Why Are You Single?
About the Guest
Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.
Lisa AndersonLisa Anderson is director of young adults for Focus on the Family and host of the popular weekly radio program and podcast “The Boundless Show.” Her writing is featured in newspapers, magazines, and at Boundless.org. Lisa is a frequent guest on radio and TV, and speaks around the world on relationships, faith, and the many challenges facing today’s young adults. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Lisa Anderson talks candidly about the reasons some singles find themselves spouse-less.
Why Are You Single?
Bob: Are singles today over-thinking relationships? Lisa Anderson says, “Maybe.”
Lisa: My mom got married in the ‘50s. She met my dad in college, stalked him at a few basketball games, went to a senior banquet, and got married. She is like: “Lisa, why are you doing personality tests on these guys? Why are you, like, stalking them online?” It was so much simpler then, and I think some of that needs to come back.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, September 4th. Our host is Dennis Rainey; I’m Bob Lepine. There are some right ways and some wrong ways to live as a single or to pursue one another as possible marriage partners. We’ll spend time talking about that today with Lisa Anderson. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. I want to ask our guest the first question today; can I do that?
Bob: I mean—
Dennis: Let me just introduce her.
Bob: I’ve got a hardball/fastball question I want to ask.
Dennis: Lisa Anderson joins us from Focus on the Family®. She is the author of a new book called The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose. She gives leadership to the young adult ministry at Focus; also, hosts a radio and podcast called The Boundless Show. So, fire away, Bob.
Bob: Alright; so, I think you can handle this—by the way, welcome back.
Dennis: Oh, she can handle it.
Lisa: Thank you; great to be back. Well, I’ll see if it’s great to be back after your question. [Laughter]
Bob: Okay; here’s the question—you have celebrated your 30th birthday; right?
Bob: That was a couple years back since you did that.
Lisa: It was; yes.
Dennis: Bob/Bob—be careful, Bob.
Dennis: Be kind; be kind.
Bob: And you’re single and never married?
Bob: And you’ve had a desire to be married?
Bob: Whose fault is it that you are not married?
Lisa: [Laughter] It is a few people’s fault—I like to say. In fact, I’m going to spread the blame here. I only half-jokingly tell people that: “I blame my 20s on myself,” “I blame my 30s on men,” and “Now, I just crossed the 40 mark; so I’m going to start blaming God. That’s my story that I’m sticking to.” [Laughter]
You know, it’s funny; because I did not think about singleness until I turned 30. That was because I was like, “The last thing I’m ever going to have to grapple with is singleness in my 30s,”—I assumed that I would be married in my 20s. I even went and paid for a Christian university education that basically netted me nothing in the marriage department: “Thank you, Trinity International University!” [Laughter]—
—assuming that I would—Trinity has a seminary attached to it; you would think I would find someone!
Bob: You should if you’ve got undergrad and graduate.
Lisa: No; yes.
Dennis: A whole building full of guys!
Lisa: There is a cornucopia of opportunities there, and that did not work out for me. So, I think / I say to myself—it’s interesting because I think of my 20s and I realize—and that’s what a lot of this book is about—addressing the missteps that I made and saying to myself, “Okay; there are a lot of things that I could have done differently in my 20s.”
Then, by the time I moved into my 30s, you are very much—not to make this seem too formulaic—but you are dealing with a numbers game at that point because people have gotten married / people have dropped off the radar. You know, as a—I remember hearing the illustration, one time, about like the subway keeps coming. Gradually, fewer and fewer people get off the train—and those are the people that you can have a conversation with, so it becomes a numbers game.
As you move into your 30s and beyond, you start seeing, as well—
—people who are afraid of marriage / people who have not gotten married for a certain reason; people who are now married and divorced and wanting to remarry; people who have accumulated a significant amount of baggage in relationships and stuff; and people who, quite frankly, are just—as I like to say—single for a reason and not just a season. [Laughter]
Bob: Yes. [Laughter]
Lisa: There are—now, I’m not going to name any names, maybe; but you know, maybe, off the air. [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, we’ll post a list on our website. [Laughter]
Lisa: It’s tricky. Yes; exactly. We’ll make that an added feature. [Laughter]
But no; it’s just true. But what I’ve had to realize—and did kind of, as working through this and prior to writing the book, is that I have to look back and realize—that in the midst of all the craziness, my own mistakes, others mistakes, the culture—I mean, I grew up in a generation birthed out of Roe v. Wade. We don’t even know how many people in my generation were aborted—
Lisa: —and are no longer obviously potential marriage matches.
We have a small generation as a result. I have to say to myself, “That’s statistics, but God doesn’t operate in statistics.”
Bob: So what are the top three to five things that a 40-year-old Lisa would tell a 22-year-old Lisa?
Lisa: Yes. I would say one of the first things I would tell myself, back then, is, “Do not be ashamed of or unwilling to admit your desire for marriage.” Marriage is a good thing. It is for most people. It is the biblical default. The Bible begins with marriage; the Bible ends with marriage. There are stories of marriage peppered throughout; not all of them are great marriages, but God is a big fan of marriage—He created it.
I would also say, “Don’t make marriage your C or D priority”—not that education isn’t great and career isn’t great—but you can do great things and still be married and in a family.
I think we have way over extrapolated and interpreted the gift of singleness to the point where, now, it’s like, “Well, as long as I am just single and doing what I want to do—and have my ski passes and whatever—okay; now it’s my season of singleness.”
No; the gift of singleness, as outlined by Paul, was for a very specific time and a specific place—specific circumstances. Today, I think people, who know they have the gift of singleness or celibate service, know that they have it. There are very clear indicators of that. They are—usually, it is someone who has a very unique calling that is difficult to bring marriage and family into. It doesn’t mean, “Oh, I want to go on some short-term mission trip; so I should just be single.”
Dennis: I want to go back to something you just said about challenging single people to keep the hope of marriage alive in their soul. That’s tough! That is just absolutely tough; because the easiest thing to do, for a single person, I would think, would be to just kind of shut the door—
—shut down hope and not have the risk of disappointment and discouragement of the need not being met. How have you handled that?
Lisa: [Laughs] Yes. I’m going to say something kind of weird here that people probably will be like: “What? Is that biblical?” Sometimes, I think, for a season, you do maybe need to shut the door a little bit; because I have walked—when you walk through singleness for a couple of decades, and you desire marriage, it is an exhausting place to be in. You feel like you’re butting your head up against a door. You feel like you’re talking to a God who is not listening to you / who doesn’t care. You can get very frustrated.
You know, I’ve had women, especially, ask me: “Lisa, am I making marriage an idol? Am I praying too much for it? Why am I still praying?” because “God knows I want to be married, so why don’t I just stop praying for a while?”
I would never say, “Stop praying”; but I think sometimes, maybe, you need to turn your attention or ask God to grow you in another area or ask Him to just bring some joy into your heart for something else—
—for an area of ministry—because you can feel like, all of a sudden, it becomes work—like: “I’m working at this. I’m trying. I’m serving the Lord. I’m doing. Why isn’t God delivering in return for my faithful service?” or “…for my purity?” or “…for my…?” Sometimes, we need to take a break.
At the same time, I would never encourage a single person to give up entirely because, first of all, we don’t know what God’s doing behind the scenes. We don’t know what His story is. We can totally rest. I mean, my one great comfort is that I serve a God who is both completely sovereign and completely good; so I know that He’s got my back. I know He has my story. I know that He knows what’s what and what’s best for me. It doesn’t mean it’s all tied up with a bow, because I think we are living in a culture where there is tons of brokenness. I think we have a lot of people in protracted singleness because of the fact that we have great cultural sin that’s birthed out—there are a number of different factors that have played into that.
But at the same time, God still can work in our own stories in a way that glorifies Him in the end.
Bob: We are talking with Lisa Anderson. She has written a book called The Dating Manifesto.
And I’m just sitting here, thinking, as we’re talking to you, Lisa—that it was 20 years ago that we had a 19-year-old Joshua Harris sitting where you are sitting, talking about the book that he’d just written called I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which you probably were reading about the time that it came out. [Laughter]
Given that book and the impact that it had on Christian thinking about dating 20 years ago, and for the last couple of decades, what do you like about what he was saying and advocating and what would you take exception to at this point?
Lisa: Yes. It’s funny, because our audience—they’ll mention I Kissed Dating Goodbye as something that either—that book impacted a generation of Christian singles for a number of reasons. Let me tell you what they are.
One thing that I think Joshua Harris did super well in that—that hadn’t been done before—was to raise up the idea of dating biblically and intentionally.
Now, he called it courtship basically; and that was the model. It was kind of mind-blowing for some folks, but this idea that dating has an actual purpose. It’s not just pizza nights, and hanging out randomly, and using people for their time, their companionship, or more; but it, actually, is a precursor to marriage. It has a very honorable and process-oriented direction, you know, in how you approach it.
I think that’s something that he kind of brought to the forefront and was like: “Whoa! Okay; so, if I’m going to date someone, I actually need to be thinking about marriage. I need to be thinking that this is serious, that this is a life in my hands / that this has implications.”
What I think was problematic with it—and what I hear from our audience, especially the men—
—is it put an unrest in people’s souls of, “I’m afraid to pursue anything with this person if I’m not moderately or more-so confident that I could marry this person.” It took away that kind of carefree nature of dating, which is—it kind of sounds like I’m talking about polar opposites here—I am. It’s kind of a little crazy-making, but—
Dennis: You’re just describing a guy feeling like he has to be all-in from the beginning.
Lisa: Exactly. And so, with a generation of men—who didn’t know how to relate to women, basically, on any level—all of a sudden, they are supposed to be basically betrothed to them or, you know, be—
Bob: Yes; “Before you go to Starbucks®, you better have a ring,”—yes.
Lisa: —be ready to commit to them.
Dennis: —and before they learn how to relate to a young lady.
I tried to marry a young lady before I dated Barbara, and I learned a ton through her rejection.
Lisa: Yes; yes.
Dennis: You with me?
Lisa: Yes; it really—it paralyzed a bunch of people to think that: “What if I haven’t made the right choice? What if I’m going to start moving in seriously with this person—
—committing to them—but I don’t really know what I’m doing? I read this book, so I should know what I’m doing.” As a result, we have a generation of guys that kind of sat on their hands, because they were afraid to take action.
Dennis: So, describe dating death. You have a good section of your book that deals with this. Where is it coming from? Is it people being afraid of commitment?
Lisa: Yes; it is in many ways. It’s basically—it can come down to a few different things. It’s over-thinking the dating process in one way. It’s putting too many parameters on the dating process—either based on what you feel it should look like because, again, we have taken a lot of stuff from Hollywood / we’ve taken a lot of stuff from our own family’s story—and what we think is right and wrong about that. It’s kind of that.
I kind of begin the illustration by talking about jumping out of a plane and pulling the rip cord. Eventually, you have to do something—you have to take that first step.
I think so often—we were just talking about Joshua Harris—it was this bunch of guys that amassed a bunch of books, would sit around in small groups, talk about all these things—you know: “What does this look like?” “What if I do this?” “What if I…”—and then, no one is asking anyone out. We’re not applying any of the principles that we claim we have or that we’ve learned.
I think it always comes down to—you have to, then, take that next step. You have to trust God. You have to move forward. Otherwise, you are going to be involved in a massive stall-out that really is—you’re going to be dead on arrival.
Bob: Okay; so I started out kind of throwing you a fastball. I’m going to throw you another one.
Bob: When was the last time a guy asked you out?
Lisa: Let’s see—probably—hmm—if you count—are we counting an online ask-out?
Lisa: Because I get—okay; then, I would say a couple of months ago. This is a little tricky; because now, I’m in a position where I host a show for singles.
Lisa: I get some of these awkward—
Bob: I bet you do; yes.
Lisa: —like: “Hey.”
Bob: “Hey; I just sense a connection, just listening to you on the radio tonight.”
Lisa: “I sense a connection, but I’m in the Netherlands,”—so there are those. [Laughter] And then, are the guys—and this is to our previous point, when we were talking about ages, and risks, and stuff like that. I get asked out by, like, college-aged guys, which I think—I should feel good about myself about that; right?
Bob: I think you should.
Lisa: Okay; well, I do. [Laughter]
Bob: Okay. [Laughter]
Lisa: But it’s, again, they are just kind of like: “Hey! Well, I’ll ask Lisa out,”—whatever. But no; I will do—I mean, I have done that. I would much prefer to meet guys, whether through work or through my church or whatever; but I’ve done, definitely, the coffee date, where it has been someone like, “I’m travelling on business, and I’m in town.”
Bob: Okay. Have you kind of cleared out all the single men in Colorado Springs; and now, they have to be travelling through for coffee? [Laughter]
Lisa: Well, let’s just say that I dated a guy in Colorado Springs, who eventually became a clown. [Laughter] I feel like I can move on.
Bob: Here’s what I was going for on this question.
If a guy comes up to you and says, “Hey, you want to get coffee?” and you’re thinking to yourself: “I don’t know if I do. Honestly, I don’t know you that well. You look okay, but you’re not Robert Redford”—I guess / who would it be?—Brad Pitt / well, we don’t want to go there—“You’re not a 10.” [Laughter] How do you decide what to say in that moment, when the guy says, “You want to get coffee?”
Lisa: Yes. I would say there are still sometimes where I’m kind of like so taken aback, you know; and I’m usually not at a loss for words, as you can well believe.
Bob: We’ve noticed; yes. [Laughter]
Lisa: I would say, in my best moment, I would probably say, “Yes.”
If I—now—and I would say it’s probably less common just for the random person that I don’t know too well to ask me out. Where it gets trickier is when it is someone that has been in, say, my community at church or something like that. They are someone that I know—based on experience—I wouldn’t be interested in, or I’ve just observed them, or whatever.
But then, I kind of feel—it’s weird, because then—I’m here talking about dating and how we should all be open, so I’m like, “Okay.”
Bob: So, when you turn a guy down, how do you do that? And why do you do that?
Lisa: Yes; so I would say, “Women, be very careful about turning a guy down.”
First of all—and I tell women this—I say: “You don’t have to go out with any guy that you are clearly uncomfortable around; that you are flat-out un-attracted to; that you have issues with, you know, based on his reputation, or his character, or whatever. But I would always err on the side of giving guys a chance. There is—it is just coffee / it is just lunch. There is nothing wrong with this. No one is signing their name with someone else. No one is picking out China—or you shouldn’t be,”—that’s a problem, because ladies are doing that too much—“So, keep it casual. And if anything, you could get a good acquaintance out of it / a good friendship.”
I think that’s where we all need to just simmer down and be normal about this.
It’s where my mom, you know, again—bringing my mom into the picture—my mom got married in the ‘50s. She met my dad in college, stalked him at a few basketball games, went to his senior banquet, and got married. She is like, “Lisa, why is this like a full-on algorithm?”
Bob: “This is not that hard!” [Laughter]
Lisa: Exactly! “I mean, why are you doing personality tests on these guys? Why are you, like, stalking them online?”
And it’s just—it was so much simpler then, and I think some of that needs to come back. We should be able to just go out for coffee. That said—I think, if you’re going to turn a guy down, you should just say: “Thank you so much. I’m just not interested.” It could be—you could give the guy a specific reason or whatever; but just be kind / but be direct. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t say: “I would rather just be friends,” “I would rather…”—guys like to be told straight up.
Dennis: And what you’re talking about here is how risky it is for a guy to ask a woman out. I spoke at Liberty University, and I told those guys—I said, “If you want something that isn’t risky, play a video game.
Dennis: “But if you want something dangerous, develop a relationship with a woman”—
Dennis: —“and risk the relationship.” It seems like one of the ways guys mitigate against the risk is by—what we used to call, when I was a single guy—which is: “She’s just my sister—she’s my sister-in-Christ / my friend; and we’re just hanging out together. We’re just being organic together”; you know? [Laughter] You know what I’m talking about!
Lisa: Why is everyone trying to be organic? That just drives me nuts!
Dennis: Yes; exactly.
Lisa: Yes; I mean, it’s so true—or they do what I call the junior high reconnaissance—and that’s like: “I’m going to ask my friend to ask his friend to ask his friend if he’ll ask her if, maybe, she likes me.” That’s like when you pass notes in junior high, and you figure—you know, it’s ridiculous!
I mean, go and do—both men and women—you are going to be rejected. Guys, you’re going to be rejected; because you’re going to ask, and you’re going to be turned down. Women, you will not be asked. We need to realize that that is true; and everyone, it is their prerogative.
No one is obligated to ask people out. No one is obligated to say, “Yes.” Just understand that from the get-go, and you’ll probably be starting off in a better position.
Bob: And you’ve seen the TV commercial, where the couple is ending the date. The woman says something about, you know: “Talk to you tomorrow?” He pauses; and he says, “I’m going to send you a vague text in the next couple of days.” She says, “Oh, so, we’re never going to see each other again.” He goes, “Yes, probably.” And they leave.
When you’ve had that first coffee—or, maybe, even the second date—and you go, “No; this just isn’t working,”—whether it’s the guy or the girl—how do you say that without crushing somebody?
Lisa: Yes. I actually, in the book, write out a sentence for women to say to men because women are so terrible at this. Ladies, you’re terrible—[Laughter]—I’m just going to tell you right now! We are terrible because we are always trying to preserve a guy’s feelings. We’re always trying to make it seem like we’re not the bad guy.
We’re always—it will hurt; okay? That’s just a fact.
You need to just flat out say: “You know what? I just thank you for giving me your time. I’m so honored that you asked me out. I don’t see this going anywhere, but I just really appreciate the time that you invested in me and the time we had to get to know one another.” Then, if there is room for—if you are going to be in this person’s sphere—for example, they are in your Sunday school at church / they are—make sure you’re not burning bridges. Just be like, “Honestly, I’m looking forward to seeing you in class on Sunday,” or whatever.
We should be able to date in a way where no one has to leave churches or small groups as a result of a break-up. This is where it has become—we’ve moved into relationships where ending them becomes like a divorce—
Lisa: —because we have become so—whether it’s emotionally- or sexually-invested or we are now just embroiled in their personal lives. That is—the place for that is marriage—it is not in the dating process.
We need to realize that this is an exploratory thing, where either person can get out and just allow it to be that. That’s why I’m a big fan of bringing other mentors and counselors into the process as well.
Bob: Are you thinking of people / singles you know, who you want to give this book to?
Dennis: I am!
Bob: I’ve got a list of them! [Laughter]
Dennis: And I’m thinking, for singles—this would make a great Bible study discussion group—just to get together and hammer on it a bit and talk about it.
Bob: Yes. And I think the question is: “Do you do it just guys and just girls in the group?—or is it guys and girls?” I mean, it could get interesting—you start going through this material if it’s a mixed group. I mean, why not?—right?
We’ve got copies of The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose. Go toFamilyLifeToday.com to request your copy of the book, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the title of the book is The Dating Manifesto. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to request your copy.
We’ve also got a link on our website to Lisa’s podcast and more about the work that she is doing at Focus on the Family. If you want to find out more about her work, go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
By the way, this Thursday night, we have a get-together planned with our Legacy Partners—those of you who support this ministry on a monthly basis. Dennis and Barbara Rainey, along with FamilyLife® President David Robbins and his wife Meg, and I will all be getting together at 7:00 Central time, Thursday night, for a Legacy Partner Connect event. We’re going to be talking about parenting. This is an opportunity for us to have a conversation—to interact / to answer questions you may have.
We’re going to be talking about things like screen time and “Are you too over-protective?” or “Are you too lenient?” “How do you help your kids understand absolute right and wrong in a culture that rejects those kinds of things?” and whatever questions you’ve got.
We will be connecting by phone. If you’re signed up, you’ll get a phone call at 8:00 Eastern, 7:00 Central, 6 Mountain, and 5 Pacific time. If you’ve not yet signed up and you’re a Legacy Partner, we’d love to add your name to the list. Just call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY and let us know that you’d like to be on the Legacy Partner Connect call on Thursday night.
Let me just say, “Thanks,” again, to those of you who are Legacy Partners. You are the guys who make this program and so much of the ministry that we do, here, at FamilyLife possible. We are grateful for the relationship that we have with our Legacy Partners.
If you’re a regular listener, and you’d like to join the growing Legacy Partner team, we’d love to hear from you—call 1-800-FL-TODAYand say, “I want to know more about becoming a Legacy Partner,” or, again, look for information, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Thanks, in advance, for thinking about this, praying through it, and for your support of this ministry. It means a ton to us when you link arms with us in the work of FamilyLife Today. We hope to talk to you on Thursday night.
And we hope you can join us back tomorrow. We’re going to talk about parenting. We’re going to dig right into the foundational issues that face every parent: “What’s the job that God’s called you to? What do your kids need from you?” Barbara Rainey is going to join us, as well, so I hope you can be with us tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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