Busting the Myths of Singleness
About the Guest
Heard on FamilyLife This Week®: Many people who find themselves still single at an age that they’d hoped to be married wonder what they’ve done wrong. Emerson Eggerichs says, “You are here because you made GOOD decisions…” Also hear from Gina Dalfonzo and Carolyn McCulley.
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
Professor Know It All: Welcome to. . .
Audience: Truth Be Told!
Professor Know It All: The game show for those who know! I'm your host, Professor Know It All. Now for our segment on singleness, because who doesn't love giving advice to their single friends? Am I right?
Okay, here we go! First question: Having no plans on a Friday night means you must be doing something wrong. Is that true or false?
Ringer 1: True.
Ringer 2: I don't know about that. I have to say false.
Professor Know It All: I'm sorry, but the correct answer is true. Obviously!
Okay, next: Godly singles should be content with their singleness; true or false?
Ringer 3: True! Be content in all things.
Ringer 1: 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, like. . .
Professor Know It All: [Interrupting] Okay, 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 false?
Ringer 1: True!
Ringer 2: Well, you know, it could just be that they’re. . .
Professor Know It All: Okay, no points awarded. You all lose!
And that's all the time we have for.
Audience: Truth Be Told!
Professor Know It All: I'm your host, Professor Know It All. And, if you disagree, remember: I'm married, so at least I know more than you.
Michelle: Okay, we can all laugh at that, because, well, 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.
Professor Know It All: Good night, everyone. Except for you singles, because you'll stay up all night, because you have no obligations because you're single. Isn’t that right?
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 know, I'm single, and 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 spent some time on Sunday night tweeting about an event at your church. First of all, can you tell us about that event?
Matt: Yes, absolutely. So it was an event on dating. The actual title of event was “Marriage, Dating, and Relationships.” But the focus was on dating, and that's why most of the people were there. And, at my church, it's probably fifty or sixty percent of the people who are single.
Matt: Yes, it's a church in New York City, and this event generated huge interest, and 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,
and I feel like that 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 overvalue marriage and only married people, almost, have a part in the programs and ministry of the church, and singles are almost overlooked and undervalued. And it's not recognized as a good thing; as something meaningful in its own right
Then 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 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 commit 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're 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.
Matt: So 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—and 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: And, yeah, that's true.
Michelle: I hear that all the time!
Michelle: And I think other Christians—I mean, I think there are a lot of singles out there going, “High five, Matt! Right on.”
Matt: Yeah, because it frames things in the wrong way. It makes people almost afraid of marriage; like, “Oh, marriage is this risky thing. I’d better be really careful.” And you know what ends up happening? It becomes self-fulfilling. People are less likely to pursue marriage, because they're afraid that it's dangerous or risky.
And then even when they get into marriage, they also may have lower expectations than they should, and 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 you don't crush your partner and be disappointed.”
And, yeah, we don't want to have over-idealized expectations, that's for sure.
But I think, a lot of times, we overcorrect and we emphasize the risks and the fact that there are going to be challenges and that becomes self-fulfilling, because people don't have the optimism, really, 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: Yeah, I think we are, in part, dealing with a 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 lot of experience in it. I think that's part of it. To me, if someone says to me, “Hey, I'm single, I'm 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, and 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 the emotions. And, hey, sometimes maybe the person is overvaluing things or over-desiring a change in their circumstances; but sometimes it's just genuine human frustration, and that's okay. God has made us as emotional creatures, and we don't need to banish every painful emotion we encounter in someone.
Matt: A lot of times you just need to listen and not judge. And the person is able to assess themselves, really, whether they're overvaluing something or undervaluing something.
Michelle: Yes, just an over-spiritualness 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, part of this is, you know, have you noticed that Jerry Maguire takes a lot of hits in Christian discussions on dating? There are articles called, “No, Your Spouse Will Not Complete You,” and things like that.
Matt: And, you know, yes, certainly there's a sense in which that is true.
If you find your ultimate identity in your spouse, that's wrong. That is idolatry. It will crush your spouse and you. But I don't think most people are doing that.
Matt: And 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 and that close, personal fellowship; and you do, in a sense, complete one another. It's in a secondary sense, not an ultimate sense; and 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, and not worry about being super-spiritual in our language and qualifying everything. That's one of things I love about the Reformation. They were just affirming of common grace.
Matt: And just real, ordinary human life. The problem is not the world itself. The problem is unrighteousness.
Matt: And we're free to celebrate God's gifts without worry.
Michelle: Right. Well, 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 want the best for you.” And I knew he wanted the best for me. And in that sense, just like what you're talking about out of Genesis 2, it is. God created, you know, God created this. He created marriage. He created us to be in community with each other for relationship.
Matt: Yes. He did. God created it. In fact, I would argue we’re dishonoring God if we're constantly telling people, “Don't enjoy it too much. Don't overvalue it.” A friend of mine tweeted, after I sent out my tweet, he tweeted me and said, ‘Yeah, imagine if you go to a restaurant, and they sit you down and they say, ‘Okay, enjoy the food, but not too much,’ and they're harping on that.” Like, 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're 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.”
And it's the women, by and large, who seem to be more responsible and more interested in dating and building those relationships. And 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’ve got two problems when it comes to dating. Number one, fear of rejection; and number two, I'm dense. A lot of guys are dense. They don't recognize it if a girl is interested, so they don't ask her on a date, because they don't know she would like to go on a date.
Michelle: Okay, so then how can how can we women help you?
Matt: Yeah; things like looking at the guy, making eye contact, and smiling. That kind of says, “Come talk with me.” And be ready; be a good conversationalist. That’s important: know how to make conversation. You don't want to be stuck with nothing to say.
Matt: That's 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's 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's in his court, and he has to be able to identify that, though.
Now, as a woman, if you do that and, like, the guys still aren't asking you out, it goes back to the problem is with the guys.
Matt: They're 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]
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 seems to be twenty 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: Yeah; 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 are two big issues there. First, a lot of people think it comes automatically. That because we're, you know, 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 that well; but it's not true. As with anything, there are things you 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, and it's the same with relationships. There are skills we need to learn that go along with our godliness. And when you have those skills, combined with the godliness and good intention—like, your purpose in dating is not self-fulfillment or self-centeredness, but, actually, to bring joy to the other person's life; to get to know the person and 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 first, for selfish reasons, just because you want to feel good about yourself because you've got these dates, or you have some, heaven forbid, ungodly purpose, you know, that's outside of a biblical sexual ethic. But your goal is about the other person. You want to make their life better. You want to have fun together, and you're 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 that 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: So how can church leaders change the approach that they're taking with singles?
Matt: So I think they need to be willing to take risks, first of all. Right now, I think they're playing it safe. So this session that I went to at my church was all about, “Don't find your identity in dating. Find it in Christ,” etc. And that's great as long as it’s 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. And I think because, when you do that, you open yourself up to criticism.
But if we let that keep us from getting into the details and that side of things, we're not serving people, so it's actually a failure of love to the singles in our church.
Second, I think the teachers themselves need to learn about good dating practices and principles, and a lot of times they don't know them themselves. And 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, and more broadly, 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. That's like all we see!
Michelle: Right, that's true.
Matt: And so, of course people are going to be stuck in singleness, because they hear that (and that's great), but they don't know actually how to find a partner; how to get the dates. So we need to learn that! The teachers in the church need to learn about dating. And I think that means we have to go to some secular sources right now to learn, because there are just not enough Christians who understand this! And 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.
And there's actually a good book on dating by John Gottman. He is an amazing author on marriage, and he's highly respected; he’s a PhD. He's had a practice helping marriages for a couple of decades. Well, 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, so we need to read books like that, and take what's good, and then start teaching it.
Michelle: Yeah, 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.
Matt: Yes, you’re right.
Michelle: So then, all of the sudden, they start swimming. Then they start sinking, and people come around them and give bad advice. And it's just like this perfect storm.
Matt: Yes, 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 the opportunities for that to happen. And that's a negative thing.
This is one big reason I get frustrated with over-spiritualization, because a lot of people might hear what I just said and say, “Yeah, but God is enough. They have God!” And that just sounds so spiritual, but it's not; because God commands us to help people and to address problems and address injustice. And if we just say, “Well, but they have God, God will take care of it,” we're actually going against God's own commands. And that's why it bothers me so much—this over-spiritualization—because in the name of holiness and godliness, it's actually going against what God wants us to do.
Here's another dating fallacy you hear a lot: “Romance is an invention of Hollywood, and marrying for love is because of Hollywood. It's not the way things usually we're done. It's not biblical.”
Well, 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 human 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 volunteer 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'd been married for 65 years, and she had Alzheimer's, and he was legally blind. And we sat down, and just put our chairs together so our knees touched, and she fell asleep right away and was drooling and everything.
But in her sleep, she reached over and she grabbed his hand. And just as he was sharing their entire story with me, I was like, “Wow!” I even said, “I hope you haven't taken any of this for granted.” And he, of course, was like, “No, it's all God. He painted a beautiful story for us!”
Matt: Oh, that is amazing! That really does reflect Christ in the church. It 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, you know, he's into Christian hedonism. We are to find joy in God. And 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. And I think that's what marriage ought to be and is about. And 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 course, immediately, some people are going to come in and say, “Well, happiness. . . There's a difference between happiness and joy, and marriage is about holiness, not happiness.” Yeah, yeah; all that's true. I got it; 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. And to make someone feel valued and know how valuable they are, because they're in the image of God, and they're in Christ. I think that's 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 Eggerichs.
Hey, I've heard it said that laughter is good for the soul. And 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, so I hope you can join us for that.
Thanks for listening. I want to thank the president of Family Life, David Robbins,
along with our station partners around the country. And a big thank you today to our engineer today, 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 Little Rock, Arkansas, 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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