My wife Terri has been unemployed since the end of October 2004. Since the last two months of 2004 we’ve been living our regular lifestyle, thanks to her generous severance pay. So there were no worries about having a nice Christmas. Terri occasionally looked at the employment ads but for the most part didn’t bother to apply for any jobs. She didn’t want to have a job right away anyhow, since she had to purge the stress and bad karma of her last job from her system. She also figured, rightly I think, that it didn’t make much sense to look for a job in her field (information technology) that time of year anyhow. The want ads, even for tech jobs in our area awash with them, were thin.
Even if she had gotten no severance pay there was still no compelling reason for her to rush out and get another job. My income can now carry us through. Clearly our lifestyle would’t be quite as lavish. We’d eventually cut out some things, like our lavish vacations these last few years. I’d probably cut my own lawn again. We might slow or stop some charitable contributions. We’d eat out less. We’d be more likely to rent DVDs than go to the theater. But we’d get by. We would not starve. The bills would get paid. We’d still live comfortably in our house.
For me work is necessary. I am the breadwinner. But for the first time in my wife’s life working for money is wholly optional. And this seems to be freaking her out. She grew up in a single parent household that could only charitably be called a lower middle class. Her existence has always been defined by need. To get things she wanted she has had to work, and work hard. But no longer.
So she’s lost. And she’s been slacking off a lot. It’s what she has always done at the end of a hard day of work. It’s her form of recreation and her response to working hard the rest of the day. The work is gone but the slacking off isn’t. Now it is almost a 24/7 occupation. She is sort of lost in this new surreal world. She is like a boat in the middle of the ocean with a set of oars but no compass. She has no idea where to go. Rather than pick up her oars and head off in a random direction instead she doesn’t pick up the oars at all. Maybe she paddles a bit. For example she fixes a computer for a friend or a family member. She cleans house when she can summon the energy, which is not often because I don’t get on her case about it. She meets friends for lunch on occasion. But mostly vegetating has become her new lifestyle. She sleeps in late and goes to bed after midnight. Her days are largely spent listlessly online or playing the same games over and over again on her computer.
Oh the things she could do. She could volunteer at the school. They always need volunteers. She could give blood. The blood bank is always sending her cards because she’s O- and in big demand. She could do volunteer work. But she doesn’t want to do any of these things. She’s into doing not much of anything.
I’d like to lie and tell her that she needs to get a job immediately. She’d actually like me to tell her this. Then she would have a mission. I’d be pushing her motivation button. Out would go the resumes. She’d be calling recruiters and visiting employment agencies. But I don’t push her. I guess if I had my druthers she might have a part time job. Maybe she’d work twenty hours a week. This would give us most of the luxuries we took for granted before she lost her job, such as vacations in Hawaii. I’d encourage her to use the rest of the time to do those things she’s said she always wanted to do. I know she wants to be published professionally. She still writes but there are long periods of writer’s block. She feels too intimated at the moment submit her work to a publisher.
How odd this seems to me. The world could be her oyster. She has more options than she has ever had in her whole life. She could use this time to launch a computer repair business, something she’s discussed. She could perhaps take up teaching. She could write that first novel and market it. These are all things she has said she wanted to do. What is missing is the ignition switch. She can’t turn on that part of her brain that turns these things into a reality. She only knows this pattern that when she is not on the job that she does her regular chores and gets to goof off. So that’s largely what she does. It’s not really comfortable to her. In fact she seems to hate this new place she is in. But at least it is familiar.
She hasn’t been a total slacker though. She took care of Christmas this year. This was really nice and the best present she could give me. In past years I have done most of this legwork. I had a part time teaching job (which I don’t need and do because I enjoy it) and that kept me fully engaged until a week before Christmas. I was glad she could pick up the slack.
And for about a week there she got on a cleaning spree. She made wonderful meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Since my parents now live 35 miles away instead of 600 miles away she is often visiting them. While there she talks a lot with my Mom and helps my Dad with his latest computer problems. In a way I’m jealous that she has more time to spend with them than I do.
But that was then. Now the holidays are over. The obligations are behind her. And she still doesn’t know what she wants to do. Structure is what she has always known. But someone or something else has dictated her structure. That was the familiar pattern of her life. No longer.
She is getting advice to get a job, not because we require the money, but simply because having structure in her life keeps her happy. With structure she will get up in the morning and tackle each day again. Or will she? I wonder. I think she probably would be happier, at least initially, in a 9-5 job again. She could gripe about her coworkers and dysfunctional bosses again. I could get these evening calls from her at work again saying she had to stay late to reboot a server or to finish troubleshooting a computer repair problem. But I suspect on some level she would not get quite the same joy from work again simply because work is now optional.
We seem to have arrived at the end of struggle. And yet struggle is the only pattern she has known. It seems so very odd that she is at this phase in her life that should be nirvana, and it feels nerve wracking and she feels so dysfunctional.
Yes, I wish she would get a job. It’s not because we desperately need the money but so that I could have her back to “normal” again. Too much freedom and too much choice is apparently is not necessarily a good thing.