Monday, October 26, 2015

Romance and Marriage in the 21st Century... Interview with Lisa Anderson: Author of The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose

I've known Lisa Anderson for fifteen years. I first encountered her back in 2000 when I was promoting a project for the ABC Television Network. At the time, we were both professional single women. We still are. This interview isn't about me and my personal unwedded life. I'll leave it at that. Having said that, this interview explores our time and the culture in which we live. Married or single? Make sure you have a purpose.   

The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose is Lisa Anderson's first book. I'm thankful she took the time to allow me to interview her about marriage in the 21st century.   

I’ve read several articles and various forms of research indicating young people don’t want to get married. I've assumed that was a non-Christian demo, but are those numbers reflecting Christians as well?
Yes and no. Actually, both Christian and non-Christian Millennials (young adults born in 1982 or after) desire marriage. In fact, 90 percent of them want to be married someday and actually believe they will be married someday. Moreover, their belief in marriage as a "good thing" equals that of The Greatest Generation -- their grandparents or great-grandparents. The problem is, they've seen marriage done badly. The Boomers (Millennials' parents) are the largest divorce generation in history. Many young adults today grew up in broken homes, some with an absent parent altogether. They're afraid marriage can't work because they haven't seen it work over the long haul, so they're either afraid or completely at a loss as to how to do marriage in a healthy and lifelong way.
Here goes. Simplistic I know, but from your perspective how should one prepare for marriage?
First, by knowing who you are and what you believe. This is why for Christians, being grounded in our identity in Christ is so important. Marriage will neither fix nor complete you. You have to know you are perfectly loved and accepted by God apart from everything else. In light of this, preparation for marriage includes an active pursuit of spiritual, emotional and relational health. Successful daters (and the best marriage candidates) are living out a vibrant faith, plugged into accountable community with other people, have taken ownership of their lives, including their issues and failures, and know how to communicate and do conflict with grace. Perhaps most importantly, they are ready and willing to lay their life down for another person. They are willing to commit to and covenant with that person for life. This is self-sacrificial on so many levels, and is in direct opposition to the "me first" culture we live in today.
Another great way to prepare for marriage is to live around other marriages. Ask couples you respect to let you into their lives to witness the good, bad and ugly of marriage. Getting both a realistic and hopeful picture of marriage is key to forming a healthy one of your own.
As director of, a singles ministry, what is the worst or biggest mistake you know singles are making? What is your best advice?
This is hard to narrow down (ha!), but I think a consumer attitude toward dating and marriage is tripping a lot of us up. We go into the dating process with a long list of unrealistic expectations including everything from a specific height and hair color to the demand to have our every physical and emotional need met in another person. When that person fails us, we bail and start searching for the next person, only to be disappointed again. There is no perfect person, nor are there perfect relationships. We've bought into a bunch of Hollywood nonsense that has us looking for people that don't exist. Then, as we start dating, we approach it with a "wait and see" attitude. We try people on for a few weeks, months or years. We date with little intention, purpose or direction. Before we know it, a decade has passed and we're no closer to our goal of settling down. Great matches aren't found; they are built between two healthy and committed people who are willing to fail and forgive repeatedly. We've lost sight of this.
The Church caters to married people. If you are an older single, you are left out and in many situations made to feel like an outcast. What can be done? 
There's ground to be gained on both sides here. Singles need to stop sampling church and treating it as a fair-weather friend. We need to pick a church, commit to it, and dig in for better or worse (sounds like marriage!). We are called to be part of a local body of believers -- a family. We are called to serve, to lead where we can, and to give faithfully of our time, talents and resources. That said, the larger church needs to stop treating us like second-class citizens or what I call "singles at the kids table." It's the horrible Thanksgiving analogy where the "odd numbers" are put at the kids table in the living room to eat because there's no room for them with the grownups. We are contributing members of the church; we should be treated that way. And we need the married couples as friends, mentors and helpers along the path of life. Church is meant to be multi-generational and to incorporate people in all stages of life. This includes singles. If someone reading this goes to a church that doesn't have this, it's time for a conversation with the pastor, elders and others within leadership. It may start with you getting the ball rolling and pitching in to affect change. It may not be easy, but it can happen. I've been part of this kind of change.
You have a term in your book called friendlationship. What is this and is it a good thing?
It's where two people of the opposite sex are friends, but one starts having romantic feelings towards the other. The couple spends an inordinate amount of time together, but there's no understanding -- no real relationship. The "in love" person -- let's say it's the girl -- chooses to hang on and bide her time, because she just knows that someday soon this guy will wake up and see the wonderful woman right under his nose, and he'll realize he loves her. But this rarely happens outside of the movies. In reality, the girl will probably waste months, even years, of her life waiting for the love of a man who will never give it to her. Meanwhile, she's giving up time, attention, companionship, emotional capital, even sex, for nothing substantive in return. They're "just friends." My friend did this for seven years, and after seven years she had to sit down with a guy and break up from her non-relationship with him. Her heart was so involved, it was like a divorce. It took her two years to recover from it. Too often our connection in a relationship doesn't match the level of commitment. Both need to be present for long-term success. If you're in a friendlationship, the best thing you can do is cut the cord. This will free you up to be found by someone who may actually want to date you, not just use you as a gal pal.
Paul was single. At least he was single when he was in his prolific writing phase. What’s wrong with being single?
Absolutely nothing. Paul applauded singleness for those who were called to it. Being single allows a person to minister in capacities unavailable to marrieds, and helps them be more focused and undivided in their attention. But I think we often misinterpret the call to singleness, or celibate service. It's a gift that's actually for relatively few people, and those who are called to it generally know that they are. Most people are called to marriage, but again, our culture has muddied the water so that we have millions of people living in protracted seasons of singleness or in the position of being single again. For the first time in U.S. history, over half the adult population is single. Many of these folks desire marriage, but circumstances, fear, selfishness or other factors are keeping them single. This is why I tell marriageable single men to pursue wives boldly and with integrity. It matters to our society's future, and it matters to God. But for those of us who feel we've done everything and are still single, we must take heart. Being single, even in a prolonged and unwanted season of singleness, is no less valuable, useful or joyful than being married. God has something for all of us right where we are, and He meets us there with renewed wisdom and strength.
What are your thoughts on online dating? Whether it be Christian sites (how do you know) or secular sites?
I see online dating as a valuable tool in today's technological and mobile society. Contrary to what some Christians say, going online isn't tantamount to "not trusting God" or "giving up" on traditional dating. There's nothing wrong with using the means available to us to meet people in an increasingly transient world. But you have to enter this space with an enormous amount of prayer and accountability, plus a game plan, otherwise it's easy to get sucked into the black hole of online dating sites. Always lead with the real you, including the most important things like your faith and values. Get a team around you to keep you accountable for the amount of time you spend online, who you're meeting, and what you're talking about. It's easy to give up too much to nameless, faceless people on the other side of the screen. To that point, remember that an online platform is only a means of meeting people. Eventually (sooner rather than later) you need to take this into real time and real space for it to be a relationship. Don't waste your time on people who don't share your faith and life goals. And finally, set parameters for yourself when it comes to time spent and the geography in play. Give yourself three months and a one hundred mile radius to try it out, but put forth effort. Don't just troll through profile after profile. Remember, these are (hopefully) real people. Treat them with courtesy, dignity and respect.
You write of a particular emotional moment at a carnival and you got hit hard by your singleness. Being alone that night was dramatic. How often do you hear this type of story?
Pretty often, though rarely as publicly as I share my story in the book. This is largely because I think there's a lot of shame around being single, especially among women who would like to be married. We've made excuses, we've tried to cope, we've explained our situations away, but if you've long dreamed of marriage and family and it hasn't happened, there's sadness there. And being alone is hard. God didn't create us to be alone. The good news is, we don't have to be. While it's not a direct substitute for marriage, I've put a lot more intention into my friendships in recent years. I've learned to give and take in relationship, to be accountable to others, and to thrive as a single woman with many different levels of relationship in my life. It's been a rich and rewarding experience. I don't know why I'm still single, but I'm in a much better place with it now, because I haven't sat around waiting for marriage in order for my life to start. I'm living a full life and loving it, though I'm still very open to marriage as well.
You say you would like to be married. Then why aren't you? I contend anyone can actually get married, so yes, why aren't you.

Actually, there are probably a few reasons. First, our culture is at war against marriage. Every marriage that happens today is a miracle, in my opinion. Marriage a couple generations ago was a natural progression and was entered into by most people; it was normative and assumptive, and people married young. Today it’s one of many options on life’s path, and we’re encouraged to pursue it on our own arbitrary timeline and in accordance with our expectations. Also, as you age, the pool of eligible people narrows. I simply don’t have as many quality single guys in my sphere as I did when I was in my 20s. That’s a fact. And when I was in my 20s, I was extremely lackadaisical about marriage, which is a shame. I think I turned down a lot of excellent men at that time because I was selfish and immature. But ultimately, I’m still single because God has allowed it. I can’t look back with regret; that’s unproductive and unbiblical. God’s not wringing His hands, wondering “what in the world should I do with Lisa?” He’s completely in control of my story, and the one thing I can have confidence in at this point is that if He wants me married, He’ll get me married. Until then, my calling is to do my part in honoring and pursuing marriage while rockin’ it out as a single girl sold out to Jesus Christ.

                                          Lisa Anderson

Lisa Anderson is author of the brand-new book The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose. ( She’s the director of ( and host of The Boundless Show, ( a weekly radio program and podcast designed to help young adults grow up, own their faith, date with purpose, and prepare for marriage and family. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado where she runs, hikes, eats chicken tikka masala, and quotes her mother, who’s known to say outrageous things.

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