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 No longer valid.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

 

Cabernet Coaches: Power of Consistent Connection

ccWBistro7.2014Cabernet Coaches

Power of Consistent Connection

I call them Cabernet Coaches. No, they aren’t highly specialized sommeliers or vineyard strategists—and some of them actually prefer the chardonnay. Rather, these are the loosely gathered and rather eclectic group of women I meet with for weekly Wednesday night happy hours.
It’s not about the drink specials. It’s basic elemental networking without the use of that stifling—and for some, intimidating—buzzword. It’s real grass roots relationship building. And it’s a concerted strike back at a world that would keep us too busy for connection beyond those coworkers, neighbors and team moms lying directly in our paths.

How, and more importantly, why do we do this?

It’s a conscious choice to maintain connection. This means that when one of us gets the big promotion or adds a significant other to her life, we continue to value our friendships by maintaining a regular time slot for them on our calendars. “Disappearing friends”—those who get swept away by a change to relationship status or a bend in the career path—can fade like a mirage in the rearview mirror, so we aim for consistent contact. Frenetic schedules may not allow for regular lunch dates with everyone in our expanding circle—but once a week, we purposefully maintain connection.

It’s a conscious choice to create new connection. We’re completely inclusive. Invites have been extended in groceries, at doctors’ offices and on Facebook. There is something to be gained and given in every encounter. “Loneliness makes fools of us all” (Date Like A Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt & Advice Between Friends, epigraph)—and as we grow connection, we stem isolation. With affirming friends, we are less likely to wither in bad jobs and relationships. We gain momentum from the good choices of others and gain resolve to affect change in our own lives. And, we expand our options by creating a larger pool of friends. Nothing pleases me more than to discover two previous strangers meeting for lunch following a Wednesday night meeting.

It’s a conscious choice to value self. Sometimes, driving across town and traffic to meet with a few friends amidst the pressures of a busy workweek takes significant motivation. Many of our conversations begin with “I should be…” but they always seem to end with gratitude for time well spent. Generally, two hours around a high top table won’t negatively impact the productivity of a week, but it will often reenergize us to better adapt and achieve what is required. And, happy hour appetizers always trump microwaved leftovers as a dinner option.

It’s a conscious choice to build a bigger, better life. Our Wednesdays are more of a flow than a settled gathering—with friends bringing friends, and built around the absences caused by travel, parenting our children and all the normal demands of life. But it’s a repeat calendar entry for many of us—an almost sacred appointment that we strive to keep regardless of changes to relationship status or career. It’s a commitment to growth and a leg up over the status quo. New faces, fresh ideas, divergent careers…our little group is far more intriguing than anything we might be missing on reality TV.

We consciously create opportunity while banishing guilt by utilizing “ish” time—meeting at “5:30ish until 7:30ish”—to minimize time pressures. The demands of careers and kids, along with the havoc divorce can wreak on a life, often lead to stress and isolation. Life can become task-driven—with pleasure buried beneath loads of laundry and sales goals. So no one’s early, no one’s late and any “disappearing friends” are always welcomed back with open arms, tissues if necessary, introductions to the newbies and a toast… Whether we clink water glasses, chocolate martinis or cabernet is irrelevant. What matters is the steady encouragement and affirmation that comes with the table space.

Shared joys are amplified, and empathy can buoy a sinking heart… Has a friendship ever surprised or delighted you? Saved you? How have you navigated the inevitable disappointments, friendship “drift”—or worse, a complete betrayal? How has Connection—or the lack of it—impacted your enjoyment of life? Do your relationships make you a better person—or make you want to be a better person? If you’re interested in contributing your friendship story to the book, please email me via the contact page to set up an interview. Thanks! Heather

 

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.

 

 

Single? Celebrate “Discount Chocolate Day” Instead

chocolate die (melting)Focus on Opportunities for Connection

Have you noticed that singles and unhappy couples seem to worry more about Valentine’s Day than most of the lovebirds enjoying their piece of “happily ever after?” It’s about space. Even as the number of adult singles have outpaced the marrieds in America, there remains an “odd man out” mentality. However, most of the “wish I hadn’t” anecdotes in my book Date Like A Grownup clearly illustrate the downside of employing a need-based focus instead of a “right fit” strategy. Real, life-enhancing connection goes deeper and further than one single romantic relationship. So, before you singles start stockpiling gloom in anticipation of a solo February 14th, let’s peel back the pretty pink tissue paper and take a good look:

It’s finite—24 hours, start to finish. You can do this. I once had to write a light-hearted Valentine’s Day piece just days after a breakup. So…I blunt-tipped Cupid’s broken arrow and got it done. You can too.

It can be fleeting. Did you know divorce attorneys refer to the day after Valentine’s Day as “D-day?” After the spike in flower sales comes a spike in breakups. Chocolate-covered strawberries rock, but simply slathering a layer of chocolate and flowers over a stale relationship isn’t so satisfying. Many of those happy couples you may be tempted to envy, aren’t. Happy, that is. Keep your eyes on your own life. Don’t like it? Change it. More on this at the end. Read on…

You have options. Sure, you can focus on all the guys and gals scrambling to snag the last cards at the Valentine’s Day display near checkout—or you could, instead, focus on developing strong friendships that will will outlast bad dates, stem isolation and nurture your better self. Grocery shopping on an empty stomach leads to junk food in the shopping cart. It’s the same with our emotional lives. Loneliness makes fools of us all.

You have opportunities to celebrate. One of my favorite Valentine’s Day activities is to distribute roses and good wishes at the nursing facility my grandma lived in until her death in 2010. Regardless of my own “relationship status,” I can remind those who are sometimes forgotten of their infinite value. Christmas carolers come and go—non-seasonal visits can be a real pick-me-up to both resident and visitor.

Better to live genuinely. Always. And that means releasing a few weighty expectations in favor of the hope you can power with your own forward momentum. Hope is helpful; expectation is presumptuous.

  • Appreciate the season in which you live. Single? Grab a pen and begin coloring in your own life.
  • Identify the root of your pastel-hearted sadness. More often than not, we are mourning an apparent lack of possibility or the death of a relationship dream rather than any “perfect relationship” gone bad. Your focus will determine where your next possibilities grow.

If you’re isolated and lonely—it’s likely that the Valentine’s Day Dread isn’t about February 14th, but is instead indicative of a lack of connection—and you have some control over this! Aim to build your life out, one friend at a time. Genuine connection requires more than Facebook status checks. If your circle is limited to the office and a couple of random neighbors, begin adding connection that matters. Here in the Columbus area, we do it with Cabernet Coachesa weekly face-to-face gathering to build and acknowledge the value of friendship in our lives.

And remember… Valentine’s Day is really just the precursor to what I like to call “Discount Chocolate Day”—celebrated annually at the bargain bin of a retailer near you!

*Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

5 Keys to Dating Like a Grownup

EonN5Keys5 Keys to Dating Like a Grownup

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.

 

Putting in Overtime on a Workplace Friendship

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

Putting in Overtime on a Workplace Friendship

How Much is Enough?

Dear Heather,

One of my co-workers has hit a rough patch in her personal life. She just ended a three-year relationship, is taking it very hard and apparently has little family/friend support. She is a very committed to her job and takes on extra projects on a regular basis. The boyfriend didn’t seem very important in her life (I only met him twice), and I’m kind of surprised she’s taking it so hard. The problem is she has started calling me in the evening fairly regularly. I don’t think she has much going on outside of work and is pretty lonely. I feel really bad for her and consider her a friend, but my husband is getting annoyed and I guess I am too a little. I want to help her but need my family time after work. Any suggestions?

~Mary

Dear Mary,

Your compassion is commendable. Human connection is what makes it all worthwhile, as your friend is discovering in a painfully tangible way. But in this case it’s unacceptable because it is at the expense of your most valuable human connection — your family. Because her present imbalance has the potential of impacting your own work/life balance, you need to sketch in some boundaries fairly quickly.

You are her chosen life preserver. While your empathy is a good thing, keep in mind that life preservers are not intended for use as extended support. They are temporary flotation devices designed to transport a weakened party from an unstable position to where they can stand on their own two feet. The key word is “temporary.” You need to view this as a short-term situation and devise specific steps to help your friend without negatively impacting your family.

You may feel a temptation to set her up with one of your husband’s poker buddies (Jim’s single and hasn’t been arrested in two years). Fight it. This is a very bad idea as it has the potential of doubling those late night phone calls. Bandaging one broken relationship with another rarely does more than create another bandage-able situation.

Instead, help your co-worker begin to establish the balance that has apparently been lacking in her own life. She needs friends and outside interests. Fortunately, those are often a two-for-one. Encourage her to explore the world beyond your office. Offer to accompany her to couple of networking or interest-specific events where she can make new connections to build upon.

Next, establish “help” zones that won’t jeopardize your family life. Let her know you want to talk when you are best able to focus, and that your evenings are too hectic for you to give her full attention. Can you give her your ear at a weekly breakfast or lunch? Maybe meet her for an endorphin-amped workout at the gym?

Finally, do not be afraid to suggest professional counseling: “I really want to help you, but I don’t have all the answers. This is hard, painful stuff. I think you deserve the kind of knowledge and guidance a professional counselor could give you.”

Keep the compassion, but don’t allow it to override your primary obligations to your family. Don’t abandon your co-worker/friend, but don’t be a sled dog either. Your role is not to rescue, but to facilitate your co-worker’s rescue of herself while still retaining that critical balance in your own life.

~Heather

Originally published at Salary.com.

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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