Real Social Networking

I hate “networking.” I always feel awkward interacting with groups of people I don’t know (introvert alert!) and I’m much better at self-deprecation than selling myself. And though I spend a fair amount of time online, so-called “social networks” come with their own drawbacks: snippy Facebook comments, Twitter trolls, nasty Amazon reviews, the possible undermining of our entire democratic system, etc.

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            My last book club meeting (OK, not really, but doesn’t it look like fun?)

But this week I was reminded that we all have a very different kind of social network: the people who are in our lives because we share a common interest or goal. One night, I went out with a newly-formed writers’ group, which included two guys I used to work with at a magazine years ago. Technically, you could say it was networking, because we’re all writers of one kind or another (both fiction and journalism). It was also social, because I was catching up with old friends. But most importantly–it was fun. At one point I had to take a mental step backward and marvel: I’m in a bar at 10pm on a Tuesday, talking about writing. My younger self would have been thrilled.

The next night I went to a book club meeting, where I was the youngest attendee by at least 10 years. The women in my group are all voracious, wide-ranging readers, so we talked about books, of course, but also movies and grandchildren and upcoming vacations. For that hour-and-a-half, we formed our own network of book lovers–and I came away feeling just a little bit smarter.

The night after that was Boy Scouts. My fifth-grade boys joined at the beginning of the year, and this was the first time I’d gone to a family event. I knew hardly anyone. But that group, I realized, will become yet another one of my networks. Eventually I’ll get to know those parents and kids, because we all have something in common…. such as opening a post-campout duffle bag and nearly passing out from the smell.

Now don’t get me wrong–I don’t usually have such a busy social schedule. But at a time when so many experts are wringing their hands over the influence of social media, I hope we can all keep nurturing our own, real-life social networks. Call or email that old friend. Have dinner with someone from your old office. Maintain  those ties, even if they’ve gotten frayed with time. Because that’s the kind of networking that can keep you sane in crazy times.

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