Like pregnancy, divorce and anal sex, unemployment is one of those things you can’t possibly understand until it happens to you. Whether you left your job voluntarily or not, you never know what to expect until you’re knee-deep in “I have absolutely nothing to do.” Every day feels like the last day of a too-long vacation—you’re eager to get back to something, anything.
Likewise, the people in your life may not know how to deal with your predicament. There’s a good reason for this: unemployed people don’t like to talk about being unemployed. It's hard enough to find someone to talk to between the wasteland hours of 8 am and 7 pm—when you do find someone, you don't want to spend that conversation dragging them down into the dark caverns that you now affectionately refer to as “life." Really, given the choice, you'd rather discuss the season premiere of "Treme."
But on behalf of the unemployed people who refuse to express themselves, I’m breaking the silence. So here is the deal: Life is not the same as it once was, and neither is our friendship. Here is how to maintain a relationship with your unemployed friend.
Stop calling it ‘funemployment.’
Coined by the unemployed masses, ‘funemployment’ was added to the lexicon when the recession hit in 2008. It makes unemployment sound young and sexy. Employed people? They want some of that. But you shouldn’t encourage the use of this word. ‘Funemployment’ is a myth; something unemployed people created as a coping mechanism. Unless eating a bag of Tostitos in one sitting and surfing craigslist for nine hours straight is your idea of fun, there’s not much enjoyment to be found in being idle all day. Unemployment is not Disney World. Dreams do not come true here.
Get them out of the house early on.
If your friend is newly unemployed, make sure they’re participating in some social interactions that do not involve clicking "like" buttons. It becomes hard to leave home when there is nothing (i.e., a JOB) forcing you to do so. Having no obligation to turn up anywhere is refreshing at first; but it quickly becomes the norm—and, perilously soon, it starts to feel like necessity. After a couple weeks at home, unemployed people may become anxious about having to perform the most mundane errands, like going to the deli or checking the mailbox. If you see a pattern forming, break it with haste.
Have fun when you go out together.
This is important. If you fail, you’ll be reinforcing the notion that there’s really no reason to leave the house, ever. Unemployed people are also likely to have a tighter-than-usual budget, so dropping coin on a mediocre outing can be disheartening. We carefully consider each and every social engagement we’re invited to; if we’re hanging with you, it means we think you know how to “make it count.” You may feel the pressure sometimes, employed friend. Sometimes taking care of us might feel like taking care of a depressed significant other or an ailing pet. Don’t fret—you don’t have to take us out for the time of our lives; we’re not terminal, we just want to laugh and forget about being unemployed for a few hours.
Try to think of them when opportunities come up.
If you find yourself in the position to get your friend work, recommend them. There is nothing unemployed people love more than the chance to work. Or really even just the prospect of the chance to work. You know how you come home from your job some days and think, “That was brutal, never want to do that again”? That frame of mind doesn’t exist when you’re unemployed. Every email notification is a beacon of hope. Even if the leads you share don't go anywhere, it gives your friend something to pay attention to. It’s like introducing your friend to your single cousin—it could come to fruition, or it could putter out after a few promising emails. But either way, your effort's appreciated.
Consider a barter system.
If you’re close friends with someone whose income is low or non-existent, it might be acceptable to barter with them. For example, they can help you paint your bedroom; and you can provide beer and pizza. Maybe they can run an errand for you in exchange for lunch. Pulling off a trade requires a strong friendship and a healthy sense of boundaries, though. Do not attempt a barter system if you feel that what you’re supplying is greater than what your friend is giving. Feel free to abstain from bartering if you think it’ll put the friendship at risk.
Avoid asking how their day went.
To each unemployed person their own, of course, but I would just as soon you skip the question. Why? Because if something exciting happened, I’ll tell you the second I see you. I might even call you before I see you! That’s how exciting good news (or any news) can be. But if I haven’t said anything about my day, it’s probably because… well, nothing happened. Just like yesterday and the day before that. Sigh. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? Feel free to ask me how I am, though. That’s perfectly okay.
Don’t take it out on them when you’ve had a bad day.
It’s easy to resent the person who didn’t have to deal with incompetent co-workers and stressful clients all day. You're hard at work and what's your friend doing? Hanging out at home, watching TV—maybe even napping! The unemployed lifestyle can look pretty alluring from a distance. But when you’re recounting your Work Day From Hell, bear in mind that your unemployed friend is not your enemy. Saying something like “Sorry, I worked all week” (with the implied “and you didn’t”) is unnecessary. Unless Will Smith hopped into the Delorean, went back in time to 1997/2002, hit the sets of Men in Black/Men in Black II, and used a Neuralyzer on your friend, guess what? They remember what it was like to be employed! They know it sucks. They’ve been bored and alone all day. All they want is to hear about your life—hold the vinegar, please! Just remember, likelihood that they spent the day at the beach, started drinking at 9 AM, or threw a BBQ for all of their ‘funemployed’ friends while you were slaving away at the office? Tiny.
Don’t shrug off their weird habits.
If you see your friend exhibiting odd behaviors that didn’t exist prior to unemployment, call them out on it. Give them the proverbial slap on the wrist. I’ve caught myself opening anywhere between seven to 13 browser windows and manically tabbing through each of them, over and over. I’ve also found myself literally LOLing (yes, LOL is a real thing, it happens when your sole interactions with the world transpire via the Internet). Do not let this behavior flourish. They will thank you later.
Keep in touch during the day.
It doesn’t have to be excessive. Just throw them on an email thread or send them a link to something they'd find interesting. Maybe even forward them "classified" emails from work that illustrate how B-O-R-I-N-G the 9-to-5 is. “Just got an email from HR about keeping the office kitchen clean—again! I bet you’re at home doing something really creative or on the verge of doing so! Miss you!” Forward. That’s all.
Staying in touch with your unemployed friends as they feel their way toward the next phase of their life is integral to helping them avoid depression and a life of Two and a Half Men reruns. Be supportive, be a pal, be grateful it’s not you.
Stephanie Georgopulos is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, NY who's been featured on Thought Catalog, The Next Web, Gizmodo, and more. You can find her clippings at OMGSTEPHLOL.COM.
Photo by kodumut, from Flickr.