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Social networking: Young adults searching for a way to connect

Number of Utah young adults is growing

Published: Sunday, March 24 2013 2:20 p.m. MDT

A group of friends eat dinner and talk in Holladay Friday, March 15, 2013. As college graduates leave the cocoon of a strong social support network, learning where and how to meet people in the professional adult world as a young adult can help many feel connected again.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty-seven-year-old Janae Jacobs has always had many friends.

From kindergarten to college, play dates to parties, each social network has facilitated the cultivation of meaningful relationships.

But when Jacobs graduated from BYU and moved from Provo to a professional adult world in San Jose, Calif., she felt very alone.

“Without a close student community, I had no links to events that formed my social network,” Jacobs said. “I knew nobody.”

Jacob’s story is not uncommon. As college graduates leave the cocoon of a strong social support network, learning where and how to meet people in the professional adult world as a young adult can help many feel connected again. 

In 2000, young adults, ages 25 to 34, consisted of 14.6 percent of Utah's population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That number continues to climb. By 2010, young adults consisted of 16.1 percent of Utah’s population.

Great effort is given to networking for careers, with educators and mentors offering help to young adults as they head out into the world. But how do you meet someone for friendship, companionship, or for love?

Learning to look up

Expanding a social network is a matter of checking into the world a bit more, said Tamara Duricka Johnson, dating coach and author of "31 Dates in 31 Days."

“Once you stop watching the sidewalk and learn to look up, you’ll see that there are opportunities to be connected everywhere,” Johnson said. “Wake up, be present, be involved and be an active participant.”

Johnson said she learned this lesson the hard way. After being dumped for the second time in one year, Johnson, then 30, said she felt like she had somehow become the world’s worst dater.

“My love life was toppling like a skyscraper-sized game of Jenga,” she said.

Johnson decided she would tackle the root of the problem by going on a first date every day for a month. Johnson launched a campaign to get these dates. It’s a process she says taught her about social networking, in general.

“I started my project with three dates set up,” Johnson said. “I was to the point of not being ashamed to basically beg for dates.”

She posted online and blogged, but the number one way she met people was through her friends; she started with the social network she had and branched out, and learned an important lesson:

Don’t come with an agenda, Johnson said.

“People are much more likely to respond to you if you come as a full person, as opposed to coming with an agenda. Hand them a free smile, rather than a business card.” 

The young professional is surrounded by people with similar interests, Johnson said. “Use that to your benefit. Invest in the people around you already and expand.”

Johnson found that each person she knew was a hub to an entirely separate social network.

“Ask to join a friend with her work buddies for dinner. You may find great social opportunities in the most unpredictable places,” Johnson said.

Unexpected arenas

Jonathon Wright, a 25-year-old accountant living in Holladay, said he's discovered plenty of social networks to become involved in in Utah.

Wright is open to meeting people at the gym, workout classes, dance clubs, church, alumni events, the grocery store, the mall, even the gas station. For Wright, such arenas facilitate a social network of friends with different interests and strengths.

“You don't just spend your time with people exactly like you and only do the things you really like,” Wright said.

Being open and receptive can provide sometimes unexpected benefits.

“This network will be great for finding a job, learning about fun activities happening in your local area, introducing you to people to date, and will help you expand your interests,” Wright said.

Salt Lake resident Lacey Bruschke recognized a need for community when she started a downtown fitness studio called Dash in 2009.

"We believe in the power of many, versus one," Bruschke said. "That's why we opened a studio of group fitness classes, which cater to people looking to expand their social network."

Bruschke said being involved in a hobby shared with others can be good fuel for a social setting.

"There is a lot of connection when your dancing or running with someone," Bruschke said. "Entering that realm can open the door to an entire community of potential friends." 

And it doesn't stop there. Hiking, running, and professional networking are among the top social arenas in Salt Lake, according to Alex Finger, a Meetup community specialist, an online site that connects people with like interests through groups.

Among many sites and community hubs, Meetup is another resource working to revitalize local community and connect people by announcing gatherings.

"Everyone has a time in their life when they need to reach out to others," Finger said. 

Online networking

In today’s world, networking extends beyond physical interaction. Between February 2005 and August 2006, the use of social networking sites among U.S. young adult internet users ages 18 to 29 escalated from 9 percent to 49 percent, according to a 2012 Pew Research Center survey

It has since continued to rise steadily. By December 2012, 83 percent of young adults reportedly were using social networking sites.

When 27-year-old Petey Aldous moved from Provo to Salt Lake City in 2010, he had 2,000 Facebook friends, but knew nobody in his Salt Lake apartment complex.

He has since formed a strong social network.

“I still have lonely days and nights,” Aldous said. “But, as a rule, I do feel deeply connected wherever I go.”

For Aldous, online networking has been instrumental in catering to his social life.

“Facebook is a common way for me to find out about (social events), especially when the hosts aren't people I know well,” Aldous said.

But Facebook, Aldous says, is only useful as a catalyst to seeing people face-to-face.

“It's generally agreed that Facebook is for people one has met in person,” Aldous said. “If I met someone in a way that didn't give that person sufficient motivation to trust me, I'd rather meet in a public place so that that person could feel and be safe.”

Johnson agrees. Social networks such as Facebook are merely complements to the offline sphere.

“It’s an introduction point,” she said. “Real relationships happen offline. That’s where the true intimacy of any type of relationship happens.”

Maintaining ties

Today, Jacobs said she has many social ties in San Jose.

She joined a local gym and created a running blog, where she has since made many friends who share her interest in health and fitness.

“I became actively involved in places that cater to people of similar interests,” Jacobs said. “I started chatting with a girl who worked out on the elliptical next to me at the same time everyday, and we became such good friends that I later attended her wedding.”

For Jacobs, maintaining those ties is just as important. "With anything in life, being surrounded by people makes your life richer and better."

“It’s simple. If you want more love in your life, give it away,” Johnson said. “It’s not about finding someone, as much as opening yourself up to everyone.” 

E-mail: rlowry@deseretnews.com

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