Is She the One?
About the Guest
Pastor Ben Stuart remembers the first time he saw his wife, Donna. He talks about the circumstances that lead to their courtship and eventual engagement.
Is She the One?
Bob: When a young person—in high school, or college, or even after college—has this thought: “I think I might want to go out on a date with that person,” Ben Stuart says it’s good to follow up that thought with this question: “Why?”
Ben: I think, for all of us, it helps to clarify: “What are we doing here?” because I think a lot of people, and I know for me, I remember feeling this pressure of “Oh, I’m in my teens; I should date.” I’m like: “I’m not ready to get married at 17. What am I doing?” There was no compelling “Why?”—it’s like, “I don’t even know why we’re doing this.”
It helped me, later on, to think about that: “Why does dating exist?”—it’s our modern evaluation process towards marriage. So, when I didn’t feel ready to get married, then I’m like, “Why would I date somebody?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, June 7th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. If you’re dating someone right now, is it just friendship and recreation or is this a marriage evaluation period for you? We’ll talk about wise principles for dating with Ben Stuart today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I have to tell you, as we’ve been talking about singleness and dating, engagement/marriage with Ben Stuart this week—and by the way, Ben, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Ben: Thank you. Good to be here.
Bob: Nice to have you joining us. Ben is a pastor in the Washington, DC, area—a new church called Passion City Church. If you live in that area, you might want to find out more about the church. Ben gave leadership, for years, to a ministry called Breakaway at Texas A&M University. He’s written a book called Single, Dating, Engaged, Married.
In hearing about this subject, and hearing about your own story with this subject, Ben, I just have to wonder—you shared with us that you had a chapter, during your 20s/a long season, where you just kind of turned off the whole relationship thing and said, “I’m going to work on ministry, and get right with Jesus, and my own emotional healing.”
Dave: —getting out of the dumpster fire; that’s what it was.
Bob: And then, one day, you saw somebody and you said: “She looks good. I think I’m okay.”
Everybody in your world knew, “Ben’s kind of turned that off.” What happened when you—when word got out: “Ben just asked somebody out.” I’m thinking like there were headlines in the local paper—[Laughter]
Ben: So bad; well, what happened was—so this was great—I met Donna; we were both serving at this event. Her band was leading worship, and I spoke. That was the first time I saw her. Then, this group would go out to dinner afterwards. Maybe, once a month for a couple of months, it was social—hanging out.
Then, I turned the corner of: “I’m going to ask her to go on a date,” and I did it. I thought [whispering], “Very few will know.” We got in the car—I had this date planned and, literally, get in the car; and the phone starts buzzing; I pick it up. It’s this dear couple that has been like family to me. They had just had a baby—the baby’s heart was racing at a scary level, and they were rushing on to the hospital in downtown Houston. It was the kind of thing, where it’s not—you know, you don’t just turn it off.
Bob: —you don’t go on your date; yes.
Ben: I look at her and I’m like: “Plans changed. I’ve got to go to the hospital. I can turn around and drop you off; but here’s the thing—I need to go; or if you want to go, you’re certainly welcome to.” She’s like “Let’s just go.” I’m like “That’s awesome.” We roll down there; and we’re walking in, going, “These people might lose their baby.” It’s pretty much like, “You don’t have to do this; like we can…”
We walk in, and their whole community—which was my church community—was there, in the waiting room. I walk in, with this girl, clearly in date clothes; and everyone’s real somber—like this is real serious: “Wait; what?! Who is that?” I’m watching this dynamic like, “Oh man!” [Laughter]
Dave: “There goes the secret.”
Ben: Yes; so it’s great.
Bob: Word is out that Ben, the confirmed bachelor—
Ann: —is on a date.
Ben: Baby turned out fine, by the way—praise the Lord.
Ann: I was going to ask: “How is the baby?”
Ben: Baby turned out great; he’s doing real good.
Bob: How did you navigate from first date to what they call a DTR [define the relationship], where you’re having a conversation about “What are we doing here?” Did that happen quickly with you and Donna?
Ben: Yes; I was great at it, Bob; [Laughter] because I had done it so many ways wrong—so many ways to fall off the horse—but there’s one way to stay up. I felt real good about it, because what I would do—I would try to be clear on what I was asking her to.
I would say things like “Hey, my brother’s got this party going on, and I need to bring a date. I would love to bring you; do you want to be my date to this?” I would even drop that word in, just so she would know what it is—not like, “You want to hang out or whatever?” I would just be like, “Hey, let’s go do that”; and she’d say, “Yes.”
Then I would drop her off and wouldn’t make it this big—like throw in the park and go “Okay,”—I would just, at the end of the date, I would look and go: “Hey, that was really fun. I enjoyed it. Do you mind if I call you this week?” She got out of the car and, now, she knew what was coming; because I knew what she was going to do—she’s going to go with all her friends [speaking quickly]: “How did it go? What are you going to do? Are you going to text him?” She had something to say, “He told me he’d call, so he’s going to call.” She knew it; I was clear. It kept all that anxiety out of her that I hear from young girls all the time: “Well, am I supposed to reach out to him? Am I supposed to text him?” She knew, “He’s going to call me, and I’m going to wait for that.”
Bob: You were being a man.
Ben: Yes! And I was helping her not experience chaos and anxiety. It’s a way to love people—the Proverb says, “An honest answer is a kiss on the lips.” It’s a way to honor somebody—to be direct. Then, every like third or fourth date, I would say something like: “Hey, I’m really enjoying getting to know you. I’m not ready to get married in the next six months or something in life, but I’m really enjoying getting to know you.” Then, I would sometimes throw things in like: “I trust God with your life and with mine. I just want to go where He’s going; but if you’re comfortable with it, I’m going to keep calling you.”
Ann: And there’s no kissing/there’s nothing physical going on at this point?
Ben: No, no; just because there’s different motivations for that. One thing I believe strongly is—you’re releasing so many powerful chemicals when you start messing with somebody’s body—I mean, dopamine firing and all that. It messes up the evaluation process. I mean, dating is evaluating: “Do I want to hang out with you?—until I die!”
Ann: It’s pretty big.
Ben: It’s all the other stuff we’re trying to figure out—like, “Do I want to talk to you for 40 years?”—I’ve got to figure that out—so “Hold off this physical part,” and “Can I see—can we relate?” “Do I enjoy you?” “Do we enjoy talking to each other?” We fought for that.
Bob: Your wife had to like the fact that you were being intentional about talking about these things and doing it, proactively, rather than just leaving it ambiguous.
Ben: I told a buddy of mine to do this before I was dating somebody—he was my test case: [Laughter] “This is what you got to do.” I said it very authoritatively and, then, I watched, carefully.
Bob: “You do this”; I’m going to see if it works.
Dave: —like you know what you’re talking about.
Ben: Yes; oh yes; I was very convincing.
He did it, and they got engaged. I remember interviewing his wife, afterwards, about how his dating went. She said: “You know what? He was so good at clarity in the dating process. I always knew where I stood, and it was one of my favorite things about him.”
Bob: The other side of that is, if you’re in a dating relationship right now—and there is a lack of clarity, and it’s been going on for a while—a huge red flag ought to go up; right?
Ben: I completely agree with that.
Bob: And if you’re in that, and you’re the man or the woman, do you say: “Time out. If this is going to keep going, we’ve got to have some clarity”?—do you have the DTR?
Ben: Yes; I think you have to; yes. I think, for all of us, it helps to clarify: “What are we doing here?” I think a lot of people, and I know for me, I remember feeling this pressure of: “Oh, I’m in my teens; I should date.” I’m like: “I’m not ready to get married at 17. What am I doing?” There was no compelling “Why?”—it’s like, “I don’t even know why we’re doing this.” It helped me, later on, to think about that: “Why does dating exist?”—it’s our modern evaluation process towards marriage. So, when I didn’t feel ready to get married, then I’m like, “Why would I date somebody?”
Dave: Yes; but you’re the—I mean, I’ve listened to your story. I’m thinking: “There’s women out there, thinking: “There’s not another guy like Ben on the planet. You were like the perfect guy.” [Laughter] Of course, we all know the dumpster fire of yours; and it took you time, but what do you say to those people? Are there guys that can do—are there women that will do it like you’re talking about?
Ben: Yes! What’s crazy is—every year of my life—the last 20 years—I’ve had a Bible study of young men in their 20s that I meet with. These are wonderful gentlemen, godly, lion-faced men; they are amazing.
Whenever women come up to me and say, “There’s no good guys.” I’m like: “There’s no good guys where you are, but I know a lot of them. Don’t believe the lie, because that’s what I think it is.” People just believe the lie nowadays of: “This is the best it can be. This is just what dating is now.” I’m like: “Don’t believe that; that’s not actually true. There can be a better way.”
Ann: And it’s also assuming God doesn’t care about this area of our lives, and He does care. He cares; He knows—He’s in it, and He’s applauding it to when it’s going right—like, “Yes; this is going to be good.”
Bob: Yes; so there was a point in your relationship you said with Donna/you were telling her: “I like you. I like spending time with you. I’m not thinking about marriage anytime soon…” Then, there had to be a point, where you went, “I’m starting to think about marriage.”
Ben: Yes; so for us, the tension entered that she had this music career that was getting traction. I was feeling/very strongly called to go to seminary, which could move me anywhere in the world. The two longings of the human heart—belonging and mattering: “I’ve got to have a purpose. I’ve got to have a people.”
Suddenly, our passions and purposes go, “These might not be going the same direction.” I didn’t know how to process that. We had these full summers of—I was handing off my youth ministry; she was traveling, all over, singing. I said: “You know what? Let’s just take the pressure off of: ‘We have to talk every night on the phone; you should call me, and you should email me.’” I said: “Let’s not do that. I need to slow the process down. Can we just write letters?”
Some of her friends thought that was crazy; but I just knew, for me, I emotionally process slowly. Even now, in my journal, I write at the top: “How do you feel?” People laugh about that; because I have to ask myself because I’m unclear: “How do you feel?” “I don’t know. I think I’m a little angry maybe,”—it just takes a while to figure it out.
So, for us, we took the summer and we wrote—like, physically, wrote letters/physically put them in the mailbox. I told her, “Only one at a time—like one from me to you; then one from you to me.” What happened is—I gave myself distance and time.
Ann: And what did that do?
Ben: Distance and time are wonderful tools to figure out what’s going on in your heart; because I think one of the things you want to find is: “Is there a growing sense of commitment?”
I mean, I remember I had—remember, I said all my buddies got married before me. I’d ask them, “How did you know?” And they’d be like “You just know.” I’m like, “That’s colossally unhelpful.” [Laughter] I really pressed one of them—he said: “You know how I knew Ben? We would run into problems, whether it would be a communication issue or some problem, and I found, within myself, ‘Man, I just wanted to get to the other side of this problem and work it’; because I wanted deeper unity.” He said: “You know, when you would date some other people, and you’re telling yourself ‘Oh, they’re cute. Her mom thinks I’m great’; but every time you argue, you’re like, ‘Man, this is just a matter of time.’ You feel like this isn’t going to work.” He said, “With her, I’m like, ‘How do we get past this so we can get unity again?’” He said, “I found a growing sense of commitment.”
For me, with that distance and time from Donna—I remember I was on a boat—4th of July, watching the fireworks go off—and I was like “How do you feel?” I was like, “I’d rather be with her than without her,” and that’s what I needed. I needed time to figure that out. After that, I didn’t really mess around; came back, took her on a date, and was like: “I’d rather be with you than not. If there’s an obstacle, let’s figure out our way through it; because I want you.” But I needed that time.
Bob: I remember telling people: “When you’ve been with a person, and seen them at what you figure has got to be pretty much their worst—I mean, you’ve seen it bad; and you’ve been there long enough to go, ‘Okay; they can only fake good for so long, and then you’ll see the bad stuff.’ When you see that and you go: ‘I still want to be with you, even though this is how you can be; I still want to be with you,’ that ought to be a little bit of a trigger that there’s something deeper than just, ‘This feels good in the moment, happening here’”; right?
Ben: I think that’s one of the factors. I think there [are] a couple; but that’s a big one. Song of Solomon talks about that—like: “Love is as strong as death.” When death grabs something, it doesn’t let go; that’s why they say that—you’re going to stand on a stage, in front of God and everybody, and promise: “…in sickness and health unto death do us part.”
You don’t want to hope that’s true; you want that to be rising up from inside you, so you need to start seeing that, in yourself, while you’re dating: “I want to be with this person, even if they get really sick,” “I want to be with this person, even if he loses his job and can’t find another one,” “I want to be with this person unto death.” You want to feel that so, when you’re saying it on stage, “Yes; I mean that.” You’ve got to find that in you.
Bob: You said that’s one thing. What else do you think is in there?
Ben: I think the other thing is, externally, communication—like: “Can you navigate conflict well?” I see that in couples—they really love each other/really want to make it work, but every time they argue. Proverbs says, “Rash words are like the thrust of a sword,”—like: “Y’all are dangerous; you’re just hurting each other. You’re always going for the win/going for the throat. Before you get married, I would encourage you—figure out how to communicate in a way that is moving you toward unity, not just victory, in the argument. You’ve got to do that.”
And then the last thing, I think you’ve got to survive a moment of confession. I think you need to be able to—like you were saying—see some of the worst parts and say, “But I want you anyway.” I think that helps you; because, when all of us have those parts in us we want to hide—and when you share that dark, sad part of you—and then that person looks you in the eye, and maybe they cry, but they say: “I’m sorry that happened to you,” or “I’m sad about that, but I love you and I want you anyway.” When they say that to you, that is such a powerful bonding agent. I think you want that.
Bob: Did you have a moment of confession?
Ben: Yes; we did. I think you have to be careful with it; that’s where your community helps you: “How much information do you share that you’re not suddenly creating chaos?”
But yes; I think you need to have an honest moment about: “Here’s some decisions I made, relationally, in the past.” It’s scary to do that; but when we both did that and realized, “Okay; I know the worst, and want you any way,”—“Oh man, I just know, now, this girl’s mine and I’m hers. Set me like a seal in your arm.” I’m not worried; and I’m not trying to redact statements, later in our marriage, like, “Oh yes; I forgot I never told her about that.” There is no “I never told her,”—there’s no hidden part of Ben with Donna. There’s other people that don’t get to know all of me, but she gets to know all of me. I think you want that.
Bob: Because if you don’t have that, here’s what you wind up with—you wind up with: “She loves the part of me she knows; but if she knew the other part of me, I don’t know that she’d love me.” If you’re going through marriage with: “There’s this hidden side of me and, if she found out, I’m not sure she would still love me,” there’s never oneness; there’s never real intimacy in that relationship.
Ben: You didn’t get what you want. What you want in marriage is that sense of community—that: “Someone deeply knows me.”
Bob: Fully-known and fully-loved is what you want.
Ann: —as much as you’re aware of because, sometimes, you’re not even aware of some of the things that you have.
Ben: Which is true, totally; yes.
Ann: And so—but even being willing to expose those; and to allow your spouse to see them, and to make the decision of loving you in spite of.
Dave: And obviously, your moment of confession is not date one or date three—
Dave: —you’re way down the line. Coach some people up—you’ve got a community to help you—but we blew it in this area. I shared way too much—stupid/naïve.
Ann: We, basically, did everything wrong. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes; we did everything you didn’t do. [Laughter] But I think there’s singles out there, going: “How much do I share? How honest do I get? What’s too far?”
Ann: I’m the kind of person—I really want to know people—
Dave: It’s her fault; it’s her fault.
Ann: —so I will ask questions that go down deep, and you’re just answering my questions; but how do you do that?
Ben: You probably asked too many. [Laughter]
Ann: I do ask too many—I do that to everybody.
Ben: For Donna and [me]—dating is evaluation. You’re getting to know each other and “What are you looking for?” You know, Song of Solomon—what do you see? There’s excitement there; there’s life. It’s springtime: “Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth.” He’s like a stag leaping over the hills.
You want to feel like: “I like being around this person. I’m excited being around this person.” There’s growth; it’s like springtime: “I’m a better person around you,”—I think you wait until you see that—“I’m becoming the best version of me by being around you. You’re sharpening good things in me; I’m sharpening good things in you. It’s springtime when we’re together.”
I mean, I’ve seen two people that are great apart; you get them together, and it spirals down—you go, “Y’all aren’t a good match.”
So that’s what you are looking for: “Is there excitement?—is there life? Do we want to be in this thing? Are we communicating well?” I think when you’re getting that—where you’re like, “Really, I’m like starting to look at rings,”—I think you’re waiting until that moment, until you go, “I need to tell you some things.” For me, I think getting some godly mature people around you, to say, “Hey, I need to tell him about ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’”
Bob: When did you tell Donna, “I love you”?
Ben: —not until I got her a ring. We decided to hold off on that—we were about that with the word, I love you. I just—to me, I was like, “Something has to be sacred in this world.” The word, love, is pretty sacred.
Bob: I wish somebody had told me that when I was in junior high; right?—because I was so casual and trivial with it that it meant nothing when I said it.
Ben: Yes; I wanted it to have weight. So the word, missed, started taking on far more weight than it does in a normal conversation: “I miss you.” [Laughter]
Dave: —code for love? [Laughter]
Bob: I told my boys, when we were raising them—I said, “When you say to a girl/when you’re ready to say to a girl, ‘I love you,’ the very next thing you have to say is: ‘Will you marry me?’” It’s like, “You can’t say this until you’re ready to say that.”
Dave: Did they do it?
Bob: I don’t’ know; I think, if they didn’t, they got real close to holding off on that and recognizing the sacred nature of that.
Ann: I think a couple of our boys did that, too.
Bob: I’d been foolish with it. I told Mary Ann I loved her on like our third date or something. What I meant was: “I like spending time with you. This feels really nice. I love it!”—kind of like: “You know what? I love you.” I was casual with it/stupid.
Ben: Well, and the good news is y’all made it. That’s the good news in all of this—is like we feel comfortable admitting failures; because you know: “I’m forgiven,” and there’s always a chance with God. He’s—
Ann: —redeems it.
Ben: —“He’s redeeming people and healing, and you need that.”
Bob: Did you think about calling your book Ben’s Big Dumpster Fire?—[Laughter]—because I think—[Laughter]
Dave: It’s in there.
Bob: —Ben’s Big Book of Dating Mistakes could have been a part of that.
Ben: That could have been a book; I don’t know who would want to read that one. [Laughter]
Bob: Well, here’s the point—what you’ve shared in this book—which is not called Ben’s Big Dumpster Fire—it’s Single, Dating, Engaged, Married by Ben Stuart. What you’ve done in here is—you’ve shared enough of your story that we can learn from the good, the bad, the ugly; but you’ve also brought it to bear in modern culture.
I would love to think that—starting in high school, and all the way through the 20s and into the 30s, if it goes that long—people are reading this, going back, and reading it again. As you said, Dave, reading it in community, with other people—making this something that they’re spending time—this is a gift you’ve given.
Dave: Yes; I was just going to say, “What a gift,”—and not just the singles—but think of parents—to get a tool like this to help their kids do it right.
Ann: Yes; and it’s inspiring, Ben.
Ben: Well, thanks.
Ann: It’s inspiring to hear your story—and how, maybe, it didn’t start out right—but man, you’ve done a really good job. I love that, what you’ve learned, you’re giving away. Thank you.
Ben: Oh, thanks, guys.
Bob: Well, and we are giving away copies of Ben’s book today to those listeners, who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife® with a donation. Those of you, who are regular listeners, who value what this program is all about and what this ministry is all about, you make it possible when you donate to support the ongoing work of FamilyLife Today—our resources, our events, our website; this daily program available on your local radio station, stations all across the country, on the FamilyLife app, online—all of that happens because folks, like you, say, “This is important for us and for our community, and we want to make sure it continues.”
When you make a donation today to support the ongoing work of FamilyLife Today, you can request a copy of Ben’s book, Single, Dating, Engaged, Married: Navigating Life and Love in the Modern Age. It’s our gift to you to say, “Thank you for your ongoing support of FamilyLife Today.” Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com; click the button that says “Donate”; make an online donation, and request the book. Or call to donate at 1-800-FL-TODAY—ask for your copy of Ben Stuart’s book and make your donation over the phone. Again, the number is 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, I found myself reflecting, in our conversation with Ben today, about all of the different responses to the whole issue of dating over the last 25 years—whether we kiss it goodbye or whether we embrace it—“What’s it supposed to look like?” “What’s the best way to navigate it?” It’s tricky; we want to make sure our kids aren’t being damaged in this culture.
David Robbins, who is the President of FamilyLife® is here with me. Dating’s a minefield, and knowing how to walk our kids through it is a challenge.
David: It’s insightful to actually learn—currently, people who are dating: “How are they experiencing the current dating script?” People are so unhappy with it; they’re willing to admit it. Researcher, Donna Freitas, did some extensive research on attitudes concerning the casual dating culture that’s so prevalent today. Forty-one percent of people, 18-25, said they were profoundly unhappy with the current dating script. Also, a majority of them said they feel like they don’t have another way to go; there is no other script to pursue.
Over recent years, I’ve noticed—with my friends and with Millennials that we’ve worked with directly—one of the biggest needs is clarity in communication as you date. This isn’t a new topic, obviously; it’s always been something, but I think more than ever. This is one of those things that Ben points to in his book that is one of those areas to really double down on; because romantic comedies make us think that the guessing game’s actually fun, and delightful, and is exciting; but it isn’t. It actually creates turmoil and hardly ever works out well.
We need to relearn how to lead and respond in communication, and Ben’s book is great for that. It’s not just good for general dating advice; there’s some amazing stuff in there around communication.
Bob: Well, and his model—what he did, in sitting down with his girlfriend and saying, “Here’s what I’m thinking. Here’s where I’m headed. Here’s what I have in mind,”—just a great model so that there’s not ambiguity in what’s happening in these relationships. That’s a great point David. Thank you.
Now, I want to encourage our listeners to be in prayer for couples, all across the country, who will be joining us this weekend at one of our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. Mary Ann and I are going to a getaway this weekend. We’re going to be in Plano, Texas, for the Weekend to Remember that’s happening there this weekend. Also, there’s a getaway in Sugarland, Texas—just outside of Houston—and one in Las Vegas, Nevada. Again, pray for the hundreds of couples, who will be a part of this weekend.
You might start thinking, now, about the fall season. Block out a weekend when the two of you can get away and invest in your marriage, sometime, this fall. Find out dates and locations—go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information.
We hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend, and I hope you can join us on Monday when we’re going to talk about the things your kids do that trigger you—you know, that provoke anger in you. I mean, I know Ephesians 4 says, “Father’s don’t provoke your children to anger,” but what about when our kids provoke us to anger? What do we do with that? Amber Lia and Wendy Speake will be here to talk about that. I hope you can join us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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