Corporate Breakups: It’s Not You, It’s Us

When I was laid off two weeks ago, it felt like I’d been dumped. Dumped by a boyfriend who wouldn’t answer my calls or ask if I was doing okay. I was straight-up kicked to the curb with a purse full of coins and a note that said: “Better luck in your next relationship.” 

I learned it was over by reading the news online; it had the subtlety of a status change from “In a Relationship” to “Single,” without a word to me about it. And as I spend each day after “the breakup” in my bed applying to other jobs, browsing the Internet, and staring at my thighs, I keep wondering what I should do next. 

Obviously, I should look for another job. 

Perhaps this time around, I’ll find one that is more creatively fulfilling and that pays more than my wallet-robbing DC rent. Metaphorically, I could become the lover of a creative type–one with a sense of humor and a solid job in web design–instead of dating another fun-loving frat star. But the thought of someone new, someone different, doesn’t make it hurt any less. I loved my job. 

I was laid off after almost a year and half of service which, in the grand scheme of a lifetime, is not that long. But in relationship terms, I’d call it substantial. By dating standards, a year and some change is certainly long enough to be completely dedicated, loyal, and happy. It’d make sense for me to feel a bit cheated after the layoff, even if it wasn’t personal; even if it was just the name of the game. 

Experience aside, it seems as if I’ve time-traveled back to square one: updating resumes, drafting cover letters, and–fingers crossed–interviewing. It’s like the lightning round of a speed-dating session that I didn’t know my friends had signed me up for. Yet here I am–young, single, and jobless in our nation’s capitol. Interesting.   

DC society’s reception of the single and/or jobless is blanketly neither positive nor negative. It is, however, awkward, irritating, and ridiculous. You can’t walk into a bar in Washington (or Arlington, for that matter) without the words “what do you do?” flying out of the mouths of everyone you talk to. And whether or not that person continues speaking with you hangs completely on your response. 

The worst part is, if you want to meet people, you have to go to these happy hours. You simply must mix and mingle or forever resign yourself to dating your cousin’s friend from Baltimore. The fact is, unless you join a kickball league (which still involves boozing at bars) or belong to a bible group, you’re not meeting Jack Diddley, the consultant/fireman/poet unless you go to a bar after work. 

What’s worse is having these conversations, or rather two-second chats, when you’re unemployed. When What do you do? meets I was just laid off or I’m unemployed, the moment becomes tense in a matter of seconds. “How could this 20-something, seemingly smart, middle-classy girl not be employed?” the asker wonders. 

How do I know? Because I’ve been there. I’ve seen it on their faces. I’ve had this moment: The moment when all of your life’s accomplishments, both work and otherwise, get disregarded in exchange for bottomless black depth in the eyes of a person who feels bad for you. “Ah man, that sucks. Gonna head to the bathroom and then grab a beer. It was nice meeting you.” And off they go.

I’ve experienced a lot of sympathy from females when the topic of my unemployment comes up; an endless supply of, “Aw, honey that’s terrible.” And just as I’d rather listen to donkeys mating than have a stranger feel sorry for me over a breakup, I’d prefer a colonic to spending another moment letting some political science major from GMU throw me a pity party.   

I can only speak for the young people of Washington as a young person living in Washington, but I think the awkwardness and shame I’m meant to feel about having been laid off comes from DC’s workoholic culture. If you’re not working, then what are you doing? 

Just as the topic of being unemployed makes people cringe, so does addressing the fact that we work ourselves to death for a paycheck that goes toward taxes, organic groceries that taste like gerbil food, and gifts meant to replace the time we can’t spend with our families. We can’t admit to ourselves that maybe going to work in the freezing cold at 9 a.m., only to stare at a computer all day, pack up at 6 p.m., and head out into a dark and dreary city with a neck cramp isn’t healthy. 

But it’s difficult to make the choice to leave a steady job. Just as it’s hard to break up with someone when you’re in a routine together. It feels comfortable and safe. You know in your heart you two aren’t meant to be together but, for the time being, it’s okay. Then, one day, your boyfriend invites you to a surprise lunch, where he looks at you with pity, pretending like he hates himself, and says, “I’m sorry, but it’s over. We’ve had a good run, but it’s just not right anymore. “

You cry because you’re shocked, but with shaking hands, you fold your napkin, place it on your plate, and smile at him. And as you walk away, scared to death of not knowing what will happen next, you’re the most excited you’ve ever been. 

Liz Monahan is a writer, blogger, and member of the sketch-comedy group The Boys from Corporate, who’s currently hunting for more writing opportunities from her home in Cleveland Park.