Michael is the author of several books, including Don’t Date Naked.

The first obvious question is, where in the heck did the title “Don’t Date Naked” come from?

I’m so thrilled that Tyndale House Publishers was willing to stick with me on that title. We came up with “Don’t Date Naked” in the sense of Ephesians 6, “Put on the full armor of God”.

My wife and I started off with this book with a desire to say “You can date, dating is healthy, dating is good. You can be successful, all things are possible through Christ who strengthens us.” And so we wanted to do this book, in the sense of you can date, BUT don’t run into these dates naked. And that’s what we feel like most people are doing. They take it so lightly. It is so not a big deal that they don’t put on any armor. They get in there and then the next thing they know they are being devastated. They are getting pregnant. They’re getting the diseases. So that’s kind of the short quick of where that title came from.

Awesome title. That should draw a lot of viewers. Well, in your book you say, “dating is like a box of chocolate”. Could you tell us about that?

Obviously that comes from the “Forest Gump” movie — and his point in the movie is our point in this book: you’re gonna get all sorts of different experiences and you can’t just always know exactly what’s going to happen. You may end up with a great person and get married; you may end up with someone that ends up hurting you. But that is all good.

In James, it talks about “consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of any kind.” Because trials create perseverance and righteousness. The stance that we take in the book is that the dating experiences that you will go through, good and bad, will make you a better person. So don’t throw it out because you are fearful that you might make a mistake. Because we tell you, you will make a mistake. The bible is fairly clear on the fact that we’re not perfect. And so it’s not about being perfect in your dating life. It’s about honoring it and taking it like that box of chocolate. In terms of taking the good and the bad. And you’re going to like some of them and you’re not going to like others. And all of that leads to helping you find that right person that you can have a life-long marriage with.

Both you and your co-author, your wife, Amy, believe that courtship and betrothal are often based on parental fear. Tell us about that.

What we have found is that the typical reason that we saw kids being forced into courtship or betrothal — or whatever — is a fear that a parent has that they’re gonna get hurt. That they’re gonna end up having sex. That they’re gonna end up doing these things that obviously a good parent wouldn’t want their child doing.

But what we’ve discovered is that that very fear, and to try to set up this model to protect them from it, actually leads them into the very things they’re fearing.

I had a parent come up to me after we did an interview on a TV show here in Branson, Missouri who really wanted to argue with this fact and said “Well, I have a date: my daughter isn’t allowed to date until she’s 18 years old”. And he was really excited about this because he thought “I am going to save her from the evils of dating” and I looked at him and my first question was “Well, what does 18 years old have anything to do with her ability to date properly?” And he didn’t have an answer. He said, “Well, I don’t know.” And I said, “There must be some reason other than arbitrarily?why not 14, why not 22?” He said, “Well, I don’t know, I mean 18 seemed like a good age”. I replied, “Maybe you should not think about the age, but rather the spiritual and emotional maturity of your child”.

In my household growing up, we didn’t have an age limit on when we could start dating or not. My parents sat us down in a loving, fun, family atmosphere and said “You guys can start dating when you have displayed to us an ability to honor God, honor others and honor yourself. When you do that you will have our blessing.” I was ready in junior high. My parents felt like I had displayed that. And it worked because those were the things I knew I had to learn and implement in my life before I could start dating. Of course, once puberty hit, all I wanted to do was date. And so I knew I better figure out what it means to honor God, what it means to honor others and what it means to honor myself. Some of what we put in the book is “What does that look like ? practically?”

In one of your chapters, Michael, you suggest that dating couples should be “well dressed” for their relationship. What do you mean by that?

Being “well dressed” in your dating relationship means that you have already thought about what it’s going to take to be successful in this relationship. One of those first things of being well dressed is a character list.

I just recently did an event in Tyler, Texas and I said, “Okay, who here has a character list of qualities and character traits they want in a future husband or wife?” I think four people out of 200 plus raised their hand. This is one of the problems. This is one of the things you’re not wearing when you go on in your dating relationship is who you want to end up with in life. What I tell singles is to never, ever date someone you don’t want to marry. Because they do it. I’ve talked to them.

I met with a young 16-year-old girl who was dating a 22-year-old boy who had already fathered one son. She’s one of the Christian leaders in the youth group and she’s dating this guy and I go “Honey, do you see yourself marrying him?” “No, no. I just never had a boyfriend so this has been kind of fun.” I’m going “Fun? This is a disaster.”

I actually encourage singles to literally write it down, fold it up, put it in their wallet or in their purse. But you carry that list because you know that when you start getting attracted to someone that it doesn’t take that many dates to start figuring out the pretty key things.

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What my wife and I encourage in the book is that you need to have some non-negotiables. One of those that I say should be on everybody’s list is that he or she be a Christian. I did a “Don’t Date Naked” thing for a school here locally and I was going over this character list. It was a public school but I was saying you should date someone of the same religion. This girl raised her hand and she says “Well, I’ve been dating this guy for four years and we’re not in the same religion. We’ve been great.” I said, “Really?” And I’m thinking, “Who knows, Catholic and Baptist?” or whatever, and I asked, “What are you?” She says “I’m a Catholic and he’s a Mormon”. And I replied “You’re kidding. Both your families are practicing Catholic and Mormon?” And she says “Yeah.” What was amazing is in four years it never occurred to her to think of this question. She was trying to argue that it was okay. And I said, “Where are you going to get married?” She says, “Well, of course, my church”. I said, “No, you’re not. Because you won’t be legally recognized by his family or his church.”

What we also talk about is guarding your heart and one of the great lessons my parents gave me was to never just use the words “I love you”. You know, sitcoms, dramas, movies?they’ve messed that term up grossly.

What we try to tell people is you’ve got to guard your heart, that you are just dating — even though you think this might be your husband or wife someday. You start throwing that word around; it’s not going to mean that much. Chances are your first few boyfriends or girlfriends you’re not gonna end up with. And so that was something I guarded heavily. And I’m proud to say that my wife, Amy, was the first girl I ever said, “I love you” to. Amy knew that. When we started dating we had that conversation. I said, “Amy, I really want to save that for when it’s a right time.” You know, it’s almost like I’m talking about sex. But those words meant a lot to me. I wanted those to have a lot of meaning. So when I proposed to her and said, “I love you” for the first time, man, that was dramatic. But when you’ve been dating three weeks and say “I love you”, you hurt the meaning of it and it’s such a precious gift to give somebody.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “It’s the wellspring of your life” so you better guard it with everything you have. Can you tell us about the importance of establishing accountability relationships during that courtship?

Accountability is the key. I ask young adults all the time “What does accountability mean?” I’m telling you, 8 times out of 10 they have no clue. Unbelievable. They don’t know what accountability means. Then I’ll have them raise their hands again and I’ll say, “Who here has a promise ring or a purity ring?” Quite a few young ladies are still doing that kind of thing. And you’ll have a few guys raise their hands who have something to designate that. I look at them, I say, “Those are basically worthless.”

In our own research I’ve found about 9 out of 10 evangelical Christian single men will have sex by the age of 19. Eighty to ninety percent of them will. With women it’s about 85% by the age of 19. So what I’m saying is that “Okay, on any kind of business level that ring would have been fired a long time ago.” And what I tell them is “You will not make it.” The chances of you making it are so slim if you just have that promise ring. All a promise ring is, is a promise. It’s not a plan. Accountability is the crux of that plan. I’m telling young adults and people who are committed to purity, “I don’t care if you’ve had sex before”, because virginity is really an emotional state rather than a physical state. I could care less what your past is, you need to live for the future. And you need to prepare and plan for the future. So if you have that ring, that’s a great declaration. It’s a horrible plan.

Accountability is saying, “If you want to make it, you had better be meeting weekly with a group of the same sex peers.” About 4 to 8 — 8 max — that you meet every single week and you are growing in your faith. You are doing the studies, you’re doing the small group curriculum and you are asking each other the tough questions.

Accountability is admitting, “I cannot do this alone. I’m not in heaven, and so I’m not going to make it alone.” It’s really like the Old Testament story about Moses. When the Israelites where in Babylon, God said, “Moses, as long as you keep your arms up, you’ll win. If they go down, you’ll lose.” So what did Moses do? “Well, I can handle this. That’s pretty easy”. So he kept his arms up. If any one’s held your arms up or out to the side, you don’t last very long. And so before long, Moses starts failing and the Israelites are getting wiped out. And it wasn’t until he acknowledged that he can’t do it alone and his brothers and his friends and his comrades came beside him and held his arms up with him that they where eventually able to win the battle. And that’s what accountability is.

Your website www.SmalleyOnLine.com has a personality profile for couples to use. What can couples gain from taking that profile, Michael?

There are two things you can do. We have a simplified version on the web that puts people in the four categories: captain, social director, steward, and navigator. Obviously, we’ve taken those from a cruise ship because those are the four main people you want on a cruise for it to be totally successful. That’s the simplified version. You can literally go on there; it will score it for you. And then your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife can take it and it will score them and then you can just compare.

One of the things that you want to get close with is what type of personality are you gonna do best with. I knew that as a high “social director”, a high off the wall, crazy, fun-loving, optimistic, energetic guy, I could not marry a total “navigator” or a total “steward”. I would wipe them out because it’s just too hard for those kinds of personalities to deal with someone like me. So when I was looking for a mate, I knew I wanted a “navigator/social director”, which a “navigator” is the type of person that’s detailed, organized, back oriented, analytical, intuitive, those kind of traits, but I knew I needed her to have “social director” too. Because if she didn’t, we’d wipe each other out. We’d be so stressed out all of the time.

Well, Michael, in closing, we want to offer you some time now to just say whatever you’d like to our viewers. So please, sum up whatever you’d like to leave us with.

This book is not just about dating. It’s called “Don’t Date Naked”, what this book is meant to do is to set you up to succeed in the most significant relationship you will ever have on earth — the marriage relationship. If you’re not dating anyone right now and you feel like “Well, that’s no big deal, I don’t even want to get married.” I can tell you unequivocally that 97% of all Americans get married at least once.

And so get this content, get this material, read the articles on Marriagetrac, come to SmalleyOnline.com and learn everything you possibly can before you get married. If you want a successful relationship, it’s gonna start now in your single years and that will carry over in your married years. And then you can actually enjoy what God intended you to enjoy: a thriving, satisfying, marriage relationship that is more intense than any relationship you will ever have on the face of this earth. I just encourage you to pursue that and you’ll need the knowledge and skills to make it. And that’s what this book does and what these websites do.

Copyright © 2003 Marriagetrac. All rights reserved.

Michael graduated from Baylor University with a B.A. in Journalism and Photography. He then spent four years studying marriage and family therapy, and holds a masters degree in clinical psychology from Wheaton College outside of Chicago, Illinois.

Michael is currently the President of Today’s Family International, a ministry focused on leading a global marriage revolution!