Single-Minded Young author Joshua Harris doesn't waste time on dating games. Until the time is right, he says, romance can wait.

November 20, 1997|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,SUN STAFF

Joshua Harris is, like, a major babe.

Just 22 years old, he has a compact, athletic build and exotic good looks that come from his Japanese mother. His voice has that low, sliding smoothness of Harry Connick Jr. He can sing like him, too.

When Harris takes the microphone to speak, the teen-age girls in his audience must be, like, totally losing it.

But forget it, girlfriends. Harris is unavailable. Off the market. Out circulation.

Joshua Harris doesn't date.

At the ripe old age of 17, he decided that dating was only a game, a chance to play at love and experiment with relationships. He learned that dreams of romance can end in compromise, bitterness and regret. Dating, he concluded, is a waste of time, good for nothing except pain in the heart.

So Harris stopped, and then wrote a book about it. "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" (Multnomah Books, $9) has sold an astonishing 55,000 copies since it appeared in April.

Since then, he's been delivering his no-dating message live to packed houses in churches and school auditoriums across the country. The "Searching for True Love Tour" stops here tomorrow and Friday for two appearances by Harris at Trinity Assembly of God church in Lutherville.

"Dating now is a lot like going shopping when you don't have any money," Harris tells his audience. "Even if you find the right thing, you can't do anything about it."

No dating? To a teen-ager, Harris' message might sound outrageous. To an adult, naive. Dating itself, both might say, isn't the problem. It's what kids do on dates.

But as unconventional as it might seem, it is beginning to spread beyond its Christian, home-school core audience. While he's in Baltimore, Dateline NBC will be filming Harris.

Harris, who recently moved to Gaithersburg to study to be a pastor, has no second thoughts about his message. He says he's got the ultimate script writer: God.

"I love love," Harris says at the beginning of his talk. "I am a sucker for romance and I love girls and that is a terrible combination, because romance has the ability to overwhelm your perspective. The thing about relationships is, when you are in the middle of one, they consume your focus."

As a young teen-ager, Joshua had the requisite number of girlfriends. They were the kind of relationships where "We're going out" means "We're talking on the phone a lot because we're too young to do anything else.

"Now I am 22 years old. If there ever was a time in my life when I could pursue a relationship, now would be the time. I have more freedom. I have what some people would call a car. I could take a girl out and show her a good time.

"Yet I have made a decision not to date. Why would I do that now?"

God, he says, is the reason.

Harris has dedicated this time in his life -- his "singleness" -- to learning and to maturing and to serving God by serving others, he says.

Because he isn't marriage material right now -- he's just a poor student -- he says he isn't wasting the energy and vitality of his young adulthood on a series of short-term relationships that at the very least will distract him and, at worst, will hurt him or cause him to hurt someone else.

"The right thing at the wrong time is still the wrong thing," Harris says.

A welcome message

At a time in their lives when young people desperately want to belong to someone else, when they want to be hooked up with somebody because everyone around them is "attached at the hip and practically married," who would listen to someone telling them they are wasting their time -- and God's?

Is it only losers and the lovelorn? No, not according to the love stories that come to Harris in e-mail and letters.

The "Searching for True Love Tour" began in May in Sacramento, Calif., and 1,200 young people came. It has continued as a kind of giant-sized book tour, with crowds of a thousand to 2,000 in each city. More than 3,500 kids are registered so far for the Baltimore stop. The Saturday session, in fact, is sold out.

"There are 13-year-olds whose parents dragged them there. There are college-aged kids who have been in a relationship and found the whole process lacking and are excited to find a kindred spirit," says Harris.

"And older singles that I never imagined the book would reach. Divorced mothers who find themselves back in the dating scene and don't know what to do."

Harris says college-age kids and kids who haven't yet dated are easiest to reach, the middle-school and high-school kids the toughest.

"I understand," he says. "When I was their age, I would have blown it off, too."

Home-schooled along with his four brothers and a sister by his parents, Gregg and Sono, in Portland, Ore., Harris would often speak at his father's Christian conferences on the value of that experience.

At 17, he started New Attitudes magazine for home-schooled teens. Dating, as you might expect, was the hottest topic.

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