There are few things I’ve hated so instinctively as networking. Sucking up to people and trying to manipulate them into helping you is bad enough, but to take pride in being a two-faced, shit-eating sociopath, as many young professionals who sign up for networking events do, is beyond the beyond.

networking

Networking event in progress.

And even beyond that, if possible, is the feeling of being a networker yourself, at least for me. The last time I willingly attended a networking event was when I presented a paper at the American Historical Association’s annual conference a few years back. Before grad school ground my rose-colored glasses under its heel I thought that academic conferences were utopias were the lucky few get to listen to some of the most current and brilliant research out there, observe great minds discussing great ideas together, and perhaps even get to meet someone whose book changed your life. It’s like comic con but with delicious hors d’ouvres!

The reality, unfortunately, is that these are just desperate networking events were kids who know they’re competing with 99 peers for one attractive academic position converge. I saw one of my favorite professors at the AHA and she, being amazingly well-meaning, tried to help me with my elevator speech, an improbable two-sentence summary of all my interests, research, and plans that I’m supposed to pitch to random strangers. Then another person who I thought would be the most likely to attend my panel opted out to network with someone more important. Then, because Rebecca Scott did me the most humbling honor of not only attending said panel but offering her brilliant commentary, one of the panel moderators suddenly got brain-snatched. The organizer had told me get my final draft to this moderator the weekend before the conference, but she apparently expected it much earlier, and told me that she didn’t read my work and isn’t going to offer any substantial comments. However, after seeing Rebecca (who I met at another conference in Senegal and is not only a total genius but a super sweet and genuine human being) greet me and speak, this moderator suddenly had glowing, interesting, and incisive things to say. Not only that, she even emailed me after the conference with a link to one of her articles! Summary: The whole experience was a horror show, one of the deepest-set nails in an already pretty nailed-up coffin.

But whatever, it’s professional life. Although it clarified my career path since I was certain that I didn’t want a career like that, getting networked-upon at the AHA didn’t affect me psychologically, since none of these people had ever pretended to be my friends. Which brings me to personal life networkers, who make me want to throw myself under a train for lack of hope for humanity.

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Not that you should base your life on things you see on Facebook, but HELL YEAH!

Nothing in the world makes me happier than being able to make my friends happy. That sounds cheesy but fake, kind of like American cheese, but I think a lot of people feel that way and I happen to be one of them. If you don’t know what I’m talking about watch the eyes of a person in the midst of surprising you with an awesome gesture or the perfect gift.That person’s probably even more excited than you are!

The word “unconditional love” gets bandied about a lot during wedding season, and I don’t really get it because conditional love (or friendship) isn’t any sort of love at all. At best, it’s narcissism – “I love you as long as your characteristics match up to my arbitrary and likely-to-evolve preferences.” Depending on the characteristic, there are changes so extreme that they couldn’t possibly be foreseen, and those changes aren’t what I’m talking about. I know for example of a woman whose husband got a dash of brain injury followed by dollop of meningitis. His whole personality now is completely unrecognizable. I don’t begrudge her for considering a divorce; she’s crazy amazing for deciding in the end to make it work. But if you, on your wedding day, feel that any in the range of moderate changes of characteristics would nullify love – getting fatter, losing sex drive, losing a job, losing interest in brushing one’s hair every day, etc. – then maybe consider editing your vows. To an equal degree, the word “friend” should only apply to a person who is free to walk down their own life’s path, pursue new interests, reevaluate their opinions and positions, without risk of falling away in your affections. And if you’re narcissistic enough to choose partners and buddies not even on their intrinsic characteristics but only on the condition that they can do something for you, then you’re a filthy, no-good networker and should be made to wear a scarlet N sewn onto the bodice of your velvet dress. For shame!

Now and then, a friend would contact me out of the blue. Almost always, there’d be small talk first and then the inevitable revelation:

  • My friend’s or his/her child’s birthday is coming up
  • My friend is planning a party
  • My friend wants me to sponsor a race, buy something, or donate to a Kickstarter or GoFundMe page
  • My friend wants me to click on something, vote for something, or “like” something online
  • My friend wonders if I have time to write something for him/her
  • My friend just broke up with someone or got fired from a job

… and so on. Sometimes a particular person might even not bother getting in touch with me for years at all except for the few times every couple of months when (s)he wants my help. Unlike the harmless weirdness of an academic conference, these situations were always so disheartening. Since I consider the person to be an actual friend a it hurts even more that (s)he seemingly treats our friendship so cynically.

keep in touch

For personal life networkers it’s tough to make that call “for no reason.”

Ironically, despite the fact that our culture now glorifies professional networking, there’s still a bit of a residual distate for personal life networking. I’ve read many articles advising that we dump our selfish “toxic friends,” and spent a long time struggling with just how to go about that.

Because no matter how upset I felt, a part of me looked back with a huge grin on the good times I’ve had with this friend in the past and didn’t want to pull the plug on the possibility of having more in the future.

I’m embarrassed to it admit it but it wasn’t until a year or so ago that it occurred to me that is might be a “me” problem.

Maybe it has to do with meeting lots of refreshingly uncynical people here in Kansas City, maybe with having most of my friendships suddenly become long-distance phone friendships. Whatever brought it on, I finally let myself stop feeling like the victim for long enough to realize that my boundless and enthusiastic hatred for networking is very specific to my personality and how I grew up (My dad got passed over for promotions that he was overqualified for because he refused to play the brown-nosing game, and I think he was proud of getting where he was on the merit of his work alone). It’s also very specific to my experience in grad school. I began to realize that because I feel so strongly against networking I’ve been very, very self-conscious about never treating my friends in any way that would place conditions on our relationship and I’ve become ludicrously sensitive when they overstep my very tiny circle of approved non-networking friend behavior.

Friendships aren’t measured by the number of cellphone minutes logged. If we have a connection, if we understand each other, it doesn’t matter if one or both of us is too busy to text because we can just pick it up again when the pace of life slows down a bit. And it’s ridiculous for me to get upset about friends asking for help. Good grief, of course I want to celebrate birthdays, be good company after a bad breakup, and support whatever is currently floating their boats! Not because “they’d do the same for me” because, actually, that doesn’t matter. I’ve been given so much kindness that I could never hope to repay and if I’m finally in a position now to pay it forward, I’m just grateful for the opportunity. I started to wonder if the reason I’m being contacted after such a long time is not out of cynicism at all but because this other person feels that they can count on me to come through. I’m honored that anyone should think so highly of me! It’s been a journey (probably a boring one, sorry, reader!) but it feels so good to know that the n-word I’ve hated from the beginning was never a threat to my friendships at all. If my friends are making it easy for me by telling me straight up what I can do to make them happy, how can I be anything but overjoyed?

unconditional love

Hahaha! Oh my god. Took six months off from blogging only to come back with the cheesiest post ever. Sorry!

 

 

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