A few years ago a college friend introduced me to a childhood acquaintance. We all went out for Korean barbecue, talked about movies and had a good time. "Emily seems nice," I commented to my friend as we got on the subway. There was a silence. "She's going to try to annex you," said my friend grimly. "Just be aware." Sure enough, the next day I got a call from Emily suggesting we hang out, just the two of us. Apparently she had a history of this - what LifeWire writer Sarah Jio identifies as "social poaching — when a friend or acquaintance mines your social network, without permission, for friends or romantic partners."The invitations began to flow: concerts, dinner parties, gallery exhibits - none of them involving my friend, of course. It made me uncomfortable. I don't know if Emily just didn't want to put in the sourcing work, whether she trusted her friends' judgment more than her own or whether she just needed the validation of making their friends hers, but I would come to learn that this charming and seemingly innocuous young woman was a blatant snatcher - befriending, inviting, and dating her friend's friends until the webs were complex and uncomfortable. "Social Poaching" seems to fall under the category of "human behavior that sociologists really don't need to waste their time on" but that said, it is a phenomenon that most of us have probably encountered in some form. The article goes on to relate numerous anecdotal accounts of social poaching and the ensuing heartbreak and fallout, of "hurt feelings and broken friendships." I am of the school who keeps her circles separate for the most part, if only because they are so wildly disparate. But some people even go so far as to "intentionally avoid introducing their friends to each other because they like to keep their relationships separate."' Okay, but what's the difference between just meeting someone through a friend and the sinister "social poaching" phenomenon? After all, when you trace the histories of most relationships, there's a middle man involved. Perhaps the difference comes in the sense of purpose, and the deliberate bypassing of the mutual friend. A social poacher, presumably, wants the new friend for himself, to somehow usurp the original friend's position. There's also the sense that such a person wants to bypass the normal process of getting to know one another and be instant friends right now. Luckily for you, Jio goes on to present the guidelines for "ethical poaching" - otherwise knows as making a friend. "Thinking about poaching?" the article asks. "Experts chart the path of crossing a friendship boundary." The rules, by the way, include honesty, inclusion and being "prepared for hurt feelings." In other words, not being creepy or psychotic. Like many "phenomena" this seems to fall into the trap of overthinking basic human stuff that's always gone on. But it can't be denied that social poaching is probably facilitated by modern life. The article mentions social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook as facilitators, and certainly these things allow people to pursue the most tangential of relationships with a new impunity. But even more than this, it seems like the fractured nature of people's lives, especially in urban centers, leads to a natural segregation of social circles that makes this kind of crossover more dramatic and, potentially, more hurtful. What the article doesn't mention is that sometimes social poachers, in their naked avidity, are simply off-putting. Take Emily, the pseudonym with whom I started this. Her pursuit wasn't flattering; it felt indiscriminate and overly intense and I really just wanted to avoid her without being rude to our mutual friend (another tricky element.) People will always be strange; sociologists will always waste time coming up with names for the things we do and articles like this will pretend that people have no common sense. But you don't need a neologism to know when to back away, slowly, and go on with your life. When 'social poachers' snatch your friends [CNN] Related: What's Wrong With Having Frenemies?
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