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Are Today's Young People Afraid to Commit?

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I was talking to an acquaintance the other day, and our conversation turned to relationships. In her early 30s, she is finding herself increasingly concerned about the lack of that all-important piece of jewelry on her left hand -- yep, the wedding band. And it's not due to lack of a relationship. Although she has been with her significant other for 11 years and they have two children together, he is "afraid" to commit to their relationship by actually making it legal and marrying her. As a result, even though they all live together as a family and the kids call him Dad, their children have her last name. I guess the step of legally claiming his children as his own is too scary for him as well.

Another 20-something female friend of mine has been with her boyfriend for more than seven years. Although she has hinted at every upcoming birthday and holiday for several years that all she wants is a ring, there are still no tans lines on her ring finger. She has even tried proposing to him, but he says it's the man's job and has jokingly dismissed her marriage proposals.

Although this seems like it's shaping up to be a diatribe against men who won't commit, bear with me. It's not, I promise. What I want to do is explore why we, men and women, are so afraid to commit to anything these days.

In a society where 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce and today's newest retirees changed jobs 11 times on average during their lifetime, it's no wonder that today's young adults seem to be commitment phobic. Just look at their role models. In fact, businesses are taking notice and beginning to change their strategies when recruiting employees and targeting products designed for Generation Y. Take smartphones, for example. When I was in my early 20s, few people I knew could even afford a cell phone, and those who did were locked into their rates for one to three years; today, most 20-somethings not only have a cell phone, many of them have flexible or pay-as-you-go price plans. Business have even started offering more part-time employment opportunities because Generation Y likes flexibility.

It would appear that we can't seem to commit to anything these days. And ironically, some are blaming the very social media that was invented to help us stay connected in the first place. Stephen Marche writes:

The idea that a website could deliver a more friendly, interconnected world is bogus ... Using social media doesn't create new social networks; it just transfers established networks from one platform to another ... What Facebook has revealed about human nature -- and this is not a minor revelation -- is that a connection is not the same thing as a bond, and that instant and total connection is no salvation, no ticket to a happier, better world or a more liberated version of humanity.

So, in essence, we are more connected and less committed than ever. And, according to Kerby Anderson, this has created a crisis of loneliness in our society. A recent study commissioned by Badoo reported that 39 percent of Americans spend more time socializing online than in person and one-third are increasingly lonely because of it. Along with increases in loneliness, mental health experts are reporting increases in depression and other psychological issues. We've created a vicious cycle. Social media is linked to loneliness; loneliness is linked to depression; and depression is linked to the likelihood that people will close themselves off for fear of rejection, which then is linked to loneliness and symptoms of depression.

But wait, there may be some good news here -- sort of. Employers are being encouraged to exploit Generation Y's loneliness to create better employees:

Employers find themselves in the position where if they can create meaningful/productive relationships with their young staff (relationships that if you take the lead of the article Gen Y aren't currently getting) they can reap the benefits of increased Employee Connectedness.

So if the big companies can figure out that we need real connections -- and don't hesitate to provide them for us as long as it increases the bottom line -- why can't we? I don't care what generation you're in: baby boomers, millennials, X, Y, or Zumba, it's time to take a stand, make a commitment. It's time to stop this self-imposed agoraphobia and go outside. Meet people -- real people -- in person. Make a coffee date with a friend instead of just texting her. Invite a colleague over for dinner. Or, even better, invite your parents. Just do something with someone in person. Stop hiding behind your smartphone and start living your life. Your mental health will thank you.

For more by Mary Pritchard, click here.

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