Hi friends! Thanks for tuning in. It's Jane here. This scene below is from when I joined a "young professionals group" through the Winterville Chamber of Commerce. I was in a bit of a pickle: new to town, single and in my mid-30s, and not having the greatest of career success at this juncture. I'd bought a house but the value of it was falling quickly, and I couldn't afford to sell it and start over somewhere; in fact, I needed to find a sane, employed person to be my roommate and help me afford it! Most of all, I wanted to see if I could feel "at home" in this town and make the best of my circumstances.
Maybe if I had a better job, I would feel better here, I thought, and maybe I can meet some people who can help me find a better job or a roommate.
I had nothing to lose, so I paid the $100 membership fee and joined the group.
I walked into my first mixer as a “member” and filled out my nametag. It was held at an upscale apartment complex that had just been built.
Outside the door to the clubhouse, a woman greeted me and provided me with a nametag to wear. I wondered if I was the first person to arrive, as the room inside was quiet. Back home, I’d attended events where people spilled out of venues onto the sidewalk, which had a much friendlier vibe.
I glided into a clean, well-lit clubhouse that had overstuffed couches, a pool table, and French doors that overlooked a pool area, complete with beach chairs and tables with umbrellas on the deck. Recessed lights shined down from the ceiling and bounced off several ornate mirrors hung throughout the room.
I sighed when I surveyed the guests. Groups of people stood around in clumps, talking intimately to one another. Many of the women had fake blonde streaks in their hair.
Most of them wore mall clothes: khakis and polo shirts for the men, and Capri pants and blouses for the women. The women accessorized their outfits with ostentatious jewelry and expensive high-heeled shoes. By contrast, I wore a nice pair of jeans and a black top. I was going for the plain but cute look, since I couldn’t do the preppy look with a straight face unless it was Halloween. My flat shoes came from the Target 2004 collection, and I wasn’t about to apologize for that.
This quiet, funereal, cliquish gathering was a mixer for Winterville’s young professionals. I couldn’t help but think about other places where those gatherings were festive. A crowd of people would mingle and share job tips, job search ideas, and exchange business cards. Strangers would approach and welcome others into their conversations. At some, we’d had the option of having drinks, too, which allowed for more fun and flirtation, even.
This gathering looked too daunting for me, and I wanted to leave. How could I get through a drab room like that? I took three deep breaths and tried to calm my heart and sweat glands. I’ll stand here until I get some sort of sign, I decided.
I spotted two women talking and laughing, and one looked over at me. Her facial expression was somewhat approachable, so I walked up to her to introduce myself.
“Hi there,” I said. “I’m new to this group. I’m Jane.”
“Riley,” said the other. She offered me a limp handshake.
“So, what do you do?” I asked.
“I’m the hardest working woman in town,” Shelley boasted as if she were the most accomplished woman on the planet. “I am raising triplets.”
“Wow, that’s great!” I said. “How old are they?”
“Four. And I can’t believe I have a few hours away from them!”
“They are so cute,” added Riley. “All boys.”
“Well, that must keep you busy. Riley, how about you?” I asked.
Riley got a faraway look in her eyes and brushed a stray hair away from her forehead. This showcased what I imagined was a 2-carat diamond engagement ring.
“Well, I’m sort of between jobs now,” she said, and she and Shelley giggled like they had some sort of inside joke.
I knew that tone. It was the “I’m too good to work” tone. It was the “I don’t work, I shop” tone.
“But I’m really busy planning my wedding,” she added, motioning to a tall, dorky guy across the room and beaming.
“Congratulations,” I said. “So, I joined this group so I could network to look for a better job. Do either of you know any place that’s hiring?”
Riley scoffed, while Shelley gave me a quizzical look.
“I have no idea,” Shelley said.
“OK, well, do you know anyone else here who might know?”
They both laughed again.
“Oh, we know all these people! We’ve been members for years,” Riley told me. “Most of us went to Winterville High School together.”
“Oh wow, that’s different,” I said. “All of you still here, still in touch.”
“Is it?” Shelley asked as she tossed her hair.
“There are people who put their families and their friends first, and there are people who don’t,” Riley said, looking at me with her arms crossed. Wow, I am a demonic career woman compared to these two. How dare I move from place to place to gain work experience and have a career? “I’m sorry,” she said when the conversation stopped, but I knew she wasn’t.
“So are you dating anyone, Jane?” Shelley asked. “Or are you married?”
Are those the only two options? I wondered.
“No, actually. I went through a breakup last year and then moved here for a job, but it’s been slow going meeting people.”
“Yeah, that’s hard,” Riley said with a sneer, and then faded off again.
I decided to make a graceful escape.
“Well, it was nice to meet you both,” I said. I had assumed, from the awkward pause that followed, that even though they knew everyone in the room, they weren’t going to introduce me to anyone.