A crowd is gathered at the bar as I enter; drinking and laughing. My attempt to approach the group and join the conversation falls flat; they all work together and have no need to engage in conversation with a stranger. I order a drink and slink off to a corner, looking out over the crowd, desperately looking for a familiar face, determining if I would welcome the company of someone I know or if that defeats the whole purpose of coming. Of course, sitting in the corner by myself accomplishes nothing as well. Gathering courage, I beeline straight for the hors d'oeuvres.
Some people make the skill of holding a drink and eating from a plate of finger foods while standing look so easy, while others, like me, are one mozzarella stick away from making a mess all over their outfit. Approaching a high table where two gentlemen are engaged in conversation, I ask if I can use part of their table so I can have a bite to eat. They agree and the three of us chit chat, meaningless small-talk about what we do for a living and what we are doing there. Quickly, it becomes apparent that I am not what either of them are looking for as I polish off my plate and politely excuse myself.
Rejection is easier to handle with another drink, and soon I am alone at the bar, chatting with the bartender with much more ease then any of the professionals in the room; those same people who are here for the sole purpose of meeting other professionals. Soon realizing the bartender is just a master of idle conversation doing his job, I tip him nicely for taking the time to talk with me. Spotting a man in the corner, I sense a connection, an ally in this painful process of meeting someone special. We exchange glances and I get the nerve up to approach him. We talk about our day, our jobs, our goals and dreams. Eureka, finally the big break, the very person I was searching for all night. After a long and deep conversation, numbers were exchanged and we promise to keep in touch. We part ways, and I decide it is time to leave, marking a perfect end to the evening.
Just as I was about to make a bee-line to the door, an older man approaches. He follows a methodical script, one he probably uses on every woman he meets at these things. I pretend to be interested in his conversation, in his company; laughing and joking like friends. He smells my vulnerability, feasts on it like I was prey, and goes in for the kill. His intentions for the evening are not professional, flattered yet disgusted, I thank him for his interest and make my move, grabbing a cookie and a beer for the road.
This is not happy hour at a bar or a singles event. This is a scene from an evening event at a business conference, which is unarguably more uncomfortable then any pick up joint on the planet. Rather then finding a date, you are out networking, trying to find the next big sale or a means of climbing to the next rung of the corporate ladder. This conference setup gets increasingly difficult the longer I am married; it takes the same skills employed to pick up a person in a singles bar as it does to pick up a business card. Every time I think of changing careers and going into sales, a conference reminds me of how miserable life would be attending these meet-market events weeks after week.