Single and Dating
About the Guest
Would you like your son or daughter to have the same dating experience as you? Ben Stuart, pastor of Passion City Church in Washington, D.C., talks about the dating culture and practices on today's college campuses. As former Executive Director for Breakaway Ministries at Texas A&M, Stuart remembers his own initiation into the campus traditions, as well as his dating missteps. Describing his dating life like "a dumpster fire," Stuart tells how he found a faith community where he belonged and, eventually, found love.
Would you like your son or daughter to have the same dating experience as you? Ben Stuart talks with Dave and Ann Wilson about the dating culture and practices on today’s college campuses.
Single and Dating
Bob: Ben Stuart remembers when he started thinking differently about being single.
Ben: I remember, when I was in college, guys would be like, “Hey, I’m writing a journal to my future wife; and I’m just telling her, ‘I’m thinking about you tonight.’” I remember trying to do that once; and I’m like, “Hey, you may or may not exist; and this is dumb,” and I quit. [Laughter] I put it away.
I was like, “God doesn’t owe me a wife!” Like, He doesn’t owe me one. That started me going: “I don’t know if I’ll get married or not. So, what am I doing here? If singleness isn’t about getting married, what’s it about?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, December 30th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. The Bible says singleness is a gift; but if you’re single, be honest: “Don’t you think of it as a white elephant gift?” We’re going to talk more about singleness today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to listen back today to one of the conversations we had this year that kind of stood out, I think, for all of us, as one of those profound conversations—an interview we did with Ben Stuart, who is a pastor in Washington, DC. He is an author; he has written a book called Single, Dating, Engaged, Married and walks through the whole process of his own life as it relates to that but, also, talks about where we are in the culture on all of this. We thought the conversation with Ben was something we ought to revisit here before the year is out.
And speaking of the year being out, it’s almost over; I mean, tomorrow is the last day of 2019. This is a significant time of year for us, here at FamilyLife®, because, like most non-profit ministries, what happens today and tomorrow will determine how much ministry happens in the year ahead.
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Ann: It’s interesting, too, for me; because after listening to Ben, who is amazing,—
Ann: —the first time this aired, I had a 20-some single woman text me. She said: “I listened to this program. Thank you for being so relevant to my generation and the culture of addressing issues that we’re really struggling with.”
I think that’s what this program does, too—we kind of/wherever you are, we are reaching into your life, giving hope and help. I think that’s what we need, because we’re in a culture that’s pulling away from God’s values.
Bob: Well, again, we hope FamilyLife Today listeners will prayerfully consider giving to support this ministry and go to the website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to make a yearend contribution; or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Again, your donation is going to be matched, dollar for dollar, up to that total of $3 million and help us take advantage of that matching gift. And thank you for your support. We appreciate your partnership with us in the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
We want to revisit the conversation, you were just talking about Ann, with Ben Stuart. Again, he is a pastor in Washington, DC. He wrote a book called Single, Dating, Engaged, Married. We talked with him—I asked him about a statement he makes in the book, where he says, “Young people today see marriage as the end of the journey that they are on in a relationship rather than the beginning of their journey.” I asked him to explain what he meant by that statement.
Ben: There are varying degrees of why this happened and different factors; but part of it is, I think, the fear of failure in marriage. I think there’s also a popular presentation of: “You have to get your career on point before you figure out your relationships.”
But yes; I wrote the book—I never set out to be: “Let’s be the dating guy. Let’s try that out.” [Laughter] I mean, there are people, who knew me in college, that they are like: “Ben wrote a what? [Laughter] You have to be kidding me. That guy was a train wreck.”
But yes; I sat at Texas A&M—I mean, when I got there, Facebook® was just coming out. I mean, students were like: “This is nuts. You can get online and ba-ba-bum, and do this stuff…” So, my ten years there/twelve years were the twelve years when the iPhone® was coming out, carrying around the World Wide Web. I watched that huge technological shift have an incredible impact on how people interact with each other, just social interaction.
This book, for me, came out of a heart of compassion, pastorally—to watch a lot of these cultural shifts over the last few years really brought a lot of stress, anxiety, and confusion in the young people, particularly, in how they meet each other; so dating is being delayed; marriage is being delayed; and a lot of confusion/anxiety came into the midst. So, yes; this book, for me, was a place of just trying to help some young people I really love.
Bob: You went, like a lot of college students—you’re a single guy; you’re thinking, “It’d be nice to find a girl at college,”—weren’t you thinking that?
Ben: Yes; I mean, it was interesting. When I was in college, there was a lot of people that thought that way, like: “If I don’t meet my wife here,”—
Bob: —“life’s over.”
Ben: Yes; “what now?”
You know, I’m not that old; so the shift has been pretty marked in the last ten—really, since the iPhone® came out. If you think about it, 2007 was a real breakpoint for people in social dynamics—how they treat each other. Being on the campus, as a minister, I watched it happen. I would watch people on my staff come and go: “Man, what is the deal? Have you noticed, when people come and talk to you, they say really awkward, inappropriate things?” or “…a lot of them are having trouble making eye contact with you?” or whatever.
I said: “Hey, look, we can get frustrated about it; but I think part of our job, now, is socialization. We are going to help some young people—not just help them know who they are in Christ and help them know who Jesus is—we are going to help them figure out how to look in the eye, and talk, and have social interaction.”
Bob: —have a real relationship.
Ben: Yes; because most of it’s tech-based now rather than conversational, and it messes with social dynamics. You can see where that can begin to domino into dating.
Bob: Yes; and your point here—and I think it’s profound—is that singleness in 2019 is way different than singleness was, even, a decade ago.
Bob: The dynamics of what interaction looks like between singles—I mean, this is the “swipe right” era/this is the era of texting; and it changes the dynamics of what meaningful relationship looks like.
You had a girlfriend your freshman year; right?
Ben: Mmm; yes!
Dave: What’s that mean?!—“Mmm; yes!” [Laughter]
Ben: Well, I was one of those guys that left high school and was still sort of dating the girl that didn’t go to your college with you.
Ben: You know, I would meet those kids, as a minister [later], and they’d be like, “Well, I have a girlfriend; she’s back home.” I’m like, “Oh, all right; well, that will probably end soon,” just because you’re entering such a different zone, relationally; and it’s hard for those to make it.
Bob: So this ended—this break-up—
Bob: —this long-distance relationship—did you break it up?
Ben: Yes, I did; I did. It actually did kick-start my friendship with my best friend, though. It’s the weirdest thing. When [she] and I were kind of not working out too well—we had a summer—she came back from one of those mission deals, where you go fix up houses. She just kept talking about this guy that she worked on a roof with, and they built a roof. He was so selfless, and served people, and was so amazing.
I remember, after a week of this, I was like [thinking]: “Hey, so that guy? I hate him—just so you know. [Laughter] Like super friend buddy?—like I can’t stand him. If I ever meet him—punch him in the face! [Laughter] I can’t hear another sentence about this guy!” You know, that’s where I was like [actually verbalized]: “Alright; our lives our growing apart. We’re going a different path.” [Laughter] So, you know, I broke it off, just like: “This obviously isn’t working.”
But it was the funniest thing, because I still had her picture up in my room. [Laughter] This guy came over to my house and was like, “Do you know”—and said her name. I was like, “Yes; I know her.” I was like—he looks at the picture and he goes, “Wait a minute,”—he goes—“Yes; [she] and I built roofs together,”—whatever.
Dave: No way!
Ben: I was like, “You’re the guy!” He’s looking at the picture, and we’re holding hands in the picture. Literally, both of us looked at each other and were, “Wait a minute.” I said, “You’re the roof guy?” He was like, “You’re the boyfriend?”
I said, “Excuse me?” He goes: “Dude, the whole week on that roof, I’m trying to hit on this girl; and she was going on and on about how amazing you are, and how selfless, and how amazing…” [Laughter] I was like, “Dude, she came back and wouldn’t shut up about you!” I was like, “I’ve been waiting to punch you in the face!” [Laughter] We just both started laughing; and still, to this day, are best friends. [Laughter]
Ann: So that became your best friend.
Ann: He was a good guy!
Ben: Yes; he turned out to be a pretty good guy. [Laughter]
Bob: Your sophomore year—you started dating somebody else.
Ben: I didn’t date a lot. I mean, I was a train wreck. A lot of it, for me, was I didn’t have the emotional maturity in college. I realized Ben and God weren’t right. So anytime I started a we—when I really didn’t have much insight into me—the we always went sideways.
Bob: There was somebody you broke up with and, then, kissed right after you broke up?
Ben: Yes; we actually did it right. I felt good about that relationship with her, because we—
Bob: The one you broke up and, then, kissed?—you feel good about that one?
Ben: Not about that moment; [Laughter] but I feel good about this element of it, Bob—is we had talked about, when we first said, “Hey, let’s try out dating,”—[I’m] like, “Okay; what are some things you feel comfortable with and don’t feel comfortable with, even physically?” She had some ground rules of: “I really don’t want to cross these lines, physically. We just don’t know where this relationship’s going to go, so let’s not go across these lines.” We really—we really did that pretty well.
Bob: —honored that.
Ben: Yes; so I met her husband, later on. Unlike some other relationships, I didn’t feel awkward looking him in the eye.
Bob: You said something that I think is at the core of the first part of this book, Single, Dating, Engaged, Married. You said you weren’t right with God and you weren’t right with you, as you were entering into some of these relationships. If you had one message to singles, that would be it; wouldn’t it?
Ben: Yes; it was pretty profound for me; because I realized, at the end of college, “My dating life is just a dumpster fire. I can’t get these right, and I don’t know what I’m doing.” So I just took a break in my early 20s/23.
I remember, when I was in college, guys would be like, “Hey, I’m writing a journal to my future wife and I just tell her, ‘I’m thinking about you tonight.’” I remember trying to do that once, I’m like, “Hey, you may or may not exist and this is dumb”; and I quit. [Laughter] I put it away; and I was like, “God doesn’t owe me a wife!” Like, He doesn’t owe me one. I realize, “I do want one, but He doesn’t—I don’t want to get to a place where I’m like, ‘And You will give me one,’ because He doesn’t owe me that.”
That started me going: “Well, I don’t know if I’ll get married or not. So, what am I doing here? If singleness isn’t about getting married, what’s it about?” That was really this personal thing I went on. When I got out of college—having Ben’s existential crisis—“What am I here in the world for?” I started trying to figure that out. It was really mind-blowing for me, reading Paul, when he’s talking about his singleness being a gift. He says, “I’m not saying this to shackle you”—he said—“but so you might pursue an undistracted devotion to the Lord.” Then he starts talking about the hassles of being married.
But that phrase grabbed me; I’m like: “That’s what this singleness is for. The primary relationship for me is me and God,” and I understand that.
Bob: You still have two things, in the midst of this being devoted to God and—I’m thinking of, at least, two things—one is, “I’m lonely”; and secondly, “I’m frustrated because I have urges and desires that are outside of what God wants for me.” I’m just thinking of the singles, who are listening, going, “Yes; okay, I get ‘devoted to God’ and ‘really pursue Him hard’ and ‘you have all this time—it’s undistracted; it’s great.’ What do you do with lonely?” and “What do you with those desires?”
Ben: This was an interesting thing for me. This was also coinciding with the first time I was really a part of a church. I had attended church; but you know, I graduated college. My plan was to wander the earth in pursuit of adventure. [Laughter] I just did not—I’m like, “I don’t even know what I’m doing.” Someone was like, “Man, have you ever thought about helping to plant a church?” I had never even heard those words! I showed up there; and they were like, “Hey, we heard about your passion for youth.” I’m like, “My what?!” [Laughter] But I trusted this leader—I was like, “I can learn a lot from this guy.” I’m like, “Yes, I can work with youth; that’s cool,” and just jumped into this deal.
Suddenly, found myself on a staff with—there was a single girl; the pastor was single/he was engaged; there was a married worship pastor—and he would invite us dudes to go sit on his back porch every weekend and hang out. Suddenly, I was surrounded by this community. There were older people, younger, whatever. I realized there are sexual longings—that was part of your questions—but there are also communal longings, that we assume are going to be met in that marriage zone, that can really substantially be met in this kind of familial church community.
So, for my wife and I—like fast forward to when we got married—we always have an orbit of singles in our world. They regularly come up and thank us for just—like: “Thanks for letting me be a part of a family. Thanks that your kids know me, and…”
Bob: What does that look like, practically—that orbit of relationships with single people?
Ben: Yes; it’s different in different seasons. My wife is great at this. So, for her, she just knew: “I’m doing life, but I’m always going to grab someone and bring them with me; so if I’m going to the store, ‘Hey, why don’t you all come do this?’”
I remember, when we moved into our first house, she’s like, “I want to fix this fence.” My wife’s never like, “So, I’ll go do it.” She’s like: “I want to fix this fence. I’m going to call these four girls to come fix the fence.” These girls are like: “Fix a fence! What are you talking about?” So she’s teaching them something, and they’re doing it together. They’re having a shared experience/making a memory, and these girls still talk about it. Then, she’d have girls over and teach them to cook; so while she’s cooking, they’re cooking with her.
Ann: She’s discipling as she goes through life.
Ben: —just as she goes along.
Ann: Yes; right.
Ben: So as we had kids, it was like, “Alright, it’s a little less of building this and that; now, jump in and help me raise these kids/now, jump in in this element.” So, sometimes, it’s babysitting—kind of that structure here—while we’re out; but it often flows into: “Hey, stay for dinner,” “Hey, come with us as we go do this thing together.”
Ann: Did you guys purposely look for singles at church?—because I’m thinking of our listeners, thinking, “They’re surrounded at churches by single people that may feel that loneliness and would probably love to be scooped up.”
Ben: You know, I don’t know if we ever sat down and said this, like: “That’s the treatise of the Stuart family. We will…”; but people did that for me. I was the last of my friends to get married—like all my groomsmen were already married. They’re holding their kids, exhausted; you know? [Laughter] I finally just got married. I was the single guy; and she was the single girl at her church, in a lot of ways. We had these communities really surround us. So, yes; I just think it was normal for us to think like that.
Now, you look at the culture and—what is it?—45 percent of adults are single. You better figure out how to adapt singles into your world, because they’re everywhere. Many of them are living alone and don’t have a social orbit. You know, when we started the church in DC, we started with these community groups. They’ve exploded because people are lonely, man, and people—lonely and struggling to know how to connect with people in a way that’s healthy.
Bob: I’m hearing out of this: “If you’re married/if you have a family, bring the singles into the orbit of your life.
Bob: “Be intentional; be purposeful about that. If you’re involved in a local church, help the singles, who are a part of that community, have some community and some relationship.”
Sometimes, that can be really awkward and clumsy. I’m thinking of the singles at our church. If I said, “Hey, why don’t you all come over?” they’d be like: “What is this? Is this supposed to be a matchmaking thing?”
Dave: Like they are a project.
Bob: Yes; right.
Bob: So, that can be awkward; but work your way through the awkwardness and figure out how to make it work in your church. Have them all come over and say, “Look, let’s be about kingdom work. What should we be doing, here, in our city?”—right?
Ann: Well, and I think, as married couples, often, we think: “My life is a mess. I have these little kids…” or “My kids are older. I have teenagers. I don’t want this single to come in here. They’re going to think I’m a mess, and they will never want to get married.” [Laughter] You know what I mean?
I just think that’s good—to open our eyes/to think: “This would be great. It’s discipleship; it’s mentoring; it’s community/friendship.”
Bob: And then the last thing is: “If you’re single and if your relationship with God is not what it ought to be—not strong/you’re not walking with Him regularly—if you have a lot of internal issues and stuff, you’re at the dumpster fire that Ben was talking about—probably, not the right framework to go say, ‘I should go find a boyfriend…’ or ‘…a girlfriend right now,’ if those other things are true about you.”
Bob: “So, get that working well before you get out there and try to find a relationship.”
Ann: Did you know you were in a dumpster fire? [Laughter]
Ben: Yes; and so did everyone around me. [Laughter] Yes; it was fairly obvious that “Something’s wrong with the boy.”
But yes; you know, it was interesting. I remember my roommate in college would go out—his family lived in West Texas—and [he was] like: “Man, every Friday was this community dance. You would invite a girl, and we would all do this dance.” I’m like, “Your parents and everybody?” “Yes.” I was like: “Dude, that’s like the weirdest thing. What are you talking about?” He said: “Yes; this is normal. You go up in Garner City Park, and there is a big dance on Friday. You invite a girl and go.” I’m like, “Okay.”
Then, when my wife and I traveled in France, we stayed in this little village in France. They are like, “Hey, do you want to come with us Friday night?” We were like, “What are you doing?” “The whole village goes in this big deal and we put on a dance.” I’m like, “Wait; what?!” It was interesting—to be like that wasn’t just a weird West Texas thing—it was like a human thing.
Then, when I was researching for this book, I saw it in some secular resources. They were like, “In the past, the church saw that as part of the way to help singles,”—they would host dances. Literally, churches would host dances or, sometimes, they would just create avenues, where marrieds and singles sort of did it together. You had a community around you.
Ann: The only place that happens now is wedding receptions.
Bob: —or country and western bars on Saturday night.
Ben: We’ve outsourced it now. If you look in the statistics, it’s bars and online are the primary places.
Dave: Yes; it is.
Ben: Churches—it’s not. I think that’s a loss. I know my wife and I benefited from having these communities around us in our churches.
Bob: Do you think, if I got singles at our church together and said, “Let’s all go through this book together, Single, Dating, Engaged, Married,” would that be weird?
Bob: You think they’d be into that?
Ben: I think so; yes. I mean, your church may have an avenue for them, but some may not. That’d be a normal way to do it. I think, especially, if you come in—inquisitive, not with all the answers—you know what I mean?—if you come in like: “How’s this experience for you?” “What’s it like?” “How does this go?”
Ann: —wanting to know them.
Ben: Yes; and then they’ll hear about your experience and be shocked by it; you know?
I read an article in The Atlantic recently, where this woman was in her 30s; and she just did this—just interviewed singles/talked to them. They asked her, “How’d you meet your husband?” and she explained: “We worked in the same office. We’d always see each other. He just came up and said, ‘Hi.’”
She said, “It shocked me that they were shocked.” [Singles asked] “He just came up and said, ‘Hi,’ like a stranger?” “Yes; because we would see each other a lot.” They were like, “No; we don’t—I would, instantly, think that was a stalker.”
Ben: You see the social dynamics have changed so much that even starting a conversation with a stranger feels weird.
Bob: Well, we’ve been listening to a conversation with pastor and author, Ben Stuart, who has written a book called Single, Dating, Engaged, Married, looking at the dynamics of what’s going on in the culture. It’s hard today. I mean, I can’t even imagine what it must be like for young people to try to navigate with social media, with texting, with all—how do you form a relationship?
Dave: I know after that program aired, one of my best friends’ son—he’s got to be mid-20’s—texted me and said, “I listened to the Ben Stuart podcast”—actually—“and I made a decision and went to my girlfriend. We had a conversation I would have never had without that input.” He said that was life-changing. It was a hard conversation. He was like, “Nobody has ever guided me.” So, it was guidance to say, “We need to have a conversation. What are we doing with our relationship?” Actually, they made the right choice.
Ann: Well, and I think it’s hard to know how to parent our kids because we didn’t experience the same culture that they are living in right now. So, even like asking someone on a date—before, our kids, even, I would say, “You need to talk to this girl, face to face, and ask her to go out. He’s like: “What?! I would never do that. I would just text.” So, to know how to navigate that, these waters can be really tricky.
Bob: We’ve got copies of Ben’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to order Single, Dating, Engaged, Married by Ben Stuart. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. If it’s easier to call us, call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Again, the book is called Single, Dating, Engaged, Married by Ben Stuart. Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, as we mentioned at the beginning of today’s program, we are down to the last few hours, really, of 2019 and the last few hours that are available for us, here at FamilyLife, to take full advantage of the matching-gift opportunity that has been extended to us, here at the end of the year. We’ve had some friends of the ministry come forward and offer to match every donation we receive this month, dollar for dollar, up to a total of
$3 million; and we haven’t gotten there yet.
We are praying that today and tomorrow many of you, who are regular listeners, will say: “We should make a donation/a yearend donation to help support FamilyLife. We want to see the ministry continue, expand, grow. We want to see more people reached, more regularly, with practical biblical help and hope for their marriage and their family. We’re on that team.” You can go online or you can call to make as generous a donation as you possibly can, again, knowing that that donation will help us take advantage of this matching-gift opportunity. Your donation will be matched, dollar for dollar.
If you are able to help with a donation of $50 or more, we’d love to send you a new devotional from the team, here at FamilyLife—it’s called The Story of Us. It’s a devotional for couples: 52 devotions. You can read through one a week together throughout 2020. We’d love to get that out to you if you can help us with a $50 or more donation today. Again, you can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to donate: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
This is not the time to say, “I should do that. I’ll do that a couple of days from now.” No; do it today; okay? We need to hear from you. Thank you!
We hope you can join us back again tomorrow. We want to talk about the role that community—that the body of Christ/the church—plays in helping single people navigate singleness, and dating, and engagement, and marriage. There is a role for all of us to play in this, and we’ll talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
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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