Responding To Platitudes

One of the most annoying things that you deal with as single person is all of the things that people say to you about your singleness.  I’m talking about all of the platitudes, quick answers, and questions that people say to you.

I was single until I was nearly 41 and believe me, I’ve heard them all.  They come from all directions.  People who care, people who don’t.  People who feel sorry for you, people who are frustrated with/at you.  From behind the pulpit to in the small group to heck, behind the counter.

  • I’m sure God has someone for you.
  • God is preparing someone for you – just be patient
  • Be grateful for your time as a single – once you get married it all changes.
  • Are you praying for your spouse?
  • Have you tried online?
  • It’s when you aren’t looking that you find someone
  • Just seek to be content in your singleness and God will provide
  • It will happen at the right time
  • Just focus on serving God right now.
  • God must have someone really special for you
  • Better to be single than married to the wrong person
  • Don’t settle
  • Are you too picky?
  • Are you dating anyone?

I could go on and on and on and on and on.  It can be funny, awkward, frustrating, or even infuriating.  The question is how do we respond well to this stuff.  I mean do you blow it off? Do you give a great sarcastic answer? “Are you praying for it?”- “Wow!  I’ve never thought about praying for it.  I’ll be sure to do that.”  Haha.

I think how we respond matters because it affects us and sometimes others.

There are some key things to keep in mind.  What is the intent? What is your relationship to this person?  What is the goal of your response?

Most of the time people are just making conversation.  It’s a question, in our culture that we lead with. It’s just a way of talking about something. The weather, the local sports team, your marital status. It’s all the same. There is zero reason to let it bother you. This last weekend I celebrated my one year anniversary. You know what everyone asks me? “So hows married life?” “Hows your wife?” “First year of marriage huh – bet that was fun.” “So has the honeymoon worn off?” Depending on how I answer that, they’ll have a nice thing to say about it. It’s no different as a parent. “How’s the kid?” “How is school going?”

Most of the people at church, in our neighborhood and even many of our family and friends will fit this category.  I think this is where you smile and take it.  And then ask about their kids. . . or the NBA finals.

There are others who ask out of some sort of sense of arrogance or wanting to fix you. This is more troublesome and might be worth challenging.  One time when I was on the golf course with a business associate who was about my age.  He was a Christian and married with kids.  He began to tell me how I should lead my dating life.  Basically he was pulling rank and telling me how to “stay pure”.  When the conversation moved to “I tell my 14 year old son. . . ” I stopped him.  I said, “Do you really want to have this conversation?  Because I’ll have it with you.  Do you really want to be in this with me?  I’ll let you in, but if you want to go there, it’s about to get real right now.”  That oddly enough kind of stopped the conversation.

Finally there are those who really do care about us.  I’m talking about our close friends and family who actually walk with us.  This is where, if we are bothered by what they ask us or the “wisdom” they dispense or if we are just tired of being identified as the single person in the group, we need to speak up honestly.  If we can’t challenge what these people say to us in a loving way, then we are in trouble, and not just in this part of the conversation.

But we need to realize some things from our end.  Do we really want to move beyond it?  Do we really want their actual opinion and help?  And finally, have we set the stage that way ourselves?

If for example every time someone says what can I pray for, we say, “a spouse” we don’t have a lot of room to be frustrated with them bringing it up.  If I’m focussed there, it’s pretty natural for the people around me to want to help.  Do we really want honest answers?  For example would we be willing to ask “why do you think I’m still single – for real?”  “Do you think I’m doing anything wrong?”  “How am I around the opposite sex?”  Are we willing to hear the answers?  Here’s what I’m saying.  WIth our close friends, how do we help them help us.

I’d love to hear from my readers on this one.  A couple of questions.

What are some of the things people say to you that drive you the most crazy?  How do you respond?

 

 

 

Why Married People Need A Singles Sermon Series

Recently, I was asked by a pastor friend of mine to help him consider how to handle singleness from the pulpit and frankly throughout his church.  I of course said, “Read my blog – duh.”  Just kidding.

First of all, this man should be commended for taking it on and asking questions (not just of me).  I’ve written before about how your pastor probably doesn’t get it.  This is how one gets out of that situation – because anyone can get it.

Now I have some thoughts on what a sermon series on “singleness” would look like.  I’ll share some of that soon.  But one of the things I think a pastor runs up against if he wants to talk about singleness from the pulpit is that most likely the majority of his audience will be married.

This is one of the good reasons that churches do marriage sermon series.  They are trying to help people who are married.  And they know if they do have single people there, that most of them want to be married and therefore might be able to gain something from it.  In fact as I’ve written before – as a single you really should pay attention to that sermon series.

But the problem comes when this same pastor wants to talk about singleness.  How does he “sell” that to a mostly married crowd?  Today I’m going to tell you exactly how I’d do that.  In other words, I’m going to tell you why all this stuff we talk about here should be important to married people in the church.  Very important actually.  There are many reasons, but here are a few – in no particular order.

For starters, most married people, have single friends.  They work with single people, live down the street from them, sit next to them at church.  Married people need to know how to best minister to these people – and not from a place of superiority.  I think there are a lot of married folks who want to care about their single friends but don’t know much about it.  Learning more would help.  In the same way that I tried to learn to minister to my married friends (and even challenge them) even though I wasn’t married, married people need to do that as well.

This leads to a secondary point.  50% of American adults are unmarried.  Most of those people (as in literally most) don’t go to church.  So if we are going to invite a friend to church, there is a good chance they will be single.  If we are serious about reaching out into the community, learning how to think about singleness and the Gospel is pretty key.

Another reason married people need this information is that many of them entered marriage under wrong premises.  Yes the marriage sermon helps here.  But so does the sermon about not being married.  When you knock down all of the spiritual platitudes that we tell single people (God has someone for you, hasn’t brought you the one yet, is waiting for you to be ready, save yourself for marriage, etc.) we also help married people who are struggling in their marriage because they believed in those exact platitudes and now they are being let down by them.

Let me promise you this.  If a church did a gutsy sermon series on the unmarried and the Gospel, they would rock a lot of married people’s worlds.  In what would eventually be a good way, some crap would hit the fan.  Not only that, but there would be some marriages that are struggling in which by the end of this series, they would become committed to figuring it out.  They would be thankful.

Talking about singleness in all it’s forms, also reminds married people, that yes, you are in a covenant relationship for life, but your identity is not in that.  You were created unmarried and will be resurrected unmarried.  Not to mention, that talking about the holiness of celibacy also raises the holiness of marriage.  When we look at both together we get a better picture of the Kingdom.

Further, most married people will also become (or already are) parents.  If I had a church with a lot of parents of adolescents, I for sure would want them to know the stuff we talk about here.  Because how else are they supposed to help their kid walk through it?

Parents need an accurate view of what is going on out there.  If all they know how to offer their kids are the spiritual platitudes that the church throws out to the unmarried, they are setting their kids up to fail – and possibly fail hard.  It is vital that parents understand as best they can the scene today and all that goes with it.  The more they understand the better they will be able to advise, comfort and hopefully guide their children.  I don’t think this can be overstated.

Finally, and maybe most important, many of the things that we need to talk about with singles, have just as many (if maybe different) implications for those who are married.  The Gospel is the Gospel.  Switching contexts won’t change that.  Just like I’ve heard pastors say in a marriage sermon, “Single folks this applies to you” they would be saying, “Hey married folks, this applies to you.”

 

 

 

Avoid The Friend Zone

I have a friend who recently met a girl he was really into.  She was beautiful (ok hot) and loved Jesus. However she was somewhat uncertain about her job situation and there was a chance she would be moving.

My friend handled this well.  He basically told her that he wanted to get to know her and that he wanted to date her.  He made his intentions clear without coming off like a crazy person.  He just wanted her to know that he was hanging out with her with a purpose in mind and he wanted to be clear on that.  Good job by him.

So they went on several dates and then hit a time period where they were both traveling. They texted some etc, but they both knew they were kind of off the grid so to speak for a couple of weeks.

She got a little slower to text back which my friend recognized as a bad sign.  When the both got back to town, my friend called her and they decided to grab coffee.  As they were talking my friend basically asked her if she was into this dating relationship.  She said no. He did an incredibly brave thing and asked her why.  She said that she just didn’t see him that way.  But then she said, “But I’d really like to hang out as friends.”

Then my friend did what so many other men should do.  He said no.  That’s it.  He said that he wasn’t interested in running around as friends.  First of all he has friends. Secondly he liked her as more than that so it would be intellectually dishonest to hang out as friends when that was not his intentions.  Finally, he was looking for someone to date and eventually marry and if he is running around with her as a “friend” then that would be confusing to others.

She was pissed. She literally didn’t know what to do with it.  She said, “so this is what it feels like to be broken up with.”  This was of course hilarious since she was the one saying she didn’t want to date him.  He took her home, they shook hands and said goodbye. Best part is she texted him that night as if it had never happened.  Wisely he didn’t respond.

I share this story with you because this guy handled this exactly right.  I joked with him that he was now a true Jedi and had avoided the dark side that I call “the friend zone”.

As men, we have to avoid the friend zone.  It was no doubt tempting for this guy to think, “well if she wants to hang out with me, I can eventually win her over”.  Not so.  In fact I’m telling you right now that if there is any chance that she would like him it will be because he did what he did here.  He stood up to her.

She was mad because she was used to being in control.  Now I’m not saying here that we should be out to make girls mad.  Far from it.  What I am saying is that when we allow the friend zone to happen we give her all the power and completely kill any chance of her ever being attracted to us.  You as a guy, have to get this.  No matter how attracted you are to her, you can not “chase” her.  By walking away, you respect her lack of attraction to you. But you also increase her respect for you as a man.  And you gain confidence – which is hot.

Being “friends” with the girl that you want to date is just clobbering yourself.  I mean I hate to say it that way but it’s the truth.  It doesn’t help anybody.

Now here’s the thing, I’m not saying you can’t be friends with an attractive woman.  I have lots of friends and some of them are women.  I’m even friends at some level with a person or two that I once asked out.  But I didn’t get turned down and then become “hang out friends” with them.

The friend zone is to be avoided at all costs because it’s not real friendship.  It is when the girl uses the guy who she isn’t attracted to for the benefits.  She comes to you with stories about other guys.  She needs help with something and you rush to help her.  She has “spiritual questions” and you “minister” to her, but the whole time you want to date her.  That brother, is the friend zone and it will crush your manhood.

You are not a victim.  Don’t tell me that everyone just sees you as a friend – that’s because you let them.  You have to choose different.  It’s not up to one girl or another.  It’s up to you.

Are you always in the friend zone?  Are you ready to get out?

You Are Not Called To Be Alone

One of the great struggles of singleness is the feeling that you are alone.  Now I know that even if you are married you can still feel that way, but it is almost a guarantee that if you are single for any length of time you will feel it.

It can be made even harder by the fact that we live in a culture that has become more and more individualized.  Not all of that is bad, we have more freedom to move different places, explore different options and take different opportunities.  But there are a lot of unintended consequences.  One of those is that we end up switching friends all the time and not really going deep.  And this can lead to feeling alone or to for all intents and purposes, actually being alone.

We end up not really knowing how to have real community.  But we need it, whether we are single or married.

In Genesis, God creates Adam and then says, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  You see God was not alone.  He has always been in perfect relationship as the Father, Son, and Spirit.  And He created us in His image, which makes us relational beings.  It is critical that we get this.

In our world we are told that it is all about the individual.  It is all about you, making your way and doing what you need to do.  It is about self advancement.  Even in the Church it can become about my relationship with God, my ministry, my spiritual growth.  Now there is truth in that.  You and I have an individual role to play in the story – but heres the key – we are not THE story.

I think one of the many reasons we have more single people than ever in history is that we are more alone to begin with.  We get used to operating on our own and going after the stuff that helps mainly us.  We are not used to working stuff out in community, let alone with another person that I have to be with every single day.  It’s hard work and even though we are made for it, we are resistant and we’ve been trained to be.

It’s gotten to the point where it is just kind of accepted.  “I’m on my own.”  But you are not supposed to be.  Even if you are called to celibacy (to be single and not marry), you are not called to be alone.

People who are truly called to celibacy typically get this.  Priests and nuns are typically less alone than us.  Throughout time, they’ve typically lived in community.  They get that the call to celibacy is not a call to aloneness.  (By the way I learned more about the call to celibacy and marriage and the difference in about an hour sharing a panel with a priest and nun than I have in 20+ years of being in the protestant church – but I digress.)

The point here is that we are not created to be loners.  My pastor spoke on this last week and he brought it perfectly at the end.  He said, “What if you didn’t have to navigate your marriage alone.  What if you didn’t have to navigate your singleness alone?  Or your parenting? Or your career? Or your wounds? Or your success?”  Exactly!

We need people in our lives who know us.  People who know our story – both where we’ve been and where we are trying to go.  Yes I’m talking about accountability, but more than that.  Yes I’m talking about meeting together, and sharing together, but more than that.

Marriage is not the only covenant relationship available to us.  If you get married it is the number one covenant relationship in your life (behind Jesus) but it doesn’t have to be the only one.  It’s all over scripture.  Look at the early church.  Look at Aaron and Moses or Jonathan and David.

But it takes work and more importantly it means making a decision to be in it no matter what.  This kind of community doesn’t “just happen”.  If it can “just happen” then it can just as easily “unhappen”.  That doesn’t create security, trust and unity.

I think one of the huge traps as a single person is that we can, over time, become more and more independent, to the point that we are actually alone.  And alone is bad.  We are not meant to carry our burdens, sins, decisions, fears, dreams, and celebrations alone.  If we are indeed called to be married we will be way more prepared if we have real community that we have had to work at.  If we are called to celibacy then it is just as critical so that we don’t become isolated.

Do you have real community?  Who knows your dreams, fears, sins, successes?  Who knows your heart?  Whose heart do you know?  Are you single, or are you alone?

Can Men And Women Be Friends?

I was leading a breakout session on singleness when a young woman asked if it was possible for men and women to be friends.  My answer was yes . . . . . maybe.

I’ve gone back and forth on this over the years.  When I was in high school I was the recipient of the, “I see you as a friend” line an awful lot.  So when I went to college I was determined to not be friends with girls at all.  This was a serious decision on my part.  Now I did have a lot of dating success in college.  But here’s the funny part. The first girl I went out on a date with in college became one of the best female friends I’ve ever had.  Now we only went on a couple of dates and there is a lot more to that story but it’s still really ironic.

Since college, I have served in different ministry capacities I’ve worked with lots of women. I would consider many of them great friends.  I would also say that I’ve had a positive impact on many women through my ministry, some of whom I would also consider friends.

So my answer to the question, can men and women be friends?  Yes . . . . maybe.  Let me explain.

First of all, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, you shouldn’t be friends with the hope that it will turn into more.  In other words becoming friends as a way to avoid actually asking the girl out or because you know she isn’t attracted to you but you hope she will be later is a terrible idea.  It’s sort of shady actually because you are not really being her friend.

Secondly, I think you can be friends but you can’t be “just friends”.  Here’s what I mean by that.  “Just Friends” is a way of avoiding something.  A lot of times it’s a way for the person who isn’t attracted to someone who is attracted to them to be nice and try to avoid rejecting the person.  In other words if I ask a girl out and she says, let’s just be friends, that is her way of saying no but you’re not a bad guy or anything.  It’s not an invitation to a lifelong friendship.  Seriously, I promise it’s not.  If you ask someone out and they tell you that, you need to walk away.  Right then.  That doesn’t mean don’t be friendly towards them.  It just means don’t be intentional friends.

Now if you were friends and then you became attracted and she says that, then fine, you might be able to stay friends at some level.  But you need to be careful here.  You need to be sure that you have emotionally walked away and aren’t sliding into being her friend so she will like you.

On the other hand if you don’t really know this girl and you met somehow and went out a couple of times and she drops that line on you, do not, I repeat, do not strike up a big friendship with this person.  Again that doesn’t mean if you see her out or something that you are mean to her but don’t “pursue” her by being a friend.  If you are really into her the best thing you can do is say, “I don’t really need more intentional female friends.  I was hoping for more.  If something changes let me know.”  I promise you that this is the way to go.  It’s the only way you will keep her respect.

Finally, you should not be “best friends” with a girl.  You should have men in your life that fill that role.  If most of your close friends are the opposite sex you are in trouble.  You need to begin to deal with that.  There’s not space here to delve into that but you need to.

One way to know if you are really friends is to ask yourself a couple of key questions.  If this person started dating someone would you be excited for them?  Would you want to hang out with them and become friends with their partner.  I’ve had that happen a lot.  In fact a couple of my best guy friends are married to women that I knew before I knew them. If your answer is no, you need to back way, way off the friendship.

Does this person like me as more than a friend even though I don’t see them this way?  I’ve been on both ends of this.  My thought would be that if that is true then you need to back way off.  It’s not loving them to inadvertently stoke that fire.  And that’s exactly what you are doing if you hang out with them all the time.  You are just adding to their hurt and you are keeping them from pursuing other people.  Please don’t pretend you don’t know they like you – you know.

So what are you thoughts?  What has been your honest experience here?

Don’t Be Friends First

So as I’ve mentioned before I’ve read a whole lot of online profiles.  I mean a lot.  One thing that always makes me laugh is when the woman says something to the effect of, “I want to marry my best friend” or, “I want to be friends first.”

Gentlemen, don’t believe this.  Here is what that means in reality.  The whole friends first thing is just a safety measure.  It means essentially, “I want to lessen the pressure on this situation.” It can also mean, “I not attracted to you but I’m not good at saying no to people so I’ll say this instead.”  It does not mean they want to be “just friends” for a while and will be attracted to you later.

When a woman says she wants to marry her best friend, it means that she wants to be best friends with the person she is already attracted to and wants to marry.  That is not a bad thing by the way.  But it doesn’t mean that she wants to become friends and then marry someone even though she isn’t attracted to them.

Friendship in a relationship is extremely important.  In the book, The Mystery Method, “Mystery” (you can search this guy out on your own – I don’t condone all that he says but there is some good stuff) offers this equation: Attraction + Comfort = Seduction.  Read that again.  Here’s the idea.  If you create attraction with a woman but aren’t friend material (read comfort) eventually it won’t work.  But if you create friendship without attraction – that is all it will ever be.  You are stuck in the friendzone.

The point is that people, male and female, date people they are attracted to period.  End of story.  We’ll talk about how to get out of/avoid the friendzone later, but that is not the point of this post.  Today I want to talk about pursuing women under the guise of friendship.

This is especially important in the “Christian” dating (or courting or whatever you call it) culture.  Just because we are not going to have sex on the first date does not make us “friends”.  It means we have morals.  But this idea of being her friend so she will eventually like me is weak.  If I’m interested in pursuing a girl I should not approach it as a friendship. Why?  Because that is not what I actually want and that makes it shady.

It drives me crazy when guys do this.  This isn’t legitimate friendship.  It’s false.  It’s a strategy.  There are all sorts of reasons for this strategy.  Maybe, I don’t have the guts to ask this girl out so instead I will become “friends” with her.  Or I know she doesn’t like me but I like her so I’ll hang around her as much as I can and hope that eventually somehow she will “like” me.

Maybe I’ll join her small group, join her cause (something she is passionate about) or worst of all, I “minister” to her, thinking that eventually she will like me. If I do all of this with the hope/intention of turning it into more, then I’m not really being her friend. I’m using friendship as a way to pursue her.

Now I’m not talking about someone who is a friend and later becomes someone of interest. That can sometimes happen.  I’m also not saying don’t have female friends.  What I’m talking about here is using the friendship angle when you don’t mean it.  It’s bad because it’s intellectually dishonest.  Frankly it’s also a waste of time.  Once you are in the friendzone you are done.  Why go there on purpose?  You will never turn that into more as long as that is how she views you.

Honestly there are some guys who are lacking self confidence and think this is literally the only way to get to hang out with women they like.  I feel legitimate pain in my heart for you if that is where you are at.  But you are worth more than that. Stop subjecting yourself to this.

Finally there are guys who are “friends” first because they aren’t sure they want to actually date a particular person or they want to be “friends” with multiple people.  So they “hang out” (read date but without any kind of responsibility) with their “friend”.  Maybe it’s a girl who you think you should be attracted to or who your friends want you to be attracted to. It doesn’t matter. You already know you aren’t attracted to this person – or you’d ask her out.  Don’t drag it out and lead her on.

Look, at one point or another in the last 25 years I’ve done all of the above.  How many times did this work out?  Zero.

So have you ever used the “friend’s first” strategy?  Did it actually protect you?  Have you ever seen it work?

Don’t Live Life Alone

When I was in 7th grade my family moved from a suburb to a small town. Making new friends can be tough – especially as I was a pretty awkward middle schooler (hard to believe I know).  But I had two big things going for me.  1. My family was moving with me – we might be in a new house but the same five people were there every day, and 2. I had to sit in class for eight hours a day with all these new people.  In other words I had forced community.

After high school, I went to college.  Again, there was forced community.  I played football so I met 80 people before class even started.  I had a suite full of 8 other people that I was forced to share space with.  Many of these people became my friends.

What’s interesting is that when you are younger, whenever you take the next step, while it might be hard to leave some people, there’s a whole new group of people waiting.  You are almost forced to make friends.

Even as most of us start out in our early 20’s community is relatively easy.  Everyone is in the same boat.  For the first few years out of college, I always had roommates my age, people that were in the same place in life.

But as you get older and remain single, this becomes harder.  Every time you move, you start all over.  This became really apparent to me when I moved to St. Louis. If you are married and you move it can be tough, but you still have each other.  You wake up with the same friend every day.  As a single, you don’t have that.

In our culture, the older you get, the more you are alone.

Some people would say we choose this and there is some truth to that.  But if you think about it some of it is just reality.  We don’t have as many jobs where you work in large group anymore.  People also switch jobs more often and don’t even stay with the same company for 5 years let alone 20.

As a single person it is really easy to become more and more isolated.  Our peers are getting married and our roommates keep getting younger and younger.  Know what I’m saying?  I had a time where I was the only one in the office.  I went to work alone, I did ministry alone, I went to Church alone and I went home alone.  I remember one time my boss was saying we needed to make sure we had times of solitude.  I thought – yeah I’ve got that covered.

This is a dangerous situation for us as singles.

First of all it can lead to more time in our own head or what I call The Pretend.  I’ve written about this previously but it’s not good.  It can lead to us being disengaged and isolated. This, in turn, can make our interaction with others less full even when we are with people. All this is bad, not to mention it can decrease our ability to engage the opposite sex.  In fact as we have less and less engagement with the opposite sex, our ability to pursue a marriage relationship takes a beating. Finally, it also leads to more selfishness.  I can just do what I want, when I want.

We have to fight this.  There are no perfect answers but I want to give just a few practical ones.

  • Fight for community.  You can’t just hope it happens.  They don’t have to be like you or even your age.  Do what it takes, you have to do this.
  • Have a roommate or several.  I know, I know, you’re thirty something and the only option is a 25 year old – I say do it anyway.  It’s better than the alternative.  Take someone in who you mentor.  Buy a house and rent out a room.  Don’t go home alone.
  • Don’t lose your friends because they get married.  Your friends should be your friends no matter what.  I get that it might look different but if you are only going to have single friends you are in trouble.
  • Serve.  Even if it is in a small way this is one of the main places where community happens – around a common mission.
  • Listen to sermons and talk radio now and then – not just music.  Trust me on this – it makes you engage and helps keep you out of the pretend

Finally, as “Churchy” as this sounds, you have to engage God.  Learn to talk with God.  If we could take half the time we spent in our own heads and pray we would be changed forever.

So how do you keep from being isolated?  How do keep from being all alone?