Men And The C Word

One of the things that people would sometimes “challenge” me in as I entered my mid thirties as an unmarried person was the idea of commitment.  In other words they would say things like, “Do you think you are afraid of commitment?” or “Marriage is about commitment, you know?”, or, “our friend Justin has some commitment issues when it comes to women”.  Ah the C word.

Now I get it and it’s probably fair to ask this question if you don’t know me.  But I always had a problem with it because in general it didn’t wash with me.  First off, I’m a pretty committed person in general.  I’ve always been committed to my work, friends, projects, the game I’m playing that day.  No one would look at my life and say, “Justin usually bails on stuff.”

It seems to get tossed out a lot in our culture (both secular and Christian) that men in general are fearful of or unable to commit to women and marriage. I kind of disagree, in general.

There a lot of factors at play here, so let’s take a look.

First of all, I would agree that we live in a world in which people are often less “committed” to things.  This is mainly because we have more choice than ever before. Most people don’t stay with the same company they started out with.  We have more freedom to move and travel.  We have a zillion channels and now the internet.  Heck, people change churches and friend groups at least every four or five years.  So yeah, people are less committed in general.

We also have more choices in dating.  As my father once said, “Back 100 years ago when a pretty girl came to town, you married that girl, because she might be the only one you ever met.”  In other words there wasn’t the comparison game that we all play now.  There weren’t pictures of models everywhere.  There weren’t thousands of romance novels and Lifetime specials.  Women had even less options. You can feel that this is good or bad, but it is for sure true.

The second factor is that we have separated sex from marriage.  So if you don’t need commitment in order to have your sexual desire met, then why have commitment. When you start separating sex (let alone living together, child rearing, etc) from the context of marriage, then you automatically take away from marriage – both for the single and the married (more on this soon).

Neither of those factors have to do with fear of commitment.  They have to do with the choice to not be committed.

Now fear of marriage and divorce are real factors that create fear of commitment.  That’s no doubt a big factor.

But to be honest, I think the whole fear of commitment thing is a bit overblown and frankly it gets used against single men way to often.  I don’t believe that men are any more or less likely to be committed than women.  A lot of this comes from the false notion that women are morally superior to men which is a whole other conversation.

But let’s back this whole thing up one more step.

First you have to actually have someone available that you want to commit to. For much of my single years I didn’t have that.  As I’ve admitted several different times here, much of that was my fault.  I went a long time not working on becoming the man I needed to be in this area.  I had no idea about how female attraction worked.  I did a lot wrong.  No doubt.  But along with that, when you are a Christian trying to follow Jesus you are working with a small target – that is women you are attracted to that also want to follow Jesus.

This is a gigantic factor.  It’s a bigger factor in singleness than fear of commitment.  Finding someone to be committed to can be a big problem.  Knowing how to go get that person is also a problem.  We should spend more time here and less time beating people over the head with commitment.

Which brings me to the final couple of points I want to make about commitment.

Assuming that I am committed to Jesus, and I’m not called to celibacy, I need to be committed to the idea, and pursuit of marriage.  That does NOT mean marry anyone.  It doesn’t even mean that you have to know if you can marry someone before you ask them out.  But it means having the end in mind.  It means not dating the person that I know I won’t marry just because it’s comfortable or easy, not doing things that will hurt your marriage opportunities, and learning how to interact well with the opposite sex so you have a chance if you do meet someone you might want to marry.

It also means that I need to move away from looking for someone that meets all my needs, start looking for someone that I am willing to be committed to and who I believe would be committed to me.  More on that soon.

Are you a committed person?  Are you stuck in consumer dating?  What are you committed to when it comes to dating and marriage?

Is Attraction Secular?

Two summers ago I was in a rough spot emotionally in terms of dating.  I’d worked through a lot of my personal stuff and had been on quite a few dates via online and set ups etc. But I just wasn’t excited about any of it.  It’s not that some of these ladies weren’t great but I just wasn’t into it.  I joked that my give a shizz was broken.

One night while hanging out with my brother, his wife and some other friends this subject came up.  My sister in law said basically, “well marriage isn’t all about attraction.  I mean it’s tough sometimes and really it’s a decision.  You don’t always ‘feel it'”

Now those are true and wise words.  And in a sense there is an even deeper truth – you could marry anyone and if you are committed great stuff could happen.  But, as I pointed out that night, that is not how we typically start out and almost no one marries someone they aren’t attracted to.  No woman wants this as a proposal:

“Hey Sally.  These last few months have been ok.  I know we don’t really have much spark but I think we match up pretty well.  I know we’d both be committed.  We love Jesus and could learn to love each other.  So what do you say?  Let’s get married.”

Now I’m not saying that it couldn’t work.  Heck, I’m not even saying that it shouldn’t work. But what I am saying is that is not the world we live in.

Here’s a question we need to ask in the Christian dating scene.  Does attraction matter? Or better asked, is attraction a secular phenomenon?

There are some in the Christian culture who would say, it’s not about attraction.  Now there is some wisdom in this.  It’s important for people to gain an understanding that marriage is not all about sexual attraction.  This is where the secular idea of romance has led us astray.  The secular model implies that you must always feel this or something is wrong and you should end it.  That is consumer dating/marriage and it is for sure wrong.

But, in the Church, often times we act as if attraction shouldn’t matter or at the very least, we don’t know what to do with it.  We know that it can’t be the only thing, but we don’t seem to know what role it should play.  Often in an attempt to push back against the secular idea that we must always be attracted, we end up negating it almost completely.

I think this is a huge mistake.  Attraction has to be part of the conversation.  We can’t just attack the secular version without owning the reality of attraction.

It’s a mistake we make all of the time.  Too many times throughout history the Church has denied the obvious.  We’ve basically said that science or reason or philosophy is wrong, just because we don’t like the reality.  Or, maybe worse, we acquiesce parts of the battle and fall back to a defensive position.  In so doing we end up with a God of the Gaps.  In the science example God becomes the God of the stuff we can’t explain by science.

The biggest problem with this is that God owns it all, including science and in this case, including attraction.

God created us and he gave us the feeling of attraction.  It’s not a bad thing.  It is part of what makes us want to get married.  Yes the secular world has perverted it.  But that doesn’t mean we get to ignore it, we have to instead take it back and put it in it’s proper place.

We don’t get to just say that it’s not all about attraction and move on.  We have to actually deal with what healthy attraction looks like.

I get that “back in the day” there were arranged marriages and you got what you got.  (In fact one of the theories about the origin of not seeing the bride before the wedding was so that the neither party would make a run for it because they weren’t attracted).  But unless the Church is willing to go back to arranged marriages (future blog) then we are going to have to deal with attraction.

The truth is we need some serious help here.  There are some who unless they are “perfectly attracted” won’t commit.  That’s completely unrealistic and we need to step in. There are others who don’t know how to handle themselves when they are attracted and we need to step in there as well.  Finally there are those who unknowingly keep making themselves less attractive.  In true community we need to have the guts and honesty to help them as well.

We need to own and understand attraction because God does.  It’s not the problem, our response to it can be.

What has the Church (your Christian community) taught you about attraction?  Has it helped or hurt your singleness and/or marriage?

Is Marriage Under Attack?

There’s a lot of talk these days in the Christian community that marriage is under attack. The idea is that marriage is no longer seen as valuable or as a lifelong commitment.  I’ve heard it stated that young people don’t see it as important.

I can see how people come to this conclusion.  We are all well versed in the numbers. 50% of marriages end in divorce.  A third of first time marriages are over within 10 years. But, the divorce rate has actually dropped steadily for the last couple of decades. (That doesn’t make it good, but it’s not going up).  (This is also in spite of the fact that no fault divorce has been legal in 48 states since 1983).

But one of the biggest reasons the divorce rate is going down is that people aren’t getting married to begin with.  Only 51% of all people in the U.S. are married at all.  Only 20% of those aged 18-29 have ever been married.  That number is down from 60% 40 years ago. Catch that number again – 80% of adults 30 and under have never been married.

But here’s the part that should have everyone freaking out.  A lot of singles seem to not care about getting married.  They seem to be saying do whatever you want.  We haven’t quit having sex or even living with other people and having kids.  This is where the numbers are just astounding.  41% of women aged 15-44 have cohabited.  The number of cohabiting unmarried partners increased 88% from 1990 to 2007.  Most startling of all, since the late 1980’s more women in the U.S. give birth to their first child out of wedlock than as a married person.  Read that last line again!

So everyone is dong what every generation has done. . . except get married.

That is not Biblical singleness.  Let me assure you that when the Bible talks about singleness it is not talking about living with someone and having a kid or two.

But here is where I think we are missing it. I’ve met literally thousands of people currently age 15-35.  I don’t actually think young singles are devaluing marriage.  In fact, a recent survey found that 84% of women and 82% of men said that marriage was somewhat or very important.  Only 5% said that it wasn’t important at all.

The problem is they have no idea how to do singleness and most don’t know how to get married. Many are scared crapless of marriage or better stated they are scared of divorce and bad marriages.  People like the idea of marriage, they just don’t know how to do it.

Marriage is under attack but not in the way we think.  The problem isn’t that people don’t want it.

I think we need a new strategy.  We need to quit defending marriage, and start helping people figure out how to get married.  This is going to take a lot more than slogans and rhetoric.  We are going to have to get messy.  We are going to have to actually go after these people.

First we have to help define what marriage really is.  We need a right theology and practice of marriage.  This is one thing that the Church is doing very, very well.  There has been a huge movement in the last 20 years to talk about marriage in a new way with an emphasis on covenant and commitment.  We have gotten much more real about how hard that can be.  We’ve become more practical and real in our sermons and books.  We’ve stepped up Christian marriage counseling.  I’ve been hard on the Church here and there so I want to give due credit here.  The Church truly is fighting for the married.  Not perfectly of course but they have changed.

But we also have to figure out how to help the unmarried.  We have to step into the mess, not just send out conflicting and confusing spiritual platitudes.  Instead of trying to convince people that marriage is right, we have to help them become right for marriage.  We have to help them face fear, be it fear of commitment, fear of failing, fear of rejection, fear of divorce, fear of choosing wrong, fear of being let down, fear of how hard it is, or fear that they’ve already disqualified themselves.

That requires reaching out to them.  Want to change the culture?  Change how we do singleness.  Want to help people not have sex outside of marriage?  Want to deal with homosexuality, abortion and porn in a new way, and help young single people navigate this stuff?  Then help these young single people understand the theology of celibacy and marriage.  Help them pursue one or the other. Don’t just call out their sin, help them face their fear, hurt, and wounds. We need some sermons and books on this.  We need Christian singles counseling – dead serious.

Right now, over all, we are not winning.  But it isn’t because young singles don’t want to be married.  We are helping married people stay married.  It’s time to help single people get married.

Frozen Masculinity

My sophomore year I played varsity basketball.  I didn’t typically start but I played (a lot) on a team made up of 7 seniors and 3 Juniors.  I was the future.  But my junior year, while I was a better athlete, I was a worse player.  It was hard to describe.  It was like I was out there but I couldn’t fully engage.  I was kind of frozen.  There were many different reasons. I broke my thumb, we switched coaches and systems etc, but really, I was just off.  It was like I wanted it so bad that I couldn’t get it.  I was a starter, but honestly I shouldn’t have been.

One day after a particularly bad game my dad pulled me into his office.  We had a man to man.  He said, “Look, you’ve probably lost your starting job.  I wouldn’t start you.  You’ve got to turn it loose.  Somehow you’ve got to find some reckless abandon.  Sometimes you just have to say F it and go.”  My dad never cussed.  It’s maybe the best advice he’s ever given me.

That night I did start.  I also played freer.  I finished the last few games a little better and then had a good senior year.

Here’s what crazy.  The same thing happened to me in dating.  As a kid I had no game. But when I got to college I suddenly had dates.  I gained confidence and I was fearless.  I’d ask out a person in a store, the waitress, whoever, and they’d say yes.  But then some stuff changed. I had a long relationship that rightly ended but it was then that I knew I needed to date to get married, not just to date.  The pressure kind of mounted.  I was 22.

It was at this point (in my mid 20’s) that the whole “biblical dating” movement happened. Being a young Christian leader I of course wanted to do right.  So I didn’t date to date, never kissed anyone and even did the whole “courting” thing once.  Turns out you can get hurt there too.

When I turned 30 I moved to St. Louis, a much more target rich environment.  But there was a big problem.  I was frozen.  It was like I couldn’t pursue.  I over thought everything.  I was still too religious and when I did like someone I was too try hard.  I over thought, over pursued and felt awkward.  I was the nice guy.  It was seriously crazy.  It was like I was on the court, but not really able to engage.

There are a lot of guys in some sort of similar boat.  We talk all the time about how guys are passive and don’t pursue.  And many times when they do it’s all wrong.  A girl once told me, “I’m so tired of Christian guys.”  This was a gal who loved Jesus.  What she was really saying is, “I’m tired of wuss Christian guys who either won’t pursue me at all or who chase me and are constantly needy.”

We have a serious problem.  Many guys are frozen.  The reasons include but are not limited to:

  • Over-spiritualizing the whole thing.  This includes all I talked about here.  
  • Over-thinking the whole thing.  All of the pretend conversations with girls, trying to figure out if they like me, speculating on how it will all pan out, trying to avoid hurt and on and on
  • Fear of rejection – we are often afraid to ask out who we really want to.  Part of this comes from over thinking and building up the situation to begin with.
  • Fear of commitment – a lot of guys are just scared of marriage
  • Not knowing how to attract girls.  Most men have no training or help on how female attraction works.  They don’t know how to do it.
  • Waiting for the perfect person – you know the one who looks just right, talks just right, and acts just right – before you even know her
  • Worrying about what others think – both the girl we might ask and what others will think of her if we do
  • We’ve spent too much time having our sexual needs met other ways, which drives down the desire for marriage and drives up our shame – bad combination (more here soon)

All of these can play into each other.  It’s a cycle.  I think about it more, which steals more of my identity away from Christ, which makes me more worried about how it will go, which makes me less likely to act, which means when I do it will be awkward, which will make me more unattractive, which will mean I’m rejected, which will make me think about it more . . . . Whew I’m tired.

We’ve got to figure out how to stop it.  We’ve got to figure out how to act with some reckless abandon (which by the way is extremely attractive).  We have to break free and just go.

What freezes you?  What keeps you from fully engaging and pursuing marriage?  What has helped you get past it?

Are You Addicted To The Search?

In my early 30’s I had kind of a “come to Jesus” time when it comes to dating and the search for a spouse.  I had done pretty much everything wrong up until that point and worse, I had not really dealt with a lot of my own insecurities, sin, and woundedness. But thankfully the Lord (directly and through others in my life) met me in that and I was able to work through a lot of stuff.

That led me to actually be able to succeed. Here’s what I realized right away.  As a friend of mine said, “When you’re a guy in his 30s who has himself figured out – it’s a buyers market.”  What he meant was there are a lot of available women looking for that.

Now to be clear, I was kind of relearning how to date but even then I began to realize he was right.  And once I figured it out it was even a little overwhelming.  I went on a lot of dates which taught me an important thing that I talked about last week.  There is always someone else. Always.

Now it is important for us to know that but it can also lead to other traps.  I floated on the edge of some of these but I’ve seen some of my friends and other guys really fall into them.

We live in a consumer culture.  We want exactly what meets our needs and we are always looking for the next thing that will do that.  This is bad for the spouse search.  It can lead to us bailing every time that someone doesn’t meet our needs.  When we see imperfections in the person we can think there is someone better.  Why commit if there could be someone better?  This is a huge contributor to divorce.  If I’m married and it isn’t going well, that must mean that I didn’t marry the right ONE and there must be someone else.

After all there will always be someone else.  Always.

It doesn’t matter how hot someone is, there will be someone hotter. There will also be someone smarter, more fun, more adventurous, funnier, more understanding of my flaws, etc.  Always.  Even if you are married there will be other people you are attracted to.  That isn’t going to stop.

To be honest, at some level it’s always fun to meet a new person.  I mean there is this new hope that they could be the one you’ve dreamed of – who is “perfect” for you.  Some can even become basically obsessed with dating.

Online dating is a great way to see this.  There is always another profile (usually far away geographically – I swear it’s a conspiracy by the online dating sites to keep you there).  I mean you could stay online and meet people for the next ten years. If you are always dating and it never goes anywhere, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that might be partly you. Ha.

It’s easy to become addicted to the search.  Some of us have been searching for a long time. Its what we know. We’ve also been told by our married friends, cocky single friends, and even the Church that we should never settle.  While that’s true on some level it can be a standard that practically guarantees singleness.  We get so comfortable looking for the ONE that we become completely uncomfortable being with even the right one.  It makes it hard to commit if there could be someone better.

We need to understand that marriage is a choice and a covenant.  It is a decision to love another person the rest of their life regardless of what happens.  It means being all in.

We need to change the question.  We need to stop looking for the perfect person and start looking for the right person.  Now the right person may feel perfect and probably should a lot of the time, but no one will feel that way all of the time and if we expect that, then we will never actually commit to anyone.

We need to know that there can always be someone else.  It gives us the freedom to pursue without fear.  But at the same time it doesn’t mean that we have to always pursue the next person.

So where are you at with all of this?  Are you addicted to the search?  Are you looking for the perfect one or the right one?

We Are Scared Crapless Of Marriage

Just over 10 years ago I was meeting with a group of about 30 juniors and seniors.  A female volunteer and I were leading a session on sex and dating (because if you are a good youth person you must do this right?).  But anyway, I asked a simple question that brought me a somewhat shocking answer.  I said, “How many of you think that you will get married one time and stay married to that person forever?”  Only about half the kids in that room raised their hands.  This was in the middle of Missouri . . . in 1999.

We so often refuse to deal with the reality of culture. The divorce rate is 50%.  49% of adults are not married.  80% of adults aged 18-29 are not married.  That is the real world. Why?

There are many reasons.  Last week I said one of the reasons is that we have become more self centered.  Today I’d like to talk about another huge reason.  People are scared crapless of marriage.

There’s this idea in the “Christian” world that marriage is less respected today.  I get that thought and I don’t totally disagree.  But I think it is a huge oversimplification of the problem.  I actually think that most young people actually do respect the idea of marriage, which is one reason they are so scared to commit to it.  They’ll do anything but get married.  They will date the same person forever, keep trying to find the perfect person, try out sex, live together and heck even have kids together.  Anything but get married.  Some of that is selfishness but some of it is just pure unadulterated fear.

What is everyone afraid of?  Several things actually.

First, in a general sense people are afraid of screwing up marriage.  They are scared they won’t be able to do it or that they aren’t ready to do it (which of course no one is).  You see they’ve seen it done mostly wrong.  It’s now more normal in our country to grow up in a “broken home” than a complete one.  Kids have grown up seeing their parents in one of two situations.  Many have seen divorce and all the cost that comes with that.  And if that is the choice then let’s not get married at all.  They don’t think divorce is ok.  They have sworn not to let it happen to them and the best way to ensure that is to avoid marriage. Believe me, I’ve talked to these people.  They’d rather have a kid out of wedlock than be divorced.  Less drama.

Secondly a lot of people have watched parents in marriages that are completely dysfunctional and they don’t want that either.  They believe in marriage but they haven’t really ever seen it work.

People are also afraid of community and commitment to others in general.  I mean think about your small group – who really is committed?  Have you ever really been completely committed to anyone or vice versa?  Marriage is the ultimate commitment. It’s the first human community – Adam and Eve with God in the middle.  That’s how it all started and it’s still the idea.  But if I’ve never had real community with anyone – how the heck do I do that with another person. . . every day. . . no matter what. . . with no exit.  Get what I’m saying? We are scared of what comes with community – fighting, getting hurt, accountability, someone knowing the worst things about me.  And there in lies perhaps the our biggest fears.

Men are afraid of failure.  We are afraid we won’t be able to do it.  Can I be a husband? Can I be a father?  I don’t know what I’m doing – can I take on that fight?  What if I fail? What if I choose wrong?  What if I’m constantly all day reminded of my failure over and over?

Women are typically more afraid of abandonment.  Not necessarily that the man will leave physically although that too.  But that he will leave emotionally or spiritually.  That somehow at some point something will happen and she will be alone.

Marriage is the ultimate test of these fears.  Making matters worse is the fact that every guy will fail and every woman will feel alone, even in the best marriage.  So why put yourself in that position.  That’s crazy scary.

I don’t have space here to go at how to face all these fears (I promise to come back to it). But here’s the point for today.  Many of us need to face the fact that we are scared.  We need to ask where that comes from because it’s not from God.  And the Church, if it is going to love singles well has to recognize and help us face those fears.  Morality is not enough in the face of fear.  More to come. 🙂

So are you scared?  What part of marriage scares you the most?  Where does that fear come from?