Monday, April 25th, 2011

Understanding Your Unemployed Friend

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.

23 Comments / Post A Comment

wallsdonotfall (#6,378)

The best way to forward job leads is to print out the search, circle the relevant posts with red pen, and then mail them to your friend. Thanks, Gran!

laurel (#4,035)

Perhaps you'd like to work for the Navy!

Harry Cheadle (#6,316)

I know this is the wrong thing, but going out with unemployed people is a drag. They have to leave after two drinks (unless you buy their drinks for them, which makes everyone feel bad) and if you want to do something that costs money, they have to awkwardly back out because they can't afford it. Maybe the employed should invite the unemployed to their homes and drink there–it'll feel like an outing for the UNs, and it's cheap.

Funnily enough, this does look exactly like a Thought Catalog article.

obomobo (#2,490)

The best thing I did for myself when I was unemployed was go to the gym every single day. It's fairly stress free, it gets you out of the house, it forces you to not be alone all day, you have free reign over an empty gym, and you end up getting in shape. Without it, I probably would have gone crazy.

amuselouche (#448)

@obomobo Yeah – as a current unemployed, volunteering and a shit ton (I think this is the correct Sanskrit term, yes?) of work-study yoga has been crucial to retaining the few shreds of sanity I had to begin with. Yoga gets me in shape and somewhat centered and volunteering helps put my White Whine of a life into perspective. Both also stop me from watching the entire series run of All Creatures Great and Small on netflix instant. Again.

GailPink (#9,712)

Also, unemployed people do not like to be asked if they're looking for work, or what they're doing about finding work, or so I am told.

Don Is (#10,212)

Stop asking me "Are you drinking already?"

Keith Kisser (#9,714)

I'm going to be unemployed soon (end of contract work with no other position lined up yet) and I'm looking forward to it. I'll have time to finish my novel, get some exercise and do some nice out door-type summer activities. You notice, I'm already planning to keep myself busy and active though.

A friend of mine was unemployed for two years and became one of those weirdo shut ins, where his schedule dissolved into indiscriminate periods of sleep and wakefulness. He lost track of time. Would call us at 2 am because he forgot other poeple didn't stay up until whenever the hell they felt like because they had to be somewhere the next morning.

Baboleen (#1,430)

I have a friend who has been seasonaby employed for about 2 years now. He is currenly in his 6th month of collecting unemployment . When he was told of a full-time job opportunity, he turned it down, because he said, among other things, that it would effect his gym/workout schedule. He used to be a very productive person in the workplace. It seems his mentality has changed. He actually thinks that he is entitled to this way of life. I don't think he is alone.

amuselouche (#448)

@Baboleen Yup! Collecting unemployment is sweeeet! I just sit up in here in my golden castle, shining my tiaras and letting those big $$$ checks just roll on in. Why would I ever want to be a productive member of society/wear big girl pants to work again?

Nick Douglas (#7,095)

@amuselouche Your sarcasm doesn't serve as actual evidence for an argument.

Also, my unemployed friend drives me nuts, because he votes against the very checks he's happily cashing (and takes extra pains to make sure keep coming).

That said, the dude's also applied for every job he could find over the last two years, and he's on his way to being fully employed.

amuselouche (#448)

@Nick Douglas Uh, it wasn't meant to serve as evidence for anything? Just a response to a somewhat obnoxious generalization based on an irrelevantly specific example (which itself fails to serve as evidence of anything besides the fact that sometimes people know other people who can be kind of annoying). Trust me, if I had opted for sincerity over sarcasm, my response would have been a lot meaner.

Kim L@twitter (#11,428)

Unless you want to come across as a complete dick, don't give unsolicited job-finding advice if you've never been unemployed yourself.

bb (#295)

@Kim L@twitter Wouldn't it be better to get advice on how to get a job from someone who has one than who doesn't? But I guess the unsolicited part might be the main problem.

Matt (#26)

Hey, I'm an employed person who sometimes *literally laughs out loud*, maybe you just need to get on better backchannels?

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

I think your friend that you describe with so much disdain is precisely alone. Everyone's situation is different. My friends who are unemployed are talented, hard-working, and have good resumes. I haven't asked if they collect unemployment or get checks from their mommy or whatever because I don't really care as long as they can afford some drinks and they seem afloat.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@whizzard that's @Baboleen.

Anarcissie (#3,748)

I think it's sad that so many people are hooked on employment. Maybe a 12-step program is needed.

Gobo (#11,551)

I am recently unemployed, though I have been unemployed before. I have worked 8 different jobs in the past year trying to make ends meet, and my most regular gig (30 hours a week for the past 10 months) laid me off. I have a bachelor's degree, five years of good references, and a wide variety of skills. I spend 5-6 hours on craigslist a day, and I have sent off 3 or 4 cover letters and resumes every single day for the past 3 months.

The worst thing someone can say to me is "keep looking" or "look harder." Not having a job consumes my mind and my life, and sometimes I just need to forget about the fact that I'm a step away from being homeless and starving.

Thanks for writing this article.

This is not a very helpful article IMO, especially for those who have been in the workforce for 10+ years. I've written a response to each point here:

col54red (#11,586)

i like the picture in this article…. LOL…

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