Tipping “Normal”: Adult Singles in America

3567904905_66cf7378da_bOne by one—but as a singular collective group—we’ve tipped “normal.” For the first time since such data has been tracked, there are more single than married adults in the US. That “I’m the only one” feeling you had walking into your first post-divorce school meeting? No longer valid.

What does this mean? I’ll leave the ramifications of changing lifestyle choices and spending priorities to the economists, but this statistical verification that we are getting better at leaving legal unions than creating them reveals disjointed and turbulent times—where we can easily connect from an Internet-cloaked distance and yet live alone in a crowd of neighbors.

This isn’t really about marriage. It is instead, a vision of our growing disconnection—where “busy” has become the standard response to “How are you?” and slow-cooked conversations have become a luxury meal. With so many fast-flying opportunities, we’ve applied efficiency beyond its “intended use,” compressing relationships to fit available calendar windows instead of creating the space to grow them well. Mobility, efficient living and a lessened focus on fundamental connection skills has left many of us as unconnected islands—more archipelago than community.

An unfortunate career or financial choice, divorce, death, chronic illness… all of these can breed isolation and start a secluding spiral. From childhood “time outs” to penally-administered solitary confinement, isolation is a clear communication of “unacceptable.” For connection-craving creatures such as us, isolation grows loneliness, and lonely people often make desperate choices to fill the unwelcome emotional space—grabbing at unhealthy behaviors to pull their heads above water, no matter how they may ultimately harm themselves or others.  From the quiet individual tragedy of an unfulfilled life to the headline-generating disenfranchisement of a generation, lack of connection leaves too many with no lifelines to support, correction and perspective with which to find their way back.

Our new “normal must include purposeful connection—born of proactive kindness and intentional interactions. Rather than networking resources, we need to connect people. Not gathering them as knots to be used in our own ascent but rather, weaving them—one to another—into society’s fabric. This is how we will harness hope, create vision and channel volatile energy into forward momentum…because the difference-making handout will never come from a government or political entity. It will be the one we stretch out to the lonely one in need of a friend.

Date Like A Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt & Advice Between Friends

 

When You Know You Should Go (Part 1):

When You Know You Should Go…

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First 4 Steps Toward Punctuating “Goodbye.”

Her response to “how are you?” was a wincing shrug. Sara dabbed at stray tears and quietly admitted that, once again, she’d been sucked back into the harmful relationship she’d resolved to end. Ten years younger but in perpetual midlife crisis, Tim looked better as a headline than on a full page. And he jerked Sara about like an impatient kid with his first rod and reel. His halfhearted surges of attention were short-lived, but Sara couldn’t… quite… let go.

Diana pined after a man she had dated during her divorce: Why had his interest waned now that she was officially single? While readily admitting he was bad news, she remained alert for breaking (up) bulletins on his availability. Adam held a lingering attachment to a woman whose emotional baggage was far over the limit, but every “goodbye” had a “P.S. I need to pickup my toothbrush” epilogue that led to an overnight and, inevitably, a “let’s try again.”

Actively choosing “nobody” over a harmful “somebody” requires more focus than we can readily access sometimes. For Sara, Diana and Adam, that first pang of “it’s really over” panic always led to an instinctual chase. While a desire for habitual comforts and “the familiar” can easily overpower our best intentions, thoughtful preparation will get the determined over that first hump and increase the likelihood of establishing a new and healthier “normal.” Here are the first four (of seven) helpful steps to punctuate “goodbye” and begin to build forward.

ESTABLISH REALITY.

If isolated or lonely, we’re highly susceptible to falling in love with our own ideal rather than an actual person. We camouflage incompatibilities and fill in spaces with our own hope, allowing forgiveness to overpower self-respect. Adam saw a beautiful victim, treated unfairly by a jealous ex-husband. On closer examination, however, he recognized the woman’s tendency to fuel her own drama. Diana saw “Bad News” as she wanted him to be, but she was in love with her mental picture, not the real life man.

Planning your life around somebody else’s potential metamorphosis is like trying to program the GPS in a stalled vehicle! Are you “in love” with a hypothetical man or woman?

  • Identify the discrepancies between what you hear and what you actually see.

IDENTIFY IMPACT.

Sara was miserable! Years earlier, a devastating family tragedy had irrevocably altered her life, but her reactive “space-filler” choices—chosen for proximity rather than value—had compounded the trauma. Tim—with enough dysfunctions to sail through the audition for any halfway competitive reality TV show—was one of those choices. She had essentially made him her one-stop shop for happiness—an oversized load for even a healthy, fully engaged partner! In pursuit of his drifting affection and in growing romantic despair, she had segregated herself from the family and friends who might have helped. Seven years later, Tim was still filling space in Sara’s life, but he was filling it with a poison that was tainting her blessings and perpetuating what she most feared: Loneliness.

What’s the net result of your encounters? Does he/she make you feel better—or worse about yourself?

  • Quantify the real cost of maintaining the relationship.

VISUALIZE “BETTER.”

Drama is a drain. And like a clunker with a continual oil leak, Diana’s “Bad News” guy absorbed focus and energy, preventing her from really getting anywhere in her new single life. Saddled with the weight of her unwieldy relationship with Tim, Sara couldn’t keep her footing and began managing crises to simply avoid pain. She quit making proactive choices on her finances and career, essentially putting her life on “pause.”

How might you live your life if a relationship was in your future rather than in your present or past?

  • Envision what a time of stability could allow you to do—and be.

ELIMINATE EXCUSES.

One by one, Sara and I itemized the “” We got real about Tim’s words versus his actions—that little continuity-creator called Integrity. Like drops of rain on a cactus plant, there was a clear pattern of “just enough” hope-preserving attention from Tim. He gave with purpose, and his intentions had little to do with Sara herself. Compassionate Adam had been distracted from responsibilities by his heroine’s ongoing drama. Diana was captivated by vague promises. All three had grown accustomed to floating the relationship on a growing tide of flimsy excuses.

How would you describe or explain the relationship to a close friend?

  • Recognize hypothetical “someday” hopes for what they really are:  a procrastination of your reality check.

 There’s more… But these first four steps can enable the pivotal “What was I thinking?! moment that’s critical for a perspective reset on a damaging relationship.

I’m reminded of my sister who, at age four, ran screaming across our front yard with a fistful of freshly plucked flowers. When Mom pried open her fingers, a limp dandelion—and stinging bee—fell to the lawn. Sometimes, we need to stop and examine more closely what we’re holding onto.

 

 

5 Keys to Dating Like a Grownup

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The Difference Between Dating and Dating Well

Single? Hello, your name is “Average American.” It turns out that there are a lot of us bypassing bulk food bargains in favor of single servings. In its August 2014 data report, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics revealed that for the first recorded time, more adults are unattached than married in America.

And often, the first instinct of the newly single adult is to be part of a couple again—maybe not in a marital, “let’s get this court-stamped” sort of way, but Dating? Sure. A new, better relationship? Please! And preferably, we’d like to be coupled up again before we’re passing green beans to Aunt Bev around the holiday dinner table.

But before you toss your online profile into the ring, it’s well worth gauging your dating readiness first. Otherwise, you risk treadmill dating—an emotional workout that will wear you out without moving your life forward.

Evaluate the following:

1) Who You Are Today. One of the worst bits of advice my widowed sister received as she reentered the dating arena was “don’t date anyone you wouldn’t have dated in high school!” Huh? While the intent was, perhaps, to encourage stability, the message—that we are somehow stuck in time with our “beginner self”—is ludicrous. You’ve changed. Picking someone who fits who you were will chafe against who you are now becoming.

2) Your Confidence. Have you brushed off the dirt and let the wound heal? A tumble in divorce court or the death of a spouse is trauma. There’s a rehab period. Racing back into dating too soon raises the likelihood of making need-based choices. These are non-sustainable space-fillers that will waste both time and energy. “I don’t want to be alone” decisions only create ruts from which to complain about our lack of good dating prospects. Using Dating as a life patch will work about as well as a spare tire on a road trip. Stabilize your vehicle before you begin the journey.

3) Your Financial Stability. Divorce rarely leaves us with a bigger bank account. Compromised goals and deferred dreams can be difficult to face—but do it. Come up with your own Plan B. If you’re aiming for a long-term sustainable relationship, don’t allow another person’s finances to impact their attractiveness. Your best insurance against using the dollar sign equivalent of “beer goggles” will be gaining traction on your own financial situation before you begin dating.

4) Acceptance. If the divorce playback still has a hero and a villain, you might want to wait for the remake. Rarely is a relationship breakdown a one-person debit. Most often, there has been an ongoing pattern—an accommodation of “unhealthy.” The divorce is either a continuation of the dysfunction or an attempt by one or both parties to break free of a rut-digging pattern. Bitterness and rearview regrets will sideswipe forward momentum.

5) Connection. “Great to meet you! Say, would you mind holding my hopes and dreams?” Yes, people do this. It most often happens with the disconnected as they mistakenly tie their future happiness to somebody else’s wagon. Guard against this by building connection—good old-fashioned, face-to-face friendships. Creating choices for yourself will allow you to say “no” without fear and “yes” without expectations. Life must be bigger than your next relationship for sustainable love to grow.

Originally published in Eyes On News | Lifestyle section.

 

Divorce: Dead-end or Detour?

BenchMore men and women are finding themselves in alternate lives they didn’t really plan for. And they’re discovering that…maybe, they didn’t pack so well. Even the most amicable divorce—and few marital disconnects end in a happy handshake—can strand the unprepared on the other side of forty like a roadside ex-con palming the stub of a one-way bus ticket.

As painful as a public display of private dysfunction may be, for many, it’s what comes after the divorce that isolates, derails and depresses opportunity. All those years of raising kids while pursuing a career and growing a marriage—well, being married at least—didn’t leave much time for building more than a basic carpool-based support system. And an abrupt deposit into the fortieth, fiftieth or sixtieth decade of life absent a spouse—at a time any offspring are branching into their own separate lives can be alarming. Addressing basic changes such as housing, finances, insurances and legal ramifications is all consuming. When there is finally time to survey the new landscape, the midlife single may find that, after final social divisions, his or her circle of friends is more of a desolate dot at the edge of a crowded canvas.

Somehow, this feels shameful. No friends? Well you should have thought of that back in your thirties before you started cocooning with the hubby and kids. Now, well…it’s a little too late.

And it can feel that way. Handholding couples drift by, and all the others are in such a hurry… It’s not like anyone advertises “Friends Needed,” so the midlife single often sticks to the shadows of life—living “on pause” until they regain the “couple’s pass” for a merge back into society. This is a dangerous time for the isolated, because loneliness makes fools of us all. Looking for a relationship with which to bridge reentry often leads to more unhealthy connections, second and third divorces and diminished confidence.

Many give up, settling for cyclical shallow relationships or for silent, solitary lives. Depression can move in like heavy cloud cover. And while these single adults may have more time for careers, they’re unlikely to be performing at top capacity—insulation tends to stifle innovation and creativity.

The answer? Purposeful connection. Acting as a bridge for others, whether they be divorced, widowed, newly transplanted or simply isolated. Because this isn’t a government issue. It’s a (lack of) community issue. Which make it my issue and your issue.

Here are my three drops in the bucket:

1) Cabernet Coaches. Weekly all-inclusive “women only” gatherings that create opportunities for friendships and built-in connecting time. This is not an “until I find a relationship” commitment—it’s a lifetime, “Yay for the Girls!” celebration. Every Wednesday.

2) Coed Cabernet Nights. Informal come-one, come-all weekend get-togethers. With a broadcast email to selected connections and an open invitation to friends of friends, we gather and branch out. This isn’t a couples or singles event—it’s a “people” night. The focus is on connection rather than any relationship attachment—and the coed “cabernet” is more likely to be a lager.

3) Inclusive Readiness and Proactive KindnessBusyness has enabled a culture of polite oblivion—our eyes skirt past those at the fringes of life to follow the more engaging action in the middle. We’re planning next steps, future conversations and treading schedules that don’t allow our feet to touch down! We are isolating ourselves and quite frankly—in our race toward the horizon, we’re missing the journey’s innate joy. Inclusive readiness requires peripheral vision—an alertness to others. Proactive kindness is the action step—the willingness to pause for engagement.

Without effort, our worlds contract. Without calendar space, our connections atrophy. Without awareness, the divorce detour can be a dead end. Only through connection can the divorced and widowed build bigger, better lives.

The New Single Majority in America

One by one—but as a singular collective group—we’ve tipped “normal.” For the first time since such data has been tracked, there are more single than married adults in the US. That “I’m the only one” feeling you had walking into your first post-divorce school meeting? No longer valid.

What does this mean? I’ll leave the ramifications of changing lifestyle choices and spending priorities to the economists, but this statistical verification that we are getting better at leaving legal unions than creating them reveals disjointed and turbulent times—where we can easily connect from an Internet-cloaked distance and yet live alone in a crowd of neighbors.

This isn’t really about marriage. It is instead, a vision of our disconnected times—where “busy” has become the standard response to “How are you?” and slow-cooked conversations have become a luxury meal. With so many fast-flying opportunities, we’ve applied efficiency beyond its “intended use,” compressing relationships to fit available calendar windows instead of creating the space to grow them well. Mobility, efficient living and a lessened focus on fundamental connection skills has left many of us as unconnected islands—more archipelago than community.

An unfortunate career or financial choice, divorce, death, chronic illness... all of these can breed isolation and start a secluding spiral. From childhood “time outs” to penally-administered solitary confinement, isolation is a clear communication of “unacceptable.” For connection-craving creatures such as us, isolation grows loneliness, and lonely people often make desperate choices to fill the unwelcome emotional space—grabbing at unhealthy behaviors to pull their heads above water, no matter how they may ultimately harm themselves or others. From the quiet individual tragedy of an unfulfilled life to the headline-generating disenfranchisement of a generation, lack of connection leaves too many with no lifelines to support, correction and perspective with which to find their way back.

Our new “normal must include purposeful connection—born of proactive kindness and intentional interactions. Rather than networking resources, we need to connect people. Not gathering them as knots to be used in our own ascent but rather, weaving them—one to another—into society’s fabric. This is how we will harness hope, create vision and channel volatile energy into forward momentum…because the difference-making handout will never come from a government or political entity. It will be the one we stretch out to the lonely one in need of a friend.

 

*Reprinted from LinkedIn.

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon via Compfight cc

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