Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Meeting the Organizers

Meetup.com has a slogan: "use the Internet to get off the Internet." The purpose of Meetup is for like-minded people (I'm really starting to hate that phrase) to meet and do their like-minded things. The goal of an organizer is to have a successful group with lots of members doing whatever it is their group does. As of right now, there are 744 different groups in the Portland Metro area, with more being added everyday. There aren't 744 different topics; for example there are 5 different vegan groups, 3 hiking groups, several singles groups, enough wine-related groups to get a person drunk on a very regular basis, etc.

My goal as Meetup organizer is a little backwards in that I don't want people to join my group. More specifically, I don't want them to be eligible to join my group. It actually upsets me when I get the e-mail letting me know someone has joined. Because that can only mean one thing: yet another person under the age of 50 has lost their spouse, long-term significant other or life partner. I hate that there are so many of us going through this hell.

Because I don't want to see my group grow, I find that my needs as an organizer tend to be different than that of pretty much everyone else. Early on, however, I joined the group for organizers because I really had no clue what I was doing. I did go to a meeting last October and found it a little helpful, and I got invited to join the golf group in the process when the assistant organizer of that group found one of my sarcastic remarks really funny. I haven't gone to any of the other (quarterly) meetings due to timing and/or location, but last night there was a meeting and employees of Meetup were going to be there to discuss the site, where it is going, etc. They have made a lot of changes lately that I am not thrilled about-basically, they are trying to be more like Facebook but with less member control in my (and a lot of other members) opinion. So, I decided to go.

There weren't many people there yet when I got there (gotta love the unpredictability of Portland's rush hour traffic!). I signed in and made my name tag, deciding not to put my group name on it. I knew I was going to have to tell people, and wasn't looking forward to that part of the evening.

I first met a guy that is just getting a group for entreprenuers started. I told him what my group was and he asked if there were a lot of veterans in the group. I said that one woman's husband was in the military, but he didn't die in the line of duty. Then we talked about his group for a couple of minutes and he went to talk to someone he recognized.

Then, I met a guy that organizes a couple of groups. He asked what group I organized. I said I organize the young widows and widowers group.

"Wow. That's (incredibly long pause)...intense," he said, looking at everything but me.

"Don't worry," I said. "It's not contagious." He really didn't know how to react to that one! So, I asked him about his group. He was clearly uncomfortable so I didn't make him talk to me for very long. He organizes a movie group in which they go see and then discuss movies. Evil Heather thinks it would be fun to join that group just to torment him with my presence. (Nice Heather thinks that would be really mean). Right now, their movie nights are primarily Wednesdays and I can't do that because of my volunteer commitment.

Next was a lady who told me I looked awfully young to be a widow. I thanked her for that and said I was 34 when he died. She asked how old I was now, and guessed 36. I told her I would be 36 in January. "Oh, so it is still very recent." I told her it has been almost two years, and then explained he died right after my birthday as she was clearly confused by my math skills.

I then started talking to another lady and one of the members of the Meetup staff about his group so there was no awkwardness there and I learned that marathons are 26 miles because that is how long man can chase a deer before the deer drops from exhaustion. You just never know when that little tidbit is going to come in handy.

Then the organizers of the hiking group came in so I went to talk to them. I first went to their group as a guest of a widowed friend of mine before joining the group on my own six months ago, so they already knew about James and have come to realize I am (mostly) normal. I was so glad to see their names on the RSVP list! It was so nice to have someone to talk to without it being awkward.

Things got started after that and we had to go around the room and introduce ourselves and tell a little about our group. When I said what group I organize, there was a collective gasp and then the room fell silent. You could hear a pin drop. The Meetup people should have just used me when they wanted to get everyone to shush up. So, I just kept talking. I said it was the group no one wanted to join, that I had started it a little over a year ago and that we meet once a month for dinner. People seemed to be breathing again at this point so I left it at that.

The bulk of the rest of the evening was Meetup telling us about upcoming "improvements" and answering some of our questions. They also rattled off a bunch of statistics. I am happy to say that by their standards, I have a successful group.

At the end of the evening, a big biker dude who reminded me of my dad came up and shook my hand. He sounded a little choked up as he told me he was sorry for my circumstances and thanked me for starting my group and the service I provide because of it. That made me feel really good, even if pretty much all I do is just tell everyone when and where to show up for dinner once a month. I may the one who started the group, but really, I am just one of many whose partner died too young who desparately needed to know she isn't the only one.


Tracy said...

I'm not sure you give yourself enough credit. Even though no one ever wants to be a member of your group, you have helped establish an outlet for those people who truly do need each other. For that you should be commended.

Rick said...

You are AWESOME for starting this group. In conversation, I have now learned how to deal with being a widower and how to add just a touch of "salt" to lighten the mood......unfortunately.

Good luck with yur group!!