The Risk of Rejection
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Shelby AbbottShelby Abbott is an author, campus minister, and conference speaker on staff with the ministry of Cru. His passion for university students has led him to speak at college campuses all over the United States. Abbott is the author of Jacked and I Am a Tool (To Help with Your Dating Life), Pressure Points: A Guide to Navigating Student Stress and DoubtLess: Because Faith is Hard. He and his wife, Rachael, have two daughters and live in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.
Shelby Abbott talks about dating and why the important parts should not happen digitallyâ€”especially asking for a date. Shelby encourages parents to teach their daughters how a boy should treat them.
The Risk of Rejection
Bob: Among students today, the opportunities for texting and social media have made forming real, authentic human relationships a lot more complicated. Here’s Shelby Abbott.
Shelby: I always like to tell the students I talk to that social media, texting, and your phones should never be a substitute for relationships. They should be a springboard for relationships into something deeper. No matter how weird you might seem because you don’t use your phone in the way other people do, people will eventually look at that and go, “There’s just something remarkably attractive about that.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, July 14th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. How can moms and dads and friends help high school- and college-aged students and young adults deal with the complexities of dating in the 21st century? We’re going to talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Mary Ann was telling me the other day about a college professor; one of her assignments to her freshmen is: “You have to have a date. In the next two weeks, you have to have a date. These are the rules: it has to be with one person only, so it’s you and one other person. It has to last at least 90 minutes long. The initiation has to happen face to face. And it has to be with somebody that you have some sense of interest in.”
The professor was going, “These kids lack this simple, basic skill that is going to be determinative for what the next four years of their life is going to look like. The kids are like, ‘How do you…? What do you do?’” They’re going to the library to check out books like I Am a Tool (To Help with Your Dating Life) to figure out, “How do I do this?” because they don’t know how to ask a girl out on a date.
Dave: I tell you what—I didn’t either when I was growing up, but I had to figure it out. There was no social media. There was a phone that was plugged into the wall, with a long cord on it. [Laughter] I can remember some of the scariest moments of my life; which now, I know, were great, maturing moments, were dialing [dialing noise] and sweating, and making that request. That’s a grow-up moment.
Bob: Do you remember Dave asking you out?
Ann: Yes. It was pretty fantastic, actually.
Dave: It was?
Ann: Yes! I can remember hearing his voice on the phone, thinking, “What?! Dave Wilson is calling me?” But he acted super cool, you know? I didn’t know there were any nerves in the situation.
Bob: So did he say, “Do you want to get together and hang out?” or—do you remember?
Dave: I didn’t say, “…hang out.”
Bob: What did you say? Do you remember?
Dave: I said, “Would you like to go out on a date?” That’s what we called it back in the ‘60s. [Laughter]
Ann: We weren’t in the ‘60s!
Dave: It was the ‘70s. [Laughter]
Ann: Well, it’s interesting—because I remember talking to our sons about this—and talking to them about asking girls out on a then [at that time] date.
Ann: They were right on that border of if it’s called a date or “Are you just hanging out?” A lot of it was in groups. I remember Dave and I encouraging them, like, “You should call this girl and ask her out!” And, you know, them being like, “What are you talking about?”
Cody, our youngest son, called his now wife, Jenna, and asked her to go on a date. She was younger, but they had this date. They sat down and ate dinner at a restaurant—
Dave: —that I paid for. [Laughter]
Ann: Yes, I think you did! [Laughter]
Dave: I do remember that; not anymore, but I did.
Ann: Every time he was with her, he would open the car door; open the door for her. She went home—we found this out later—and her mom asked her, “Hey, how was your date with Cody Wilson?” She said, “He was so weird, like he asked me on an actual date, and he kept opening doors for me.” It felt really weird to her, because no one had ever done that with her.
Bob: Well, we’ve got Shelby Abbott joining us again on FamilyLife Today. Shelby, welcome back.
Shelby: Thanks for having me.
Bob: You’ve heard stories like this over and over again. You’ve been involved with Cru® for the last 20 years, working with high school- and college-aged students. You’ve written a book about relationships/about dating called I Am a Tool (To Help with Your Dating Life). The I Am a Tool is kind of like, you know, “I can’t really help you”; but you can! This book is really helpful for young people who are like Cody Wilson was: “What’s a date? How do I do this?” and then, girls who think that’s weird when that happens.
Shelby: Yes. I explain to college students all the time that the important parts of communication between the two of you should never happen digitally. They should happen face to face. If you’re far apart from one another, the exception, I think, is video chatting of some kind or FaceTime®. Whenever I say that kind of stuff, I say, “I’m not an idiot. I know what you all are thinking right now: ‘Who in the world asks a girl out, face to face, these days? Who does that?’ My answer is, ‘Ideally, you!’”
Instead of succumbing to the cultural norms of passive, digital relational interaction, why not set a new standard by valuing character, and integrity, and honesty, and guts in a world that kind of devalues those admirable things in men? Like why wouldn’t you stand out? Cody did that. She thought it was weird. She still married him though! Right? [Laughter]
Ann: That’s a good point!
Shelby: It was so weird that it was compelling. Because it can happen; it’s just not an option for most guys.
Bob: You go back to the Dark Ages, when I was dating—
Dave: That’s the Dark Ages. [Laughter]
Bob: I remember having a crush on a girl who was a grade ahead of me in high school. I wanted to ask her out. I was petrified by the thought; the whole idea that I was going to ask her out and she might say, “No,” or she might think I was weird. It was to the point where I had a friend who said, “She will go out with you if you ask her out.” I was still scared to ask her out.
Bob: What’s going on with us that this fear of rejection or the fear of—I don’t know if it was rejection—it was kind of like, “This is so awkward.” What’s at the core of all of that?
Shelby: It’s a level of vulnerability. In reality, that always existed, back when you were dating as well. It existed, and a lot of times, the padding that we would put in there would be talking through another friend.
Shelby: “Hey, can you go tell her that I like her and I want to take her out?” And then it was like notes. “Here’s this note. Pass this note. Check, ‘Yes,’ or ‘No,’”—that kind of stuff. We always want to lean on that crutch of, “Where can we make it easier on us?” because there’s an element of vulnerability.
Shelby: Now, that vulnerability that exists is padded through people’s phones. It’s easier to do that because it’s so commonplace; because everybody has a phone. Opting for something else—it’s not an option for people, because nobody likes to be vulnerable. At least initially, when your heart is on the line, because you put yourself out there, and you admit, “Hey, I’m interested in you; therefore, I am vulnerable; and you have the option to make this a good thing in my mind, or you have the option of destroying my heart.”
Ann: Yes! The risk of rejection is just terrible; yes.
Shelby: It’s really, really terrifying.
Bob: I’m about to find out if you are as interested in me as I am in you.
Bob: And if I find out you’re not, that’s going to be pretty disappointing, and it’s going to say, “What’s wrong with me?”
Bob: I think that’s what’s kind of behind all of it, don’t you think?
Ann: Yes, yes.
Dave: Oh, yes! And I was thinking, as a preacher and a teacher, it’s like you want feedback.
Dave: But you’re afraid of it!
Dave: It’s the same thing.
Shelby: I did stand-up comedy for four years or so—
Dave: Oh, I can’t imagine!
Shelby: Jerry Seinfeld would talk about how you’re getting instant feedback every single joke you tell; so you’re getting like, “Ah, that was okay,” or “Yes, that was great!” or “No, that was awful.” You can refine your show, but you still put yourself out there, and you’ve taken hits the entire time while you’re up there. Some of them have been good.
It’s kind of like golf, you know? You hit one good swing, and you think, “I think I’ll come back!” One good joke, and you’re like, “I think I could do this again.”
Bob: So if a college student is listening and hears us talking about this, and later today, she gets a text from a guy who is saying, “Hey, I was just wondering if you wanted to hang out sometime,”—and she’s thinking, “I kind of would like to hang out with him,”—are you saying she ought to make him man up before she says yes to that? Or is it okay for her to just say, “Sure”?
Shelby: I’m hesitant to put down blanket rules for everyone and say that this is the absolute right way that you should do this.
Shelby: Because the Bible gives cues about how we are to go about living our lives; but the Bible has a whole lot of nothing to say about dating, because it’s a cultural thing. But we could take principles—biblical principles and biblical thinking—to help us determine how we act today. The Proverbs are a great place to go for wisdom and how communication should happen. There are lots of great things we could apply in there.
I’d say, if a girl gets a text message from a guy, I would respond and say, “Hey, have the guts to come and talk to me face to face.” If the guy doesn’t, and he kind of ghosts you and tunes out, then you’ve dodged a bullet; but if he has decided to come to you, and lean into the awkwardness and the social anxiety of it all, then you have a guy who is willing to learn, and grow, and be teachable. And he’s willing to fight for you! Why is that a bad thing—that he’s willing to fight for you?
Shelby: I always tell college students; I say, “When my daughters”—my daughters are almost eight and five right now, so I don’t have to worry about this stuff right now—but “When the day comes when they start dating boys—God help me—if the boy that they’re interested in doesn’t have the guts to walk up to my front door, knock on my front door, shake my hand, and engage with me in a little chit-chat about the NFL and Fast and Furious 14, by then, he just doesn’t get to take out my daughter.” It’s just as simple as that.
Bob: Are you telling your daughters that now?
Shelby: No, because I don’t want them to know about boys in that way right now. [Laughter]
Ann: I can see that!
Shelby: It’s not important.
Ann: But help us, as parents, who are listening: “What’s the strategy?” How can we enter into this world?—of teaching our kids to expect that kind of respect and admiration, and just even walking up to the door and ringing the doorbell, when our kids are like, “Mom, I am never going to expect this guy to do that!” How, as parents, can we communicate that to our kids?
Shelby: Yes; that’s a great question and an important one. I’m a little bit hesitant to answer, because I don’t have kids who are of that age, so it’s easy for me to say right now. Number one, I take both of my daughters out on dates now. I’m starting that early. As quickly as possible, I want them to know how a woman should be treated when a guy takes them out. Now, we’re going out for doughnuts, and we’re doing roller skating, and that kind of thing. So it’s no big deal right now; but I want them to expect a certain level of treatment from a guy, because they’ve witnessed it in the way that their dad has treated them.
What I want to instill in my girls is that they would not want to settle for a guy who is not willing to engage with them the way that I did as they were growing up. Now, I know a lot of people are like, “Well, it’s too late for me now.” I think there is grace in that, and God covers over the past mistakes. He just does! I think it’s never too late to start treating your daughters in a way where they just see the bar raised in their life.
I think if we help our kids to understand that, number one, nobody will ever, ever, ever love them the way that Jesus loves them——never, never! “So don’t ever look for the satisfaction that only Jesus can give you in another human being,”—that’s first and foremost. Preach the gospel to your kids, that they would not only hear it and experience it, but believe it in their hearts/it would be their own thing; so that they see who Jesus is, and they compare every guy to Jesus first and then dad.
They look at that, and if it’s a contrasting comparison there, then they go, “No, he’s just not good enough,” or they have the guts to say, “If you’re not willing to come and meet my parents, then you’re just not willing to, actually, fight for me in the way that I need you to fight for me.” That sounds kind of serious, maybe, in high school; but like why not? Why not raise the bar in guys’ lives?
Dave: As a dad of daughters, what age are you going to let them date?
Shelby: My wife and I haven’t talked about that too, too much. What has been in the back of my brain is 16. I think 16 is a good place to start, because it’s in early high school. It’s in a place where they’re a little more mature; they can understand those kinds of things.
I think the more important question to ask is: “When are we going to give our kids phones?” That is a deeper question that I need to get into, because my oldest is in elementary school; she’s in second grade. I will never forget, when she was in kindergarten, we went to a school function. There were these kids wandering around the hallways, who were K through 5. These fifth-grade girls are pulling out their phones and looking at stuff on their phones. I’m like, “Fifth grade? They’ve got phones already when they’re in fifth grade?!”—and not just phones; like smartphones.
Shelby: They’re watching YouTube; they’re communicating with people; they’re on Snapchat®. Not to even get into all the predatorial stuff that happens out there on the internet, but do I really want my kids communicating through their phones that early?
You know, the Scriptures talk about, if your kids ask you for bread, you don’t give them a snake or a scorpion. I think what they’re asking for in a phone—what they’re really asking for is not a phone—they’re really asking for a deeper sense of communication and belonging; so don’t give them something they’re not asking for.
Bob: That’s the problem! If you don’t give them that, you are cutting them out of the group. I mean, you’re consigning to them social outcast status in the fifth grade.
Shelby: That’s an interesting way of approaching stuff. I think that phones, in general, for emergency cases, and texting for that, might be a healthy way to go an end-around for stuff. But especially if you have boys out there—and it’s not just a boy issue, of course; it’s for women as well—pornography is streamed straight into your pocket if you have a smartphone. You can access it at any point in time.
So I think there are some parameters you can put down. I don’t think it has to be a complete, “No.” It could be like, “We don’t go into our rooms with our phones and scroll on it, all night long, before we fall asleep with it in our bed.”
Dave: We have friends, whose high school daughter/a follower of Christ—they found out through social media—wasn’t it?—that she was drunk at a high school football game. [They] confronted her: “No; that did not happen.” A teacher said, “I was there; it did happen.” Guess what their punishment was? They say, “We’re taking your phone away for a year.” She went bonkers!
Shelby: Yes, yes.
Dave: The year ended. She came on stage at our church and said, “Best year of my life!”
Shelby: Yes, that’s one of the things: you have to be willing to go through the pain, initially, in order to experience the maturity.
What we need to realize, as older folks looking back is, when you say, “I’m going to take your phone away,” it’s essentially like saying to a Gen Z-er or a Millennial, “I’m cutting off your hand.”
Shelby: Because it’s not just a thing that they use.
Shelby: We look at it as a tool that we use to communicate with the world/to get work done. It’s not that for them; it’s an extension of themselves.
As messed up as all that is, and we’re not going to get into the psychology of all that, we need to recognize that, when we are communicating with our kids, what we’re saying, when we say, “I’m going to take your phone away,”—you’re basically saying, “I might as well just cut off both of your feet.” Now, that’s not true; we know that. The girl you just talked about is evidence of that.
Shelby: They need to go through the pain in order to experience the way that they should rightly live. They will fight it, and fight it, and fight it, and fight it; but eventually, they will probably thank you for it.
Ann: I think it was harder on the parents because of the fight—
Shelby: Oh, yes!
Ann: —the everyday fight.
Ann: Yet, it was amazing to listen to her saying: “Thank you. Thank you for doing that; because I found Jesus, and I found true life.”
Bob: I would just say to you, as a father of a five- and an eight-year-old—when my kids were that age—next time you’re out on a date with your daughter, say to her, “Someday, you’re going to be going out on dates with other people other than Daddy. Let me just tell you what that’s going to look like when you get there. When you turn 16 or 17, and a young man wants to take you out, you’re going to say to him, ‘You need to talk to my daddy first.’”
Bob: You start drafting the script for them to understand: “This is what it’s going to be,” so that, when they get to be 15, or 16, or 17, and a young man asks them out, they’ve been programmed: “This is how I’m supposed to respond.” They know that’s normal and natural. They’ll still kick against the goad, right?
Bob: But they know: “This is not something new that Dad just invented because he’s scared. He’s been planning on this, and he loves me.” I tell you—when they’re five, or seven, or eight—and you say this to them, they smile.
Ann: That is when you start.
Bob: They love it.
Bob: They start to imagine that, and imagine some young man coming and talking to their dad. That idea thrills their heart. It won’t be there when they’re 16, but you plant it now. It’s a great seed to plant.
Ann: We did that with our sons—of talking about when they were younger—“When you want to date a girl,”—we called it that—“When you want to take a girl out, you’ll need to talk to her dad.” These guys were petrified!
Ann: You know, like, “This is the dumbest thing. I’m not doing that.” Yet, the girls that they married, they did ask their father’s permission. It was interesting! The dads of the daughters were shocked, like, “He’s not asking to marry you; he’s asking to date you!”
Ann: Which, right there, says so much; but also saying to our sons—because I would date our sons as well, and that’s where they got it—when we would go to a restaurant, I said, “You should open the door for whomever you’ll take out, and for your wife someday. That’s just showing love and respect. It’s showing that you care, and that you’re protecting.”
Dave: We were thinking it was showing what your book’s all about—it is a whole other vision. It’s not the culture; it’s above the culture. It’s a vision of the way God wants you to date—this divine encouraging that you talk about—just a beautiful definition of dating that I don’t think the culture’s going to give them. We need to give them that.
Ann: A “Divine Appointment to Encourage”—
Ann: —I like that acrostic.
Shelby: “D-A-T-E,” yes. We have to consider this, too: “Since when did Jesus ever promise a life of comfort and ease by following Him?” He just didn’t; He promised abundant life if we follow Him, but He didn’t promise a life of comfort. We can identify with Christ in His sufferings when we suffer.
As a parent, when your teenage kids are making your life miserable, that’s a form of suffering. [Laughter] In the end, what does it do? It’s the birthplace of character and integrity. It’s not going to be easy at all. It’s never supposed to be easy, especially with a child whom you love, and whom you desire good things for; you want what’s best for them. But they don’t know what’s best for them; they don’t know. It’s important that we stick to that and ask the Holy Spirit to give us guidance and grace in our failings.
Bob: You wrote this book for the young person, not for their parents.
Shelby: —for the college student, right.
Bob: Yes, so should parents read it first? Should they just buy it and give it to their college student? Do you put it on their pillow at night and have it magically appear? [Laughter]
Shelby: That’s, again, one of those things: “I think you should read this,” and they’re like, “Never; I’m never going to read that.”
Bob: The curse of death for that.
Shelby: I wouldn’t mind if they read it beforehand; I’ve got nothing to hide. I think that some parents might read this and go, “This guy is completely out of touch with reality.” I’m not, but again, it’s a call to something different. It’s a call to something; because the way that it’s being done now is tragic, and it’s injuring a lot of young people. Let’s try to get on the solution side of things.
Dave: Hopefully, they’ll look at it the way you titled it; it’s a tool to help them.
Dave: Who doesn’t want a tool, at the right time and the right purpose, to literally change their life? What a gift!
Ann: I would really encourage parents to fall on their knees and to beg God to care for, to instruct, and to guide their children; because God hears that prayer. He hears our anxiety and our angst as we’re raising kids. We feel like—so many times, I got on my knees and said: “Jesus, I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t even know what I’m doing! I need Your help.” He promises to help us; He runs to us. We don’t see the results of that immediately, sometimes; but He’s always working.
Bob: So here’s what I’d do. I would not put it on their pillow.
Ann: No! [Laughter]
Bob: But I would order the book; and then when it came, I wouldn’t say a word. I’d just set it out somewhere, like on a coffee table or something. Just leave it there, and let your teenager—because the cover, teenagers are going to pick it up and say, “What’s this?”
Bob: Right? “Where did this come from?” “I don’t know. That came in the mail.”
Ann: I would encourage parents to read it and then ask questions. “Hey, what do you think dating is today? What do you think it looks like for a guy to ask you out?”—or for a guy—“Would you ever ask a girl out?” Instead of preaching to our kids, I think to ask those questions—
Ann: —it really is a great conversation.
Bob: You read something in here and you go, “Hey, is this true?
Bob: I mean, that is great: “I want to read this to you. Is this true?” And just see how they respond to that, right?
And by the way, thank you for being with us and talking about this.
Shelby: Sure. Yes, my pleasure.
Bob: Shelby Abbott has written the book, I Am a Tool. We’ve got it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number. This is a great book to give to a high school- or college-aged student—someone you know who is in the midst of the dating years—maybe something you could interact with them about. Again, the title of the book is I Am a Tool (To Help with Your Dating Life). Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, in processing what we’ve talked about today, I think all of us, as parents, would wish that our kids would have pain-free relationships; but that’s probably not going to happen. David Robbins, the president of FamilyLife® is here with us. It’s just part of the reality of relationships—that there’s going to be conflict and pain.
David: Especially, sometimes, between kids and parents. I’m listening to today, and I’m kind of like, “Maybe we should change ‘FamilyLife’s Parenting Resources’ to ‘Enter into Suffering.’” [Laughter] You know, I think Shelby may be on to something here; there is some suffering that comes from resisting what our kids want, when we know it isn’t best for them.
David: It’s not so easy when they’re toddlers, and I have a toddler; but man, with my teen, it takes it to whole other levels. I know what’s coming, because he’s a young teen. Yet, I’m challenged by today’s conversation: “Am I willing to suffer for my teen’s good?” by enduring their frustration with me, like when I’m doing what Shelby talked about, and taking their phone away from them.
We talked about, today, our kids needing to step up in relating to others with the ability of risk and vulnerability, and to not live lives that are padded. I think the same type of risk and vulnerability is needed by us, as parents, as we take steps of faith to really parent them well and to help shape their lives. We’re going to have to lean in and allow God to use us in some risky ways that may seem vulnerable, and trust Him for things bigger than ourselves in order to form them into who He wants them to be formed into.
Bob: And know they’re not always going to like your parenting, but you’ve got to do what God’s called you to as a parent.
Bob: And not make their approval the benchmark for whether you’re doing it well or not.
Bob: Yes; thanks.
Tomorrow, we want to talk about what moms and dads can do to help teenagers through the turbulent teen years, so they come out on the other side pointed in the right direction. Jeffrey Dean joins us to talk about that. I hope you can be with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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