I’ve started this post about 50 times. I’ve been reading posts about BlogHer all day long, and I’m having the hardest time addressing a huge issue — the swag and freebies that marketers sometimes throw the way of bloggers, particularly at a blogging conference. So I won’t, other than to say that, if you’re not blogging to share ideas and find a community — if you started a personal blog in the hopes of earning millions and getting free cameras or strollers or trips — you’re probably going to be disappointed, whether you’re a mommyblogger or something else.

I’m going to address something that impacted me, personally, far more and in a really positive way — the community I found at BlogHer.

Okay, so I’m not a mommyblogger for obvious reasons — I’m child-free. And, despite the fact that I write for a living, I’m not a terribly experienced blogger. I don’t have a huge following here on Jeez-o-petes, and that’s okay (although of course, it would be great to have more people here and more interaction, but that’s not why I do this). I’m in no way “blog famous.” And so, I was nervous — would people accept me into their groups? Would my online friends and coworkers still think I was funny in person, when I wasn’t hiding behind a keyboard and spending several minutes on my witty responses? Would the fact that I’m not the same age as most of them be an issue?

I shouldn’t have worried. I mean, yes, I had a few moments here and there of feeling like the new kid in the cafeteria. There were thousands of people there, and I was bound to lose track of the people I knew from time to time. And I dealt — when I felt too freaked out, I went for a run and came back refreshed. Or, I looked for someone with a similar look of panic and sat with them and made some wonderful contacts.

I was blown away at how willingly I was accepted into so many groups. I met, in person, folks I’ve known for a year or two, and pretty much all of them were exactly the way I’d imagined — funny, smart, and often with a drink in their hand. By the end of the weekend, I couldn’t believe we had all just met. And I definitely can’t believe I won’t see most of them for another year, at least.

And people I didn’t know before the conference were just as friendly and open. Many of them I was familiar with from reading their blogs, but they had no knowledge of me. It didn’t matter. We sat and talked and some of them stared at my cleavage (girls, if I find that bra for sale anywhere, I’ll let you know because trust me, it was all bra). We drank crazy amounts of wine, danced and laughed and took pictures, and ordered food really late at night as if we were freshmen in college. Only, when I was a freshman in college, it was a lot harder to make so many friends.

I get how the experience can be different and less positive for somebody who knew nobody coming into this. But as for me, it was nothing short of incredible. I networked without feeling like I was networking, I listened to people with an insane amount of experience, and I was inspired to be a better blogger. And maybe a better person, too.

Screw the swag. What I brought home was worth far more than you’re going to fit in a gift bag.