I don’t read singleness/relationships books very often (in fact, the last time I read one from cover to cover was probably 2011, although articles and posts on the internet are another matter….) but I decided I didn’t want to miss a book by Boundless’s own Lisa Anderson. After all, Lisa is hilarious, straight-talking, and still single herself, so she’s living what she’s writing.
Lisa subtitled her book “A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose”, which summarises the book pretty well. Towards the beginning, Lisa explains why marriage is something that singles should take seriously and plan for, and debunks some of the Hollywood stereotypes that we might confuse for the real deal, whether that’s looking for a prince (girls) or “a supermodel who writes Bible studies” (guys), amongst other things. She also explains some big reasons why many young adults are still single, such as immaturity, holding out for “The One”, or dating without a clear purpose. She highlights qualities that matter for being marriageable (and, of course, for everyone, as she says), such as your relationship with Christ and “lov[ing] the people you’ve got”.
With all that cleared up, how does one actually start dating intentionally? While Lisa is clear that “there’s no magic formula”, she has plenty of common-sense advice for how guys should initiate (not by Facebook or twitter, just so you know), how girls can clearly and graciously accept or decline, and how both can interact wisely, whether for a single date, in a longer-term relationship, or in the event of a breakup. Undergirding it all is that you remember the point of the whole thing: “Dating is for determining the feasibility of a lifetime with another person…. When all’s said and done, it’s about commitment. Are you ready to give the rest of your life to this person? … Remember, there are many people you can be compatible with and build a God-honoring life with [i.e. there is no such thing as “The One”]. Is this one of those people? Are you ready to shed yourself and start sacrificing? Is your boyfriend of girlfriend in the same spot?”
But of course, having a right view of marriage and a sensible plan for dating doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get a date. So, assuming you’re not being too picky (which, as Lisa makes clear, you might be), she provides practical ideas for how to “widen your circle of people in general, and singles in particular”.
But what if you’ve tried all that too and you’re still single? Lisa is particularly suited to speak to this, because it’s exactly where she’s at: single in her early forties. Early on in the book, she was candid about the mistakes she’d made in her earlier days that contributed to her prolonged singleness, and in chapter 9, “It’s Okay to Grieve”, she’s candid about the heartache singleness can cause. I appreciate that before Lisa gets to the God-is-good-and-we-trust-Him-no-matter-what bit (which she does), she says this:
“I think that the first thing we need to do is grieve.
These are weighty losses. These are issues of the heart. These are fears, dashed dreams, and crushed assumptions, and many of them are laced with lies about ourselves, our circumstances, and even God himself. You don’t mess around with this kind of grief.”
Yes, grieve. And be open with God about it: “God can handle your grief. He can also shoulder your anger, questions, and doubt.”
Of course, Lisa drops the other shoe in the next chapter, and rightly so: “… even if you desire marriage and feel called to marriage, and even if it hasn’t happened yet, you can still be a fulfilled, fun, effective, and generally rockin’ person while you wait.” And in fact, she points out, there are good things about singleness too.
And so the book moves to a balanced close—one where you can plan for marriage without letting its absence become the all-consuming thing in your life. As Lisa reminds us, “God is still at work. It ain’t over till it’s over, folks. I may get married next year. I may get married at ninety years old. I may never get married at all. Bring it on…. God is sovereign, y’all. So, whatever.”
There wasn’t much in the book that was new to me (which probably has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been reading Boundless for years), but it’s probably the most sensible singleness and relationships book I’ve read yet. It’s appropriate for guys and gals, for singles in their late teens and singles in their late thirties, for those without a prospect in sight and for those navigating potential relationships. It’s also appropriate for you married folks out there to get a better understanding of how you can help the singles in your life. In fact, Lisa has an afterword entitled “A Note to the Church, Parents, Oldsters, and Married Peeps in General”, because you guys have a role to play in the whole process too.
In short, if you’re unsure about how to navigate your way through singleness and relationships, this is probably the book I’d recommend first.