I'm seeing sides of him I never knew existed, and I like it.
According to a recent study, seventy-five percent of women wouldn't go on a date with an unemployed man. Reading this gave me pause, since my boyfriend of six months recently got laid off. If we'd met now, would I consider dating him? I hope the answer would be yes, but I can't say for sure. But I've found a silver lining; his joblessness has taught me things about him I never would have known.
Let me be clear: I wouldn't wish unemployment on anyone. It's challenging and demoralizing, and unless you're independently wealthy, it means cutting back. On the other hand, one thing it immediately gives you is more time together. Instead of rushing off to work at eight each morning, my boyfriend can spend the day with me, him job-searching, me writing. He can spontaneously offer to drive me six hours to Virginia for a trip I'd planned to make by bus. The downside is it's hard to appreciate that time when so much uncertainty comes with it.
His unemployment has also brought us closer together by forcing us to talk about issues that had previously been off the table, like housing and money. I wouldn't have dreamt of asking how much money he made, but I found out when I overheard a conversation with a recruiter, and was impressed — it was more than I'd thought he'd been making. I haven't listened to all his calls, but sometimes I'm around when they come in, and hearing him in a professional mode has given me a newfound respect for him. With me, he's silly and playful most of the time, calling me a "burrito" because I sleep with the covers wound so tightly. But his business side was proud, knowledgeable, and insightful. He clearly knows what he's talking about, and that confidence was, frankly, sexy. The more I heard, the more I was convinced I'd hire him.
The day my boyfriend got laid off, he ended up in an almost chipper mood. I was worried, since it felt unexpected to me, but he assured me that it wasn't the time to mope. When I said I loved him, in a tone that contained a silent "no matter what," he admonished me. "Don't say that," he replied, not wanting my pity. Figuring out how and when to approach the topic has been a challenge in our relationship. I've looked for jobs for him online, but I'm not entirely sure if that's helpful or feels infantilizing. Still, I want to support him in any way I can.
Which brings me to that study and why it annoyed me. I've never been the type of woman who expected a man to support me; maybe that's because I was raised by a single mom, where alimony was iffy. One of my best friends once accused me of being low-maintenance after I went to Teriyaki Boy (a sushi fast food place) on a date. But I don't consider that a bad thing. I don't think you need a lot of money to have fun dating. I also know that if someone were judging me based on how much money I make, I probably wouldn't pass their test.
NEXT: "The most humbling aspect of his unemployment is precisely that there's little I can do about it…"
My boyfriend pampering me or taking me out to dinner is less important to me than him having a job to anchor his life, to give him — and us — the stability we need. As we wait to find out where his new job will be located, we're in limbo. We could wind up in Florida or Michigan or North Carolina, and the job market is such that he would likely take a job in any of those places. It's unsettling, but I love him, and wouldn't want to place limits on where he considers working. I'm certainly not going to try to find a new boyfriend. If we're in it for the long haul, I'm not going to start looking for someone else at the first sign of trouble. I'd rather be with someone who forges through the tough times than with someone who simply gives up. Seeing how he's coping with the situation — he has good days, and bad days — has taught me that he is resourceful, creative, and willing to compromise.
The most humbling aspect of his unemployment is precisely that there's little I can do about it, aside from sending any job leads I see, and baking brownies. Frankly, I hate that; I'm one of those people who wants to fix things when someone I care about is going through something difficult. That I can't is a good lesson in the one prayer I genuinely believe in: The Serenity Prayer. Accepting the lesson that I can't change things for him save for being a good listener will be useful if we are going to be together for the rest of our lives.
I don't mean to downplay the importance of money; it's something I think about every day as I try to figure out how to juggle my bills. I want to have kids, and I hope that when I do, I don't constantly need to race to my mailbox to see if there's a check inside that will allow me to feed them. But my feelings for my boyfriend are separate from his earning potential, and I hope the same is true on his end. I wish I were bringing in more money, and if I'm ever in a position where I can support us, I will gladly do so.
The only times I've felt like his unemployment might doom our relationship have nothing to do with the fact of him being out of work and everything to do with his attitude about it. When he starts to feel hopeless, that trickles down to me. Obviously, I can't predict what the future holds, but I do believe that thinking positively radiates out into the world. Even the site that commissioned the study concedes that it's also about attitude, because 42% of women would consider a date with an unemployed man "as long as he had a plan for getting back on track." In the meantime, he's been doing more cooking, another arena where his resourcefulness comes in handy. He enjoys it, and I hardly feel deprived. If we can get through this, we can, hopefully, get through anything, and learn to support each other in ways that go far beyond money.
Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) has edited over 40 anthologies, including Anything for You: Erotica for Kinky Couples, Orgasmic, Spanked, Bottoms Up The Mile High Club, and is Best Bondage Erotica and Best Sex Writing series editor. She writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture, and blogs at http://lustylady.blogspot.com and http://cupcakestakethecake.blogspot.com