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Dating for nonprofit professionals: it's complicated

I align with 30 Rock heroine, Liz Lemon, on most things. I, too, have a penchant for comedy and would prefer to spend my free evenings “working on my night cheese.” One place I can really relate to Liz is in her jaded stance on romantic relationships, and the fact her job often stands in the way of pursuing them. But before this blog turns into a missive on my love for 30 Rock, let me backup a little and tell you more about my decidedly non-sitcom life.

I am coming up on three years working for a Jewish nonprofit, specifically in the role of “Millennial whisperer” (aka managing a program that seeks to engage young adults in the work of the organization). I love my job, and while it may not be for everyone, I actually enjoy that it is one in which the line between my personal and professional life is basically nonexistent. When your work is dedicated to outreach to a community that you’re also a part of (in this case, that of Jewish young adults, but feel free to [insert here the community that you work and live in]), people you meet through work become your friends, events you plan or attend for your job feel fun, and “work” just feels like living your life.

Here’s another fact about me: I’m 27 years old and have never been in a real relationship. Lots of people I talk to about my job (shoutout to my mother), assume that it would be rife with opportunities to couple up--”Aren’t you just always meeting eligible young Jewish men who are one lonely Shabbos away from dialing up the village matchmaker?!” “Don’t you have loads of friends that know someone that knows someone that’s looking to be set up?” If only it were that simple, mom. We in the nonprofit world love our buzzwords, but context matters. As my dear Liz Lemon once said of the word “lovers,” “that word bums me out unless it’s between the words ‘meat’ and ‘pizza.’” So let’s take a look at some of our favorite words through the lens of the eternally single...

Networking

In the world of nonprofit development (or any career really), knowing the right people matters. Meeting new people to connect with my program is a big part of what I do, and it often entails being introduced via email, at a large event, or via a “somewhat creepy when it’s someone you’re not friends with” Facebook message. Regardless of the platform, when I meet someone new like this, it is in a professional context, and that’s not a context in which you’d ordinarily look for a date. Let me put it this way--if your co-worker’s face popped up in your Tinder queue you’d probably swipe left on that puppy before HR caught wind. Maybe the same phenomenon is the reason for the lack of hits on my J-Swipe.

Coffee Datemain.jpg

Once the aforementioned connection has been made, the next step is inviting somebody to grab coffee. With my work, this can turn into a fun branding exercise--how do I ask this constituent of the opposite sex to coffee and make it clear that I’m not trying to ask them on a date? Best to throw in some non-sexy descriptors like, “to tell you more about the organization” or “to talk about your interest in getting involved.” Wait, what if, later on, this turns out to be somebody that I actually do want to ask on a date? Like I said, it’s complicated.

Relationship Building

Yes, my resume describes my work as “relationship building,” and yes, I do pride myself on making real connections with the people I engage with through work. Here’s where that blurry personal/professional line comes in again. Are these folks really building a relationship with me as a person, or are the connecting with the professional me, a kind of asexual surrogate for the broader concept of my organization as a whole? Whoa, this is getting deeper than I meant it to.

Engagement

I throw this word around a lot when talking about what I do, but does anyone in the nonprofit world have an irrefutable definition of what engagement means in our organizations? Not I, but I know it’s what I’m striving for. I can, however, define the type of engagement I am less-so striving-for: “the eight hundredth girl from your high school to post a picture with her diamond-decked left hand smooshed onto her new fiance’s chest.”

Unfortunately this blog has more questions than answers. What’s the point other than to voice my struggle? Is this all just an attempt to make an excuse for the fact that dudes just aren’t that into me? Is there really a difference between nonprofit engagement work and dating, or are we headed in the direction of Tinder Professional Edition? I clearly don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but, hey, how about we discuss them over coffee sometime?


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