Why Are You Single?
Who's fault is it that you're single? Lisa Anderson, author of "The Dating Manifesto," talks candidly about the reasons some singles find themselves spouse-less. Anderson considers her own dating experience, and reminds singles of one great comfort—that God is sovereign and ultimately good.
About the Guest
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, October 4th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and 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 tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I want to ask our guest the first question today—can I do that?
Bob: I mean—
Dennis: Let me just introduce her.
Bob: Introduce her and do all of that, but I’ve got a hardball/fastball question I want to ask.
Dennis: Well, I was going to ask her my favorite question, but I’m kind of curious—you’ve never pounded the table quite like that. Lisa needs to put on her bulletproof vest.
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’s 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: —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 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 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]
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.
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. So, when you’ve walked through singleness for a couple decades and you desire marriage, it is an exhausting place to be in. 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 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. It doesn’t mean it’s all tied up with a bow. 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.
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 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 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.
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. So, this is a little tricky; because now, I’m in a position where I host a show for singles.
Lisa: So, 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; 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—that 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 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 unattracted to; that you have issues with 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—bring my mom into the picture—my mom got married in the ‘50s. She met my dad in college, stalked him at 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.
So, 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 recently spoke at Liberty University to the first-ever, all-male convocation at the school. 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—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 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 “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, as men and women together,—
Dennis: —or as a group of guys or as a group of women. I don’t think it really matters. They just need to be interacting and being honest about how they relate to what she’s talked about.
You know, I’m going to switch subjects on you.
Dennis: And I’ve thought about this three times in the interview. Bob’s fired you two zingers. I’m going to kind of set a volleyball up over the net—about a foot above it—and allow you to spike it.
Dennis: So, you’ve talked about your mom—how she, now, is in some of the early to mid stages of Alzheimer’s. She’s been a sweet lady in your life. One of my favorite things to do, here on FamilyLife Today, is to ask the guest to seat their mother across the table and to give her a verbal tribute—
—just to honor her for the powerful impact she’s had in your life. Can you do that?
Bob: You take a minute and think about what you want to say. In the meantime, I’ll let our listeners know how they can get your book, The Dating Manifesto, which is a book that I’m going to be sharing with a number of my single friends. I think you’ve done a great job with this book.
You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to request a copy. Order it from us, again, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” By the way, we’ve got a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com to Lisa’s website. So, if you’d like to follow her blog and see what she’s writing and talking about these days, just go to FamilyLifeToday.com and look for the link.
Also, Dennis, let me say a quick, “Happy anniversary!” today to Everett and Kathy Nelson from Stafford, Virginia. The Nelsons are celebrating 41 years of marriage today. They listen to FamilyLife Today on WAVA in Washington, DC. And they’re also supporters of this ministry. We appreciate those of you who partner with us to make FamilyLife Today possible—folks like the Nelsons. Thank you for standing with us and for your support.
In fact, let me just say to those of you, who are regular listeners—but who have never made a donation: “We’d love to have you join the team.” If you can make a donation today, we would like to send you, as a thank-you gift, a resource that Barbara Rainey has recently created. It’s a banner that you can hang in your home that declares that your home is an embassy of the kingdom of heaven. That’s our gift to you when you make a donation at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation; or you can mail your donation to us at FamilyLife Today at PO box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223.
Alright; time is up. Dennis—
Dennis: And we’ve been talking to Lisa Anderson. She’s been put on the hot seat here on a number of occasions. She’s probably never going to come back to FamilyLife Today again until all the people on the—[Laughter]
Bob: She’s staying out of Arkansas altogether.
Dennis: —on the Front Range stop listening to the broadcast out of Arkansas. I challenged you to think about giving a tribute to your mom. The way you do it is—just speak directly to her, first-person.
Well, Mom, I love you. You know that you called me your “Bonus.” You did not expect me to be born—you were not planning for me—but you have told me that you are very glad that I was born, even though I was a challenging, challenging kid. I don’t even think you read The Strong-Willed Child before I came along or even after.
But you—as I talk about singleness and as I talk about my story—and you know I’ve talked to you about this—you are the one who, in my life, has walked through it with me the most. You have been there through most of the seasons. You have shared my story. You’ve shared my tears. You’ve shared my happiness. You’ve shared my successes; and you have prayed for me every day of my life in a way that has encouraged me, has strengthened me, and has challenged me. When I went through a period of rebellion in high school and beyond, you cared for me. You confronted me on a number of things, and you walked with me and stuck with me.
And Mom, you have been an example of resilience. You have been hurt by people. You have been hurt even by people in the church and beyond. You always told me, as did Dad, to not judge Christ by Christians; because Jesus never fails and to know that He’s the one thing that I can always trust in and believe in.
I just thank you for your legacy / for the heritage of faith you gave me and the other kids—and for what you’ve done—not only in the church and in ministry, as a missionary / as a pastor’s wife, but then, moving into the corporate world and choosing to represent Christ there, and being a light in the public square, and to always encourage me to speak up for my faith and “…not be ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of salvation for everyone who believes…[Romans 1:16].”
So, Mom, I love you. Thank you so much. I’m so glad you’re now living with me, and we’re able to walk through your final years together. I just love you so much.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
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