Reviewed in the United States on November 15, 2013
I read this book because I was looking for material to use in conjunction with high school sex education material in a home school situation, so this review will focus on the benefits it has for discussion between parents and teens who are not yet or just beginning to be interested in dating.
The book was written partially as a response to I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and the accompanying message preached in some Christian circles that dating is destructive, selfish, and inherently painful. The authors disagree, and think dating, when done by healthy people working toward maturity, can facilitate important developmental processes that prepare you to be a good spouse, whether or not you marry the person you date. I think it would make for interesting discussions to read the two books side by side.
The authors are both psychologists with lots of counseling experience, so the advice they give is grounded in Christian psychology more than in Bible study or personal experience, which makes it different from what you find in some other books that are more pastoral in focus. They frequently back up what they say with Scripture passages and principles that support the concepts, but the many of the concepts themselves (transference, co-dependence, parental bonding issues, etc.) are drawn from the field of psychology and counseling.
This book is not geared toward high school students. A premise of the book is that dating is for adults. People who have not reached a certain level of maturity, who have not clearly identified their goals and values, have not taken ownership of their spiritual life and decisions, who do not know who they are and what they want in life will not likely have healthy relationships, and will wreak havoc on themselves and others. So, the primary audience of the book is single, independent adults. But the authors acknowledge that age and maturity do not necessarily go hand in hand, and mature teens are perfectly capable of dating responsibly and productively. However young people living at home with their parents are not the primary audience. Much of the book presumes you have a dating past to analyze or a current serious relationship to work on, but the many of the discussions could still be valuable for teens who are not dating yet, because they present lots of examples of what healthy and unhealthy ways of relating look like. There is also good advice about how to start a relationship off well, how to set and maintain healthy personal boundaries, and how to guard against destructive patterns in relationships.
Here are some of the things I found particularly worthwhile:
There is a valuable distinction made between the difference between giving and serving in a loving relationship and how it differs from being “adaptive” (losing your own sense of self to be what another person wants you to be) or overly compliant in an unhealthy way, and how giving and serving differs from trying to rescue someone who really needs to get their own issues dealt with before they can do their fair share of the relationship work.
There is a lot of discussion of what it means to be honest in a relationship, and lots of scenarios that show what it looks like when someone is not being honest with themselves, or about themselves, what it looks like when someone else is not giving you space to be honest with them, and how much space you should give someone to learn and grow in their ability to be more honest.
There is a good section on what leading someone on looks like and how deceptive and very destructive it is.
It discusses unhealthy patterns of relating and how to recognize when you are: being controlled, being controlling, trying to rescue someone, trying to parent someone, trying to compensate for your own character weakness or deficiency by unhealthy dependence on someone, romanticizing opposite gender friendships, committing prematurely, being “kidnapped” by a relationship to the detriment of other friendships, harboring false hope for change, blaming, and disrespecting or being disrespected.
There is also a list of deal breakers that no one should put up with in a relationship. Interestingly enough, top on the list is deception or lying. Some of the things should be no-brainers (addiction, violence, faithlessness), but it also includes refusal to respect boundaries, and what that looks like.
There is good information on how recognizing patterns in the kind of people you attract or are attracted to can help you identify areas of immaturity, brokenness, or unresolved hurt in your life that you need to address.
There is a valuable discussion of what to do if you notice a big split between the people you are attracted to romantically and the people you would choose as friends, since this is usually an indication that you need to deal with some hurt or unresolved issue in your own soul. Healthy people develop romantic feelings for people that make good friends too.
One of the strengths of this book is the numerous “case studies” of actual relationships it presents so you can see how the abstract issues look when fleshed out with real situations and people.
I also appreciate that the tone of the book is not like some I have read where you are basically encouraged to find someone “compatible” with no problems or issues, as if people are not works in progress. This book encourages and equips people to work through issues in relationships, and use dating experiences to spur personal character development and movement toward more wholeness and maturity. It gives lots of practical suggestions for how to try to work through a number of common problems before bailing on the relationship.
It presents a multi-faceted rationale for abstinence before marriage without descending into unnecessary scare tactics or preachiness. It presents “purity” as something positive (available to all, not just virgins) that protects and safeguards a person in dating, not this oppressive thing that must be protected and that is in constant danger of being lost or defiled.
What it does not do:
It presumes you accept the idea that Christians should date Christians. It might be beneficial to spend more time with a teen building a case for why.
The discussion of sexual boundaries basically says you need them, but leaves all the working out of the details up to the individual. My feeling is that teens could benefit from a much more detailed discussion with some practical guidelines and suggestions, as well as encouragement to define exactly what those boundaries are going to be for the present and how they might change as they are older and/or closer to marriage.
The book does not really give any formulas or guidelines for “how to date,” or how Christian dating might look different from what the rest of the world does or expects. It assumes you will basically follow the accepted cultural model of picking out someone you are potentially romantically interested in and intentionally spending time alone with them to get to have fun and get to know them better. This book is not an introduction to the world of dating for people with limited social skills, it presumes you know what you are doing.
The attitude toward dating is a bit more cavalier than I am totally comfortable with, especially for a teen or college student. I personally gravitate more toward the idea that you should not get involved romantically with someone until you have a solid friendship and you think you might realistically have a future together even if it is a ways off. The authors take more of a view that you can’t possibly know where something might lead and romantic involvement is often the way you solidify your friendship and learn enough about yourself and another person to see if there is a future. As long as you have healthy boundaries, it’s all good.
They vacillate between using the word “date” to refer to anyone you are casually spending time getting to know and someone you have an exclusive and serious romantic relationship with, which was confusing sometimes. It would have been helpful to have two terms.
The book operates from the position that the goal of dating is to get experience that helps you grow and mature and develop interpersonal skills that will prepare you to marry someday, not that the goal of dating is to find someone to marry. For some people this will be an important philosophical difference, but one that would be worth exploring with a teen.
In this book, the idea of any parental involvement is absent. It presumes that a peer group of friends will be the main support and accountability network in a person’s life. The authors also believe that “leaving home” and establishing a life independent of one’s family (though they acknowledge this can happen at college) is an important prerequisite for any healthy serious relationship. Families that gravitate more toward the courtship model may find it hard to incorporate advice based on those assumptions, but it still brings up many things worth discussing and considering. Such parents may discover they are preventing their children from setting healthy boundaries at home, something that may negatively impact their attempts to set healthy boundaries with a future partner.