Busting the Myths of Singleness
About the Guest
Whether you're single or married, you likely subscribe to some popular myths about singleness. Matt Perman tackles these myths and mixed messages with practical suggestions.
Matt PermanMatt Perman is the director of career development at The King’s College NYC where he helps prepare students to navigate their careers so they can influence the strategic institutions of society. He is author of the best-selling book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done and a frequent speaker on leadership, productivity, and theology from a gospel-centered perspective. He worked for 13 years at Desiring God in Minneapolis where he led the web dep...more
Whether you’re single or married, you likely subscribe to some popular myths about singleness. Matt Perman tackles these myths and mixed messages with practical suggestions.
Busting the Myths of Singleness
Announcer: Welcome to…
Audience: …Truth Be Told!
Announcer: The game show for those who know. I’m your host, Professor Know-It-All. [Applause] Now, for our segment on singleness; because who doesn’t love giving advice to their single friends? [Laughter] Am I right? [Laughter]
Okay; here we trial question—“Having no plans on a Friday night, [audience gasp] means you must be doing something wrong; is that true or false?”
Contestant #1: [Buzzer] True!
Contestant #2: [Buzzer] [Sounding insecure] Uh, I don’t know about that. I’d have to say false. Trial buzzer sound]
Announcer: I’m sorry; but the correct answer is “True!”—obviously! [Audience disappointment]
Okay; next: “Godly singles should be content with their singleness; true or false?”
Contestant #3: [Buzzer] True! “Be content in all things.” [Audience awed]
Contestant #2: [Buzzer][Sounding insecure]Okay; but I think that can get misconstrued. I mean, is it necessarily wrong to want things to be different? Is it bad to want something God says is good? It just seems to me that—
Announcer: A-Okay! That’s enough critical thinking! I ask the questions around here, like this one: “If your single friend isn’t married by now, their standards must be too high; true or trial
Contestant #3: [Buzzer] True!
Contestant #1: [Buzzer] True!
Contestant #3: [Buzzer] [Sounding insecure] Well, you know, it could just be that—[Wrongful buzzer sound]
Announcer: Okay; no points awarded. You all lose. [Audience discontentment]
And that’s all the time we have for…
Audience: …Truth Be Told!
Announcer: I’m your host, Professor Know-It-All. And if you disagree, remember I’m married; so at least, I know more than you! [Laughter]
Contestant #3: [Sadly laughing]
Michelle: Okay; we can all laugh at that, because that’s over-the-top. But truth be told, there are a lot of myths about singleness and dating that exist—myths that can turn into lies—damaging lies.
Announcer: Good night, everyone!—[Laughter]—except for you singles! Because you’ll stay up all night, because you have no obligations; because you’re single! [Laughter] Isn’t it a fright?
Michelle: We’re going to talk about the myths of singleness on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. You trial I’m single. Today, we’re going to get real about the truths of singleness; and we’re going to bust some myths. Recently, I talked with Matt Perman about his experience dating and as a single man. Matt is the Director of Career Development at The King’s College in New York City. He hears a lot of those myths too.
Michelle: Matt, you trial some time on Sunday night, tweeting about an event at your church. Can you/first of all, can you tell us about that event?
Matt: Yes; absolutely. It was an event on dating. The actual title of the event was: “Marriage, Dating, and Relationships,” but the focus was on dating. That’s why most of the people were there. At my church, it’s probably 50 or 60 percent of the people are single.
Matt: It’s a church in New York City. This event generated huge interest. I felt like the teaching was well-intended, but not biblical, and not affirming enough actually of our humanity. It was kind of over-spiritualizing. I felt like all the people there were kind of let down. I feel like the teaching that was given during that session actually represents some significant strands of thinking within Christianity about dating that is actually making things harder for people and causing some harm.
Michelle: —such as?
Matt: Well, one of the big things is there are two sides of the fence to fall off on. First, it can be a huge issue where churches over-value marriage and only married people almost have a part in the programs and ministry of the church. Singles are almost overlooked and undervalued and not recognized as a good thing/as something meaningful in its own right. The other side, that you can fall off on, is, whenever you encounter someone, who maybe is discontent with being single, you try to just make them just stop being discontent and almost treat it as if the desire to find a partner is a bad thing or needs to be so qualified.
What happened in this event is: the very first thing that they went into and talked about, was almost trying to convince single people, who were excited to find a marriage partner, that they shouldn’t be so excited about it. “You have to be worried”—the message was—“about overvaluing finding a partner. Be careful of wanting it too much,”—as if we’re just so hardwired to committing idolatry in relationships or desiring to date because we are valuing finding a partner above God.
I don’t think the first thing people need to hear is: “Be careful! Be careful of what you are trying to do.” I think what people need to hear is: “If you’re looking for a partner, that’s great; that’s a good thing,”—full stop—because right when we qualify that, we kind of undermine the first part.
Also, those who want to be single: “That’s great! That is a good thing.” Those who want to be married: “That is a good thing.” We ought to encourage that; but when we immediately come in with this: “Oh, you might find the wrong person,”—and even, sometimes, we say—it’s true but the way we say it almost paints things in the wrong light—we say, “It’s better to be a single than to be married to the wrong person.”
Matt: Yes; that’s true.
Michelle: I hear trial all the time. [Laughter] And I think other Christian/I mean, I think there’s a lot of singles out there, going, “High five, Matt! Right on!” [Laughter]
Matt: Yes; because it frames things in the wrong way. It makes people almost afraid of marriage, like, “Oh, marriage is this risky thing. I better be really careful.” You know what ends up happening?—it becomes self-fulfilling:
- Trial are less likely to pursue marriage, because they are afraid that it’s dangerous or risky.
- And then, even when they get into marriage, they also may have lower expectations than they should. That can be self-fulfilling.
Now, I know the message almost always is: “Don’t have such high expectations in marriage. You’ve got to have lower expectations when you get in so that you don’t crush your partner and be disappointed.” Yes, we don’t want to have over-idealized expectations; that’s for sure. But I think, a lot of times, we over-correct and we emphasize the risks and the fact that there’s going to be challenges and [the negatives] become self-fulfilling because people don’t have the optimism that I think God wants us to have.
Michelle: It seems like there’s a negative perception that church leaders have on singles, or singleness, or trying to talk about marriage. I mean, are we dealing with the pendulum swing?
Matt: Yes; I think we are, in part, dealing with the pendulum swing. I think some of it, too, is maybe some of the people that are doing a lot of the teaching on singleness in the church maybe weren’t single for very long and actually don’t have a whole lot of experience in it; I think that is part of it.
To me, if someone says to me, “Hey, I’m single. I am having a hard time finding a godly Christian that I want to date. I’m frustrated with it.” What I’m going to do is listen to that person. I’m going to affirm their feelings; I’m not going to be afraid they’re ungodly for being frustrated. That’s not a healthy, actually, approach to relationships or emotions to try to immediately correct someone’s emotions; because you’re afraid they’re being ungodly to be disappointed.
Instead, you need to listen and affirm emotions and—hey, sometimes, the person is overvaluing things or over-desiring a change in their circumstances—but sometimes, it’s just genuine human frustration. That’s okay; God has made us as emotional creatures. We don’t need to banish every painful emotion we encounter in someone. A lot of times, we just need to listen and not judge. The person is able to assess themselves really whether they’re overvaluing something or undervaluing something.
Michelle: Just an over-spiritual-ness to our emotions and putting a biblical mandate on everything that we are just sort of feeling and thinking.
Matt: Yes, so true.
Michelle: That can be hard when all you’re really saying is: “I just want someone to empathize with me,” or “…listen to me.”
Matt: Yes. You know, as hard as this is, have you noticed that Jerry Maguire takes a lot of hits in Christian discussions on dating? [Laughter] There’s articles called “No, Your Spouse Will Not Complete You” and things like that. [Laughter] You know, certainly, there is a sense in which that is true. If you find your ultimate identity in your spouse, that’s wrong—it is idolatry—it will crush your spouse and you. But I don’t think most people are doing that.
There is a sense in which your spouse does complete you—that’s straight out of
Genesis 2—this is part of the purpose of marriage: you find unity in that close personal fellowship. You do, in a sense, complete one another. It’s in a secondary sense, not an ultimate sense. We shouldn’t be afraid to say that as Christians. We shouldn’t worry: “Oh, if I say that two spouses complete one another, immediately, people are going to idolize marriage and fall into idolatry.” No; let’s just be human—the way God made us—not worry about being super spiritual in our language, qualifying every thing.
That’s one of the things I love about the Reformation. They’re just affirming of common grace and just real ordinary human life. The problem is not the world itself; the problem is unrighteousness. We’re free to celebrate God’s gifts without worry.
As you’re talking about Jerry Maguire—and the “You complete me,”—I remember being in a relationship, not too long ago, where I felt like we were so compatible—and he did complete me. It became: “I trial the best for you”; and I knew he wanted the best for me. In that trial just like what you’re talking about, out of Genesis 2, it is God created this. He created marriage; He created us to be in community with each other in relationship.
Matt: He did; God trial it. In fact, I would argue we are dishonoring God if we’re constantly telling people: “Oh, don’t enjoy it too much. Don’t overvalue it.” A friend of mine tweeted, after I sent out my tweet; he tweeted me/he said, “Yes, imagine if you go to a restaurant; and they set you down and they say, ‘Okay; enjoy the food, but not too much!’ and they’re harping on that. [Laughter] I don’t think you’d want to go back to that restaurant.”
I think the other issue is—and this is what I hear a lot in my church from the women—they say: “What has happened to the guys? They are not stepping up. They are afraid to ask us out on dates. They’re spending their time playing video games—or who knows what?—instead of engaging with the real world.” It’s the women, by and large, who seem to be more responsible and more interested in dating and building those relationships. The guys seem to be missing in action, and so many women are frustrated about that.
Michelle: What’s interesting is I was just putting together a show this morning, talking with Shaunti Feldhahn, about this issue. The women are out there, going, “Okay; so where are the guys?” What’s the problem there?
Matt: As a guy, I know I have two problems when it comes to dating. Number 1, fear of rejection; number 2, I’m dense. A lot of guys are dense. Trial don’t recognize it if a girl is interested, so they don’t ask her on a date because they don’t know if she would like to go on a date.
Michelle: Okay; so then how can us women help you?
Matt: Yes; things like looking at the guy—making eye contact and smiling—that kind of says, “Come talk with me.” Be ready to be a good conversationalist; that’s important. Know how to make conversation; you don’t want to be stuck with nothing to say—
Matt: Trial not going to lead to a date.
And then, talk about things like, “Hey, I like doing this…” or “It would be fun to do this…” and then sometimes you could send out—this is a clear signal but it is also low stress because I don’t know if women fear rejection or not—but if you just say something like: “Hey, we should go do this sometime…” It’s not outright asking the guy, but it is a very clear way of saying you would be interested in spending time with him. And then, it is in his court. He has to be able to identify that though. As a women, if you do that, and like the guys still aren’t asking you out, it goes back to the problem is with the guys. They’re either not recognizing that signal, because they don’t know how; because we don’t teach about dating in the church.
Michelle: We don’t teach about dating at all.
Michelle: Did you hear that, ladies? Some really good helpful dating advice from Matt Perman.
Hey, we need to take a break; but when we come back, I’ll continue my conversation with Matt Perman. Back in two minutes.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. We’re talking about dating, and singleness, and busting some myths. Here’s Part Two of my conversation with Matt Perman.
Michelle: There trial to be 20 years or so that’s like the gap generation—that’s what I tend to call it—the gap generation that I’m a part of, where we haven’t been taught how to have relationship.
Matt: Yes; oh, my; that’s so true.
Michelle: What needs to happen there? Because we do need relationship; but for some reason, we haven’t been taught how.
Matt: I know. I think there’s two big issues there. First, a lot of people think it comes automatically. That because we’re designed to be relational creatures, we just automatically know how to develop good relationships and how to get into the dating side of things and do it well. But it’s not trial As with anything, there are things we need to learn about relationships to make them go well.
Another thing, related to this, is a lot of times, we think that godliness alone is enough. Now, godliness is crucial—it’s essential; it’s necessary—it’s attractive as well. But imagine a football player, who had amazing Christian character but didn’t know a thing about the game of football. He’s not going to be a very good player. There are certain skills that they need to learn that can be taught.
It’s the same trial relationships. There are skills we need to learn that go along with our godliness. When you have those skills, combined with the godliness of good intention, like your purpose in dating is—not self-fulfillment/self-centeredness—but actually, to bring joy to the other person’s life. Get to know the person; see if it might be a possible long-term relationship that maybe could lead to marriage—that process of discovery—but you’re doing it, not for selfish reasons, just because you want to feel good about yourself that you got these dates, or you have some, heaven forbid, ungodly purpose that’s outside of biblical sexual ethic.
Your goal is about the other person: you want to make their life better; you want to have fun together; and you are seeking to be mutually beneficial, not just doing it for your own self. I think that purpose is important and actually leads to better dates as long as you know how to make a date go well and you know some things about the opposite sex. If all you have is a purpose and a godly heart and character, but you don’t know the skills, you’re not going to be able to accomplish that because you don’t have the proper framework.
Michelle: How can church leaders change the approach they are taking with singles?
Matt: I think they need to be willing to take risks, first of all. Right now, I think they are playing it safe.
Trial session that I went to at my church was all about: “Don’t find your identity in dating; find it in Christ,” etc. That is great as long as it is presented in a biblical balanced way. But they didn’t talk, at all, about how to date. And they weren’t willing to get into the details. I think because, when you do that, you open yourself to criticism. But if we let that keep us from getting into the details in that side of things, we’re not serving people. That is actually a failure of love to the singles in our church.
Second, I trial the teachers, themselves, need to learn about good dating practices and principles. A lot of times, they don’t know them themselves. They think that just being godly is enough qualification to teach on dating, and it’s not; you actually have to know something about dating.
I think there’s not a lot of good teaching in the church out there. It’s more probably in terms of books and other resources on dating other than resources that caution us not to find our identity in relationships with the opposite sex. [Laughter] That’s like all we see [in the church].
Michelle: Right; that’s true. [Laughter]
Matt: That’s all we hear. Of course, people are going to be stuck in singleness—because they hear that: “That’s great,”—but they don’t know actually how to find a partner/how to get a date. We need to learn that—the teachers in the church—need to learn about dating. I think that means we have to go to some secular sources right now to learn because there’s not enough Christians who understand this.
There are some good secular books out there. They can be hard to find because a lot of them don’t have the Christian ethic in them; but still, there can be some helpful insights. There’s actually a good book on dating by John Gottman; he is an amazing author on marriage. He’s highly respected; he’s a PhD. He’s had a practice, helping marriages, for a couple of decades. He’s written a book on dating, which is scientifically based. His wife co-authored with him, and it’s a very helpful book. Though it’s from a secular perspective, it gives very helpful insight. We need to read books like that, and take what’s good, and then start teaching it.
Michelle: Yes; it feels that we don’t have any information out there for anybody who’s trying to break into dating, or who is trying to break into a relationship. We don’t have any information; so then, all of a sudden, they start swimming; then they start sinking. People come around them and give bad advice. It’s just like this perfect storm.
Matt: It is; it is a total perfect storm, and we’re seeing the effects of it with less people getting married and more and more people, especially women, frustrated that the guys aren’t stepping up; they aren’t finding the relationships or opportunities for that to happen. That’s a negative thing.
This is one big reason I get frustrated over-spiritualization because a lot of people might hear what I just said and say, “Yes, but God is enough,”—they have God. That just sounds so spiritual, but it’s not! Because God commands us to help people, and to address problems, and address injustice. If we just say, “Well, they have God. God will take care of it,”—we are actually going against God’s own commands. That’s why it bothers me so much—is over-spiritualization—because in the name of holiness and godliness, it’s actually going against what God wants us to do.
Here’s trial dating fallacy you hear a lot: “Romance is an invention of Hollywood,” and “Marrying for love—that’s because of Hollywood; that’s not the way things usually were done—that’s not biblical.” Ed Wheat, the great Christian author, in his book, Love Life for Every Married Couple, shows through literature and the Bible, throughout history, that romance and marrying for love has always been a part of the trial experience; and it is a good thing. It’s not the ultimate thing; it’s not the only thing; but it’s a good thing. It just needs to be said: “There’s something very beautiful about a Christ-centered romantic marriage.
Michelle: I trial with hospice, and it has been amazing to me to talk with some of these folks, who still have their spouses. I went and visited a husband and a wife, who had married for 65 years. She had Alzheimer’s and he was legally blind. We sat down and just put our chairs together so our knees touched. She fell asleep right away and was drooling and everything; but in her sleep, she reached over and she grabbed his hand.
Just as he was sharing their entire story with me, I was like, “Wow; that’s…” I even said, “I hope you haven’t taken any of this for granted.” He, of course, “No, it’s all God.” He painted a beautiful story for us.
Matt: Oh, that is amazing. That really does reflect Christ and the church/reflects God’s goodness and love. I think that’s one of the exciting things about relationships: serving the other person. Like John Piper talks about—he’s into Christian hedonism, which we’re to find joy in God—I think that also has application to marriage and dating. The greatest joy is not in seeking your own fulfillment; it’s in seeking to benefit the other person and bring joy to the other person. I think that’s what marriage ought to be and is about. It’s such a beautiful and fulfilling thing for each spouse to have as their goal making the other as happy as possible and fulfilled.
Of trial immediately, some people are going to come in and say: “Happiness/there’s a difference between happiness and joy,” and “Marriage is about holiness, not happiness.” Yes, yes; all of that is true—I got it; I’m assuming that—it’s all there. Now, given that, it is also true that contributing to someone’s flourishing and happiness and joy in that deep sense is important and is a very beautiful thing. To make someone feel valued and know how valuable they are, because they are in the image of God and they are in Christ, I think that is at the heart of what marriage is about and what dating is about.
Michelle: Oh, some great thoughts on singleness, dating, and also marriage from Matt Perman. Now, that’s only just a part of my conversation with Matt. You can hear all the conversation by going to our website, FamilyLifeThisWeek.com; that’s FamilyLifeThisWeek.com. Besides my conversation with Matt Perman, I also have some other resources that will, hopefully, encourage you along with a conversation that I had a year ago with Emerson Eggerich.
Hey, I’ve heard it said that laughter is good for the soul. As I look outside and still see remnants of the bleak winter that still has its grip on us, I say that the remedy should be laughter right now. So next week, we’re going to laugh with Michael Jr. and Tim Hawkins. You just need to get ready, because we’re going to have some great fun. I hope you can join us for that.
Thanks for listening! I want to thank the president of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” today to our engineer, Keith Lynch. Thanks to our producers, Marques Holt and Bruce Goff. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator. And our entire team was in on the funny at the beginning of the show.
Our program is a production of FamilyLife Today® [in Orlando, Florida], and our mission is to effectively develop godly families who change the world one home at a time.
I'm Michelle Hill, inviting you to join us again next time for another edition of FamilyLife This Week.
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