Trying to Network as an Introvert

“It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know” says the salesman father to his straight-A-student and introverted daughter.

I used to think I was outgoing, once upon a time. Then I went to a summer camp in Chicago with no one I knew and realized I am not that person.

I hate networking. It all seems fake and I’m terrible at small talk. I’ve only successfully networked once. I don’t even really remember how we met, but he ended up recommending me for a job before we ever met in person. Let’s call him Joe. Very nice guy, and probably the closest thing to a mentor that I have.

Joe and I get together every time I’m back at my Alma Mater. He understands some of the painful parts of my job that I hate. He knows a lot of people in the industry and in the business world in general. Any time I mention any potential company I might want to work for, he seems to know someone who works/has worked there. I picked a good person to network with.

Joe works for the university, and because he works with students trying to find a job, he encounters a lot of people like me. Young professionals, out there in the world trying to figure it out. So occasionally I get emails where he tries to connect me with these people – people with their first real job, in my general metro area. Which seems great, right? So I reach out to the first few all “hey let’s get coffee!” and got nothing back. So I stopped trying to reach out.

I just recently received a LinkedIn message from one of these people Joe suggested (months ago) I connect with. Which is sort of great, right? Even if it’s months later, she’s still trying to connect. But between the phone tag I’m playing with her right now, all I can think about is: wtf am I going to say to this person?

I know what to say to random recruiters when they call. I know what to say to people who are asking me for help finding a job. I know what to say to lots of other strangers that I have to interact with.  I have scripts for a lot of situations. I have answers ready to the questions I expect them to ask. But this is a new thing for me. And I haven’t had to put my fake bubbly face on in awhile. Then again, do I have to? I’m not trying to impress this person like I’m interviewing for a job. She’s just a person that’s nice to know, right? But still: wtf do I say to this person? What do we talk about?

Hopefully she’s outgoing and extroverted and good at small talk and this will all be okay. It’s all about who you know.

After living here for a year, I’m finally starting to explore my city. Since I’m not good at making friends, I’m just doing it solo. Why wait for someone to go with? I’m a perfectly capable adult who can totally do things on my own!

I’ve already mentioned my first solo bar trip, but before that I went to the art museum and wandered around that part of the city for awhile. It was a gorgeous day and everything about it was perfect. I didn’t even go through the entire museum because there was just too much to see! Last weekend, I went back to the art museum and tried to go see an exhibit but it was sold out, so I ended up at the local historical museum across the street. The city’s historical museum is also free, but not as cool as the art museum would have been. Still, I learned a couple of cool things about my city. Who knew there was a surprising amount of culture that came from – and was impacted by – this decaying mess!?

Now that I’ve done this a few times, going out on my own is not a big deal to me anymore. And why should it be anyway? I’m introverted, independent, and self-sufficient; thus, I’m more than okay doing a lot of things by myself. I probably wouldn’t go to, say, a sporting event by myself, but I’m cool with wandering around and doing things where I don’t need to talk to people anyway.

However, I made the mistake of mentioning my solo fun to my coworkers. Most of them are married. Or they’ve lived in the area their whole life, so all their friends are here. Or they have kids. Or the most excitement they get is refinancing their mortgage. Maybe all of the above. So when I said I went to the art museum by myself, some of them didn’t believe me. The rest make fun of me for it whenever possible.

Now, I’m not the sensitive type. I can take a joke. I’m usually “that girl” that is just the natural target for getting made fun of. And I welcome it; I always have a good comeback because that’s how I was raised. But their comments about me going to the museum by myself actually stung this time. In front of my coworkers, I laughed it off. In reality, I was angry at them! Who are they to tell me what’s strange? I’m single and alone up here – does that mean I have to stay home every weekend? Do I have to go out on stupid, awkward, uncomfortable dates just so I can leave my house? You with the kids – you don’t crave some alone time now and then? You with the husband – don’t you go shopping by yourself almost every day? You, that just bought a house – don’t you go to lunch by yourself at least once a week? How is this any different?

What I got from this experience is that there are socially acceptable solo activities, like grocery shopping, and there are socially unacceptable solo activities. Apparently fun things do not fit into that first list. I think that’s ridiculous. So while I’m still annoyed by their jests, I’m not going to stop doing these things. I’m just not going to tell them about it anymore. Which, given how prying and nosy these people can be, I shouldn’t tell them anything anyway.

If you were wondering what the downside to moving to a new city and living alone is? I wouldn’t say this is it. Go out, do things on your own. Just be prepared for people to question it. And ignore them. They wish they had the confidence to do the same.

First time for everything

I remember saying to my friends when we first graduated college, “Well, my dad made friends by just going to the same bar enough times, so…maybe that’s how adults make friends.”

Yet, it took me a year to go to a bar by myself.

Monday, the USWNT played their second round game against Colombia. I found out that the limited cable I have didnt have the channel the game was on, so I texted the few people I knew in the area, with no luck. I really wanted to see the game, so I decided to go to a bar, by myself, to watch it.

Honestly, it was sort of great.

I did text a lot of people during this process. Both for typical important game reasons –  OMG did you see that penalty? what BS! – but also to feel less alone. But once I got there, I wanted them to stop texting me. The game was exciting, the bartender was friendly… I didn’t need these remote access friends. While I didn’t meet anyone new, the atmosphere and people watching were enough to keep me company. I even tried 3 new beers! And they were all great!

Yeah, it was uncomfortable at first. and yes, this experience was helped by a good bar with a good bartender and an excellent beer selection. But either way, I highly recommend.

Fearless.

I’ve only known this guy for a couple weeks. We met online. We’ve played bar trivia a few times, I’ve met his dog. I went with him to run errands last weekend. I give him shit about his busted bracket (who the hell picks Northern Iowa to play in the National Championship game?).

Friday afternoon, he texts me and asks if I want to come with him to a wedding reception the next day. It’s two friends from his hometown that got married, so I would be meeting his parents. Probably staying at their house. It’s about an hour away, and he says the wedding is super casual; he’s just wearing his “regular clothes”.

I had no plans for the weekend. I need to go shopping, but that requires money. I need to clean my apartment, but I know I won’t. I could go see my mom, but I do that almost every other weekend.

I’d seen this guy seven out of the previous 11 days. Neither one of us knows many people in town, and we both like drinking and he’s just easy to be around.

But still – I’ve known this guy for less than two weeks, and I’m supposed to meet his parents? I haven’t even begun to think about what I want from him, but I guess what better way to think about it than to see what his parents are like. So I say sure, I’ll go. Why the hell not. In true hedonist fashion, I just say “fuck it! free booze? hell yeah!”

Whether it was the wanderlusty adventurer or devil-may-care hedonist, I’m glad that part of me was making the decisions. I explored a new city! I drank, which made the introverted part of me more relaxed. We had amazing pizza in this tiny little restaurant in his hometown. We went to a bar that only serves canned beer, and I almost kicked his ass in pool. His parents are even really, really awesome. Luckily, they didn’t ask how we met at first. Then they finally did, and I was hoping he would answer so I didn’t have to, but he was in another room. So after a pause I said, “well, online actually…” and his mom just says “Oh that’s not so bad, I met his dad in a bar! And he was too shy, so I had to pick him up.” We played drinking games on the Wii, and it turns out I’m a lot better at Wii golf than I am at real golf.

So no, I didn’t go skydiving or finally decide to move across the country. But this small leap, this extra ounce of ‘fuck it’, this spontaneous decision… means I can only move up from here. I still don’t know what I want from this guy, I still don’t know what the fuck I’m doing on a daily basis, but each step like this is getting me back to the fearless girl I used to be; the fearless person I want to be.

Sunday Morning

In school, Sunday was spent reliving the weekend while dreading Monday and the rest of the week. More bitter than sweet, Sunday was a day of finishing assignments or studying for the coming week and other tasks I had neglected the previous week.

Now, Sundays aren’t so bad. Between working (and working late) during the week, and traveling all over the state on weekends, Sunday is my one day. Even if I’m not busy Monday-Thursday, after work I barely make it to the gym let alone feel like doing things I actually enjoy. Somehow after sitting in my cubicle for 8+ hours all I want to do after work is sit some more and watch Netflix. I don’t even feel like reading, and I like reading! Fridays after work I’m usually scrambling to pack my bag for the weekend to see my parents, or to go see friends the next state over. Sometimes I’m scrambling to clean my apartment for the rare occurrence someone is coming to see me that weekend. Or I’m scrambling to get ready for a date, on occasion. Either way – Friday is full of scrambling. Saturdays are always fun, at least. Whether it’s a chill day with my family or a day-long birthday extravaganza full of alcohol from noon until midnight, it’s good. But Sundays. That’s my day.

I don’t go to church, but Sundays are my religion. I’m truly free on Sundays. There are no obligations; no one makes social plans on Sundays and being out of the homework cycle leaves me to do whatever I want. I sleep in, I drink coffee all day, I write. I get to be my introverted self without judgement. It’s my reset day: I can clean, I can spend half the day making a meal that may (or may not) turn out to be incredible, or I can stay in bed with a book all day. I can be quiet, barely turning on the TV. Or I can be loud, music blasting. I can sit in a coffee shop and watch people without saying a word all day, I can talk to myself as I drive around, or I can call everyone I know. Or I can stay in bed all day.

Daily meditation might be recommended, but who has time for that? A good Sunday is enough to get me through the week.

We Probably Can’t Date If…

So, I was on Tinder for a bit. Maybe a month or two. And with dating in general – online swiping or more ‘normal’ kinds – you always run into some fun people. These are people I saw and instantly swiped… that direction you swipe when you don’t want to chat with with. (Swipe left, is bad, right? Why can I never remember?) Or I did meet them in real life and just… No. Or things that I didn’t encounter but would be an instant ‘gtfo’ if I had. Boys, please, keep in mind – this is only my list. Not my full list, probably, but some definite red flags. Other people may have different lists, but here’s mine.

“I Just Can’t” If:

  • Your only hobby is “The Gym” (Sorry, bro. I don’t even lift.)
  • I have to coach you through every encounter/conversation. (I’m a introvert, but c’mon man, one of us has to carry the conversation.)
  • You’re more needy/clingy/insecure than…well…. me.
  • You’re a native speaker of English yet your understanding of grammar suggests otherwise.
  • You display even the slightest hint of sexism (maybe this should be higher on the list)
  • You’re aimless – wanderers exploring wanderlust is one thing, those without goals, no matter how small, is something else entirely.
  • You don’t drink or swear (I mean really, as someone who drinks and swears like a sailor, I just don’t think it’s going to work….)
  • You try to tell me how to feel or think. I’m indecisive, but no really, I know what I said. And yes, that is what I meant.
  • You can’t make decisions. One of us should be decisive and it usually won’t be me. Just pick a damn restaurant, I really don’t care.

Sidenote: I’m also one of those oddball girls who is more attracted to intellect and sense of humor than a lot of things. I’ve dated boys who I thought were cool, but then I can only keep my sarcasm at bay for so long. Eventually I find myself making fun of them and they don’t even realize. At that point I realize it’s probably over.

What would you add to the list? What are your weird deal-breakers?

Making Friends

I’m not going to lie to you. You’re in a really strange place right now. Arguably the weirdest time of your life. I don’t know what to tell you, but you will figure it out eventually. Somehow, it just happens. -A.

I have a favorite barista. She’s been my favorite for a very, very long time. Since I started drinking coffee out of both habit and necessity, A. has been there to further my addiction.

A. was also a friend and mentor to me in high school – she was very involved in a lot of the discussions I had about where to go, what to study, etc. She eventually hired my brother to work in the coffee shop because he’s related to me (and probably because he was well-qualified, I’m sure). So A. and I occasionally stayed in touch when I went to college, but not nearly as close as we were when I was in high school. Then I graduated, and after a few months of being on my own I happened to be in her area and surprised her at the new coffee shop she opened. I told her life in general was great, getting a job right out of school and all that. Except…after being in a new place, all alone, for a certain amount of time… I realized I was constantly going back to my hometown or my alma mater to meet up with my friends from high school and college. I suddenly realized I was unable to make friends in my new situation.

“But really, how do adults make friends?” was the question I kept asking myself. Sure, I had coworkers and they were great but also most of them were married with kids and not exactly open to my still-favorite weekend pastime of drinking like a college student. Plus – do I really want to hang out with these people outside of work, too? I get to see them 40 hours a week… shouldn’t I have separate friends for evenings and weekends? Perhaps these other friends should be people who don’t have children, and therefore a lifestyle more similar to mine? Where do I find these people?

For me, what makes this whole process even more difficult is how introverted I am. Unless I’m somewhat drunk or in a super-rare talkative and outgoing mood, I’m not going to just walk up and talk to someone. Small talk isn’t something I do if possible. If you’re a fellow introvert, you get it. If you’re an extrovert, go read Quiet by Susan Cain (or if you don’t want to commit that kind of time, watch her TED talk). So even if I did want to go to a bar alone, where other people my age and with my same interests were hanging out…I wouldn’t be able to say hello anyway.

Another option could be that I could join a sports team, either something I’ve played before and am halfway decent at (soccer) or I could try something completely new (any other sport ever) and fail miserably. Either way, I’m embarrassingly out of shape and that’s no way to make a good first impression on my new friends!

My mom suggested I could get a second job, which did not appeal to me in the slightest. But still, I entertained the idea. Eventually I decided to volunteer as a soccer coach, for something to do. But that didn’t really result in any friends…just met some cool parents and their cool kids. Neither of which fall into the category of friends I’m looking for.

I moved up here in May, it’s now the following January… and I still find myself driving an hour or more to go hang out with friends. I eventually decided to join the company indoor soccer team, so at the very least I’ll meet people who work at my company, but whom I wouldn’t normally see every day. That almost counts, right?

Maybe this will lead to something, or at least help me figure out how to make friends in my own introverted way.