DC is all about lovers and friends. You have them or you don’t. You’re solidifying connections or on the prowl. You live near them or, in your quest to approximate, you haunt the metro by day and pray for cabbies by night. By my estimation, about 20% of people move to DC for a significant other whose employment is grounded here in the District or surrounding DC, Maryland & Virginia areas (lamely referred to as the DMV). The other 80% of us cut out the middle man and dive face first into our jobs. While what brought us here and what keeps us here may be a government paycheck (or a paycheck from some other institution that prides itself on being anti-government, but can only exist because of the government… I digress), what makes the experience bearable are the relationships we hone.
When I first moved here, I hated it. Now, I still hate it. MESSAGE! But, what I hated most when I first arrived was the fact that people introduced themselves with their resumes. What happened when I dared to be so bold as to not wear my employer on my sleeve? Either, I was (1) voluntold to answer the question or (2) outed by one of my friends or co-workers who thought my job was cool, impressive or otherwise relevant to the conversation. And, at the end of the embarrassing jig, these people still could not pronounce my name. So, after almost 2 years here (lord, help me), why do I still find it oxymoronic that in the superficial, politically correct, networking capital of the world relationships take the cake?
Let me explain. In my humble experience (read: gospel truth), people who find this way of life repugnant form bonds with those also allergic to DC’s politically public and pretentiously frequented spaces. Through college alumni connections, mutual friends, social networks, or community events, we seek out the other wall flowers, the anti-social, the non-believers and we do the unheard of… we stop networking. We try hard to come home after work, and live the rest of our lives. We don’t talk to the girl from the mail room just because she happens to be walking out of the front door at the same time as we are; we acknowledge her, but only launch into conversation if we genuinely are interested in getting to know her. We throw out the idea that we should keep Pompous Pete’s business card from High on-the Hill, Inc., just because he can do something for us in the future. Instead, for people like me, D.C. after 7pm and before 3am turns into a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ search for people who are genuine.
Once you find them, I can’t guarantee that their political beliefs, sexual behaviors, eating habits, ethnic identification, economic status, educational background or support for the Redskins will mirror yours. But, I can bet you 2 DC United tickets and admission to The Park that you all will be equally as busy and that squeezing each other into life outside of work will be like trying to get from Foggy Bottom to BWI on a Friday at 4:30: a long and hard road. What I’m trying to say is that finding real friends here can be hard, but making time to enjoy them is much harder. And the same applies for those single like me, who are finding time to date or finding time to pretend that we don’t have time to date.
I’ve come to think that DC residents are often trying to find some bit of a genuine human connection in this conservative city that’s little understood and politically artificial. A paycheck is never enough, but that’s the only thing consistent in this town. So, it only makes sense that how one earns it can be defining. And let’s face it, a lot of people move to the nation’s capital because being an amateur politico flunky turned incumbent insider is really their life’s dream. Whether Huff Po is your schtick or HIV/AIDS prevention is your passion, everybody here works too many hours to not have an outlet. All of our jobs are too stressful not to have someone with whom to go to happy hour or to plot the next day’s sabotage of a co-worker.
DC is defined by this quest to find these people, these friends, these lovers, these love-worthy DMV residents who understand that you are worth more than your security clearance, the degree you’re pursuing, or the money you make. You have a name: that is printed just as clearly on the front of your business card as on the numerous DC traffic camera tickets you will inevitably receive by mail. ARGH!