Job Hunting and Relationshipping

Going out when you can’t afford to go ANYWHERE.

Photo credit: City Foodsters, CC BY 2.0.

During my eighteen-month stay in purgatory, aka graduate school, it was hard for me to keep up with my relationship. I could barely make time for friendships with anyone outside of the common area or newsroom of the campus, or the bar with the two-for-one special that was literally next-door, and my “dates” with my boyfriend of four-and-a-half years were relegated to me dragging my work along as we sat together or had a quick meal.

I no longer have to be on a schedule where I only sleep four hours a day and spend entire weekends transcribing, researching, and self-editing articles, photos, and audio. But job searching is akin to a full-time job with overtime, despite the fact that I get to sleep humane hours again. So I still have to make a conscious effort to make plans with my boyfriend.

The easiest—and cheapest—date is to have “workdays” together. I bring my laptop, my boyfriend brings his, and we get at least a small amount of work done. Still, working side-by-side is nowhere near as good as actually getting outside and trying something new together. Yes, leaving the apartment takes time that I could be using to write cover letters, send pitches, and email sources. But during the weeks I work “overtime,” my boyfriend and I are a lot snappier to each other and I get so engrossed in my work that I forget to answer messages or avoid hanging out so that I won’t get distracted. So I’ve made a point of going on at least one real date every month. These outings have helped us learn how to reconnect—and they’ve given us both some much-needed rest.

For example: in January, I got a Groupon for a comfort food restaurant in Brooklyn. We got $20 worth of drinks and I challenged myself to eat half a fried chicken. And, because it was Friday the 13th, my boyfriend got his first tattoo afterwards. We didn’t go back to Queens until after midnight, and we were both stuffed, tired, and cold. But it was worth every penny. I had planned on spending that Friday doing work all night, but the change of plans made it easier for me to get work done the rest of the weekend.

When I plan a date, I’m nervous about how much time it takes from work (or from looking for work). But when I’m in the middle of a date, I feel so much better—and that feeling lasts even after the date is over. Even if that month’s “date” is just us getting tea for half an hour, or laughing at something over pizza near my house.

Going on dates is also one of the few ways that I’ve been able to stop looking at my phone or laptop regularly. In grad school, I got in the habit of both staring at my phone constantly and not being able to answer personal phone calls or texts until hours later—it was all work, all the time. Now, I still find myself in that “gotta wait for the important email” mode, even though I finally have time to put down my phone and hang out with my boyfriend.

Ironically, putting down my phone and spending time with my boyfriend also helps me book more work. We sometimes end up discussing an event that I start researching for a future story, or we happen to walk past a new business, exhibit, or a flyer announcing something interesting that also leads to more freelancing ideas. It’s a lot better than scrolling through a social media feed. It’s worth walking away from my notepads, obsessive scribbles, and income calculation spreadsheets.

Being able to keep hanging out with my boyfriend is one of my motivations to continue finding jobs. I want more dates! I want to leave my laptop at home and go somewhere to eat a meal that I didn’t have to microwave and scarf down in ten minutes. I want to talk to someone I care about, for a purpose other than having to interview them for an article. It’s going to be a long time before we can afford to go out without taking time to search deals, special events, and happy hours, but I want to be able to afford at least that much. Maybe even twice or three times a month.

The cost of taking time out of freelancing and job hunting is a small price to pay for being able to relearn 1) how to hang out with my boyfriend and 2) how to take a break from work. I don’t think my schedule will magically fix itself if I get a full-time job or get enough assignments to support myself through full-time freelancing, but learning to have some sort of work/life balance is going to benefit both me and my relationship in the long run. I made it through an intense graduate program, so I keep telling myself that I can make it through this period of underemployment—and until then, my boyfriend and I will take it one date at a time.

A native New Yorker, a sometimes writer. Follow and connect on Twitter@angelymercado.

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