St. James Finds Out What Is He Thinking??
- Laura MacCorkle Senior Editor, Crosswalk.com
- 2011 9 Sep
Who knew a journey into the minds of men could lead to finding the man of your dreams?
No, that’s not the setup for the latest rom-com of the week playing at a movie theater near you. It’s what really happened to Christian GRAMMY Award-winning singer Rebecca St. James as she was working on her ninth book, What Is He Thinking?? What Guys Want Us to Know About Dating, Love and Marriage.
Spurred by her own curiosity and desire to better understand the opposite sex, the best-selling author and sometime actress began researching by interviewing male friends to find out what they were looking for and what they wish women knew. In the process, St. James was introduced to her now husband, Jacob Fink, and ended up engaged and then married last spring before the book had even hit the shelves.
“Jacob was worth the wait,” she says looking back on her years of dating and singleness. “We are truly amazed at finding our dreams and ideals met in the love we’ve found.”
As someone who says she married later in life, St. James understands the urgency many single women feel to get married and the kind of unhealthy pressure they can place on themselves. She hopes that What Is He Thinking?? will help them be encouraged to see the men in their lives as brothers in Christ first and to trust God with their dating lives.
In her research over a period of four months, St. James talked with single males, ages eighteen to thirty-five (and even some married men, including her own father), as she asked them to be open and honest in sharing what they wanted women to hear. She covered topics such as their top turnoffs (i.e. a critical spirit, inability to be feminine, etc.), the five date questions you have to ask and the do’s and don’ts for interacting with guys.
Other questions answered quite candidly by the men include: What do you find the most attractive quality in a woman?; Is modesty truly attractive?; Is neediness a turn-off?; What do you find beautiful?; How can women be dependent on God for our identity, not on you?; And how can women help you with physical boundaries?
St. James, who also discusses her own dating life and past struggles with loneliness in What Is He Thinking??, admits that dating can be like navigating a minefield: How much should women pursue in a relationship? What about Internet dating? And if there are any good guys left out there, why haven’t they stepped up? But she is also hopeful that God will take the words her male friends have shared in the book and help readers to apply the truths to their lives, according to his plan for each.
I spoke with St. James recently about the process of interviewing and putting together her latest book and what she hopes its dialogue and insights will mean for readers who really want to know . . . What Is He Thinking??
What was your inspiration for What Is He Thinking? And was this subject matter and approach something you’d been thinking about for a while?
You know it came I think as a moment of inspiration a couple of years ago. It was summer, and I think I just realized that there is so much that I don’t know about guys. I said this in the book . . . I have five brothers, and I grew up kind of being a bit of a tomboy and hanging with the guys more at school than girls and I just enjoyed hanging with guys. But the dating thing is a whole different thing than feeling like you kind of understand childhood guy friends. So I really felt like there’s a lot that I don’t know that I would love to be able to ask my guy friends freely and honestly. This book is the most fun of all the books I’ve written. I think this is my ninth, and it was just fascinating to me—like I enjoyed the experience so, so much and I learned so much. I was dating my now husband at the time. I really believed that it helped in our relationship, too. I wanted to learn. I’m a very curious person, and so my own personal questions were what really fueled the idea for the book.
Did you envision yourself as part of the audience that you were writing to?
Absolutely. In some ways, I felt like I was doing it more for me than my audience, and that was just very real. It was very personal because these are things that I wanted to know.
Since you were dating your now husband at the time, did he influence any of the kind of questions that you asked your guy friends in the book?
Well, so that I sort of share with you the whole scope of things, I started the book probably seven months before I met my husband. So I actually had started on it before meeting him. But while I was finishing up the project, you know we had met and were starting to date. I feel like we debated actually going back and forth on whether or not I should interview him, but it felt too close to home. I even thought, “How could we do it so it would actually be like somewhat natural and not weird?” And we thought about me simultaneously interviewing one of his other friends—actually one of the guys that introduced us—and it was just too bizarre. He was open to it, but I felt weird about it because it just, I mean we were in process of living out what I was asking about. So it almost felt wrong to be able to ask him these things that kind of come up naturally in a real relationship over time. So I know that for me our dating relationship did impact it, but not directly because I didn’t interview him.
So when you first met and were getting to know each other and you said, “Hey, by the way I’m working on this book project,” what was your now husband’s initial reaction to hearing what you were doing?
I think he thought it was super cool. He respects my ministry and what I do but isn’t at all like fazed by it or kind of weirded out by it. He’s just a very strong, but very laid back, man. And so he just kind of took it in stride, and I did interview one of his friends . . . in the book who has a background in modeling, and he’s a writer in L.A. And that’s one of his friends. So it did get somewhat close to home, you know, with me interviewing one of his friends. And it’s actually one of his former roommates who ended up being a groomsmen in our wedding. But yeah, he took it in stride like he always does.
When you interviewed the guys in the book, were they more organic type of conversations or were you armed with your list of 20 questions and looking for answers?
They knew that I was interviewing them for the book, and we actually got a lot of the interviews on tape as well as on a Flip camera . . . and so yeah, I kind of filmed some of them because I just really wanted to kind of catalog those moments. We may end up using some of them online, showing little clips from the interviews. But so they knew what was going on, I kind of adjusted the questions that I had to the specific person because every single one of these guys were friends of mine. I had history with them. One of the guys I didn’t know very well. I kind of met him on the road. He was kind of helping with a concert that I was doing. And so he was a part of the church there, so I didn’t know him super well. But everybody else I have long-term friendships with, and so you know I kind of came at each interview to that person and some of them were more like a real conversation which were kind of back and forth and the ideas being shared. And as you can see from the book format, I would share my ideas, too. There was like a dialogue, and those were the best ones. And then some of them were more just me asking questions and them giving their thoughts. But each one was different, you know. I probably asked similar questions of a lot of the guys; each one was very unique.
What surprised you the most about what you heard that men were really thinking?
Well, the main kind of epiphany that happened for me in writing this book was realizing that at least in Christian circles, the dating model has changed and girls need to see this because if we don’t see it, it creates resentment. And that is that there has been this like long-term model for a long time of like guy meets a girl, he gets her phone number, he asks her out for a date, they go out on dates and end up dating and then if it goes well, they end up getting married. Well, engaged and then married. To more of this organic kind of friendship-based approach to dating now where it’s almost more of what I describe in the book as a “Starbucks dating” mentality. And that has happened, and it has happened to me, and this is why I’m passionate about it.
Girls actually get kind of upset and angry with guys for not stepping up. It’s like if I could give you a quarter for every time I’ve heard that, you’d be a rich person. It’s like I hear it a lot. But I think what is actually going on is not necessarily that these guys don’t have the strength to step up; it’s actually that the approach has changed. And I think we girls need to accept that and just go, “Okay, it’s probably going to be a little bit more of a slow process, but if I’m patient, this over time will blossom into something and it could actually be much more of a real kind of friendship-founded relationship that could be for the benefit of the relationship.” So that was probably the biggest thing that was like, “Oh my goodness. This needs to be heard, ‘cause we’ve got to stop critiquing guys that they’re not being strong enough.” Now . . . some of them legitimately are scared. You know what I mean? Some of them are legitimately not stepping up. So it’s not across the board. I just think there needs to be more grace coming from Christian girls.
What advice would you give to a woman who is interested in someone and maybe they’ve had a couple of these “Starbucks dates,” but nothing seems to be moving forward or backward or just anywhere as far as she can tell?
Probably the biggest thing I’d encourage her to do is to ask God to protect her heart. Ask God to take care of her in this process because my heart got disappointed and hurt a lot of times in dating. Dating is tough. It is not an easy period of life, oh my goodness. It’s funny ‘cause while we’re in that season it should be fun. It should be great. And it’s just not. And there are moments of fun, but like overall it’s just a tough thing because you’re so vulnerable. Both people are, and you’re kind of putting yourself out there and hoping for something. And especially women . . . we’re romantics and so it’s just a difficult thing.
But I would really be very prayerful in dating and just say, “God, please shelter my heart and help me to be wise, help me to have this balance of being open and warm and friendly in dating, but also to be wise and not give my heart away to somebody who is not the right man for me.” And you know I was not in love with any other man before my husband, and I’m really, really grateful for that. But I know that’s a rare story actually. It was later in life that I was married. I definitely felt a certain amount of love or friendship love with some of the other guys that I dated, but not “in love.” But I think I was intentional, too, about guarding my heart and asking for God to lead the process. So that would be my biggest advice.
It is really encouraging to read the guys’ thoughts about inner beauty. At least for Christian guys, it sounds like it's just as important to them as outer beauty.
It was so wonderful. And a couple of the guys said that if we meet a really beautiful girl and are blown away but then she has nothing to offer like of herself, of her heart and she’s just really shallow and doesn’t have any depth in the Lord, they were just saying they’re not interested. Like literally it can go from “Wow, she’s amazing” to not interested anymore. And that really showed me how much the heart and the relationship with God are so important to these Christian guys. And I just loved that. The other thing that really, really blessed me was that they really value modesty. I mean I’ve spoken about modesty and purity for so long, but that these guys are saying that they value purity, that they valued modesty that that made them them respect a woman and want to like pursue her because it says so much about her heart. I loved that—like it was so great hearing that from these guys directly.
Many of the guys you interviewed really stressed the importance of basing a relationship on friendship first, and they also desire that women would just be themselves.
I really think that [female readers] will be encouraged by that. My parents, they’re 36 years into marriage, and they have a beautiful marriage. And they have always said my whole life like base your marriage relationship on friendship, because that is what will last through the challenges of life and changing bodies and aging and everything. The friendship is what lasts and connects you, so I do think that girls are going to be encouraged by that. And it’s interesting . . . I think we buy into “speedy is best.” The kind of hurry, hurry, hurry convenience, I needed it yesterday kind of approach to everything including dating. And I think there is almost a wakeup call to us girls in this book, in every area of our lives, to just kind of slow it down and just like let it be. Let it be what it is. And let’s be who we are in our relationships. Let’s honor who we are. And I just think of some of the most attractive people that I know in my life. They just own who they are in the most beautiful way, and they just have this unique beauty to them. They’re just owning who they are before God.
And I just think as a single woman, I’d been single for so long, like I had a lot of people just say, “Hey, while you’re single, just foster that relationship with Jesus that it is really strong and solid and learn to know who you are in him because that will benefit your marriage.” And I see why they were saying that now. And it’s almost like you can be excited about preparing for your groom. I know like as a single woman I liked writing letters to my future husband because it was like a way I was preparing for my groom. But I was also as a person preparing for my groom, shaping my heart like seeking God so that he could show me who I was in him. And that’s something to be excited about and to go, “You know, I’m pressing toward the season of my life that I’ve longed for by preparing for my groom as a person, becoming whole, not being this needy kind of insecure person who doesn’t know who I am. I’m going to press in to who God’s made me to be and that will enhance the quality of the future relationship that I’m longing for.”
Have you shown those letters to Jacob now that you’re married or will you just keep them to yourself?
Absolutely! I’ve shown them to him. I brought them on the honeymoon. I just wished I had written a lot more. He couldn’t believe how few I’d written. I’m sure there are journals that I have somewhere where I’ve written letters to him that I’ll find in future years, but actual like letters to my future husband . . . there were very few of them. So I just encourage girls to write, write, write and share details about what’s going on in your life and what you’re thinking about your future mate. It’s so fun to do that, but I just wish I’d done it more.
What did it mean to Jacob when he saw what you had written or what you were thinking or feeling at any given time while you were still single and desiring to find your mate?
Well, it was actually surprising. It was very, very powerful and very beautiful for me to present these to him, because they were parts of my heart at different stages of my journey. Most of them I wrote kind of in my early to mid-twenties. But I wish I had written more things about what was going on in my life at the time instead of just . . . lots of them honestly were made up of “I miss you, I don’t know how long it’s going to be ‘til I meet you, I’m sad being lonely.” And so it kind of made him a bit sad actually like that like to just feel like for so long I was lonely for him. So he was thrilled that I had written them for him, but I wish now looking back I just shared more of the highs and the lows about being single, ‘cause I think I would just write them to him when I was feeling especially romantic or like sad that he wasn’t in my life and hoping for that romance. So he was so thrilled and touched that I had written them over those years. And yeah, I just have a little bit of different insight on it now.
In What Is He Thinking??, you talk about some dating advice that your mom gave to you . . . something like date the person until you know you’re not going to marry them. Why do you think that is so important?
That honestly was probably the best dating advice I’ve ever been given. I used that piece of advice over and over and over again. It really encouraged me because sometimes you almost just want to not even try . . . like this is just disappointing. But she just said, “You know, if you meet somebody who’s interesting who loves God who you’re drawn to, give it a go.” Go down that path until you know why they’re not the one for you, and it really helped me to date and to be single with almost a clear conscience that I had done everything in my power that I knew to do. I think often actually we do envy guys with their ability to see you and kind of like be the instigator. We as women can feel powerless. "I’ve just got to wait and sit around until somebody pursues me." And it just feels very de-powering and discouraging. But if I feel like I’ve put myself in situations where I can meet other single people and I have given each guy that possibility of being the one for me, given that relationship a chance to blossom, then I can be single without any guilt that I shut down “the one.” Without any regrets. And that’s a big life motto for me: I want to live my life without regret. And so that really helped me too, for the most part, to do that.
If you could go back in time and give “single Rebecca” a life note or some advice, what would you say to her?
Probably, apart from the things we’ve talked about, probably the overriding theme was “Relax, enjoy the journey.” And I think for me, I’m the kind of person, if I have it in my mind to do something I’ll go do it. And it feels crippling at times to be single and not want to be and not feel like you can do much about it. But I just felt these guys [in the book] just say, “Look, when you’re out on a date just relax and enjoy the journey and just be present in that . . . don’t be in the future wondering where this is going to go . . . don’t be in the past thinking I’m going to be like every other guy. Just relax and enjoy it.” And I think what that comes down to honestly is trusting God that he’s going to take care of me. He’s going to protect my heart if I’m placing my heart in his hands. It’s all going to be good. So that’s what I wish. I wish in the journey I just kind of relaxed a bit more and just kind of enjoyed that season a bit more instead of stressing about will it happen. And I think that’s natural in dating. It is natural, but that would be my biggest advice. And also more than ever and now on this side of the fence I believe that if God puts it in your heart that vision, that dream to be married, that calling, that sense of calling, it’s there for a purpose. And it might take longer than what you’d like it to, but it’s there for a purpose. And so it’s just trusting the heart of God that he’s going to take care of us.
After this book has its life, can you foresee a What Is She Thinking?? type of follow-up book?
Yeah, we’ve actually already starting talking about that. And it’s interesting, you know, I don’t know if you’ve read Wild at Heart . . . but I ended up reading it just to help me understand guys a bit better, and I really think some guys are going to read What Is He Thinking??. I had my keyboard player who’s single read it, and he kind of had some major epiphanies just reading between the lines what girls are thinking, some of the dialogue, and even like kind of changed his approach in a way. I mean he was really challenged to let there be mystery, like it’s not playing the game in the negative way. It’s actually letting there be mystery and letting things unfold over time. And that had come up in the book quite a lot, and it really challenged him and so he has kind of made some adjustments and letting there be a bit more mystery in his relationships and already things are improving. You know I think there are things also for guys in this book that will be helpful, but he and other people have said to me, “Man, we would really love a What Is She Thinking?? . . . that would really help us out." So we’re talking about it already, that’s for sure.
And what about a What Were We Thinking?? book? That could apply to marriage or maybe to having kids one day.
Yeah, even like you know being married looking back at it. And I mean we’ve got that kind of perspective a little bit [in the book] with me interviewing the married guys. So there’s a little bit of that “what were we thinking,” like we learned the hard way and that we’d like to do it a little bit differently in dating if we had our time again. That’s what I liked about that segment of the book. It had things that they were happy about that they did in dating and things that they would change. And so I thought that there was some really good advice in that part of the book.
Rebecca St. James is currently headlining the “Purity & Worship Tour.” For more information about Rebecca St. James, What Is He Thinking??, her latest album release, I Will Praise You, or “Purity & Worship Tour” dates, please visit her official Web site here.