My Kids Turned Me Into A Me A Ruthless Social-Life Strategist
I used to be up for anything. Now I run a worth-my-time calculation before committing to a night out.
I’ve always loathed the idea of networking. It’s not that I don’t enjoy meeting people, but I do recoil at the idea of being strategic about it. Flitting along the surface is not my conversational style; I prefer to deep dive. If I find someone I enjoy, I’ll happily talk to them all night, and if that person is the coat check girl explaining the story of how she ended up with a vagina dentata tattooed on her neck, then all the better IMO.
Back in my freewheeling 20s, I never bothered to make sure I’d “connected” with the “right people,” whoever they were. Social pragmatism was so embarrassing and unoriginal — why couldn’t people just go with the flow? The day for was for list-making, salad-eating, meetings, and control. The nighttime was for fun and chaos!
Then I had babies and for a long time the night became about something else entirely: Basic animal survival. I’ve experienced few sensations more ominous than the feeling of being an exhausted new mother as the dark closes in at 8 p.m., knowing with complete certainty I was about to spend 12 hours being denied the one thing I desperately needed: A few hours of uninterrupted oblivion. That cloud of despair soon passed (thank the gods of sleep-training; my kids may be insecurely attached, but I prefer to look on the bright side: we’re all alive!), and when it did, I found that my relationship with the night had evolved, and this time in a way I wasn’t expecting. In short, I woke up and saw the value of networking.
Once my free time became heavily restricted I came to understand its value.
Now before you imagine I was signing up to mom-friend-social-sites or registering for female leadership conferences in Toledo, allow me to clarify: Once my free time became heavily restricted I came to understand its value. There was the crashingly obvious but life-altering knowledge that every time I left the house at night, or any time for that matter, I was choosing to leave my kids. I won’t pretend it was always agonizing (I usually skipped out my front door singing tralah!) but it was punishingly expensive and most importantly it was a choice: I could be spending time with my kids, who yearned for my attention the way Justin Trudeau yearns for a photo op on Pride Day, or I could be… drinking a weird-flavoured martini with a former colleague at a film festival party for a movie I haven’t seen? No thanks.
The epiphany was, funnily enough, at a work-related conference I attended while pregnant with my second son. It featured a speaker named Matthew Taylor, head of the Royal Society of the Arts in London. I have no memory of the topic of his speech but one clear point always stayed with me: “If you want to change your life,” he said, “change your friends. Because the people you choose to spend time with make you who you are.”
We don’t get to choose our parents, our children, our classmates or even, in most cases, our colleagues. But we do get to choose who we go out and have fun with.
Those two sentences stopped me in my tracks. I realized I’d been thinking about my social life all wrong. We don’t get to choose our parents, our children, our classmates or even, in most cases, our colleagues. But we do get to choose who we go out and have fun with. This was absolutely not something to shrug off or leave to chance. There was another way to network that wasn’t about status-seeking or shimmying up the greasy career pole. Networking could also be about insisting on friendships with deeper meaning.
Pre-kids I was easy going about nights out, a complete social omnivore. Post-kids I became more exacting, fastidious — even a strategist. No, I’ll never be a flitter, but I am a more conscious friend. If I notice myself feeling unsettled, drained, or undermined after spending time with an acquaintance, I take note. If it happens repeatedly, I avoid making plans. If, on the other hand, I meet someone who dazzles me with their energy, humour, and ideas, I shamelessly pursue them, and I also try not to be overly bothered if they don’t friend-fancy me back. I’m also getting better at not taking dear friends for granted. When an old friend I’d accidentally fallen out of touch with died suddenly last year, it was a huge wake up call: Good friendships are worth the maintenance — reach out now or you might live to regret it.
A similar change occurred in the way I viewed the actual content of my social time. The activity began to matter almost as much as the company. Would it be fun? Exhilarating? Life-affirming? A chance to learn something new? Was it worth the travel time/exhaustion/inevitable parental guilt? When presented with an invitation, I began doing subconscious calculations in my head: If the fun + fascination-level + cultural-enrichment-level score isn't equal to or above the babysitter + dinner/drinks/cab bill + hangover score, I’m out. For instance, mid-week dinners with random work acquaintances who I'm sorta keen on but also sorta not? Sorry. Seeing a great gig with my husband? Yep. Good friend's book launch? Yep. Press ticket to a charity gala? Nope. Galas generally? Nope. Family barbeque at my neighbourhood tennis club? Oh yeah. Getting twin ear-piercings in the basement of Topshop by a guy with a face tattoo then going for mescal margaritas and tacos with an old girlfriend whose mother just died of cancer (which is what happened earlier this summer): HELL YES. All of which is to say I’m still not exactly a networker, but when I do go out at least I’ve got some party game. Amazing, isn’t it, the stuff you can learn from having kids?