting is for lasting relationships, how purity culture harms everyone who practices it, and how "pure" couples don't have lasting marriages.  I have wanted to comment on the controversy for a long time, but I needed to wait until I had processed my emotions and disappointments.  I also don't usually do controversy on this blog, and was afraid to express my opinions on this issue.  After a challenge thread this week in a mom blogging group to which I belong, I've decided that it's time to tell my survivor story.

Before I continue, I should probably explain my terms.  "I kissed Dating Goodbye" refers to the influential book by Joshua Harris that called Christian young people to stop the flighty dating patterns of their peers and embrace old fashioned courtship.  Other books like, "The Bride Wore White" and movements like the "True Love Waits" conferences also helped build the narrative that if you waited for "God to write your love story," then everything would be beautiful, romantic, and perfect.

Many teens of that era wore purity rings on their hand where their wedding ring would later go as a reminder to "save themselves" for their future husband or wife.  Usually, the young person would also agree to save their first kiss for their wedding day, as yet another layer of protection against the dreaded moment of "giving your heart away" (which of course only belongs to your spouse).  Purity culture became the overarching label to encompass everything related to virginity, purity, courtship, and more.

My first exposure to purity culture came when I was 14 years old, at a Teen Mania mission trip.  Teen Mania was a para-church organization of the 1990's known for it's extremism and cult-like training (brainwashing) of kids as young as 11, but most participants were high school and those few years just beyond.  There is a lot I can say about Teen Mania itself and my experience with the group (moments that have taken 20 years to process), but that will have to be a different blog post.  This blog post would be a good place to start for anyone who is interested.

The world of 1999 was a scary place for a mousy, overweight girl, who was scheduled to start public high school the following autumn.  See, in early spring 1999, two male gunman shot up their high school in what is considered by many to be the first mass school shooting.  The entire spring and summer after the shooting, the kids at my Catholic elementary school were constantly talking about how scared we were about going to public school, and we kept daily tallies with each other about how many of us had convinced our parents to send us to the Catholic high school.  We were protestant and too poor to afford the heightened tuition of "non-Catholics," so I knew I was doomed for public school.

After realizing that there was no chance that I would end up at the "safer" private school, I took to my computer and went "ask Jeeves-ing" (pre-Google search engine) to find a summer mission trip program that I could focus on instead.  I literally went on the internet and started looking up teen para-church organizations and found Teen Mania.  We didn't know anyone who had gone to any of their events, we had never been to their conferences, we didn't know anything about them.  But, I had been wanting to be a missionary my entire life and here was my golden chance.  I will talk more about Teen Mania in the future, but I want this focus to be on purity culture and not Christian evangelical culture of the 90's more generally.

After months of fund-raising, I went on a two week long mission trip to El Salvador with strangers.  Teen Mania had very strict rules and beliefs about the relationships between men and women.  We were encouraged to keep separate from each other, except during ministry time, to not befriend each other, and to stick to our "God-given" roles.  Women were encouraged to be the moral and emotional guardians of teen boys sexual purity, calling out whenever we saw something immortal like a scantily-clad native woman.  Men were told to protect and guard the women, to keep us safe from cars on the road, strangers, and sketchy situations.  There was a strong atmosphere of leadership and submission, practicing traits that were supposed to shape our adult futures.

One of the big emphasis with Teen Mania besides missions and evangelism was purity culture.  I had never encountered the concepts of courtship instead of dating, courtship only for marriage, and guarding ones heart.  They talked about "guarding your heart" constantly and used illustrations like passing around a rose until it was a mangled mess to show how your heart and body would be if you were careless about your "purity."  Saving oneself for marriage went beyond not just having sex, but also included not kissing until marriage, not holding hands until engagement, and not spending time with boys until you were ready to get married.

Whether it was because I was sleep-deprived and dehydrated, in a foreign country and surrounded by strangers, or for some other reason, I LOVED what they were teaching.  It was legalistic. works-based, elitist, and fed my poor self-esteem perfectly.  I loved the idea of not getting too close to the cliff (sex) by staying as far away from it (and unsuitable boys/men) as possible.  I knew I wouldn't have to worry about rejection and teenage angst, as long as I keep my eyes on Jesus and my CD walkman full of Christian music.  While all those other weak Christians were going on dates and getting their hearts broken, I was going to be Jesus's girlfriend.  I had kissed dating goodbye and was happy to leave all my future relationships up to God.  I knew that if I sacrificed and waited and did everything right, then I would get my happily ever after.

A big reason why I stayed in the purity culture as a teenager was because I did see how heartbreaking dating and sleeping around was to my friends.  I had one group of friends, who all dated the same guy periodically.  He would bounced between the four of them, who all claimed to be friends, but who were all jealous and petty with each other, teaming up against the current "love interest" and turning on each other when the guys attention would shift.  He was proud of his position as player.  Once he got me alone to ask me out, but I told him that I had no interest in being a conquest and was waiting until marriage.  Sometimes, I wonder if I would have gone along with him if I hadn't been so firm on my convictions already.  The icing on the cake for me, though, came at Valentine's Day, where the Player would hand a rose out to every girl he had slept with that year. (and it wasn't just those four- yuck)

I exited high school without a single date.  Through a story for another time, I met my husband when I was 18 and he was 21.  We knew each other for about eight months before beginning our courtship.  We were each other's first relationship.  We began holding hands after we got engaged and had our first kiss on our wedding day after we said "I do."  I am NOT saying that we did everything right either nor am I saying that our way of doing things is the only way, but I am writing in defense of the purity culture.  I have absolutely no regrets about my teenage years, our courtship, or our marriage.  I'm glad we waited for each other.  We have been married 15 years, and each one keeps getting better.

I have watched a lot of Youtube videos and read articles about how people have been hurt by the purity movement.  There has been a lot of discussion about whether teaching kids to save their kisses until marriage is healthy and godly or whether it's abusive and unrealistic.  I haven't decided where I stand on the subject.  I just wanted to get my story out into the world to show how purity culture can be a good thing in a young person's life, as it was for my husband and myself.

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