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BY STEPHANIE SWILLEY

Y DAD ONCE JOKINGLY COMMENTED that his daughters’ education at Southern Adventist University had been a failure. I thought, Hey, wasn’t summa cum laude enough? But he wasn’t talking about grades. He was referring to the glaring fact that my sister and I both managed to leave what’s been dubbed “Southern Matrimony College” without a husband, fiancé, or even a boyfriend. Yes, we were (gasp) single.

But graduating single isn’t unusual anymore. In fact, it’s almost the norm; 1998 population statistics estimated that 44 percent1 of the United States population was single. And among ages 25 to 34 years old, 13.6 million had never been married, almost 35 percent of the people in this age group.

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Despite those figures, the panic set in as soon as I was out of college. The pickings got slim; the choices a lot fewer. I said goodbye to Friday night vespers dates and new classes every semester, each with a new crop of prospects. Suddenly the only people I saw day in and day out were my coworkers, and none of them were looking for romance.

I quickly learned that the majority of the population wasn’t Adventist (10 million out of 6 billion2) and that the church pews weren’t filled with single guys waiting to ask me out. Faced with this shocking revelation, I did what any good college nerd would do: I combed the shelves at the local bookstore, hoping to discover the road map to finding my perfect person.

Joshua Harris

Trying to look invisible in the relationship aisle, I stumbled upon a book with a title that made me take a second look. Secrets of an Irresistible Woman. What female could resist that?

Turns out Christian author Michelle McKinney Hammond had taken the best-selling dating book The Rules and turned the rules into God’s rules.

“The thing that screamed out to me was that [the rules] weren’t really Mama’s rules, they’re really God’s rules,” explains McKinney Hammond, “and Mama didn’t explain why we do them.”

She embarked on a study of the lives of biblical women and found the “why.” But before she could explain to others why God’s rules are crucial in relationships, she had to figure it out for herself.

“I was a person who struggled with being single,” she remembers. Looking at this gorgeous 42-year-old now, it’s hard to imagine how she managed to stay single. Yet she endured years of bad relationships, hoping to find self-worth in each one. After investing all of her time looking for a husband, she began what she calls her love affair with God. Now, says McKinney Hammond, “I don’t rely on other people to satisfy me. I don’t rely on them to give me joy or fulfill me in any way, because my fulfillment, joy, and satisfaction come from my relationship with God. So anything else they bring to the party is just extra icing on the cake for me.”

She knew she wanted to share that message with other struggling singles, but it took a serious car accident for her to put it in writing. After being struck by a car, McKinney Hammond was laid up for a year and a half with surgeries and relearning how to walk.

“I decided to write the book that I wish had been written for me because I didn’t know where to turn in my own struggles as a single person and as a Christian,” she says. That time gave her the chance to finish her first book, What to Do Until Love Finds You, a practical and spiritual guide to laying the foundation for healthy relationships. Now with eight books to her credit, this sassy, successful single is clear on her purpose.

“Whether it’s marriage or a relationship with God, I hope all of my books steer people toward the most important relationship, which is the relationship with God.”

Read on for a candid conversation with a woman who looks at marriage as “one of the things we acquire along the way,” and not the goal of life.

Why is having a relationship with God first so important?
Because it’s the only guaranteed relationship you will ever have in life. It’s the only relationship in which the other person will completely keep their promises to you. It’s the only relationship in life that will never disappoint you. It’s the only relationship you can bank on to help you get through all the other relationships.

But how does that relationship help us
in our relationships with others?

When we’re whole people—and that can happen only when we’re intimate and passionate about God—we attract whole people. We attract a different type of person when we’re not whole and we have problems.

When people don’t have a sense of obligation for being your all-in-all, it liberates them to want to be with you. A lot of people stumble and fail in relationships because they place all their hopes and satisfaction and fulfillment and validation on a person, and it’s just too much for the other person to deal with, and they flee.

What happens if you don’t have that relationship in place?
You definitely end up in the cycle of repeat relationships. You see that in the life of Samson. Delilah wasn’t the first Philistine woman he got involved with, and she wasn’t the first one who betrayed him. Because he was not fo-cused on his relationship with God or the purpose of his life, he got caught up in a cycle of relationships that ultimately led to his destruction.

How are your dating books different
than other Christian dating books?

They’re real—I’m not afraid to share my own experiences and failings and victories. It’s important for single people to know they’re not alone in the mistakes they make and the emotions they experience.

That’s one major difference. And the other is that I’ve been able to apply biblical principles in a way people can grasp and apply to their own lives and modernize the Bible in the eyes of the reader. When I tell the story of Samson and the mistakes he made, those mistakes are no different than what guys make in the year 2001.

Give us your rules for dating.
Dating is not for mating; it’s for collecting data. Dating should be considered like shopping. You’re going out to make a purchase of sorts, and in light of that, you have to consider the three F’s.

And those are?
First, you have to look at their fabric. And that means: What is this person made of? Are they qualified to be a mate? You have to look at their other relationships with their parents and friends. Look at their goals for life.

Second, is it a good fit? Are you walking in the same direction? We know what happens when people go to the store and buy an outfit and say, “It doesn’t fit just right, but I’m gonna lose weight.” You never get into that outfit! And you never change people either. You can’t plan to fit people into your closet of life.

Their purpose and vision have to be hand in hand with yours. What are their interests? passions? Opposites attract, but the similarities keep us together.

Last, finance. How does this person affect the budget of your life—spiritually, physically, and emotionally? Do they cause you to compromise your spiritual standards? That’s too expensive. Do they cause you to have low self-esteem? That’s too expensive. Do they distract you from your purpose of life? That’s too expensive.

What makes a successful dater?
Decide what your standards are going to be. Conclude in your mind what your stand will be before you begin to date. You can’t feel your way through and then start to make your boundaries as you go along. Set those boundaries and stick to them. Don’t be wishy-washy.

And everybody should lighten up. It’s too serious. Dating should be fun.

So why is everyone frustrated?
People have expectations way too early when they meet people. For most women, as soon as they meet a guy they think, He’s cute; the chemistry is right, and they start planning what color their peau de soie pumps are gonna be. And the guy doesn’t even know if he wants to drive down the street, much less to the chapel!

We frustrate ourselves. We spend our entire time interacting with this person, waiting and expecting and hoping they’ll say they want to be with us. And it’s not about that. How do you know you want to be with them? You have no information on this person. You’re going completely off flesh. Women have been waiting all their lives for this person to come along. They’re trained; they’re poised to pounce.

How do you not fall into that?
We have to slow down. And we can slow down only if our relationship with God is at a point where getting married or entering into courtship is something we can really stop and think about—is it something we want to do, or not? If we’re already satisfied, we can look at it from a different angle. Is this person conducive to where I’m going? Do they add to my joy factor or subtract? You can seriously think about that.

What are the secrets of an irresistible woman?
An irresistible woman is a self-satisfied woman. Her life is full; it’s rich. She’s enjoying her life. A man sees this woman and says, “What’s going on there? I want to be a part of that!” She looks like she’s having a good time. Her self-esteem is intact, and she has a good relationship with God. She understands and knows what love looks like, and she doesn’t settle for less than what she deserves, because she knows what she deserves in light of what God has told her.

You tell women who complain about being single to “get a life!” Why is that so important?

Because if you don’t get a life, you’ll be sitting by the phone waiting for someone to give you one, and it won’t happen. When people tell me “I’m bored,” I go, “Well, that’s because you’re boring. Only boring people are bored.”

And what happens is if you are bored, the person who has the capacity to entertain you will not find you interesting enough to stay around to entertain, because everybody wants to be a part of the life of somebody who’s got something going on. They want to be a part of what’s happening.

Some women sit around waiting for other people to make their lives happen, and that’s not the way it works. We have to be interesting and interested. A lot of people are interested in having a relationship, but they’re not interesting. So we have to have a combination going.

How do they get a life?
Get out of just going to work and going to church. Their lives should be full of different activities. They should be loving people who are available to be loved; playing with children who are already there instead of screaming about their biological clocks. And find an interest outside of their home to enjoy so they have a busy, fun-filled life—so that all of their time isn’t vacant, sitting and waiting for the phone to ring.

This is great stuff for women. Any advice for men?
Most men marry women for the wrong reasons. They’re attracted by the flesh, and they don’t look at the personality and character of the woman. They never think of the woman in light of where they’re going in life and whether she will be able to assist them and help them be all that they need to be.

Should churches be more involved?
Churches need to overhaul their approach to dealing with singles, because singles are quickly becoming the majority in most churches. If they don’t cultivate strong singles in their congregations, churches are going to fall apart economically and physically.

They need to come up with programs that put singles to work. For some reason it seems that singles are seen as not being serious or committed, but that’s not true. There are singles who have great talents that need to be utilized in the church. And because they are single, they have more time to give to the church.

Churches really need to revisit that and create opportunities for singles to be put to work in the church and also cultivate different kinds of activities. These little singles groups with people just sitting around talking or going bowling—it’s for the birds.

How can people be happy even if they’re single?
Discover where their purpose is. The hole in their heart is not a person-size hole; it’s a purpose-size hole.

When did you get comfortable with being single?
Getting completely submerged in my purpose. That’s probably why I’m so avid about getting a life. Most days I have no time to be lonely. My days are filled with purpose and things to do. And by the time I hit my pillow at night I’m grateful that no one else is in my bed.

Tell us again. How can Christians be successful daters?
Approach members of the opposite sex with the possibility of a great friendship. That frees you to go out and just have a good time and not have any other expectations. Learn how to be friends with men. Learn how to be friends with women. Remember: friendship first; courtship after.

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1 U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, “Marital Status and Living Arrange-ments,” March 1998.
2 United Nations, 1998 Revision of the World Population Estimates and Projections (abstracted from www.popin.org/pop1998/). In 1998 the world population stood at 5.9 billion; it is growing at 1.33 percent per year. The current world population is estimated at a little more than 6 billion.

_________________________
Stephanie Swilley, a recent graduate from Southern Adventist University, is editorial assistant for BookPage in Nashville, Tennessee.

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