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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Boundaries in Dating: Introduction

 Boundaries in Dating book cover
So I started reading Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, and I'm very excited about it and find myself with a lot of opinions, so I've decided to do a whole blog series review of this book.

This book is unique because it's very very NOT purity culture, but I've heard the "Boundaries" books highly recommended by church people. (Yes there's a whole series. Boundaries in the context of all kinds of different relationships.)

Take a look at this part, from the introduction:
A few years back I was doing a seminar for singles in the Midwest when the question came from the floor, "Dr. Cloud, what is the biblical position on dating?" At first, I thought I had misheard the question, so I asked the woman to repeat it. And the question came out the same as the first time.

"What do you mean, 'the biblical position'?" I asked.

"Well, do you think that dating is a biblical thing to do?" the woman explained.

Once I heard her question, I thought she was kidding, but I soon realized she was not. I had heard people ask about the biblical position on capital punishment or euthanasia, but never on dating.

"I do not think the Bible gives a 'position' on dating," I said. "Dating is an activity that people do, and as with a lot of other things, the Bible does not talk about it. What the Bible does talk about is being a loving, honest, growing person in whatever you do. So, I would have to say that the biblical position on dating has much more to do with the person you are and are becoming than whether or not you date. The biblical position on dating would be to date in a holy way.

"In fact, God grows people up through dating relationships in the same way that he grows them up in many other life activities. The question is not whether or not you are dating. The questions are more along the lines of 'Who are you in your dating and who are you becoming in your dating? What is the fruit of your dating for you and for the people that you date? How are you treating them? What are you learning?' And a host of other issues that the Bible is very clear about. It is mainly about your character growth and how you treat people."
In other words, someone asked if it's okay for Christians to date, and he was like "what even is this question? Isn't it obvious that if you date in a healthy way, that's good, and if not, then it's bad?"

I mean, YES! I love this because it's common sense instead of purity culture.

He goes on to say that, after hearing this same question over and over on many occasions, he finally decided to find out where it was coming from- and that's how he heard about "I Kissed Dating Goodbye." Then, in the rest of the introduction, he talks about his thoughts after reading that book and why he disagrees and believes that for most people, dating is a healthy thing to do.

But. You guys, I really don't think the authors of "Boundaries in Dating" understand purity culture at all. They seem to have interpreted Harris's argument as "in dating, sometimes people get hurt, therefore everyone should stop dating" and they respond by saying that if you have good boundaries, people don't have to get hurt. Now I've never read "I Kissed Dating Goodbye", but since it is THE purity culture book, I'm guessing the argument is more like: "in dating, sometimes people get hurt, and I will explain that hurt using concepts like purity and how if you loved an ex you have damaged your heart irreversably and can never love your future spouse 100%. Therefore everyone should stop dating." In order to respond to this, you can't just give your advice on how to date responsibly- you also have to engage with the purity argument. You have to make an in-depth refutation of the idea that the more romantic and sexual experience you have, the less potential you have to truly love a marriage partner.

"Boundaries in Dating" doesn't do this. So I believe this book will give a lot of healthy, practical advice and serve as a fantastic alternative to purity culture, but it is definitely not a response to purity culture. If someone has never heard of purity culture, and you give them this book, I think that would be very good and healthy for them. But if somebody believes in purity culture and you want to give them this book to help them get out, oh no no no that will never work. What I've read so far in "Boundaries in Dating" is literally incomprehensible to someone who believes in purity culture.

There are statements like this one: "People can have good dating relationships where they learn, are healed, grow, and are stretched, even when the relationship does not lead to marriage. It has value in a person's life." If you're in purity culture, this statement is completely nonsensical. Like, what is he even talking about?

It would be like if someone said, "When there's a lot of traffic, I find it helps to drive backwards." Like, what? I have no idea what this person is even trying to say. Even if you really wanted to agree with them, you couldn't. You have no way to even understand what they're trying to tell you.

In purity culture, dating (along with any other romantic or sexual thoughts, interactions, or experiences) erodes your purity, causing damage that can never be fully healed. So if you must do it, do as little as possible and go as slow as possible. And when this idea is part of your understanding of the definition of dating, at its most basic level, the above statement from "Boundaries in Dating" is literally incomprehensible. You have no idea what he's even talking about.

(And actually, here's a little story about how I first heard about this book: So, long ago, I heard there was a Christian book called "Boundaries" and I was very interested, because like any teenager or college student in purity culture, I wanted to know "where the line is." But upon reading the book description, I realized it wasn't about dating, it was about all your relationships. Then I found out there was a whole series! There was "Boundaries in Marriage." Wait what, that doesn't make any sense, when you're married you're allowed to have sex and do everything, you don't need boundaries. And there was "Boundaries in Dating"- the only title in the series that made any sense to me. So I flipped through it a little, and read a bit about like, honest communication or something, and concluded it was not a book about "where the line is" and so I was not interested at all. So yeah, not really useful if you're already in purity culture.)

So. I am super excited about reading this book because it is SO NOT purity culture. And the way the authors just nonchalently drop statements which contradict everything I ever believed about dating back then, like it's obvious and it's no big deal- wow, there's something that feels good about reading that. (There will totally be things I disagree with though- it's 100% heteronormative (heteronormativity is when you act like LGB people don't exist) and takes for granted the idea that OBVIOUSLY Christians believe we shouldn't have sex before marriage.)

I always say, if you're a good little church girl who wants to love Jesus with her whole heart, and so you ask, "what is the Christian view of dating?" well the only people who are offering an answer to that question are the purity culture advocates. Even though I really don't think most adults at my church believed in purity culture, there was no one who said, "Hey, how about being practical and having healthy relationships? And here are a bunch of bible verses to support this idea." And THIS IS A PROBLEM. Well guess what, looks like I finally found a Christian leader [who's not regarded as a "false teacher" or anything] saying just that. Very exciting.

Very much looking forward to reading "Boundaries in Dating." I expect it to have a lot of astonishingly healthy things to say. But it's not a response to purity culture. No no no. Very much not.

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A blog series reviewing the book Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships

Next post: Boundaries are very anti-Christian [as I learned it]

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