How Not To Be A Dick To Your Unemployed Friend

I spend most of my time trying to find a job. I would really prefer if we spent this social time discussing something else.
Publish date:
April 25, 2013
how not to be a dick, jobs, unemployment

I lost my full-time job almost six months ago.

Becoming unemployed is extremely emotionally wrought, especially if you're like me and your whole identity is wrapped up in your career. For a while, I felt like I lost the only reason I had to even get up in morning.

I donned sweatpants and retreated into Netflix marathons of "Doctor Who." I was depressed, anxious, and uninsured. I self-medicated with food and wine. I was raised not to impose my misery on others, so I isolated myself from most of my friends, because it was easier to be alone than to smile and pretend I was OK.

My emotional recovery time took less than a month, but when I finally was ready to face the world, I discovered how full of dicks it was to unemployed people like me. This is a list of behaviors that I experienced from many of my friends and acquaintances that I felt were hurtful, thoughtless, or just plain dick-ish.

1. Don't stop inviting me out/to stuff under the assumption I can't pay.

This started happening to me almost right away. My friends would still go out and tell me about it or I would see it all over Facebook, but they stopped inviting me.

Finally, after my roommate informed me that she was going out one evening, I asked if I could come. She was very gracious about it and told me of course I could, she just didn't want to make me feel uncomfortable for having to decline offers if I couldn't pay, which is why she stopped inviting me out.

While this sounds thoughtful in theory, it's actually much less uncomfortable for me to say “No, thanks” or go and nurse a $4 drink for 3 hours, than for me to sit around and think that no one wants anything to do with me anymore.

Being unemployed is isolating enough. Full-time workers spend around 50% of their waking hours at work. That's a huge chunk of a person's overall amount of human interaction. Even introverts like me need social interaction, or else they start talking to their roommate's cat (which is what happened in my case).

2. Don't talk about how unemployed people can be a burden to their friends.

First of all, in the 6 months without a full-time job, I've been able to pick up some freelance writing, programming and tutoring work. I also cashed out my very small IRA. Financially, I was never a burden to my friends.

I get that being around an unemployed person is a downer. I get that I don't have a lot going on in my life right now. I understand that being around me makes you feel uncomfortable because my joblessness is a harsh reminder of what might happen to you in this economic climate. I understand all of this, but please muster up some empathy before you put all your discomfort about my situation back on me.

3. Don't talk to me about how lucky I am to have all this free time.

I understand tough work schedules. I worked in a local Emergency Department for 3 years while I was in college. I have worked 16-hour shifts and 60-hour weeks. I would go back to that in a second over sitting on this couch with all this free time on my hands.

I don't want this free time. I don't want to sit here alone in this apartment having a panic attack about the fear that I will never be a worthwhile member of society ever again. I am not lucky, and telling me I am is thoughtless and shows a huge lack of empathy.

People do this a lot actually with all sorts of personal misfortune. When I had mono last year and had to go on short-term disability for a month, and I remember co-workers telling me how lucky I was to get a month-long vacation. For those of you who have never had mono: it is not a vacation (unless your definition of vacation is being hospitalized for an obstructed airway and pumped full of IV steroids).

4. Stop asking me how my job search is going.

I'll tell you when something happens. I promise. In fact, I'll probably tweet it and post it on Facebook, and then I'll call you and tell you personally, or I might even drive to your house and bring a bottle of wine and tell you. In any case, you will know.

So stop asking. Stop asking me when I will be normal again. I want to know too, but I don't -- and every time you ask, you remind me how I am different from you and everyone we know.

5. Don't stop telling me about the good stuff going on in your life.

I can't speak for all unemployed people, but not having a job is really boring. I don't think we realize how much we actually talk about our work, until it is no longer there. So, please, tell me about all about your life. I want to know.

I will not be jealous of your job promotion, I will be happy for you, and we can celebrate with wine. Trust me, I need more reasons to feel happy. Don't feel like you are burdening me with bad news either. Let's commiserate. I will be here for you, and we can drink wine to make you feel better. There are never enough reasons to drink wine.

6. Don't crowd-source career advice for me from your entire social network.

There are a lot of hours in a day, and I have an Internet connection. I've read every possible piece of career advice out there. I've read all the blogs. I've read all the interview and resume and networking tips out there.

I spend most of my time trying to find a job. I would really prefer if we spent this social time discussing something else. I understand you're trying to help, but I probably already know what you're about to tell me, because five other people have already told me the same thing just this week.

Also, when you say, “I was talking to my programmer friend, and he said...,” you've just told me how you've been polling solutions to my unemployment with everyone you know. Stop trying to constantly fix me. It's hurtful and othering.

Of course, my experience has not been entirely bad. A lot of my friends have really stepped up and been incredibly supportive. My friends in NYC have been calling me regularly or G-chatting with me for hours during the day. One of my guy friends donated a case of wine, while another has made it a point to stop by my apartment regularly after work for a couple of hours of chitchat and a beer.

I'm not perfect, and I've been known to stick my foot in my mouth, so I understand that people often don't know what to say or how to comfort a person who has lost a job or has a had a long bout of unemployment. I know a lot of people say things and don't mean them maliciously, so -- hopefully -- this list will help us all be a little more conscientious about how we treat our friends.