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 No longer valid.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.

 

 

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.

How to Get Out of a Dead-End Job

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

How to Get Out of a Dead-End Job

If You Want Your Career to Change, You Need to Change

Dear Heather,

I really need to get out of where I’m working. It’s toxic and completely reactionary. My boss (whom I’d worked with elsewhere in happier times) just resigned after only one month in her position! Sandy is known for her skill in improving business infrastructure but couldn’t tolerate what she termed “arrogant” and “immature” behavior from management (they never listen to anyone and think they’re always right). I feel like I have no control over things, especially now that my old boss has left. It’s like I’m on an island all by myself. I’m single—no kids. All I really have to show for my life is my career, and it doesn’t look so great at the moment.

I really want to work in a professional stable “team” environment as opposed to being in a small HR department. I took this job after being unemployed for an extended period. Really needed to replenish my savings and get benefits (this company offers a good package), but I keep wondering if I jumped too soon. I need room for growth and advancement. Not more drama!

I know my life needs change, but I keep hoping it will just happen. I keep dreaming that I get a ridiculous job offer and move to Hawaii and live happily ever after…but Monday comes and I’m still on my imaginary island in a dead-end job. Any suggestions?

~Mandy

Dear Mandy,

It’s a noun/verb issue, Mandy. You want “change” but haven’t changed anything yourself. This isn’t uncommon, but it is usually ineffective. Why not put your future into the hands of the one who most cares about it? This is your chance to make some active choices for yourself—the remote control is in your hand, and you have the power to change the channel.

Reality impacts valuation—and the truth of a situation can be a roller coaster drop from a much higher expectation.

Our jobs impact both financial and mental needs, Mandy. While your current situation fills the bank accounts, it is wedging a sizable emotional gap into your life. At some point, you’ll need to decide whether your contributions to date—and likely long-term payoff—are worth your further investment. If you can’t say, “this will (probably) be worth it in the end,” this job will continue to chafe like ill-fitting shoes.

The ability to self-launch is one of the most valuable skills we can learn. Without it, we float at the mercy of circumstance and other people and are more likely to land—and stay—in depleting situations. When self-launch is enabled, however, we can motorize the drifting and begin a more directed course toward our career dreams.

Toleration is a default position that will invariably entrench us deeper into substandard conditions. One has to hate a “rut” with enough passion to rev on out of it. If status quo seems preferable to taking steps toward change, you must identify the reasons or excuses for inertia in order to motivate forward motion.

1) Is it truly about the job? Dissatisfaction with one area of life will often bleed into the next. You mention being “on an island all by (yourself).” Workplace drama has greater impact when it’s your only regularly scheduled program. More than half of US adults are single per the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, and feelings of isolation are a growing problem worldwide. Regardless of your employment satisfaction, creating connection—via friendships and non-work activities—will provide stability, valuable perspective and an excellent counterbalance to typical job stresses.

2) Do you know what you want? Or is this more about what you don’t want? Without a target, you’re only programming your internal GPS to get you away from your current location. An “escape” goal can lead us to teeter on ambivalence—holding on to what we dislike because we’re uncertain of where to reach. What will a “professional, stable ‘team’ environment” look like? Develop this goal into specifics—a recognizable destination.

3) Identify the cost. Outline what you’re willing to sacrifice to gain this opportunity. Are you willing to move to another city, sidestep to another career or accept a pay cut in favor of giving yourself better long-term opportunities? Consider making a lifestyle job choice—aiming for a location (you mentioned Hawaii) or family and friends—that will grow your overall quality of life as well as your career.

4) Choose your next steps. Once you’ve picked a path and oriented your attitude toward a destination (rather than simply “away” from the rut you’re in), you have to start lifting your feet. Identify and address your roadblocks—lack of connection, confidence or up-to-date search tools…so that you can activate change.

5) Set calendar goals. Hold yourself accountable to short-term objectives that will equip you, and then mark goals for your actual job search. Include research and reflection time. Your overall discontentment is a message from you to You. Listen to your own voice.

~Heather

Originally published at Salary.com | Boost Your Work/Life Balance column.

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.

 

Still Single? Resolve to Wait For the New Year

Christmas_Romance_by_amaya_chibiStill Single? Resolve to Wait For the New Year

“Last call…!”

For many adult singles, November is the cut-off. While most hope to meet someone special in time for mistletoe moments, integrating early dating with family gatherings is an added stress most singles would rather forgo.

We discussed the pursuit of relationship and the upcoming holidays at a recent Cabernet Coaches’ happy hour.

“It’s just awkward. You have to meet the whole family!”

“I’d rather wait until January at this point…”

Clink. Agreement.

If a certain level of intimacy isn’t achieved by the onset of turkey and tinsel, many singles wisely opt for a vacation from dating. Die-hard hopefuls and diversion-seekers may not be so seasonally sensitive. They run the risk, however, of getting a premature overload of personal information—or of being politely excluded from more intimate circles. While some harbor hope of gaining a toehold on love, the capacity for a fast flameout makes holiday “first-dating” a riskier, more pressure-packed venture than relationship starts at other times of the year.

My friend Kathy remembered a one-date wonder her daughter brought home who lives on as a ghost of Christmas past. While the brand new relationship didn’t last beyond the holiday season, the young man’s ever-present image has achieved family joke status. “I don’t want to be the nameless stranger—the “what was her name again” woman in somebody’s family photos!” Kathy laughed, explaining her decision to take a break from dating for the rest of this year.

It’s wise to wait. Dating a stranger during the holidays can actually amplify those feelings of loneliness—because you’re incongruently sharing significant events with someone who hasn’t yet earned significance in your life. And, even worse, sharing holiday events can unduly extend a space-filler relationship at the expense of maintaining a single’s availability for a “right fit” match.

Resist the urge to accelerate your relationship search when the Halloween candy hits half-price, and hit “pause” instead. If you can use November and December as a “reset” time in which to deepen existing connections to friends, family and to your own self, you’ll be in a better position to find love in the new year.

Originally published in Eyes On News | Lifestyle section.

 

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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