Saturday, April 08, 2017

On Lacking Empathy

A post on inter-class empathy over at Ace of Spades reminded me of Josh Harris.

Josh Harris ran into a spell of bad press last year, and my point is not to pile on. I read the book that made him famous, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, back in 2000 or so when our church youth group was reading and discussing it. I didn't have much of a problem with the book's theology, though I perhaps should have been more skeptical of our ability to operationalize his courtship-only counsel ex nihlio, and it would be especially ill-advised for someone to adopt it personally outside of a broad, like-minded community.

But there was one passage from chapter ten, "Just friends in a just-do-it world," that made me question the utility of his advice to me personally, or rather, a still-single version of me. It's the chapter where is uses as a metaphor that old Tootsie-pop commercial:

So the boy poses his question to the owl, who sits in his tree like some mountaintop guru: "How many licks does it take to get to the chewy center of a tootsie pop?"

The owl thoughtfully takes the sucker and removes the wrapping.

He licks once. "One," he counts.

He licks again. "Two," he says.

He licks a a third time. "Three."

And suddenly, CRUNCH. Throwing patience to the wind, he bites into the chewy center of the tootsie pop. Handing the bare Tootsie Pop stick to the boy, the own announces his answer to the mystifying question: "three."

Harris then explains the metaphor:

When I consider friendships with girls, I feel like that boy! I don't want to reach the chewy center of romance -- I just want to be friends. But I don't always know how much attention a friendship between a boy and a girl can handle before -- crunch -- we've crossed the line between friendship and more than friendship.


Have you ever realized that a friendship has tipped over into romance. If so, then you know how difficult it can be to avoid this situation.


To my shame, I have a whole file of my own CRUNCH stories: friendships with girls complicated, and sometimes ruined, because we became romantic.

I remember exactly where I was when I read this, and I remember closing the book and contemplating the picture of Harris on the back of the dust jacket. Harris, partly of Asian background on his mother's side, is (apparently) quite handsome physically, and (I was assured by Mrs. Φ) personally charismatic. He was the sort of person who was always going to do well in the mating market no matter what strategy he followed. And so he did: he married at only 23 the year after IKDG was published.

What bothered me about the quoted passage was that it betrayed a lack of awareness that, for many of us, our opposite-sex friendships were never in any danger of "going crunch". Certainly mine weren't, and in retrospect, most of my social acquaintances with girls didn't actually qualify as "friendships" anyway. A few did, but these also support my point in that I did not reciprocate their attraction. Those few girls were nice to me, and I like to hang out with people who are nice to me. But I knew perfectly well that I wasn't going to consider anyone that fat as a romantic prospect.

The bottom line is that, by age 28, I was a far better practitioner of the no-dating lifestyle than the king of no-dating himself at only age 23, if Harris's "whole file" description of his dating life is to be believed. And I did it without even trying, or rather, trying to do the opposite. Harris's book would have had more traction with me personally had it included something that sounded like it was written for people like me, not just for people like himself.

However . . . this also makes me somewhat skeptical of the that-book-ruined-my-life stories for which Harris has lately been apologizing. All these criticisms of Harris in both the Christian and secular press have been exceptionally free of any photographs of people allegedly harmed by following his advice. Which makes me wonder: was it really Harris's book that was your problem? Or were you, like me, always going to have a difficult time of it? Show me a picture of a woman that I would have totally dated/courted/married/whatever and I'll give her tale of woe some consideration. But until then, I'm prepared to give Harris himself, whatever limitations his life experiences imposed on his book, a pass.

1 comment:

LDiracDelta said...

Totally jive with what happened to you. I decided it was bunk as soon as I heard it come out of my youth pastor's mouth. Sure, a borderline stand-up comedian with charisma oozing out of him can use a "group dating" strategy, but not a future engineer. I knew I had to peel the ladies away into one-on-one dating as I was/am never going to be the life of the party. I think the Mormons got it right. Don't encourage "marriage to Christ" or waiting for the mythical Mr. Right. Pair those kids up and teach them how to be man and wife.