(This is a bit of a departure from my usual blog stuff - I mostly just needed somewhere to put this so that I could link to it from Goodreads! If a Christian perspective on teen dating isn't your thing, feel free to scroll on to the Monty Python post. :)
Overall, despite a few good things, I’m thoroughly unimpressed with this book. A wise and discerning teenager could find the wheat and discard the chaff, but a teenager that wise and discerning wouldn’t need the book in the first place. It bills itself as being a Christian book, but doesn’t seem to be written from a solidly Biblical worldview; rather from a moralistic worldview with some references to God and a few misapplied scripture verses thrown in.
If I were writing a book about teen dating (and given that this book review is clocking in at just over 2,000 words, maybe I should!), I would start by asking the teenager ‘why do you want to date?’. The answer to that question would probably come in a few forms, such as; ‘because everyone’s dating and I don’t feel cool because I’m not’, ‘because I want someone to think I’m special’, ‘because this guy/girl is so cute and I want him/her to notice me’, or ‘because it would be fun to hang out with the person I have a crush on’, etc. I don’t think that there would be much of a happy ending for any relationship based on any of those answers, because they’re reasons that seek self-gratification, and even more dangerously, seek self-gratification in the recognition of peers rather than the security found in a relationship with Jesus.
My opinion is that the answer to the question of ‘why do you want to date?’ is that a person should date in order to find a spouse. Old-fashioned, I know, but far more sensible than spending several years in high school getting emotionally and physically entangled with a person you might never see again. And when I say ‘date’, I mean a young man and a young woman spending time together, getting to know each other’s faith and life stories in order to determine if they could decide to spend the rest of their lives together, putting each other first, rather than seeking to be validated by the other.
Actually, forget me writing a book. Pastor Jonathan Fisk says pretty much everything I think is relevant to the subject in his YouTube video called “Not Until I Say I Do”. I highly recommend taking twenty minutes to watch it.
This book’s premise seems to be that most high schoolers today will ‘date’, or rather, be physically intimate/sexually active in high school with a large number of people, just because dating is what kids do these days, and the book seems to be seeking to mitigate the severity of the consequences of that attitude, which isn’t bad per say, but doesn’t go far enough. Instead of approaching the modern cultural myth of dating with a solid Biblical stance, it waffles. Instead of asking the reader to analyze their reasons for dating, it simply seeks to mitigate the consequences of what the writers see as inevitable.
Page 8 starts out strongly, advocating the wise use of passion, but then uses the ‘d’ word: destiny. As much as I love a good Disney princess movie, ‘destiny’ is not a Christian thing. The English Standard Version of the Bible uses the word ‘destiny’ exactly once, in Isaiah 65:11, and it’s a Bad Thing that people who have forsaken God worship. While the authors’ advice to forsake chasing a date for doing something that will develop your life skills is solid, they could have done that without invoking destiny.
On page 9 they go on to do what Pastor Fisk calls “if the out-of-context verse fits then misapply it”. Isaiah 40:31 does NOT mean what they think it means. It has NOTHING to do with Mission: Impossible works-based quasi-theology.
On page 12, the authors in all their wisdom, assure the reader that whatever relationship they’re in, even at age 18, will not last. While I do realize that’s true for a lot of high school dating relationships, as I can attest, it’s not unequivocally true in the way they state it (my husband and I got engaged when he was 17 and I was 18, and married at 20 and 21 – and we’ve been married for almost 12 years)! I get WHY they’re saying it, but one of the first things I learned in a university writing class was not to make grand statements about supposedly universal truths, especially when you can’t back them up.
On page 13 there are some statistics about the number people who marry their high school crush, and the divorce rate. They don’t take the opportunity to discuss godly marriage with a person who shares the same faith and how a relationship based in God will be sturdier than the average marriage of high school sweethearts who likely had a sin-based dating relationship, with no church family support.
On page 14 the writers ask the reader to do some math based on how many crushes they have in a given span of time, and assume that the reader won’t get married until the age of 25. Somehow these numbers put together have something to with the sustainability of a high school dating relationship. I don’t disagree with their point, but wonder at the wisdom of approaching it that way anyway. A better approach would be to contrast a crush with true love, and show its fleetingness in a way that makes a bit more logical sense than some random numbers based on a flawed formula.
On page 15 the authors set out their goal for the book; they want the teen reader to be “datable”. Again, such a lost opportunity to assure the reader that he or she is a beloved child of God, and spending their high school years dating when they couldn’t marry anyway is a waste of time that sets them up for temptation. They state a few “solid truths”, which are that dating won’t necessarily result in marriage, dating experiences will shape your married life, a person “will” date more than one person before marriage, and spiritual beliefs impact a dating relationship. I do agree with them all except the third one, since I’m walking proof that the “true” statement they make is not actually always the case.
On page 17 is perhaps the most dangerous advice in the book; “do not get your family deeply involved in your relationships”. They go on to qualify that they mean that a short-term casual dating relationship should not be so entwined with someone’s family that breaking up is as divisive as getting divorced, but for a teen looking to keep a dating relationship secret, or to a teen caught in an abusive relationship, and so on, this has the potential to cause a lot of damage. Good, high-quality parenting should equal being very involved in a teenager’s dating life. That’s why God created parents.
For the young person who is determined to date, page 33 has some really great advice about not pouring one’s entire being into a high school dating relationship. Page 34 cautions against becoming so involved in a boyfriend or girlfriend that long-time friends are neglected and pushed out. Page 35 points out that physical affection “creates a soul connection” and cautions the reader against investing physically in a relationship that is not a marriage, which is excellent advice.
Pages 51 offers good advice about developing a life with hobbies and interests outside of school. But it’s because the authors want the reader to “be the one that got away”, so that “you will drive him wild”, not so that you can be a well-rounded person with an interest in things outside your own limited life experience.
However, the advice on page 53 is a bit shocking; the writers advise a teen girl to practice laughing in order to be more datable! It advises “faking it”!
Pages 91 and 92 offer three basic must-haves in a date; a Christian, a non-smoker, and someone firm about abstaining from sex outside of marriage. Great list! Now, if only they talked about not dating anyone until that marriageable person came along when the reader is actually old enough to get married...
One chapter called “If What You’re Showing Ain’t on the Menu, Keep it Covered Up” is a refreshing change to today’s attitude that a woman can wear whatever she wants in public, and anyone tempted to lust is not her fault. It’s true that a person can’t be responsible for the thoughts of every single person they come in contact with, but use a little common sense! You wouldn’t leave your ATM withdrawal sitting on the dashboard of your unlocked car, would you? This terrible worldview is actually a huge pet peeve of mine, and if I could legally photocopy this chapter and hand it out at every youth gathering I’m responsible for, I would. I’d include a note about grace and forgiveness to balance out all the law in it, but otherwise this chapter has a lot of good things to say.
A lot of kids ask “how far is too far?” and a wise friend of mine recently answered that with “if you’re asking that question, you’ve probably already gone too far”! But page 123 does offer a pretty comprehensive and valuable list of boundaries, although for a kid in high school I would probably even nix kissing, partly because once that boundary is crossed, the other ones start to look more exciting, and partly because kissing is also spiritually and emotionally connecting and should definitely be handled with caution.
Page 125 quotes a verse from 1 Corinthians, but doesn’t give the exact reference for the curious youth to then go and look it up, which I would call a definite fail. Citations are valuable.
On page 158, there’s a little ‘Ask Justin’ letter from a 14-year-old girl whose boyfriend is different when he’s with his friends than he is when he’s with her, and he and his friends together make her uncomfortable. Justin’s advice is that “girlfriends come and go, but friends are for life”. His advice should be to stop dating a guy who makes her uncomfortable! And friends, especially high school friends, are not at all necessarily for life, either.
On page 160, the authors finally come out and say “I actually think guys and girls should just hang out and be friends. I don’t think you should worry about this whole dating thing until you are ready to get married.” THANK YOU! Now, why on earth didn’t you say that before? And why don’t you go on to make a case for that, instead of going on to say “But I also know that’s not reality”?
Page 192 advocates the kind of dishonest communication that drives me crazy. One of a series of tips advises “never accept a quickie date”. Not bad advice, but their advice is to say “I have plans”. A better response would be ‘I like to have more notice for plans. Maybe ask me earlier some other time?’ It’s more honest and says exactly what you’re expecting when being asked out on a date, rather than being misleading (a trope in rom coms that is responsible for this kind of thing driving me crazy!). Not that you should be asked out on a date in high school anyway, IMHO...
The last chapter cautions the reader against pornography, which is great, and a real growing concern. The last meaty bit of the book comes on page 214 though, when is says “every new sexual experience when you are not married puts another ding, another scratch, another scar on who you are”. Such a valuable caution! But rather than a chapter about porn, the book really should end with a chapter assuring the teen who has fallen into sexual sin of God’s love and grace through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
This book is full of law, and the law is valuable. But without a firm knowledge of forgiveness in Jesus the young person who has broken the law could be driven even further away from that saving grace. And that, I think, is the most dangerous thing of all about this little book.