I’m bitterly jealous of my unemployed boyfriend. Since his layoff in October, he has spent most of his time at the computer in our spare bedroom finishing two books he's "been meaning to write." During the toughest economic times in nearly a century, the hard working man I love has become a dreamy-eyed optimist. He’s decided now is the time to pursue his wildest fantasies: to start his own website, write an Orwellian novella, a self-help book, and later, open an ice cream shop. He’s crafting inventions to sell on QVC. He said to me recently, “I’m done working for someone else. From now on, I want to live creatively.”
I hope he didn’t see me cringe.
Every morning when I leave for work and my boyfriend walks me to the car, kisses me good-bye and heads back upstairs in his pajamas.
While he’s “creatively” living out his severance, me—the writer—I'm shuttling between two jobs and taking graduate courses. Four days a week I drive an hour to work as “office bitch” for a realtor. I’m the biller, filer, contract processor, commission tracker, personal assistant, phone operator-turned-shopper come Christmastime, when you’ll find me on the office floor wrapping gifts I bought for my boss’s bratty kids. This might be slightly less humiliating if I didn’t have an Ivy League degree. Then it’s off to Job #2, trying to teach Writing & Rhetoric to apathetic college freshmen at a diploma mill some call a university. Then, classes at night to complete my MFA.
My boyfriend’s a doctor. He spent the last eight years working as a TV health reporter. Now, he has stolen my identity. I’m the writer. I’m the artist. I’m the woman. If anyone should be staying home to create, it’s me. And while I realize being laid off is a blow to his ego, I can’t be sensitive or supportive when I’m so resentful. I hate my jobs. But the admin job is money; if I quit it, I’m broke. Teaching means free tuition. Quitting that means giving up my stipend, paying for classes, and I'd be broke anyway. So every morning when I leave for work and my boyfriend walks me to the car, kisses me good-bye and heads back upstairs in his pajamas, I want to cry, scream, keep driving and never come back. I spend the whole commute plotting my escape, thinking up a new “deadline” I’ll give the relationship before I walk.
When the layoff happened I did what any loving girlfriend would. I assured him everything would be OK, that this was in no way reflective of him as a person. Besides, his station had been hemorrhaging employees for months and the anxiety had given the poor guy night sweats that soaked our bed sheets. At least that dread was over. “Worse case scenario, you go back to practicing,” I’d said. “You’re highly employable.”
Three months later, the prognosis is grim. There’s a hiring freeze in TV news and his medical license was denied because he hasn’t practiced in eight years. My optimism from a few months back has devolved into a cynical sense of doom and paranoia. I once envied his MD, his local celebrity. I wonder whether the whole time he was jealous of my terminal liberal arts degrees, my lack of ambition. I’ve heard his horror stories of managed healthcare and I know he does not want to practice. Medicine was always his back-up. Is this the man I fell in love with?
His big ideas attracted me to him. That, and his sensibility: gainful employment coupled with a modest lifestyle—a Jeep Liberty, no bad habits, an apartment filled with books. The employment gone, we’re left with the Jeep and books, and now big dreams have become his vices. He used to joke, “some people live their dreams, I’m living my delusions.” I’ve stopped laughing.
This man stuck with me through three years of long distance while I went off to school in New York. He’s kind, patient, loving. In fairness, he has spent much time, energy and money in trying to get licensed. If the tables were turned, he wouldn’t resent taking care of me. I know because for the past year, I’ve been living in his apartment rent-free. Now that it’s my turn to support us financially, I’ve developed a 1950’s mentality. This recession must be making us crazy, reversing our reasoning so that my rational, dependable boyfriend is living like he just read The Secret and I envy his unemployment.
I feel like the world’s worst girlfriend, totally selfish and critical. But what about what I want? A house, kids. We’ve been together six years. This year I’ll be 31 and he’ll be 40. Suddenly everything I want is moving farther away.
This ugliness is not lost on me. I know I should be thankful to even have a job, let alone two, that there are people out there worse off—people with mortgages, kids to feed, and diminishing retirement accounts. For once, I should be glad to not “have” anything. When I vent my frustrations to girlfriends, I feel like I’m betraying the man I love, and myself. After all, this is not the inspirational “despite hard times” talk people want to hear during economic crises.
I hope our relationship makes it through this recession. I wonder how many won’t. My boyfriend’s layoff has stirred up scary notions about love— that it really might be conditional and that the conditions are not always pretty. Of course if his QVC product takes off, I’ll happily recant all of this. But right now, I’ve never had more night sweats.
Esther Martinez is a contributing editor for The Florida Book Review. She is working on a memoir and completing her MFA in nonfiction writing. She lives in Miami, Florida.