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Not so social Sarasota

The following column originally appeared in print in 2007, and it brought a plethora of responses from readers. I actually ended up meeting some pretty wonderful people over the ensuing months — a group of wonderful women who’d read the column and invited me to join their book club, and a heavy-hitting businessman who invited me to lunch to talk — really talk — about the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful in Sarasota and beyond.

I received a fair amount of criticism to the column as well, but for the most part, Sarasotans said “Hey — we’re not that bad!”

The funniest part though was when the column was given proof positive by a well-known, local, late twenty-something Sarasotan who’d read it and wrote to me telling me “You’ve got it all wrong — there are people in this town who care nothing about all those superficial things. Let me prove it to you by inviting you to a dinner party to meet the “real Sarasota.” I said I’d be honored to attend as long as he didn’t mind that while I couldn’t claim to be wiser, I was fairly certain I was older than the crowd with which he typically dined.

The dinner invite dematerialized faster than I could sneeze. And I doubt the lad ever picked up on the irony.

To be fair, in the past year, I’ve begun to find some pockets of class — the real kind of class that simply emphasizes good manners, common decency, and a profound rather than superficial sense of community. And I’m grateful for those pockets, those people.

But overall, in Sarasota, despite the ravages wrought by the economic discombobulation, despite the Nadels, and the real estate free for all … things like age, money, who you can say you know, where you went to school, who your spouse is, whether you live west of the Trail or not, and those ever-increasing society pages … all still carry an unfortunate and slightly obscene amount of weight.

Sarasota’s Not So Social

Am I the only person who has trouble carving out a social life in Sarasota? Am I the only one whose phone never rings unless it’s the Florida Highway Patrol dialing for dollars?

Do people in Sarasota know how to make friends? I mean the stop by for dessert, meet the wife or husband, come over for a barbeque kind of friendship that has no goal beyond getting to know someone better? I’ve lived here three years and though I have acquaintances, some closer than others, get-togethers are infrequent, held almost exclusively at restaurants, and arranged strictly via email, never by phone.

Acquaintance or friend, email or phone, what about simple social politesse?

I’ve extended invitations to dozens of Sarasotans — for walks on the beach, games of chess, lunch, martinis, s’mores … whatever. And by and large, if I’m not exactly persona non grata, you could certainly call me persona let’s ignora.

Many folks, if they haven’t outright ignored my overtures, have made an art form out of saying, “Yes, we must get together! I’ll be in touch after my trip to Rome,” or “after things quiet down.” That’s Sarasota-speak for: “Yeah, I’ll be in touch … when hell freezes over!”

Some people genuinely want to get together, I’m sure, but it might be easier getting in to meet the Pope than breaking into the hyper-scheduled lives of most Sarasotans.

Is it me? My politics or age? Is it about money? Or does my singleton status make me a pariah in a town of mostly marrieds?

I could go to any of the ubiquitous “networking” gatherings that Sarasotans flock to, but I’m old-fashioned enough to prefer a quiet one-on-one with an editor or prospective client over a massive network of people who air-kiss twice a year in the hopes that others will buy whatever they’re selling. That may be bad business on my part, but this column is about social interaction, not how-to-make-money interaction, and there’s a difference, or at least there should be.

Does everyone in this town have such richly populated social, emotional and intellectual spheres that they have no interest in a new face and mind to round out the occasional dinner party? Is anyone even having dinner parties?

Perhaps Sarasotans prefer chatting over cocktails at a charity cash-raiser to a night at home debating politics with a few friends, a good Camembert, and a bottle (or two) of red? Or perhaps Sarasotans just don’t like to socialize unless there’s a society-page photog nearby to document their Cultural Coast-er selves in action?

I don’t know. But I do know I’m not the only relative newcomer who feels that Sarasota is a tough place to form even casual friendships. Acquaintances are a dime a dozen here, but real friendship? I don’t see much evidence of it anywhere.

Posted on February 2nd, 2009Comments RSS Feed

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