I don’t network. I consider the word ‘network’ to be sort of weird, in a spidery kind of way, implying people who work in a net, which pretty much limits the field to trapeze artists and arachnids. I don’t own a Rolodex, or a Palm Pilot, or a functioning long-term memory. I am a sociable person, but I forget names so easily I’ve taken to calling everyone ‘honey’ or ‘darling,’ like a fifty-year-old Southern waitress. If asked to name a person I know in the economics field, it would take me a minute, and I say this knowing I dated two economists, and went to a school that specializes in the field. I don’t network.
However, I love networkers.
This was not always the case.
Networkers always struck me as overenthusiastic people, the sort of people who want to be your friend right away. They want to know everything about you, where you were born, what your first boyfriend’s name was, what color your childhood blankie was and whatever happened to it. They come off a little creepy, and remind you vaguely of your mother at the dinner table the first time you brought a boyfriend home. This is because, for some reason, networkers seem to have an entire compartment of their brain devoted to Six Degrees of Separation.
If you’re not familiar with Six Degrees of Separation, it’s a play in which the theory is put forth that every person is related to every other person with six or less connecting people in between. So if I meet some guy on the street, his father may have gone to Kent State two years later than my father, and met a girl who once dated my dad. That’s guy-his father-girl-my father-me. I forget if that’s three degrees or four, but you get the idea.
If you’ve ever played the movie game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, you can connect actors on the principle of which movies they were in. Networkers can do this with everything. “Oh, you like to play bocce ball? I knew a guy in Guatemala who liked to play bocce ball. I should hook you two up.” Networkers play the game of Six Degrees in their heads, all the time.
“You’re a writer and you’re interested in writing for non-profits? I know fifteen people who head or are authorities in non-profits. You’d love this one guy, made a pill for cows.”
I don’t know about you, but I get all giddy when this happens to me.
Things to remember about networkers and the special game they play:
They think getting involved in the relationship is cheating. Most networkers I know are interested in how it worked out, but they refuse to be directly involved after the initial meet-and-greet. They’re not there to babysit, just to introduce. I think all networkers secretly want to be lab scientists, recording on little clipboards the interactions between Person X and Person Y, and scribbling down little theories about why it should be. If they could strap little GPS systems to our ankles and send us out into the world to interact freely, most networkers would practically faint with excitement.
They know when you’re faking it. Unlike your last boyfriend, networkers don’t want you to fake it. If the relationship didn’t work out, they want to know why, and they want to hook you up with someone better. They are constantly honing this skill, and they cannot get better at the game if you are rigging it. This goes double for pretending you like the networker himself more than you do. If this is the sort of person with whom you enjoy an occasional dinner, do not pretend he is your long-lost soul mate. He will know. He is savvy. This is what he does.
I just had dinner with one of these special creatures. She spent most of dinner telling me about all the people she thinks I’d hit it off with, who own businesses who need me, who know other people who own businesses who need me. She was thrilled sideways, playing her game with the skill of a pool shark, lining up her shots in order, ready to take them all down. She wants me to get my website up and running tomorrow, so she can send scads of people around and convince them to hire me.
That’s the other thing about networkers. They’re freaks. Lovable, wonderful, indispensable. Freaks.