published Friday, August 26th, 2011

Leber: Hard times may hurt, but it gets better, right?

This economy is kind of a romance killer, isn’t it?

See, I’m not the type of person who is always good at putting my cares and worries aside while I enjoy a day at the beach. Sometimes, whatever is making me anxious tends to screw up my fun time.

So the fact that the job market has been, to put it mildly, unkind to my significant other sometimes presents a romantic pothole.

A licensed New York state attorney, Joe moved to Chattanooga in January after being unable to find a job from his home in upstate New York. This is partly his fault and partly the fault of the current job market. Currently, he waits tables at a Chattanooga fine-dining establishment — honest work and not terrible from a financial standpoint but not what he set out to do. And not where his future lies.

We know this, and he is diligently working to improve his lot, but the roadblocks to success can be frustrating and discouraging. And, well, let’s just say they don’t always make one feel overwhelmingly amorous.

We’re not alone, I know. I have friends and colleagues who are dealing with similar circumstances, or worse — one partner being out of work, relying on freelance or temporary jobs to scrape together the bills, trying to figure out how to raise two kids on a shoestring budget.

In the grand scheme of things, Joe and I are lucky. I have a good job. He has a lot of potential. I genuinely have faith that everything is going to work out for him. He’s working hard, and I know he’ll get a good offer in his field soon.

But then what? Hopefully it would be something in Chattanooga, but if it’s not, what happens? He leaves, I guess, and I have to figure out what to do. I like my job. I like my work. I don’t want to give it up, especially for something that wouldn’t be an upward career move. I foolishly, blissfully, work in a field that is not, you might have heard, the most stable right now. In a “there but for the grace of God go I” moment, I survived layoffs at the newspaper during the worst of the Great Recession. So up and leaving would cause that pragmatic voice inside my head to scream bloody murder, which would not be good.

But I don’t want to be separated from Joe long-term either, say more than a year. Oh, I know there are people who do this, military families and whatnot, and they have my respect; but I don’t care to share the experience. And sadly, The New York Times is not begging me to come work for them. Shocking, I know.

People talk about a five-year plan. We have one, but really, right now, it’s more of a five-year prayer. I suppose that’s par for the course.

Still, I’m someone who reads the last page of a book first, so the flux unsettles me. In those moments, I find myself obsessing on the coulds/woulds/shoulds of life, or berating Joe to reveal every detail of the day’s productivity when I should be enjoying his company. In other words, sometimes I become a crazy shrew. I don’t enjoy being a crazy shrew. It doesn’t look good on me, and I’m working on keeping those moments in check.

Of course, a pessimist might ask why we don’t simply throw in the towel if challenges prove too frustrating. We’re not married. We have no children. We don’t own a home, or even a pet. There is, essentially, nothing obligating us to each other.

Except love. And trust. As well as a sense of partnership, of emotional safety, a need to be together and a desire to build a future even if the process is messy and hard.

Like I said, I know we’re not alone. And if you’re in a similar boat, neither are you. I think it gets better. I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure it does.

But even if it’s always hard, and sometimes your life truly sucks, and some days you want to kill each other, take courage knowing that you want to face the fight together.

This crazy, winding, broken road is yours to navigate side by side, and that’s all you need to know for now.

Simple.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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