Valentine’s Day for Single Adults

 

Mark Your Calendar for Discount Chocolate Day! 

Have you noticed that the recently single seem to make a bigger deal about Valentine’s Day than most of the lovebirds enjoying their piece of “happily ever after?” It’s about Space. We’re uncomfortable with it. And 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 to employing a need-based focus over a “right fit” strategy. Pausing for singlehood is essential to finding a relationship worth keeping. Real, life-enhancing connection goes deeper and further than a single romantic relationship. “Galentine’s Day,” born out of a Parks and Recreation episode, is a worthy alternative holiday that affirms the lasting value of friendship. But for any singles still wrestling with a little “woe is me” at the prospect 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 reveled in the delicious irony, duct-taped 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?” Sad, but true. 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 other opportunities.

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. To get you started, focus on these three thoughts:

  • Exes belong in the rear view mirror—so, keep your eyes on the road ahead.
  • Appreciate the season in which you now live. What are you waiting for? 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! 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. Aim to build your life out, one friend at a time. 

**And remember… Valentine’s Day is the precursor to what I like to call “Discount Chocolate Day”—celebrated annually at the bargain bin of a retailer near you. Dibs on the dark chocolate with almonds!

Originally published in Eyes On News and LinkedIn Pulse.

Email info@heatherdugan.com | Twitter | Facebook

About Date Like a Grownup: So...think you're ready? Great! Not sure? Check out my book. It's kind of a roadmap to dating well. I know, I know... we all have GPS, who needs a map these days? Well... I did. Could definitely have used one if you know what I mean. But many men and women are, shall we say, "directionally challenged" when it comes to dating. Read—and learn—from their stories. And it's OK if you laugh a little...they all know we're laughing with them. Check out my Facebook page, hit "Like" and stay in touch! We'll have fun! I promise! 

Date Like a Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt and Advice Between Friends was a finalist at both the USA Book Awards and Indie Next Generation Book Awards.  Heather Dugan is the founder of Cabernet Coaches and a speaker and connection coach who facilitates talk/discussions (How to Avoid Dead-End DatingGetting From Lonely to Loved and more). Find articles, videos and interview clips at www.heatherdugan.com and on the Date Like a Grownup website.

Wanted: Grownup Girlfriends examines our varied routes to isolation—divorce, an emptied nest, increased mobility—as well as the impact of technology, over-efficient living and patterned choices that can root us in chronic loneliness. It identifies our need for friendship in relatable, empathetic terms and provides both a roadmap to creating anchoring connections and a model for building community with the “er…you go first” women around us who are silently hoping for the same outstretched hand.  
Encore or Rut? Do Your Default Responses Help You Connect?

Encore or Rut? Do Your Default Responses Help You Connect?

Automation is a great convenience for windshield wipers, public entrances, and bill paying. But in our human-to-human connections? Not so much. Our default responses are often a simple follow to our last mistake, as we lean toward “familiar” without pausing to recognize emotional triggers. Is this an encore moment? Or an old rut?  Will your response help you connect or perpetuate distancing behaviors? Do you recognize your own patterns?

(Book Excerpt) Wanted: Grownup Girlfriends illuminates the growing issue of personal isolation and equips women to exchange clickable connection for real-time, face-to-face friendships. 

 Faulty Defaults (excerpt)

Photo by Brad Mering @FreeImages.com

Few will argue that some of our natural inclinations are a little off the mark. From that let’s-try-something-different dress choice that has never made it out of the closet to the wrong turn you steer into because it’s “familiar,” bad judgment happens. And over the years, we’ve developed an internal system of instinctive emotional responses that both help—and hurt—us. Some of these are related to components of our personalities. You may have a stronger—or lesser—tendency to push or retreat in response to a perceived affront, and this will obviously vary with different people and even the day. A domineering sister with whom you have a history may elicit a stronger bristling of nerves than a newer friend with similar managerial tendencies. And then, there’s the pre-caffeinated Monday morning response—Grrr—versus the lazy Saturday afternoon reaction—Whatever.

 

You learn to temper the biases you recognize but must mentally adjust your swim to factor in the undercurrent.

Even a smell, a vocal tone, a facial expression… can evoke unconscious response. For me, the scent of mulled apple cider often prompts a memory of my mother’s giant percolating urn next to a plate of Christmas cookies. I remember my visiting grandparents and a lot of happy hopes—it’s “soft focus” nostalgia that warms gratitude. Similarly, a colleague with a strong resemblance to your dad may tip you toward greater or lesser receptivity, depending on the strength and impact of your daddy/daughter relationship. Sure, you learn to temper the biases you recognize—but you must mentally adjust your swim to factor in the undercurrent.

And then there’s the “amygdala hijack”—your personal “emergency” response system induced by the genetic “fight or flight” instinct.[1] This response is an important safety mechanism for emergencies in situations where fully processing the activating stimuli would shorten your future options. This instinctual internal circuitry works in milliseconds, which is great for when you need to, say, sidestep a falling piano. Hmm…is that a free-falling Steinway directly overhead? But your fight or flight response can be activated by perceived emotional threats to your self-esteem as well. She ignored me! With measured intent and practice we can rewire our less than helpful responses to follow more productive paths, but often, we may not even notice that anything’s amiss and simply follow our body’s lead.

Often, we may not even notice that anything’s amiss and simply follow our body’s lead.

This happens in romantic relationships. It happens in our everyday connection opportunities too. These reactive responses can be so automatic that we don’t recognize that they’re more about past hurts and habits than the present moment. And inadvertently, we actively perpetuate our own more isolated state…

 

[1] Goleman, Daniel (1995). Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ. New York: Random House.

Excerpted from Wanted: Grownup Girlfriends by Heather Dugan. Copyright © 2017 by Heather Dugan. All rights reserved. 

Wanted: Grownup Girlfriends examines our varied routes to isolation—divorce, an emptied nest, increased mobility—as well as the impact of technology, over-efficient living and patterned choices that can root us in chronic loneliness. It identifies our need for friendship in relatable, empathetic terms and provides both a roadmap to creating anchoring connections and a model for building community with the “er…you go first” women around us who are silently hoping for the same outstretched hand.  

About Date Like a Grownup: So...think you're ready? Great! Not sure? Check out my book. It's kind of a roadmap to dating well. I know, I know... we all have GPS, who needs a map these days? Well... I did. Could definitely have used one if you know what I mean. But many men and women are, shall we say, "directionally challenged" when it comes to dating. Read—and learn—from their stories. And it's OK if you laugh a little...they all know we're laughing with them. Check out my Facebook page, hit "Like" and stay in touch! We'll have fun! I promise! 

Date Like a Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt and Advice Between Friends was a finalist at both the USA Book Awards and Indie Next Generation Book Awards.  Heather Dugan is the founder of Cabernet Coaches and a speaker and connection coach who facilitates talk/discussions (How to Avoid Dead-End DatingGetting From Lonely to Loved and more). Find articles, videos and interview clips at www.heatherdugan.com and on the Date Like a Grownup website.

Resolutions for Building a Bigger Life

Take Steps to Build Connection.

A bigger life. No, this isn’t a reference to carbo-loading before your next triathlon. Nor is it a call to upsize your house, number of dependents or credit card bill. Towards the end of holiday grazing season, it’s easy to focus on dress sizes over life sizes. But a bigger life, one that is rich in connection, will enable traction on long term goals such as legacy-building and dream achievement, creating credible paths to fulfillment and success.

People generally trek into one of two camps as January approaches: either methodically listing their New Year’s resolutions or categorically shaking their heads at such unmeasured optimism. But the majority of us will at least pause for a brief moment of reflection as we cross the border into a new year. For it’s a marker. A roadside sign that shows how far we’ve traveled and how far we’ve yet to go.

Every other “put your best foot forward” article is going to tell you to set goals for your health, finances and career —which is great advice. So do that. But consider that most of these laudable choices will be more effectively achieved with a powerful interpersonal support system.

So pause and measure. How connected are you? Forget the obligatory work comrades, neighbors with whom you have a nodding acquaintance and those sideline parents who are more of a “familiar face” than functional friend. Consider whom you interact with as opposed to those you stand or sit alongside. A life webbed with strong interpersonal connections holds more opportunities and is worthy of your time and effort to build. If you have a lengthy list of “should call” and “should do lunch” names buried under good intentions —it’s grow time.

     

  • Clear Space. Who has the time? None of us. And yet making strong connections will actually save time in the long run. Your more fully developed network will provide you with recommendations for mechanics, accountants and new hires. It will be your backup when you have a sick child or “not-as-advertised” blind date. Your network will be both your sounding board and your fan club. Admit it. You need this. So it is well worth devoting calendar space to some connection time.
  • Fix Your Focus. Juggling too much? That sounds about normal. Brian Dyson, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, once described multi-tasked living as a process of keeping rubber and glass balls in the air. While our tasks will differ, prioritizing our families requires that we designate them as one of the glass “do not drop” balls. Redesigning your kitchen is a rubber ball that will bounce. You may even be able to double dribble some of your lower priority social connections as well. But bubble-wrap your spouse/significant other and children and keep an attentive eye on that ball.
  • Choose Varied Connections. If all your friends work in HR or have matching company logo coffee mugs, you need to diversify your friendships. This is like having a team of quarterbacks. Who’s going to catch the ball? Surround yourself with women with varied careers and pursuits. You aren’t going to learn anything new from a high-heeled clone of yourself. And if you don’t know how to throw a decent dinner party—and hang out with similarly stunted friends— you aren’t going to eat very well on the weekends. Seek passion, conviction and commitment. Encircle yourself with accomplished and motivated-to-accomplish women. Energy sparks energy, so look for inner momentum. Solid positive connections will create bridges to anywhere you want to go.
  • Double it Up. One terrific strategy for creating connection time is to incorporate another tangent goal. You plan to hit the ground running in January? Literally? Then seek out a running buddy. But don’t stop there. Regular gym workouts with weight work will make the difference between getting older and aging gracefully, and may actually hold the process at bay for a while. Do your weight sets with a female friend to build in accountability and connection. Split the cost of a trainer and you’re making a more economical financial choice as well—all while growing a relationship with a like-minded friend.
  • Find Face-to-Face Options. Phone calls don’t count unless they’re punctuated by actual face-to-face communication. Choosing to create time for someone establishes esteem for both the individual and the relationship. Value your friendships, old and new, by scheduling regular coffees, lunches or happy hours. Aim to create at least two one-on-one friend spaces in each calendar week. And be open to spontaneous opportunities. Maintain growth by seeking out potential friends and business contacts and following through with at least an initial coffee. A certain number of relationships will fade through job, life or location changes—so continue planting seeds to maintain a continuous harvest of connection.
  • Grow with Group Gigs. Growing your connections can be as easy as setting up a regular, open-to-all happy hour meeting. Encourage friends to bring friends to multiply new mutually beneficial links. This low pressure, two-hour commitment will allow you to sift through “contacts” to choose “connections.” And by encouraging an inclusive atmosphere in which all are invited to invite, you create an infinity pool of professional and social possibilities.
  • Include Networking Events. Yawn… Yes, sometimes. But it is difficult to grow a diverse network from an insulated workspace where time constraints force most of us to focus more on culling the flow into inbox, voicemail and calendar than on expanding our sources. Filtering is a necessity, but closing off the stream will eventually dry up the pond, so aim to schedule regular business/social networking events. Remember that you don’t have to score a direct association at an event for it to be construed a success. Contacts have contacts (who have contacts) who could become a connection.
  • Be the Mentor. Remember those early job interviews when you agonized over resume wording and sending the right message via your choice of pumps? There are women—on this very day—laying out conservative earrings and practicing firm-gripped handshakes and friendly greetings for tomorrow morning. Help them. You’ve earned your confidence. Share it with another. What’s in it for you? Connection to someone who will birth new ideas and improve what you’ve begun—and chances are quite good that you will learn something in the teaching of another.
  • Resist Connect-the-Dot Thinking. It’s tempting to view connection as a connect-the-dot sort of endeavor, achieved by working a room with a fistful of business cards augmented by quick phone call “check-ins” between appointments to fan the flame of friendships. But it can—and should—be so much more. Instead of doing the time saving, quick tie knot—”Here’s my card. Let’s connect on LinkedIn”—focus on weaving connection into the fabric of your life. People themselves are the discoveries that lead to innovative ideas and solutions. Your key connections, male and female, will provide valuable support, provide affirmation, spark ideas and help you along the path to being your best self. Having reliable connections—ones you can occasionally lean on and, often, laugh with—is that valuable extra layer that will enable you to weather personal and professional squalls with dignity, grace and assurance. Building a bigger life through connection will perpetuate a better one.

5 Keys to Dating Like a Grownup

dating-tips-Eyes-on-News

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.

By Heather Dugan for Eyes On News | Lifestyle.  

 

 

About Date Like a Grownup: So...think you're ready? Great! Not sure? Check out my book. It's kind of a roadmap to dating well. I know, I know... we all have GPS, who needs a map these days? Well... I did. Could definitely have used one if you know what I mean. But many men and women are, shall we say, "directionally challenged" when it comes to dating. Read—and learn—from their stories. And it's OK if you laugh a little...they all know we're laughing with them. Check out my Facebook page, hit "Like" and stay in touch! We'll have fun! I promise! 

Date Like a Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt and Advice Between Friends was a finalist at both the USA Book Awards and Indie Next Generation Book Awards.  Heather Dugan is the founder of Cabernet Coaches and a speaker and connection coach who facilitates talk/discussions (How to Avoid Dead-End DatingGetting From Lonely to Loved and more). Find articles, videos and interview clips at www.heatherdugan.com and on the Date Like a Grownup website.

When Now is Never Enough

Living in Distraction.

We made eye contact, and I powered down the passenger side window. “I’m glad you’re OK!”

She took a deep breath. “I’m pretty quick on my feet but had glanced down at my phone. That was close.”

As the woman slowly drove on, I looked over to Debbie, in the driver’s seat beside me. “It’s kind of the same thing, isn’t it? No one’s really paying attention to the moment they’re in.”

We’d just witnessed an “almost” accident as a harried driver did a rapid reverse from the parking space beside us, barely missing a woman walking back to her car. Runaway shopping carts used to be the be the biggest risk in grocery store lots. Now it’s two tons of accelerating steel guided by a distracted driver who, mentally, may already be ten miles down the road.

Ironically, Debbie and I had just paid last respects to my own mangled vehicle. Its jumbled contents, left behind during my recent squad ride to a nearby trauma unit, now filled the back of her SUV. Most likely, the young woman who turned into me had simply reacted to sudden motion from the driver ahead of her. His quick acceleration into a left turn had prompted her to do the same, without noticing the lack of a green arrow on the traffic light or me, steadily advancing through the intersection toward her.

As we slo-mo’d toward impact last Sunday—Fate irrevocably in motion—there was sudden recognition that life might end or be forever changed. But in the next moment, as the airbag smoked and my hands and face burned from the chemical release, I could see, hear, feel, and think. I could even step out onto the busy highway and look toward the car, the sobbing woman, and her panicked dog.

“I’m so sorry,” she mouthed, “Are you OK?” I nodded, pointed at her, and she nodded back. We’d all been lucky: she, me, her dog in the back seat, and that third driver who’d squealed on and away.

In the hospital that night, as they monitored the bleeding around my heart, I was simply grateful. That I was basically intact. That I hadn’t been an unwitting weapon of death for an innocent passenger. But as Debbie and I sat in that parking lot two days later, I felt frustration, fear, and a little anger. I remembered the phone-scrolling woman I’d driven alongside a couple of weeks earlier whom I couldn’t, despite my dozen or so increasingly horrified glances, catch even once looking at the road ahead of her.

I’m not one for drama. In fact, my oldest son ribbed me about my texted messages from the emergency room. “Do you have plans tonight? I might need a ride later.” But distraction is a far too common theme for our species these days. I’ve written extensively about its detrimental impact on interpersonal connection, and its terrible ties to the loneliness that afflicts too many amongst us. And it strikes me as so very sad that many of us live in a state of disengagement, always looking for “better”—bored with the present moment before it’s even begun. We have trouble living in real time and send our brains forward like an advance team, leaving our bodies to go through the motions. And by the time we physically reach the goal, our minds have already moved on to somewhere else in the future or past, or to a smartphone distraction, because we already burned up enjoyment with distracted anticipation. Now is never quite exciting enough.

One of the big selling points of self-driving cars is their potential to compensate for human error. But while faulty perceptions and reactions happen to us all, it seems the biggest improvement might be a simple adjustment to gratitude—for each of us to grow greater appreciation and awareness of the moment we’re in—and the people we’re with—right now. In this moment.

About Date Like a Grownup: So...think you're ready? Great! Not sure? Check out my book. It's kind of a roadmap to dating well. I know, I know... we all have GPS, who needs a map these days? Well... I did. Could definitely have used one if you know what I mean. But many men and women are, shall we say, "directionally challenged" when it comes to dating. Read—and learn—from their stories. And it's OK if you laugh a little...they all know we're laughing with them. Check out my Facebook page, hit "Like" and stay in touch! We'll have fun! I promise! 

Date Like a Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt and Advice Between Friends was a finalist at both the USA Book Awards and Indie Next Generation Book Awards.  Heather Dugan is the founder of Cabernet Coaches and a speaker and connection coach who facilitates talk/discussions (How to Avoid Dead-End DatingGetting From Lonely to Loved and more). Find articles, videos and interview clips at www.heatherdugan.com and on the Date Like a Grownup website.

Coming soon… 

The Friendship Upgrade:

Trade Clickable Connections for Cabernet Coaches and Face-to-Face Friends

Family Model Trade-In

From Youngest to “Only.”

My middle child noted the upgrades long before I did. Because middles have a special gift for tracking these things. “You actually make his school lunch?”

At first, I was a bit defensive. After all, didn’t I once slice her processed cheese into cute little lunchtime puzzles? Remember how fun those were, honey? “This? It’s just a little sundried tomato wrap with a pesto spread, blackened chicken and aged cheddar…with fresh romaine, arugula, and tomato slices… It’s basically a turkey sandwich.” Move along, nothing to see here… But there were dinner upgrades as well. Menus crafted around her brother’s favorite foods, more frequent non-fast food takeout on the nights I was too weary to microwave. Finally, I had to admit she was right. When Matt segued from being the occasionally forgotten youngest child— “Wait a minute, we have another one!”— to his present-day reign as my in-house link to motherhood, he essentially evolved into an “only.” He’d traded family models, and the new version had a passenger seat pre-equipped to his preferences.

But I grieved for his loss: the banter, the fun, the ready company of his older brother and sisterOur four-bedroom house still held faint echoes of the busy hub it had been, but while I once coordinated schedules with the intensity of an air traffic controller on a holiday weekend, my job had been downgraded to fielding texted ground delays from a single pilot with his own private parking spot.

He gets to park in the garage?!”

Somedays, I missed the chaos. Poor Matt… I broached it once after our dog Lily died. “It’s pretty different, huh? I bet you really miss your brother and sister sometimes.” He shrugged, giving me the hint of a smile. “It’s OK.”

“No, I understand. I’m OK as far as moms go, but I think it’s normal to miss all the excitement of having a bigger group around all the time.”

He smiled again and raised an eyebrow. “Really Mom. It’s all right.”

And it finally dawned on me… Matt was living the life my youngest sister dropped into after three of us left for college. A life with Cocoa Krispies and a new dog instead of the Cheerios and “no pets” policy of my youth; a life with unlimited hot water and phone privileges. On my visits home, her suffering over sibling loss appeared to be, well, minimal. “Hey! Who ate my Cocoa Krispies?!”

And like my youngest sister, Matt seems to be managing the adjustments quite handily. While he’s visibly glad when his brother comes over for dinner and a Scrabble game, and he’ll disappear for long periods of time to talk by phone with his sister at college, the kids have taken their connections outside of this house. They make space for one another in their lives. Which is exactly the kind of family I’d hoped to grow.

I’ve a faint glimmer into why my mom seemed eager to cater to whims and wishes that were unheard of when I lived under the same roof. Maybe she, like me, was simply savoring the end of an era. From this point of motherhood, I can see that it matters not which child lands in the position of youngest, gaining that eventual solo spot, because I find myself pouring my love for each of them through this last remaining funnel named “Matt.”

These truly have been “the best years.” Just as the ones before them were, and as even the ones to come will be. Because I’m fully confident at even this very edge of active motherhood, that while different is strange and often difficult, ultimately, it’s always as good as we allow it to be.

About Date Like a Grownup: So...think you're ready? Great! Not sure? Check out my book. It's kind of a roadmap to dating well. I know, I know... we all have GPS, who needs a map these days? Well... I did. Could definitely have used one if you know what I mean. But many men and women are, shall we say, "directionally challenged" when it comes to dating. Read—and learn—from their stories. And it's OK if you laugh a little...they all know we're laughing with them. Check out my Facebook page, hit "Like" and stay in touch! We'll have fun! I promise! 

Date Like a Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt and Advice Between Friends was a finalist at both the USA Book Awards and Indie Next Generation Book Awards.  Heather Dugan is the founder of Cabernet Coaches and a speaker and connection coach who facilitates talk/discussions (How to Avoid Dead-End DatingGetting From Lonely to Loved and more). Find articles, videos and interview clips at www.heatherdugan.com and on the Date Like a Grownup website.

Coming soon… 

The Friendship Upgrade:

Trade Clickable Connections for Cabernet Coaches and Face-to-Face Friends

Pop-Tarts and Brussel Sprouts

Last-Minute Life Lessons for the Transitioning Parent.

He’ll readily admit it’s been an easy gig: the segue from “youngest of three” to life as an only child. Hands-on parenting has been scaled back now to the well-timed tweak. “Any homework?” And parental diligence, replaced with the relaxed sort of attention his older brother and sister surely dreamed of… “Oh, you’re home. Hungry yet? Any plans for tonight?”

We live with an easy rhythm, Matt and me. In a four-bedroom house, it’s easy to find quiet space. When he appears nearby, I know it’s with intent. Last week he sat at the kitchen table reading the news on his phone as I answered emails. Eventually he glanced up. “Zak told me about the Pop-Tarts.”

“Oh yeah. I’d forgotten that one. What did he tell you?”

“That it wasn’t about the Pop-Tarts.”

I laughed. “No, it wasn’t.”

Zak stopped by for a quick visit a couple of nights later. “I know you have your group tonight, but I was in the area…”

We hugged. “I’m glad you stopped. I have a few minutes.”

He pulled hummus and veggies out of the fridge, and chatted with me as I sprinkled shaved parmesan onto pasta and pulled a tray of Brussel sprouts from the oven. “Matt loves these with olive oil and some of that pink Himalayan sea salt. “Try them once they cool down a little…”

We caught up while he swiped carrots through the hummus and I assembled dinner food. I told him about winter coat shopping with his younger brother, “That high school letter jacket won’t cut it on campus next fall,” and Zak offered his help on readying the house for its eventual sale after Matt’s graduation.

I thanked him. “It’s a big job. Lots of changes ahead. I knew they were coming, but…” I didn’t need to explain that downsizing the family home was but a minor component of the life flip directly ahead of me. Then I remembered, “Matt said you told him about the Pop-Tarts.”

He laughed. “I did.”

“What did you tell him? I don’t remember it that well.”

“That it wasn’t about the Pop-Tarts.”

“I know. But what happened? What do you remember?”

“We were at Target. Shopping for college stuff a few days before I moved on campus. I asked for Pop-Tarts.” Not an unreasonable request—sale-priced splurges occasionally co-existed next to the standard, low sugar breakfast cereal options in our kitchen pantry. 

“And…?”

He smiled. “You flipped out a little. ‘Didn’t I raise you better than that? Are you going to forget everything I taught you?!’”

“Seriously?!”

“It wasn’t about the Pop-Tarts, Mom.”

Ugh. “I know… I knew I was out of time. Worried about all the things I’d missed. And messed up. That you’d leave home, eat junk, and…” I looked at him. “You turned out OK.”

“So did you. You’re a good mom.”

He reached around me and grabbed a Brussel sprout. “These are good.” He snagged another.

“Aren’t they? People used to douse them in butter or cheese. Much better this way.”

He soon left. And a few minutes later I raced off to another Wednesday night meeting with my Cabernet Coaches group, smiling as I remembered another comment Zak had made: “I can’t even remember the last time I had a Pop-Tart.”

“You’re a good mom.”

It’s never about the Pop-Tarts, is it?

About Date Like a Grownup: So...think you're ready? Great! Not sure? Check out my book. It's kind of a roadmap to dating well. I know, I know... we all have GPS, who needs a map these days? Well... I did. Could definitely have used one if you know what I mean. But many men and women are, shall we say, "directionally challenged" when it comes to dating. Read—and learn—from their stories. And it's OK if you laugh a little...they all know we're laughing with them. Check out my Facebook page, hit "Like" and stay in touch! We'll have fun! I promise! 

Date Like a Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt and Advice Between Friends was a finalist at both the USA Book Awards and Indie Next Generation Book Awards.  Heather Dugan is the founder of Cabernet Coaches and a speaker and connection coach who facilitates talk/discussions (How to Avoid Dead-End DatingGetting From Lonely to Loved and more). Find articles, videos and interview clips at www.heatherdugan.com and on the Date Like a Grownup website.

Coming soon… 

The Friendship Upgrade:

Trade Clickable Connections for Cabernet Coaches and Face-to-Face Friends

Making Room for More

Downsizing a Home to Upsize a Life.

It’s impossible to pinpoint even the year at which my desire for more space morphed into a longing for less. For “simple.” Maybe it coincided with Zak’s or Hannah’s departures for college, or perhaps it was that expensive HVAC replacement a couple of years ago, but it definitely settled into my soul after we lost our dog Lily last spring. Our sweet, but ornery chocolate lab had permitted me to postpone the decision indefinitely. Smaller yard? We couldn’t do that to Lily. Her welfare was my padded excuse to enjoy the serenity of my backyard woods for another season or two. But after her passing last May and as Matt progressed through his senior year of high school, downsizing took on priority status.

In the beginning, I resisted with a little last minute nesting. “Wouldn’t this be great in your room?” Matt didn’t even need to respond. I knew. “Except you won’t be here that much, huh?”

“I’ll have laundry.” 

Mental fist pump for my great wisdom in upgrading the washer and dryer. The Ohio State University won’t give you free detergent and fabric softener, btw…

“And I’ll always have food, you know.” 

As my co-bachelor housemate for almost four years now, Matt knows the quality of my leftovers vary from night to night, but I give quiet thanks that he, alone, enjoys full access to my secret stash of dark chocolate. Unending supply of Ghirardelli Dark with Sea Salt and Almonds in the dorm lobby? I think not! 

Debbie came over to help get me started in the vast basement space, affixing signs to walls: “Sell,” Donate,” “Dump.” And we began… Toys, books, clothing, photos… We spent a couple of hours digging through memories and putting them to rest, her presence compelling final choices. Downsizing is a different experience for the divorced or widowed. The little road trips of the mind follow a single mapped route with no side jaunts for savoring context. The emotional journey may be a solo trip, but it definitely helps to have a friend in the passenger seat.

Eventually I faced my first real dilemma and was glad for Debbie’s steadying presence as I held up a wedding photo of my ex-husband. “Should I give this to the kids?” My own bridal-veiled portrait had already landed in a garbage bag, but the divorced parent strives for fairness.

 “Throw it. They don’t need it.” And she’s right. He has remarried; the man in the photo is long gone. Rest in peace.

More digging, more dumping. Treasures and trash. When the Volunteers of America showed up the following Thursday, they found quite the haul on my front porch. And the trash guys had some heavy lifting down at the driveway curb—balancing out a few of those many days that cans sat forgotten in my garage.

It’s an official beginning, I guess. Of an ending, I suppose. Or, more aptly, a “transition.” From the mom of three that I once was to the mother of adult children I will soon be. And I want to tell them, my kids, as I sift, sort, and remember—that these little smile lines on my face are such a small and inadequate measure of the joy I’ve known in watching them grow.

About Date Like a Grownup: So...think you're ready? Great! Not sure? Check out my book. It's kind of a roadmap to dating well. I know, I know... we all have GPS, who needs a map these days? Well... I did. Could definitely have used one if you know what I mean. But many men and women are, shall we say, "directionally challenged" when it comes to dating. Read—and learn—from their stories. And it's OK if you laugh a little...they all know we're laughing with them. Check out my Facebook page, hit "Like" and stay in touch! We'll have fun! I promise! 

Date Like a Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt and Advice Between Friends was a finalist at both the USA Book Awards and Indie Next Generation Book Awards.  Heather Dugan is the founder of Cabernet Coaches and a speaker and connection coach who facilitates talk/discussions (How to Avoid Dead-End DatingGetting From Lonely to Loved and more). Find articles, videos and interview clips at www.heatherdugan.com and on the Date Like a Grownup website.

Coming soon… 

The Friendship Upgrade:

Trade Clickable Connections for Cabernet Coaches and Face-to-Face Friends

On Being a Single Entrepreneur (radio)

Dating, Parenting and Maintaining Connection (WJCU radio)

On transitioning from “stay-at-home mom” to “single-preneur,” the impact of confidence and accomplishments on dating relationships, how to build effective connection in the family, selecting a “Type A-” approach, how to Date Like A Grownup and more…! (Interview with Deb Hegler, “Minding Your Business”)

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