I’m meeting someone new. Maybe this time it’s a friend of a friend or even that cute boy at the bar I’ve been making eyes at all night. It’s always the third question. Right after they ask my name and how I know our mutual friend, or if I live around here.
“So, what do you do?”
There it is, the question I always dread. Sometimes I feel the impulse to lie or tell a half truth, but I never do.
“Uhhh “¦ umm “¦ nothing,” I mumble, looking down so I don’t have to make eye contact as I say it. My stomach lurches as I say those ugly words, “I’m unemployed.”
Usually, I quickly launch into my explanation. I was a high school teacher last year. The district had budget cuts that resulted in them letting go most of their non-tenured staff. The whole state has been affected by budget cuts and other difficulties hurled at public schools thanks to our new governor’s vendetta against teachers and his clash with the union. Teaching jobs are impossible to find, especially for an English teacher who only has one year of experience. I swear I’m not some lazy couch potato! I have a college degree, and I just took the G.R.E.! I apply for jobs all the time!
Most of the time people are sympathetic, and say, “That sucks” or maybe they say, “Must be nice, wish I didn’t have to go to work everyday.” Usually they know someone who is in a similar position. But often there are two more questions that I hate answering. First, they ask, “How do you make ends meet?”
“Uhh, well, umm …. I live with my parents and I get unemployment money.”
Sexy, huh? Nothing hotter than a jobless bum who lives with her parents. I’m 24, by the way. Old enough that a bunch of my friends have moved out of their parents’ houses. Some are renting a place close to work and some of them are even buying homes with their significant others. Old enough to feel way too old to live with my parents, even though I do appreciate them giving me a place to live.
At this point I can feel the judgment, even if there is none. I imagine this person is totally repulsed by me. I imagine all the assumptions they are making about me, how they think I must be some lazy stupid spoiled piece of shit. I wonder if they think I was bad at my job. If they think my parents spoil and coddle me. I wonder if they’re judging the clothes I’m wearing, the drink I’m holding, anything that advertises that I still buy unnecessary things even though I have no job. I wonder if they think I’m unemployed on purpose, just taking the easy way out and living off unemployment for as long as I can.
Despite the paranoid rant that is that last paragraph, I’m not the type to constantly worry what others think of me. I grew up a huge nerd, spent plenty of time alone, and I was picked on plenty in elementary school. I’m used to students I taught hurling insults at me. I’m sure some people I know think I’m a vapid slut because of how I dress and act sometimes, and I give zero shits about that. I get “You’re wearing that out?!” from friends and family due to my love of loud patterns, cleavage, and wigs. When you’re a weirdo, you develop a thick skin out of necessity. But there is one thing I hate people seeing me as: someone who can’t take care of herself, someone dependent and needy.
Doing well at school/college/my job was always the top priority, something I consistently worked hard at. Then it was all gone. I somehow failed. I ended up with the life I had always tried to avoid. I hate it, then I feel guilty about hating it because so many people have it so much worse. At least I have a home and food and friends. But I’m jobless. I don’t earn anything.
The final question is the worst. This is the one that everyone asks people who are unemployed. “So, what do you do all day?” I never answer this one honestly, because my honest answer would be a real downer.
Sometimes I spend all day working on job applications or hunting for open spots. Sometimes I make various phone calls to try to find a volunteer position or a possible sub job. Sometimes I rifle through paperwork for unemployment and go on the website to get my money, pay my student loans, try to update my resume, check on my bank account, try to get a certificate processed that I’ve been calling the state for months about, and other stuff like that. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I do chores, run errands, and cook for my family. Sometimes I walk my dog for as long as I can. Sometimes I drive around just to get out of the house. Sometimes I watch TV or go online to distract myself from the crushing feeling of self-loathing. Sometimes I sleep all day. Sometimes I have a happy fun awesome time doing fun things because I don’t have a job and my life is one big party, but usually not.
So when someone asks, “What do you do all day?” I just smile and say, “Oh, you know, stuff,” and try to ask them a bunch of questions so the rest of the conversation is about them. Who knows, maybe I’ll accidentally stumble right into asking the question that makes them cringe.