Boundless host Lisa Anderson offers practical advice and encouragement for single adults in a discussion based on her new book, The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage With Purpose. (Part 1 of 2)
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Lisa Anderson: So I was at my parents' house and I was sitting there and it just dawned on me that I was actually 30-years-old. And not that I didn't know that I was single, but it was that realization of the weight of a story that I had not scripted that was actually mine.
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John Fuller: That's Lisa Anderson, reflecting on her own journey as a Christian single and you're gonna be hearing more from her on today's "Focus on the Family: with our host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, studies show that over 90 percent of singles want to get married. Now that kind of blows my mind, because I don't perceive that of the 20-somethings. I hear from a lot of them and they're kinda into their vocation, finishing school, not a lot of them that I encounter are talkin' about it. So that kind of is interesting to me. I get the sense, of course, that many want to wait until they find Mr. or Miss Right and then they make the move and they may be 30 before that happens.
But today we want to talk about that stage of singleness and what's happening, what the culture's doing to you, what you need to be doing to prepare yourself for marriage and thinking about what your call is. Some are called to celibacy, but that is a real small percentage of people I think. And so, we need to explore where the single scene is today for the Christian and we're gonna do that with a very special guest.
John: And Lisa Anderson is in the studio with us. She spearheads our ministry to singles called Boundless and has just released her first book, The Dating Manifesto.
Jim: Now Lisa, you do such a fantastic job leading Boundless, which is an outreach for singles here at Focus on the Family. You've just finished the Boundless summer conference. You had hundreds of people come and enjoy the campus here and get a chance to meet other people. What are you tryin' to accomplish there with Boundless when you look at it? What are you tryin' to do every day?
Lisa: Yeah, well, it's funny, because you know, people think Boundless is a ministry of Focus on the Family. It is, but people associate marriage and parenting with Focus and so, they're like, "Well, what does Boundless have to do with that?" And I always like to tell people, well, you know what? A marriage starts out with two single people.
Jim: Yeah (Laughing), that's right.
Lisa: And so, why don't we start preparing marriages and families from the get-go and inspire them to mature in Christ, to kind of grow up into adulthood, take on the responsibilities that are inherent with that and then, move towards that next phase that God has for them. If it's marriage, if it's celibate service or singleness, whatever that is, we want them to be equipped for it.
Jim: I so appreciate that and Greg Smalley's come on board several years ago and has really given some good strategic direction and Family Formation is what we call this.
Jim: And Boundless is a big part of that. You've written this book, The Dating Manifesto.
Jim: That's (Laughing) a bold title.
Lisa: I know, I came up with it. Basically what I decided is, as I was trying to title the book, I was thinking to myself, how would I describe this book? And I said, you know what this is? This is my manifesto. This is my line in the same of what I wish I'd been told about dating and relationships and thriving in singleness. I wish I'd been told this in my 20s, but wasn't and so, I'm the cautionary tale in this book. I'm the person that's telling my younger self—all those 20-somethings, 30-somethings—this is what you need to know and I am not afraid to be frank in telling them.
Jim: You know what's so funny? You were telling me that your mom, you've included your mom's endorsement of the book.
Jim: And there was a particular reason why. Tell us that story. It's hilarious.
Lisa: Well, it illustrates that apparently, there's something in this book for everyone (Laughter), because my mom is 86-years-old. She loves Focus on the Family and I had her read the manuscript before it went to print.
And as she was reading, she just piped up audibly and said, "You know, if I ever start dating again, I'm gonna use some of this advice." (Laughter) And I'm like, you know what? If an 86-year-old—
Lisa: --has stuff to glean from this, them more power to her and like I said; there's something for everyone.
Jim: Well, we want to say hit to your mom. I've met her and she's—
Lisa: Hey, mom.
Jim: --a delightful lady.
Lisa: She is. She's great.
Jim: And who knows. She may start dating again.
Lisa: She'll probably be my competition. (Laughter) I mean, let's be honest about it. She probably already is, so I don't know. I need to move into where she lives--
Jim: But I love the part that—
Lisa: --a lot of opportunities.
Jim: --she'll use some of the good tips she's learning from you—
Lisa: Oh, yeah.
Jim: --which is interesting. The point you're saying is, you know, and it's not your mom's fault generationally—
Jim: --I mean, going back 20 years or so, we're not comfortable talkin' about this stuff.
Lisa: Yeah, no, my mom was married 50 years before my dad died and for her, the process of moving into marriage was very natural. It flowed, that everyone in her generation did. You went to college. You maybe served in a war and then you got married. And she doesn't understand the culture that I'm in now, where you are building a career or you're having fun and you're traveling across Europe or you're finding yourself or you're picking out of a myriad of choices and it just confuses her.
Jim: Let's Well, let's start with your journey, because we need to qualify who you are and why you're an expert in this area of singleness. So, tell us (Laughter) about where you're at in your 20s back then and what you were looking for or not looking for and what was appealing to you as a young woman?
Lisa: Yeah, so you know, in a nutshell, I followed the script that I was given, both within my church, which was great and then within the public schools of California. So, I had to reconcile the two of them, which was difficult to do. So, I grew up in a home with a great marriage. Like I said, my folks were married for 50 years. I saw great marriages around me, but at the same time, I was in the California public schools and was being told, no one is gonna take care of you, but you. You need to make something of yourself. You need to excel in your career. You need to get an education. You need to do all these things and become something great.
And so, I kind of married the two by saying, you know, I know I'm gonna get married someday. I was very assumptive about it. Of course, it's gonna happen. It's gonna be easy. I'm gonna meet some amazingly godly guy who's also super attractive and possibly wealthy. (Laughter)
Jim: Any other—
Lisa: And it was very—
Lisa: --and had certain characteristics of a number of Hollywood stars at the time. And so, I was like, okay, well, that's gonna be my story eventually, but for right now, what I want to do is be a success. And so, I went to college, started, you know, got my first job and started moving all around the country to escalate in my career of journalism and P.R. at the time and put marriage on the backburner and then woke up one day and I was 30-years-old and I was like, did I do something wrong? 'Cause this script that I thought I was gonna be delivered didn't work out the way I thought.
Jim: Well, in fact, at 30, you kinda had a moment that really crystalized that for you. What happened?
Lisa: Yeah, it was on my 30th birthday actually, because I was getting ready to go to my uncle's funeral. He had just died that week and I was sitting. So, I was at my parents' house and I was sitting there and it just dawned on me that I was actually 30-years-old. And not that I didn't know that I was single, but it was that realization of the weight of a story that I had not scripted that was actually mine.
Jim: Where are we missing it as a culture to develop those healthy perspectives, so that marriage is back on a solid platform? I know marriage has taken a beating. I think there's gonna be a resurgence actually—
Jim: --because like you said a moment ago, there's gotta be a connection to reality. I mean, marriage isn't all about just fun and games. There's responsibility. Are we just running from responsibility in our 20s and 30s, to where we're not wanting to be tied down?
Lisa: Yeah, I think there's some of that, but I think it's more, you referenced the culture, I would say even the church today is elevating service, professionalism, even ministry to the point of then, you know, tamping down or lessening the value of marriage and family. So, marriage and family is kinda that thing that, okay, well, you know, you're probably gonna fall into it at some point or you gotta add it on or you know,it's like, well, if you're gonna be an accountant or a plumber, well then, maybe just be married and just sit in the suburbs or something.
But we've infused millennials with this idea that they're gonna change the world and in order to do that, they want to do big things and marriage and family is not the sexy way to go about doing that. It's not the exciting, you know, it's not the super-cool thing that you see other people doing. And so, we're kinda seeing that being disassociated, you know, from one thing or another.
And I think we need to give a different script within the church, that marriage is a good thing. It is something to be pursued. It is normative. It is awesome. It is biblical and start really pumping it up. It needs a P.R. campaign from the church itself.
Jim: We couldn't agree more here at Focus on the Family (Laughter).
Lisa: I guess, yeah.
Jim: But it—
Lisa: Yeah, Focus.
Jim: --I mean, it does take a change of temperament, because I think marriage has been bullied—
Jim: --to where people don't want to do it. Some are fearful, because they've seen their Christian parents not do so well—
Jim: --too. Speak to that for a second.
Lisa: It's very true and you see it within Millennials. They are the product of the largest divorced generation in history, which is the Boomers. They have grown up with absent dads, without dads at all, with parents who split up and they were going between two homes. And so, they actually have a very high view of marriage in the sense that they believe in marriage. They want it to work. They love the idea of family, but they're so afraid of messing it up that they're gonna prolong it as long as possible.
And so, that's why we see a lot of practicing at marriage, whether within dating relationships or cohabiting relationships. We see promiscuity. They want to be sure and in order to be sure, they feel they need more time. They need more experience. They need more connection with these people and that's why we see a lot of relational dysfunction.
John: Well, we're talking today with Lisa Anderson on "Focus on the Family and her book, The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose, is available from us when you're at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Lisa, I want to pick up on what you just said, because I think it's important and that is, what we condition ourselves to be pursuing in this life. And I think in the Western culture that we live in, it's about gratification. It's you know, if I could be blunt, it's a bit selfish, if not really selfish. And it's hard to prepare young people for a life of selflessness in marriage, which I think is one of the core things that God is doing in marriage, is to make us more like Him by requiring us to be giving and selfless in a marriage.
Jim: And that's not fun necessarily. It's a bit of work, because you're going against your human flesh, which wants to load up on the "carbos"—
Jim: --and not give to your mate. How do you reconcile those two things? How do you in a healthy way prepare for marriage when you know what? Let's be honest, it is fun to be single. You can go out and do anything you want.
Jim: Is that what God is calling you to do?
Lisa: Well, I think we are so and by "we," I will say, singles and especially in the younger generations here, we're so arrogant about what we believe marriage to be and how we feel we're gonna go ahead and contribute to it.
You know, like I think that (Chuckling), you know, everyone else's marriages and their families are messed up, but if I just found the right person, I'm gonna have this cookie-cutter, picture-perfect thing. And I mention in the book a couple traps that I think are birthed out of Hollywood that are unique to men and women and I'll share one of each.
For the guys, it's what I call, "I want a super model who writes Bible studies." And it's this idea of guys (Laughter) being, you know, attracted. You hear the term "hot" bandied about, like, "Oh, she's hot," you know. Everyone on TV is about this "hotness" factor. And guys are wired for attraction. We get that. That totally makes sense and there's nothing wrong with that. That is a physiological thing.
Jim: Well, it could be out of control though.
Lisa: It could be out of control. And what I'm saying is, that guys use it as kind of the lowest common denominator for who they're gonna go ahead and date. So, she has to be super attractive and it's based on whatever standard he has, whether through Hollywood, whether through porn, whether through previous relationships.
And so, but then, for the Christian guys, guys kinda spiritualize it. They're gonna go ahead and they're gonna say, "Well, you know, I don't want to say 'attraction.' Or I don't want to say 'hotness.'"
Jim: Inner beauty.
Lisa: Well, no (Laughter); well, they may say "inner beauty," but they're gonna say "chemistry." We have to have a good chemistry. And so, they realize that attraction and physical looks alone are not gonna hold together a marriage for 50 years.
So, then they start tacking on all these other things for women, like, "Well, you know, I want her to love children and I want her to have characteristics of being a good mother and I want her to, you know, be active in her church and I want her to write Bible studies, you know. So, then they put all these spiritual attributes on her and really what they end up doing is crafting a woman who doesn't exist.
Women on the other hand, have this idea that one of the things I share with women is, that we've gotten this notion that we are princesses. We've been told this by our youth groups and anyone else. You know, that we are—
Jim: A dad.
Lisa: --we're children of the King, which is legitimately true, but we get this princess mentality that, I'm a princess, so I deserve a prince and he better be perfect and he better be the ultrasensitive guy and he better be everything that's on my 50-point list, which no joke, I had and I wrote it out in junior high and was told to pray over it. I'm not even kidding. And so--
Jim: Fifty, really? You can up with 50?
Lisa: --I came up with 50.
Jim: (Chuckling) That's pretty good.
Lisa: I started out with some super legitimate ones, but by 45 through 50, yeah, let's not even go there. But so, we're told basically that we are to expect this ideal and again, it doesn't exist. It's our own form of kinda setting something up that will ultimately crumble.
Jim: In fact, Lisa, you talk about five reasons your love life is a disaster or doesn't exist and one is, you're waiting for "the one." That's kinda what you describe there, waiting for prince charming.
Jim: Maybe … is that an issue where your standards are just too high?
Lisa: I think it's even more specific than that. I think that a lot of Christian young adults have been told that there is one person out there that God has chosen for them and if they do not marry that person, they will be "out of God's will."
Jim: What's a healthier perspective in that way?
Lisa: To understand that there are a number of people and in fact, in the book I say, "Conservatively let's say hundreds in the world that you could be attracted to, fall in love with, serve with, have kids with, raise a family with and completely be in the will of God."
You know, marriage is, as you guys know, being married, you know, what God ordains it as and then what you make it. You build into it and so, I encourage single young adults to approach it by saying, "Look, I need to find this person that has a very few, but very important qualities" and I mention those in the book, as well.
And then decide, is this a person that I really can build my life with? Do they have the core things that are necessary? Then you choose that person, put the blinders on, marry that person and that person becomes your "one"--
Jim: Well, what's—
Lisa: --for the rest of your life.
Jim: --an example of some of the core things you're lookin' for?
Lisa: They have to be an absolute disciple of Jesus Christ, which means that they are a believer, who is growing in their faith according to the biblical mandate and biblical principles, so not just, "I'm a Christian because I was born in Texas."
Lisa: I have been on online sites where guys have said that, okay? So, I mean, it exists. So, to truly understand who Jesus Christ is, to be humble and teachable, to be in a position to marry. I can't tell you how many people I know who are out there dating people who have no business dating, because they can't get to marriage within the next 10 years say. Their life's in a shambles. They don't have a job.
Lisa: Yeah you know, you need to date for the purpose of marriage, otherwise you are setting yourself up for sexual failure. You're setting yourself up for emotional issues. You're setting yourself up for cyclical breakups that are similar to a divorce. You have to be in a position to marry.
And then finally, you want to find someone who's calling you can join or someone who has a similar calling as you, that you're both moving in the same direction.
Jim: And that's just one of the five. Another one, your dating is "direction- less." I found that one really interesting.
Jim: Do you date with direction? And what does that mean? (Chuckling)
Lisa: Yeah, so that actually plays into a little bit of what I just said, as these people that are out there dating because it's something they do recreationally, 'cause they feel like they should be in a relationship. They feel like their heart should be tied to someone. It's culturally expected of them, but they don't have any game plan. They don't have any end goal. They don't have any assumptions about what they should be looking for or how this should be moving along a continuum.
Lisa: They're just dating. I've known people that have dated, no joke, eight, nine, 10 years and then broken up after that time frame, because there was no plan in their relationship.
Jim: Let me ask you this though and push a little bit on it, because just from my own experience, I know Jean and I met when we were each 24 and we kinda knew when we met each other, this could be the one. I would say prior to that, yeah, when I dated mostly in college, you know, I wasn't that serious about it. I wasn't dating someone saying, "That's the one." I just wanted to go out and have an ice cream or you know, with somebody—
Jim: --that I liked, but I didn't have that same zap—
Lisa: Yeah, well—
Jim: --going, "Wow, she's the one." I did with Jean.
Jim: I mean, it was like, whoa!
Lisa: So, I'm glad you actually drew that distinction, Jim, because—
Lisa: --there's a difference between going on a date with someone and this is where I say we need to actually infuse a little bit more of a light-heartedness and a casual nature for it—
Jim: Just friendship.
Lisa: --just going out on a date, asking someone to coffee because they interest you, because you know, you think there's something neat about them, whatever. What I'm talking about is being in an exclusive dating relationship with someone.
Jim: That's where you—
Lisa: That's where I think—
Jim: --need direction.
Lisa: --right, that's where I'm saying, where you need to say, "If I'm gonna commit, you know, cut the clutter, decide I'm gonna focus on this person, are you actually asking the questions necessary to know if this person is a good potential mate? Otherwise, you're gonna get caught in a black hole of dating that really will probably suck the life out of you.
Jim: And in conjunction with that, you talk—I love this term; I'm gonna try to say it—"friendlationship." (Laughter)
Jim: Is that what you're talkin' about?
Lisa: In a way, but it's a little bit different. The "friendlationship" is actually a non-dating relationship, but it has a lot of hallmarks of what looks like dating. So, the friendlationship is a guy and a girl. They hang out together indefinitely. They're each other's last call of the night. They're friends. They do pizza together. They grab Netflix. You know, he knows her favorite drink at Starbucks. They can sense tone in one another's voices, but there's absolutely no stated relationship.
There's no commitment. And generally it starts out under the premise of friendship, but then one person becomes connected. One person starts having feelings for the other and so, we'll say because you know, let's just talk about my story. (Laughter) We'll say it's the female in this sense. And all of a sudden, she's like, okay, I need to hang in here, because this guy's gonna wake up some day and realize the awesomeness that he has right in front of him and—
Jim: Right under his nose.
Lisa: --he's gonna say, right under his nose and blah, blah, blah. So, she will hang on for let's say, six months, a year, two years, seven years, as one of my friends did and hope for something more, when this guy has absolutely no intention of ever truly dating her.
Jim: Well, and in that context, she's making it really easy for him to just hang out.
Lisa: She's giving up everything. She's giving up companionship. She's giving up emotional collateral. She's giving up time. She's giving up energy. I have known women that have done guy's laundry in this kind of situation.
And so, these guys are treating her as a companion and kind of as a "bestie" and when the rubber hits the road, what we find out is that this guy comes to this girl and is like, "Hey, I want to know what you think about Amber?" And she's like, "Well, what about Amber?" And he's like, "Well, 'cause I'm thinking of asking her out." And then—
Lisa: --the girl either shoots him or you know, self-implodes or bursts into tears, whatever.
John: Well, the shoe can be on the other foot. I remember when Dena and I were "friends." We were in the friendlationship for just for a few months.
John: And I finally went to her and I said, "I am really attracted to you and if we're not gonna be dating, then I think I need to move on, because we spend together and I really enjoy that." And she said, "Oh, okay."
Lisa: Uh-hm. (Laughter)
John: But then, seriously, she--
Jim: Hopefully, it was a more enthusiastic response. (Laughter)
John: --did not, but later that night—
Lisa: Sounds like an odd thing.
John: --she called me and she said, "Hey, do you want to go out and do this and that?" And I said, "Sure."
John: And it wasn't too much longer after that, but where is that line? I mean, because you want to think, "Oh, well, that's who I want to have a relationship with, is a friend."
John: So, you're not saying don't be friends before you date.
John: How do you know when it's time to maybe escalate it up to the next step?
Lisa: Right, well, I think there's a lot of space and opportunity to develop friendships within the context of groups, within the context of church, within the context of service opportunities. You know, I think a lot of us overlook that. What we do is, we jump on Twitter or Facebook. We start building these connections with people like in an artificial environment or we start hanging out with them, deciding we like them and then it becomes like super exclusive, like they're our best friend.
Find out about that person, not only about their personality, but their character, about you know, how they serve within the context of a local church or a group of friends or invite, maybe a married couple into your relationship or get their scoop on this person.
But then exactly as you said, John, and I believe this is the guy's role in this situation, step it up a notch and go then. If you think you've found a girl that you would like to get to know a little more intentionally, flat out ask her out and just ask her out to coffee, but what you're doing is, you're singling her out and saying, "I think of you differently than these 14 women over here, okay?"
And now women, let me just speak to you for a second. This is where you need to not get crazy, okay, because (Chuckling) women will be like, "He asked me out to coffee. I probably better pick out a china pattern." (Laughter) You know, I mean, it's like all of a sudden, they're like writing their name with his and getting all super crazy and clingy and you know, nightmarish.
Jim: Did you just go scared there, John?
Jim: Can you imagine that, a girl say that to you.
Lisa: No, do you know—
Jim: "How'd you enjoy your coffee?
Lisa: -what's normal about that?
Jim: I'd love to pick out that china. (Laughing)
Lisa: Yeah, no, exactly.
John: Dena did not read that much into it.
Lisa: It's like, ladies, no guys wants to date crazy, okay? So (Laughter), play it cool. You know, both persons, there's a dance here. It's not a science. You know,I jokingly say,one of the guys I dated, on our second date had a Power Point presentation (Laughter) for me of how our relationship was gonna go, complete with, I mean, it was like pivot tables (Laughter) and like algorithms and stuff, no joke. And he presented it to me and I was like, "That is a bit much." (Laughter) It was a bit much for me to have some …
Jim: He didn't get over the bar, I take it.
Lisa: He did; well, no, I continued dating him, 'cause that was in my era of too many chances, but it eventually did not work out.
Jim: Lisa Anderson, author of the book, The Dating Manifesto, we are kind of in the middle of this discussion, because one of the things I want to cover is (Chuckling) a chapter title in your book called "Preventing Dating Death." I mean, I think that should grab everybody's attention. Let's come back next time and pick up with how do we prevent "dating death" and keep this conversation going.
Lisa: Sounds good.
Jim: Okay, let's do it.
John: And you'll hear more transparency and humor from Lisa next time and her book really fits its title. It's called The Dating Manifesto and it's gonna give you a step-by-step guide on approaching relationships with some intentionality. And it has an insightful section for parents and church leaders and it'll help you kinda enter into your young adult's world and come alongside them in some meaningful ways.
Get a copy of the Dating Manifesto for yourself, for the single that you know, as well as a CD of this two-part conversation at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And when you get in touch, let me encourage you to consider a generous financial gift to Focus on the Family. That allows us to continue our worldwide outreach to support singles, to help singles think biblically about relationships. And our Boundless website averages over 182,000 unique visitors a month. We reach hundreds of thousands of listeners with the "Boundless" radio program.
That website has a worldwide impact. In fact, we heard from a man in Uganda, who told us, "I'm 25-years-old and I've been encouraged and helped to think more intentionally about relationships through your ministry. I'm so thankful for the resources which I found extremely helpful. I'm currently getting to know a young lady, who loves Jesus and I don't know what I would've done had I not learned so much from you. Thanks again for your amazing ministry that serves people like me far from the U.S."
It really is awesome to know how God is using Focus on the Family and specifically, Boundless to touch lives around the world and we hope to get a follow-up note from that gentleman. Maybe there's a wedding in his future. So, please donate when you contact us and become part of the work God's doing through Focus. And today with that gift of any amount, we'll send a copy of Lisa's book, The Dating Manifesto as our way of saying thank you and putting an excellent resource into your hands.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and made possible by generous listeners like you. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time for more from Lisa Anderson, as we provide trusted advice to help you and your family thrive.
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Lisa AndersonView Bio
Lisa Anderson is the director of Boundless and young adults at Focus on the Family, and hosts The Boundless Show podcast. She grew up in San Jose, California, is a graduate of Trinity International University in Chicago, and spent a good chunk of her life in media relations before joining Boundless.