When You’re Unemployed
by Jessica Goldstein
The first thing to go is the caring. You used to care so hard about everything. You cared about what other people thought of you, and you cared about your resume, and you cared about your health and your apartment and your future. But now it feels like the person who cared about those things was some other person. You didn’t realize that caring was like gasoline, that you could empty the tank and, without the positive reinforcement something like employment provides, be unable to refill it. You are all out of caring.
You have replaced caring with a new feeling. That fuck everyone feeling. Everything is horrible. Your metaphorical morphine drip keeping the pain at bay is the mantra playing on a loop inside your head: fuck everyone.
What happens is you are called into a manager’s office to discuss your “job/future” and this is the meeting in which you are let go. You think it was sort of misleading of your higher-ups to claim this meeting was about your “job/future,” which is technically true but only insofar as you no longer have either.
You take about a week to just wallow in it. Everyone you know goes to work that first Monday and you feel so alone. Then you remember: you are not alone. You have Netflix. You become one of those people who can’t believe that no one is watching Top of the Lake. True Detective is nothing compared to Top of the Lake; can no one else see this but you? People tell you they don’t have the time. You feel superior to these dead-eyed office drones. You tell yourself: it is their lives that are empty and purposeless. Your life is filled with Netflix.
You can only wallow for so long, though. You see this now. You’re told that it’s important to have a routine. You also quickly realize that you may as well minimize laundry so long as you’re going to be down on your luck. You develop a routine: changing out of sleeping leggings and into daytime leggings.
You never know what day it is. For the first time since maybe middle school, you watch television shows on the actual nights they air, during their real timeslots, and this is the only way you can figure out the date anymore. You use TV the way early Romans used sundials.
You are surprised to find you miss the mundane aspects of office culture: mindless chatter about the weather, awkward elevator silences, the cookies you get to eat whenever someone on your floor has a birthday. You realize all things that seem permanent, the ever-reliable landscape of your life, can go away at any moment. Just like that. Like blowing out a candle.
You apply for unemployment. The unemployment website is depressing, like the DMV of websites: just being there makes you feel like a failure. Also, it’s confusing!
Also, it appears you are ineligible for unemployment.
Social media is the enemy. Facebook keeps prompting you to “complete your profile” by asking you point-blank: “Where do you work?” And it lists all these options where “33 of your friends work,” and at the bottom of the list is the option, “I don’t have a job right now.” You mentally send Zuckerberg to hell, in a hoodiebasket.
You remember being told by HR that this situation “isn’t personal.” “It’s not personal” is to a layoff what “Mom and Dad still love you very much” is to a divorce. And it isn’t personal to anyone, that is, except you, because you are the one who wakes up every morning, stares at the ceiling, and asks yourself: “Wait, are both my sleeping leggings and my daytime leggings in the laundry?”
Everyone will say totally tone-deaf things about how “jealous” they are that you have “so much free time.” “You’re so lucky” that you can go to the grocery store when there are no lines, or work out in the middle of the day, or just make phone calls while painting your nails and reading novels like some kind of devil-may-care freedom-haver. In reality, you have never been less free, and you are developing carpel tunnel from hitting refresh over and over again on your email and your industry’s job-posting site. You remember what Jack Donaghy said about someone on LinkedIn — “He might as well be dead!” — and feel pathetic for how much it disturbs you to disappoint a person who is not real.
It doesn’t take long before someone compares your life to Girls. You can see the sentence forming in this person’s head and you want to slo-mo jump in front of them like noooooo but it is too late: “You probably hear this all the time, but you are so living Hannah Horvath’s life right now.” You want to tell them that Girls is a show about sociopaths. You want to point out that Girls hasn’t even made it clear whether or not Hannah is talented. Instead you just say, “That’s weird, no one’s ever said that to me before.”
When someone from the job-having world so much as tips a hat in your direction, you express the wild, unhinged gratitude you feel is required. If they spare you twenty minutes at a Starbucks you become Leo-left-you-the-board-so-you-could-live-while-he-drowned grateful. This is exhausting for everyone involved.
You write dozens of variations on the same cover letter. You dream of a fantasyland where no one will ever, ever tell you to “stay in touch” or “keep an ear to the ground.” You do not want to “circle back.” You wonder if people will just start saying office words at you: “stapler,” “Post-It notes,” “cubicle.”
You are sick of the compliment-caveat structure that seems to be the go-to format for rejection these days: “We think you’re so talented, but…” “You are incredibly smart, it’s just that…” “You’re amazing, except…” There is a part of you that wishes these employers would just straight-up tell you that you suck, or are worthless, or that they hate you. And then there is a part of you that clings to the tiny glimmer of encouragement in every crushing email, for lack of anything shinier to grasp.
You have forgotten how to not wear leggings. What are jeans, even? Do dresses exist?
Has everything always been this expensive? You used to eat salads. Now you know better. Salads are always the most expensive thing on the menu from a food-quantity-to-cost-ratio perspective. You could get so much more food by ordering a sandwich. The salad industry is a scam.
Speaking of scams: gym memberships, Comcast, college alumni gatherings with “open bars” for which you are charged a $15 cover.
You tell yourself unemployment is a crucial phase, because your inevitable success can only be celebrated by the masses if you walk across the fiery coals of failure first. You are J.K. Rowling on welfare. You are Beyoncé in Girls Tyme, losing on Star Search to Skeleton Crew. You are part of a grand tradition of the someday-successful. In the not-too-distant future, you will describe this time in your life in an interview, nostalgic and empathetic for your former, failing self. “I just want to go back in time and give that kid a hug,” you’ll say, a knowing, wistful smile on your face. “She was so hard on herself.”
You get a job. It seems impossible until it isn’t. You don’t stay unemployed every day until you die.
It only takes you three weeks before you start wearing leggings to work.
Photo via snapsi42/flickr.
Jessica Goldstein is the Culture Editor of ThinkProgress. She also writes for Vulture. There is a 78% chance that she is wearing leggings right now.