Singleness Choices, Consequences and Opportunity Costs

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately as I’ve been reading some scripture is  idea of choice in the face of different contexts.  The particular scripture that started this thought was 1 Peter 2:13-20.  Here Peter instructs even servants to submit to their masters. . . even the bad ones.

Now obviously our culture and history has a lot of impact on how we read that.  But Peter’s point isn’t that slavery is good.  Or that unreasonable masters are ok.  The point is that regardless of my circumstances and context, I’m called to act as Christ would.  Peter and the early Church Fathers backed this up with their lives.  They actually did endure extreme injustice with joy.  In reading their writings, and writings about them, you can’t really help but be amazed by it all.

This is true for every area of our lives of course.  Our income level, our job, what country and situation we live in.  But for the sake of this blog it also relates to singleness, dating and marriage.

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When “Staying You” Is A Bad Idea

When I was about 27 or so I had been dating a woman for a several months when she decided that I wasn’t for her and that someone else was.  It was a hard thing for me to take for a couple of reasons.  I had waited what felt like a long time already to get married and I really, really thought she could be “the one“.

As I was processing through the “breakup” I was fortunate to have some good friends and mentors who really came along side me.  But one of the weirdest conversations I had was with a woman maybe 20 years older than me said something like, “Wow it’s hard.  All these years you’ve been single.  How do you keep from blaming yourself?  How do you keep from thinking you’re the problem?”

I gave some sort of answer to that.  I don’t really remember what, but I’m sure it was good. But here’s what is interesting.  In many ways I’d like to have that conversation back.

While I think that this woman was honestly just trying to be encouraging and telling me that, “Hey, don’t worry – it’s not you” maybe what I needed to hear was, “So what part of this is you?”

The reality was in that particular case, it really wasn’t me.  But the fact that I made it to 41 and single – a lot of that was indeed me.

Do you remember when you were in school and you would get the school yearbook? There’d be a few pages or an insert or some other place where you would get notes from classmates. Have you ever read back over those?  It’s mostly generic stuff like, “Hey bro – great time rockin’ with you in English this year,” or “J Man – thanks for keeping me sane in Chemistry.”  But often we gave each other the worst advice of all – “Stay you.”  “Don’t ever change.”  Umm yeah – don’t grow or develop – good idea.

If I look back on mine, I could sum up the what every girl I was attracted to wrote – “J – you’re such a good friend.  Couldn’t have made it without you.  Don’t ever change.”  I’ll come back to this in a post soon – but that right there sums up far more guys’ lives than would want to admit it.

But for today, what I want to focus on is this idea that we don’t need to change who we are, what we do, how we act, think, or live.  I’m not saying people who espouse it don’t mean well, they typically do.  But when it comes to most things in life, and for sure dating and marriage – it’s just simply terrible advice.

In Christianese terms it usually means that God “has someone else for you” or if you stay true to yourself, then for sure God will bring someone at the right time. It could also be that every person you’ve ever been interested in had it wrong.  But the bottom line is, there is someone out there for you.  And you need to just stay strong and be “who you are” and then the “right person” will love you for “who you are”.

It all sounds nice, but I’m not sure how helpful it really is.

Without even getting into the dating/single/marriage stuff, we are not called to be who we are currently.  One could make a case that we are called to become who we are created to be.  But that is different.  Who I am right now is a flawed, broken by sin (my own and others’) individual.  I’m in Jesus and He is changing me over time to become who He meant for me to be.  But until I’m there – I should be changing, aka growing.

We all have stuff that we need to grow in and change.  Now to be clear, I’m not saying that you have to first get all your stuff together before you get married.  That’s part of the reason we have the problems we do, this false idea that i have to be “ready” to get married.

When it comes to dating, if the same stuff keeps happening over and over again, we need to look inward and ask what part of that is us.  What can we do different?  I think when it comes to dating, especially as a Christian guy, this seems to get skipped over.

Stuck in the friend zone over and over again?  That could be you.  In a new relationship every six months?  Maybe you.  Can’t seem to ever talk to or approach someone you are really attracted to?  Might be worth thinking about.

Look at this way.  In other practical areas of your life you grow.  When you were a kid, you got better at sports or math, or a band instrument.  You didn’t stay the same.  When you get a job – hopefully over time you get better at it.  Are your current friendships the same type as you had in high school? (If so, that might be a problem as well).

Relating to the opposite sex is no different.  If you’re stuck, maybe it’s time to change.  Maybe that means getting help -be it friends, counseling, books – you name it.

Most of the time in life, we know when change is necessary. We just don’t like it.  It’s easier to say, “it’s not me” than to say, “Maybe it is me”.

Final thought and clarification.  Am I saying be fake?  No.  Am I saying go out and misrepresent yourself? No – that’s called lying.  What I’m saying is it’s ok to grow in how you relate to the opposite sex.  In fact, I would suggest that if you are over 26 and single, it might be necessary.  It was for me.

 

It Probably Isn’t Going To “Just Happen”

When it comes to dating, and I think especially “Christian dating”, one of the big mistakes too many people make is having the idea that it just happens.  In fact I think most people want it to be this way.  They want it to just happen.

This comes from several places.  First there is this idea that God has only one person for you and He will magically bring them to you.  This is how we get all of the spiritual platitudes like, “God will do it in his timing”, “when it’s right you’ll know”, “God just hasn’t brought you the one yet”, “He is preparing someone for you”, and on and on and on. What’s funny about these platitudes is that while we hate them when someone says them to us, we also hide behind them when we don’t act.

I’ve addressed this particular point about a zillion times in this blog.  But for the record, there is not THE ONE, there is no spiritual soulmate, He is not holding out on you.

But the second and maybe more powerful place this comes from is a culture that says everything should happen organically.  Whatever that means.  Basically what it seems to mean is that you shouldn’t have to actually do anything.  You are entitled to whatever you want and you shouldn’t have to actually try to go do it.

This is a super convient concept when stuff doesn’t go our way.  Or when we sin.

My girlfriend is pregnant becomes everything happens for a reason.  Yeah it does, because you had sex when you shouldn’t have.  I don’t know how to ask someone out can conveniently become, God will bring me someone.  I’m overweight (don’t have a job, don’t have direction, don’t know how to interact with people, etc.) but people should just like me for me.  The right person will just organically be attracted to me.  (But of course I won’t be extending that same courtesy to them).

Maybe in the past when the average age of marriage was about 10 years younger than it is today that sort of thing would make some sense.  I think there is some reality to college aged folks and “organically meeting”.  But for most of us this just is not a good plan to get married.

The first question needs to be, do you actually want to get married.  I believe that most of us are called to do so.  Marriage, while not the end all and not the solution to life, was instituted by God in the very beginning.  Some people will not get married.  Some are not called to it.  But for those of us who don’t think we are called to celibacy we need to attempt to move beyond it, not just sit around and hope for it.  Especially as a man.

We need to act.  And action, typically means being intentional.  Being intentional typically means having a plan.  None of this means that the plan will work.

I’ve used this example before but let’s say you need a job.  Do you sit around and just hope that it “organically” happens?  Ok I know some people do, but those people typically remain unemployed.  If you want a job, you go out and hit the pavement (or the internet or whatever).  You use the resources available to you to find a job. You might have work on some skills.  Maybe a new skill for a new job – that might require going back to school or practicing interviewing.  You learn, practice, and attempt, over and over again.

If a kid wants to get better at a sport for example, do they sit around and hope that they just learn to shoot a basketball?  No you learn how to shoot it.  You listen to your coach. You go out in the driveway and shoot the ball over and over.  Does this mean you’ll be Jordan?  No.  But will you be better than the average person who hasn’t shot a basketball?  Yes.

Look, I’m not saying it’s simple.  What I am saying is that having a plan and learning how to be better is good.  Humbling maybe, but good.  It’s called growth.  It requires effort.  And usually it requires failure because you don’t know when or if it will work.

The question should be, how do I put myself in the best position to succeed.  I have to get in the game.  I need to have a plan of attack.  I might need to practice.  I might need to study or acquire new skills.

You need a plan of how to meet people, how to approach people and what to do on a date.  And that’s just for starters.

Gentlemen let me assure you of this.  Girls like a guy who has a plan.  They can say they don’t but they do.  That doesn’t change when you get married by the way.  If they want to think “it just happened” that’s fine, but we all know it didn’t.

Do you want to get married?  What are you doing today that makes tomorrow any more likely that you will get married? If you aren’t dating anyone, what is your plan to change that?  If you are dating someone, what is your plan to advance that relationship?  What are your intentions?  What are doing to make your intentions reality?  What are you getting better at?

 

 

Can You Marry Someone You Don’t “Love”

I’ve been so blessed over the last couple of years as I’ve shared some of these ideas about singleness to engage a lot of different people.  Young singles, older singles, married people, pastors among others.  During one conversation with some people a woman said, “I don’t want to marry someone I don’t love.  I don’t think you should do that.”

There are so many angles on this idea of being “in love”.  There is the obvious stuff about romantic love vs. sacrificial love.  I get that.  Here’s the funny thing.  Married people (and I mean people who have been married for a while) will almost always tell you it’s not about romantic love.  I can’t count the times someone told me that.  And the thing is, I got it then and I get it now.  But I always chuckled because if pushed, none of them got married to someone that they weren’t “in love” with.  So while that might be true in marriage, and while it can bring perspective to a single person, it’s tough to work through and most haven’t.

Really we have to define “in love” but I’d like to back up a couple of steps.

We need to first own what I talked about a couple of weeks ago.  This idea that while there are things we are looking for in a person (such as a Christian, smart, fun, has a job, driven, likes sports . . . whatever else) those are really qualifiers.  What I mean is that what we want is someone we are attracted to who also has those things.  We need to own up to this because when we don’t, we are just in our own way.

What this woman was saying is I don’t want to marry someone I’m not attracted to. That would be a fair statement. But frankly that doesn’t have much to do with love.

We need to keep two very important things in mind.  Loving someone is not a feeling and attraction is not a choice.

Both attraction and love are real.  Here’s the good news.  When you love someone, I think attraction can grow, and attraction can lead you to love someone.  But when we confuse the two all the time it can keep us single and/or make us bad spouses if we do get married.

Love is a choice.  I can choose to love literally anyone.  This is why it’s a command.  Jesus is not commanding you to feel something. Jesus isn’t saying, “Be attracted to God with all your heart. (Yes I get that we should be and one day will be).  He’s not saying, “be attracted to your enemy.”

Think about this, everyone’s favorite little marriage verses, like, “Husbands love your wife as Christ loves the church”, or “Wives submit to your husbands” have nothing to do with attraction.  Most of the people that Paul was writing to were married through arranged marriages in one form or another.  Not all certainly but the point is that those commands aren’t based on how you feel about it that day.  Love is a choice.

Attraction is not a choice.  Here’s what I mean by that.  As someone I was team teaching with put it a few weeks ago,  Attraction is not an in that moment conscious decision.  Read that again.  Am I saying attraction can’t grow?  No.  Am I saying that you can’t lose attraction?  Of course not.  What I’m saying is that you don’t go out and say, “I’m going to feel attraction for this or that person.”  In that moment you either feel attracted or you don’t.

Now I have a post coming about attraction and how what I’m going to call our attraction meter is completely hi-jacked. But the first step is acknowledging that it matters.  The question is not does attraction matter, but how much should I allow it to matter.

If the question is, can I marry someone I don’t love, then the answer is well sort of.  But if you get married you are commanded to love them so you might want to figure it out.  On the other hand if the question is can you marry someone you aren’t attracted to, the answer is clearly yes.  The hardest part about this for the single person (the part that no married person likes to admit) is that to do so would mean you’d first have to date someone you weren’t attracted to.

Am I saying that you should marry someone you aren’t attracted to?  Not really.  I didn’t. But you could.  What I’m saying is at the very least, own that you are looking for attraction.  I’m saying who you marry is a choice – attracted or not.  Really you could choose to marry a lot of people irregardless of your attraction level – many of whom would have the qualities you say you are looking for.

I’m not saying we should ignore attraction.  In fact I’m saying the opposite.  We need to understand it – what we are attracted to and why, what makes us attractive to the opposite sex and why, and what to do about it all.

How attracted do you need to be to marry someone?  To go on a date?  Which is more important to you – your attraction to someone or the qualities you are looking for?

You’ve Met Who You Say You’re Looking For

So lately you may have noticed that I haven’t been posting quite as much.  Part of the reason is that I’ve had a couple of different speaking engagements.  And since, like most of you, I have a real day job, my time has been limited and I wanted to speak and share well which takes prep time.  But one of the benefits of this is that whenever I get to share with groups, it makes me think about things in new ways.  It also leads to new questions from people who are smack in the middle of singleness.  So I’m looking forward to sharing some new thoughts, as well as some new angles on old thoughts.

One thing that got brought up at each engagement was the idea of who it is that we are looking for.  This is kind of an interesting question.  I know for me, that sort of changed at different times.  The basic questions are things like, “I don’t want to marry someone I don’t love.”  “I can’t seem to find a ‘real’ Christian.” “Should you marry some one that you can live with or someone that you can’t live without.”  Those are all upcoming blogs but I want to start with something more simple today.

I asked each group to give me a list of things that they were looking for.  Now understand that these were mix gendered groups with diversity of age and experiences so there were a lot of answers.  Here were some:

  • A Christian
  • A leader
  • Someone who is compassionate
  • Someone that likes athletics
  • A gentleman (lady)
  • A guy who knows his bible
  • Someone who loves their family
  • Someone who has a plan
  • Someone who is driven
  • Someone who wants a family
  • Someone who sees finances the way I do
  • Someone who sees politics the way I do
  • A guy with a job
  • Has a balanced life – work/life balance
  • Dependable
  • Respects people
  • Affectionate
  • Interested in me – wants to know me
  • Educated

I could go on, but you get the idea.  We all have some sort of list.  We have things that we want in another person.  Some are a big deal to us and others are kind of negotiable.  But most of us have a list.

But here is the truth about our list.  Most of the things on it are qualifiers not attractors. What I mean is that we can say, “I want someone who is a ‘real’ Christian” but what we mean is “I want someone who I’m attracted to who also is a Christian.”  I know this is true because if it wasn’t then everyone at my church would be married, but as it stands only about half of them are.

Now your list is actually important.  The list is what keeps you from marrying someone just because you are attracted to them.  Or at least it should.

But you can meet someone who has everything on your list but it probably won’t matter if you aren’t attracted to them.  A woman can say I want a Christian man who is serious about his faith, who is a solid guy, who is smart, has a job etc.  The thing is I could introduce you to fifty of those people right now.  As I said to one group, “If that is what you are looking for, look around the room, pick someone and get married.”

That might be ok, but the deal is you’ve got to own it.  Because if you don’t you end up running in a circle and basically sort of start becoming dishonest.  You can say, “Well I just haven’t met anyone who has this of that quality.” – But you have.  All the time actually.

As I’ve said before, at it’s base level, attraction is not a choice.  The good news is that we are attracted at some level to all sorts of people.  But we aren’t attracted to that list.  The list should help us decide what to do with the attraction.

This has huge ramifications both personally and corporately in the church.

We spend a lot of time telling people that they need to be the things on the list, which is fine.  But we spend about zero time talking about how to deal with attraction – both how to be more attractive, and how to handle it when we are attracted.  Continually beating us over the head with what should be on our list (i.e. “don’t settle”) isn’t enough.  Neither is telling people that if they are those things that they will be attractive – because that’s false.

We also end up hurting people.  We say things like, “well you have all these great qualities, someone will want that” or “you’d make a great husband (wife)”.  While a nice compliment it doesn’t help anyone get married.  It also can cause more pain when we interact with the opposite sex.

In one group I was teaching at we asked people why they thought they were still single. One woman said, “It’s tough to meet a Christian.”  I smiled and kind of cringed because really this woman just disrespected every guy in the room.  She didn’t mean to, and she doesn’t have to.  What she should have maybe said is “I haven’t met a man who I’m that attracted to that is a Christian.”

Now this of course raises many questions including can you marry someone you aren’t attracted to?  That’s a post I’ll write soon but we need to begin to get ahold of this idea. We need to own our attraction issues which can be complicated.  We need to understand that just because we would make a great spouse doesn’t get us married.  They are different skill sets – not opposing skill sets, but different.

There are all sorts of people that can get married that would make horrible spouses and vice a versa.

Some things to think about:

What is really on your list?  How much does your list matter vs. attraction?  How honest are you with yourself and others about all of this?  What is your attraction measurement?

Fulfilling Sexual Desire Keeps You Single

I’ve talked here many times about the fact that less and less people are getting married. Right now 50% of adults in the U.S. are unmarried.  Only 20% of those 18-29 have ever been married.  People are waiting longer or just not getting married at all.

There are a whole host of reasons for this and I’ve talked about many of them here before. But one of the biggest reasons is that we as a culture (even in the Church) have separated sex from marriage.  And to go a step further we’ve actually made sex only about physical pleasure.  And because of it, we are really, really jacked up.

Now I get, and have pointed out before, that this is not “new” to the world.  I mean there have always been jacked up cultures and there has certainly always been sexual sin.  But never has the overall impact on marriage been felt the way it is now.

What we have now is a combination of a lot more ways to meet the physical desire for sex, and a culture that is ok with all of it.  It’s killing us – individually and as a culture.

Sex was not created to be just physical.  It is a part of it, but not all of it.  From the very beginning it was to bring two people together to become one flesh but only those two people.  It is an important part of the marriage covenant.  When we take it out of that context or when we make it just about physical desire, we are devaluing everything about it – both within and outside of marriages.

Here’s the reality.  One of the surest ways to stay single is to have your sexual desire met some other way.

This plays out all sorts of ways.  First off, all sorts of people are obviously having sex. Some of it is purely for the physical desire.  Some of it is in “relationships”.  But either way people are not having less sex today than before.  They just aren’t doing it within marriage. People sleep together, live together, and even have children together, without marriage.

But now there are even more ways to meet my physical desire.  I can just go on the internet.  When I was a kid, you at least had to risk hiding the magazine with pictures. Now you can watch it, heck even interact with it, and then just hit delete.  If it’s just physical, why work for it.

No matter how you look at it, it is easier than ever to get your physical desire met.  And everyone is telling us this is what it’s about.  All the media, our leaders, even some of our parents.  And at some level even the Church.  We spend so much time focussing on what not to do.  The basic message is don’t look, don’t touch, sex is bad until you are married then it’s good.  Bury your desire and then flip the switch when you get married.  But the problem is not only is the act of sex bigger than just physical, so are the questions that surround it.

Sure we are told that married sex is better – but what does better mean?  We automatically assume that means more physically pleasurable.  But sexuality isn’t just about that.  It’s about being bonded to the other person.

If we make sex only about pleasure and sexual desire, then I don’t have to get married to have it.  And, even if I get married, I could still be stuck in it only being about the physical. That can lead to less intimacy and ultimately less sex.  If you don’t need it that day, you don’t do it.  Or maybe the computer is still easier.

If we make sex about only the physical then why does it matter how you meet the need. You can meet it at the bar, at the computer, or even with the same sex.

I don’t say all of this to turn it into a lecture on how sex outside of marriage is sinful.  That’s a no brainer.  I say it because I think we as believers have to go way beyond that.  We have to understand that it isn’t just some sort of physical discipline.  There is way more on the line than that.

My pastor has often said that we need the single people in our church to have less sex and our married people to have more. I agree with that, but we need more than that.  We need sex to not be just sex – just physical pleasure.  “Not having sex” is a start, but it isn’t enough.  We need to understand that meeting the physical desire for sex outside of marriage hurts both our chances of getting married and experiencing sex the right way within our marriages.  We need a whole lot of repentance and relearning.

Do you view sex as primarily physical?  What is your view of sex based on?  Do you have your physical desire for sex met already?  What do you do with that desire?

You’re Ready To Be Married

About 10 years ago I was meeting with a group of young college guys who were committed to walking together.  I, along with a couple of other guys, was kind of mentoring them.  One of the young men had been dating a girl for about a year.  He had a year left of school and she was a senior about to graduate.  The question on the table that night was should they get married and if so, should they wait another year until he was done with school or just go for it.

The first question was answered quickly by all of us.  Yes he should get married.  She was an all star and he would be lucky to pull this off so by all means do it.  The second question was a bit harder.  There was discussions about jobs, money, living arrangements and the like.  In other words was he “ready” to be married?

I think we have really messed up this idea of ready to be married.  Recently I was talking with a group of high school guys, many of whom were graduating seniors. We were talking about this very question – when should they get married.  I said that they don’t have to be in a hurry, but that it wouldn’t be bad to get married pretty early.  One guy said, “If I got married before the end of college my parent’s would kill me.”  I laughed, but I also kind of cringed inside.

There is this idea in our culture that you should wait a long time to get married. You should make sure you are “ready”.  This idea comes from a few things.  

One is that we don’t want to grow up.  Marriage after all is for grown ups and I’m for sure not that.  Stay young and irresponsible is the message.  Stay in school.  Don’t get tied down.  Plenty of time for that later.

Secondly we are scared of it not working.  We think if I’m not absolutely sure I’m ready that I won’t make it when I’m married.  A huge chunk of the not ready crowd are driven by fear. Fear of choosing wrong, responsibility, commitment, or failure.

Finally we are of course waiting for the perfect person -who amazingly is not the person that I’ve been dating for the last year – or apparently the person I’m living with, sleeping with, and in our current culture having children with.

Of course there is the group that is maybe a little too “ready” to be married.  This is the those of us who are “tired of the dating scene and ready to settle down.”  We think if I can just get married everything will be right.  I’m freaking ready so why isn’t it happening.

Let me suggest two thoughts on readiness.

On the one hand I think the reality is that no one is ever completely ready. Marriage is for sure two things.  It is a gift from God that you don’t earn.  It is also a choice.  In other words at some level it could come at any time.  You are not going to be a complete person when you get married.  You aren’t through growing and changing. Even when you get married you will still grow and change.  If you marry a person today, that person (and you) will not be the same ten years from now.  In fact, part of the point of marriage is that it changes you.  It forces you to grow in new ways.  It is supposed to help you grow in Christ.

It’s also a choice.  And you can make that choice at any time.  You can either do it or not. You always have that choice.

You don’t know what will happen in your marriage.  You don’t know how you’ll change or what  you will face as an individual or as a couple.  You are not completely prepared now and you never will be.  

But that is part of the beauty of walking with God.  When we are walking with Him, he is constantly leading us into deeper stuff.  There is always more and marriage can be a part of that.

On the other hand I think you are “ready” when you are walking with Jesus and you meet someone you want to marry who wants to marry you.  I don’t think it matters much what age you are, if you have a high enough paying job or a degree.  I think what matters is do you have the capacity to deliver on the vows.  If you aren’t walking with Jesus you aren’t ready.  (For free this means you are also not ready for sex, cohabitation and children). If you are, and you think it’s right, then I’d say you might well be as “ready” as you’ll ever be.

I’m not saying don’t be wise.  I’m saying don’t be scared.  I’m not saying you’re “ready”. I’m saying don’t let the world determine your readiness.

What do you think makes you “ready” to be married?  How would you know you were “ready”?