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The Vine: February 26, 2014

Submitted by on February 26, 2014 – 2:01 PM26 Comments

vine

My boyfriend is having some ongoing employment problems and I hope you can help me with how to deal with them because I feel like I'm really struggling.

His recent history in a nutshell: Four years ago, R was laid off from a job he'd had for seven years. It was far from his ideal job; he's an English major and he was working in support for an internet provider. But it was still a blow. He was finally moving up into more interesting work when they outsourced his entire department and cut him loose. He still has recurring bad dreams about working there. He tried to find work for a few months but he wasn't able to land a job, so he moved back in with his parents and went back to school to get a second bachelor's degree. As he was finishing up the degree, he and I met and he moved abroad to be with me.

When R moved here, he continued to do some freelance writing work that he'd started during his bachelor's study. It was a fairly good situation: he'd always wanted to work as a writer, the work was interesting, and it could be done from anywhere, so moving abroad was no problem. But it didn't quite pay a full-time wage, so about a year and a half ago, he started looking for a full-time job while carrying on freelancing, which he is still doing.

Unfortunately the timing was not good. The job problems that the U.S. had had were only just reaching over here and R's job search has been incredibly difficult. In the year and a half that he's been looking, he's only had a handful of interviews. Some of the interviews have been quite torturous. And each time he doesn't get the job, he's sent into a tailspin of insecurity. This just happened again yesterday; he found out that he didn't get a part-time writing job at a company that he's been freelancing for over the last few months. They invited him and one other person for second interviews and, though he'd gotten very positive feedback from the company about his writing and how he's easier to work with than other freelancers they've used, they gave the job to the other person.

He's convinced that he must not have been perky, good-looking, or female enough to be given the job (he believes with many of these jobs he's lost that an anti-male sexism is at work, and he said he never wants to be up against a woman for a job again). It's another blow to his already shaky self-confidence. And that's the part that I'm worried about and need help with.

R has never been the most confident person, but these last few years have really shattered him. When he's really down, he feels like the world is against him and that everyone gets a break but him. He looks at his friends and only sees successes (steady jobs, houses, etc.) and feels like they look down on him for being a "bum." It doesn't help that his sister, who he used to be close to, has gotten a bug up her butt and can do nothing but criticize him and say that he's lazy for not having a job and wonder to their parents how I put up with him. On top of that, last year he lost a freelancing gig with a friend's company after he had a falling-out with the friend. R always felt that the friend was way harder on R and treated him worse than any of the other people working for the company (some mutual friends also work for the friend's company), though he never had any solid evidence for that. When R stopped working for the friend, he worried that the mutual friends would decide to not have anything to do with him, and he still thinks some of them think poorly of him.

If I try to help R by mentioning other people who've also had a rough go of it lately, he finds some way of dismissing each one. Friends who have had recent long job searches have jobs now, so that struggle doesn't count. Various people I know who are still looking for a job don't count because he doesn't know them, so, I don't know, maybe I'm just making the story up to make him feel better? In any case, he feels beaten down, which is totally understandable to an extent, but I have a hard time dealing with this feeling R has that everyone else has an easy time and it's just him that gets all this shit thrown at him.

I wouldn't say R's out-and-out depressed; on a daily basis he manages fine and we go out often, it's not like he spends all his time hiding under the covers (though that does happen occasionally). But he has an ongoing anxiety with the freelance writing he does which creates a lot more stress than is necessary. He's always afraid that he'll lose the work he has at any minute, for any reason. If someone doesn't reply to his email within a few hours, he assumes he must have said something wrong and now they're done with him, even if this person is someone known to be slow to reply to emails. Recently, he was even worried that he was annoying a company's accountant with billing questions and was concerned that word would get back to the project managers and they'd decide he was just too much of a pain to work with.

These anxieties are always there and hardly a day goes by that he doesn't express worries about work continuing or about content in emails to or from him. It's a horrible mindset for him, and it becomes stressful for me as well because I worry about him and I see the extra strain it causes him.

So, aside from the usual assurances and attempts at pep talks (which he often shrugs off anyway), what can I do to help him? I'd love for him to see a therapist, but he doesn't want to go to one because, as he puts it, he went to one once and they didn't tell him anything you couldn't get from a cheesy self-help book (though when I was seeing a therapist, he encouraged it and felt it helped me). He was on an anti-depressant, but went off of it shortly after moving here because he felt he was past the reason he started on it (I think he went on them not long after losing his job in the U.S.). I've talked to him about how I think he needs to get help with his underlying insecurity and he says that he's overall fine and he may be a bit insecure, but it's not like he can't function because of it. He doesn't seem to see how much it really is hurting him. What can I do?

Sincerely,
At a loss

Dear Loss,

With all the love and respect in the world for my fellow scribes, R's a writer, and this is how we do sometimes. We compare ourselves with every other writer in the world. We concoct paranoid scenarios in which editors, convening in a Brazil-like office, have added our names to a master shitlist etched in stone because we failed to supply a bio or sent in one too many not-quite-right pitches. We exist at times in a hellscape of persecution and collusion in which everywhere is "outside" and any compliment is either insincere or uninformed.

It's a little surprising to me that you describe this is "stressful for" you only because it's taking a toll on him, and not also because it's just fucking annoying. I speak to you now as That Guy: it is fucking annoying. And it is his problem.

I know you want to help, whether it's to relieve his tension or, though you don't mention it explicitly, to shorten up the conversations in which you have to repeat "I'm sure that's not true" and "well, but what about [X positive thing]?" a frillion times. The bad news is that you can't, really, because freelance in particular can put its practitioners in a psychologically precarious place — what dictates whether you get a job can seem like whimsy; budgets get cut, and you're the last to know but most affected. You never have all the information, and in the absence of better intel, you can default to taking it personally, and writers have all sorts of irrational needs and beliefs that, after a little venting, we generally back away from on our own.

The nonsense about reverse sexism playing a part in R's bad fortune is just that, and not really something you should tolerate in your discussions with him about work; the editor side of me feels that, overall, the guy needs to develop a better, less self-absorbed sense of how publishing works, and what editors have on our minds on our sides of these situations. (To wit: nothing. Editors barely have time to eat lunch, never mind sit around thinking up ways to fuck writers over.) We all go down the rabbit hole sometimes, but it sounds like it's constant with him, and this is part of a writer's life — it is possible to cope with the uncertainty in a productive way and then think about other things, and he ought to find ways to do that. You mention a few aspects of R's struggle, like his not wanting to go up against a woman for a job again, that suggest this is a little beyond your garden-variety writerly insecurity, but it's time to call him on the really out-there stuff — and even the non-out-there stuff, he gets 15 minutes to bang on about how everyone's out to keep him down, and that's it.

He wants to vent, which is fine, and I think you've run into some frustration in "helping" him because he doesn't want help. What he wants is to hear, basically, that even though the rest of the world doesn't appreciate him, you do. He wants to feel heard and pitied. So, do that for a quarter of an hour and then change the subject, or tell him kindly, "You know, I feel like you get in these spirals of doubt if we talk about this shit for too long, so I'm happy to brainstorm an action plan, but if there's nothing I can do, I'd like to tell you about my own day." Or something like that, something that's gentle but firm vis-à-vis letting him know that, while you're there for him, he's got to try at least occasionally to rein it in and self-soothe.

I would also strongly suggest that he cultivate a mentor, join a writing group, or identify one friend or colleague whom he makes his industry sounding board, and they go for pints once a week and crab about talentless strivers they both hate or whatever. He needs a friend for those process discussions and bone-chilling work-confidence lows, to take some weight off you and to let him really dig into a shorthand with someone who gets it. Not that you don't get it, but you shouldn't have to get all of it all the time. I mean, there's holding hands, and then there's hand-holding, and if it starts to get into too much of the latter, the relationship gets a parental overtone that isn't good.

It's okay to feel insecure and beleaguered about your writing career. Everyone does. But you can't "fix" that part of it for him, and trying too hard may mean he's not developing skills to pull himself out of these tailspins. Set some boundaries with it for yourself, shove him towards like-minded friends for downloading sessions without you, and understand that this is something he has to figure out so he doesn't drive you both crazy.

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26 Comments »

  • attica says:

    Loss, I'd like to second the notion that this isn't your thing to fix. Feeling bad about not finding work is a rational response. Feeling like the world hates your guts to the exclusion of all others' guts is…not (at least not for long, heh), and you're not a bad partner to point that out and nudge him towards the help he needs that's beyond you.

    It's probably mean to point out that potential employers might be able to smell his defeatist attitude a mile away, but, not wanting to compete with a girl? He needs to get a handle on that, stat.

  • Kristin says:

    Loss,

    This sounds like a really awkward situation for you. I'm wondering, does R have any local friends, since he moved to be near you? It can be difficult not to vent constantly if you only know one person in "town", as it were, and it would probably be good for him to expand his horizons and give you a break, as Sars said.

    It sounds a bit sexist both that he wants to claim anti-male sentiment when he doesn't get a job, doesn't want to go to therapy, but it was OK that you went. Also, you may want to point out to him that the fact that he functions and is mostly OK is not the same as thriving. His life could be more enjoyable, and so could yours, and therapy and/or antidepressants might help with that, so he should consider it for your sake if not his own.

    Lastly, he should consider that this negative worldview and lack of confidence is a contributing factor to his ongoing employment struggles. I know a few colleagues who have a constant need to vent and complain about how hard their lot in life is, and the rest of us avoid them like the plague. It's hard enough to deal with work stress without having to take on someone else's. So he may want to take a good look at how his attitude is influencing others' perception of him, particularly in the context of job interviews. Confidence is key.

    Hope this is helpful, and I wish you luck. If nothing else, I hope that you can find an outlet for yourself to deal with stress, so that his bad mood doesn't drag you down too.

  • pomme de terre says:

    Sars is nicer about this than I would be. R does not sound like he's made for the freelancing life, or possibly the writing life.

    R sounds like a handful, personally and professionally. He blew up a sweetheart gig at a friend's company due to evidence-free claims that he was not being treated nicely? Poor bunny didn't like getting edited, awwww.

    He grouses that he's losing jobs to perky girls? HAHAHAHAHA. http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/top-stories/240240/media-is-failing-women-sports-journalism-particularly-so/

    And I thought that Emily Gould essay was going to be the most annoying thing about writing that I'd read this week.

  • MizShrew says:

    Lastly, he should consider that this negative worldview and lack of confidence is a contributing factor to his ongoing employment struggles.

    Yes. This. Also, the "anti-male sexism" thing: he needs to check that at the door. It makes him seem like the guy who blames everyone and everything but himself when things go wrong. That's a deal-breaker in the interview room.

    I work as a writer too, and I get the insecurity, believe me. All the more reason to start talking with other writers, art directors, designers, etc. He'll soon see he's not alone in his insecurities. And, it could land him additional work down the road. The writer you lift a pint with today could become the editor who hires you next month. My last two jobs have come from these kinds of connections.

    Side note on the networking, though: he needs to be willing to listen as well as vent with other writers — even if he thinks their concerns pale in comparison to his.

  • Amanda says:

    I want to echo Kristin's point that his negative worldview, and cynicism about his job situation specifically, may be hurting him in a way he doesn't realize yet. If he's doing this extended venting to anyone other than you, family members and trusted friends, he's making it harder on himself all the time because nobody likes to be around a constant buzzkill. Not to mention that complaining is an easy habit to fall into — I'm guilty of it myself, a lot. I've had to work on the way I frame things and the perspective I present when I talk to people, because as much as people might enjoy cynical, sharp writing, they don't really like dealing with cynical, sharp personalities.

    And a note about therapy — the "I know what they're going to say; I could find it in a self-help book" excuse is bullshit. Therapy isn't about listening to someone give you all the answers about how to live your life. A good therapist will let you talk, then guide you towards your own right answers about what's causing problems in your life and how to try to fix them. Sometimes just speaking your problems out loud to an objective party is enough to jolt you into facing some harsh truths you would have avoided otherwise. Plus, writers be lovin' therapy, so he needs to get on that train already.

  • Maria says:

    OP, is he like this about everything, or just work? I hear a lot of excuse-making. Sometimes when people point too much to the external reasons why something isn't working, it's to avoid looking at the internal reasons for it. I think you need to pose it to him as a relationship issue, because this kind of insecurity won't always make you want to help…not that he acts like it's helpful, anyhow. I like Sars' idea to get a compadre to vent to best of all.

  • Megan says:

    A therapist could help him grieve his lost job (seven years ago) so that it isn't still haunting his dreams.

  • jennie says:

    I'd echo what others have already said – the defeat may be coming across unappealingly in interviews, the reverse-sexism thing is a thought best kept to oneself as well as a bit of a cause for concern – but one thing that stands out to me is your boyfriend's (apparently) persistent need to feel special and put-upon in his job search, as if no one else, even others who've struggled, has it as bad as he has. This is perhaps the attitude he needs most to check, because while it is easy to feel that way in moments of abject self-pity, it is also frankly ridiculous and not, it is clear, an accurate reflection of the actual state of his luck.

    The job market blows for everyone. It is horrendous and brutal and utterly uncivilized out there. I myself am trying to jump off a foundering ship and it's resume after resume, out into the ether; most of them result in nothing, some result in a bit of something and then a profound silence, sometimes I get a lovely rejection letter from a job I've no recollection of applying to, it was so long ago. The job search is often the very opposite of personal. It has nothing to do with you, personally or individually; they got 87 resumes and they can only interview a tiny fraction of those without losing their goddamn minds. That doesn't mean it doesn't suck for the applicant as an actual, individual person, but it's impossible to go through a job search, particularly in a shit economy, without dealing with a raft of rejection unless you are exceptionally, unimaginably lucky. Everyone has to make peace with that; otherwise you'll just lose your own mind.

    As a side note, your boyfriend seems both to take rejection personally but also to blame his rejection on everyone but himself, and these are not two views that can logically be held in tandem. And in fact it is neither personal nor is it everyone else's fault. It is, unhelpfully, The Way Things Are.

    I know the creative fields are a bit different, in that it is about "you" personally, a bit – your work, your look, your idea, whatever, sometimes – but even then, it's not a judgement of you as a person, it's a judgement of whether you are the right fit – and no one can be the right fit all of the time. It sounds as if right now he has a supportive place from which to look for work, which is more than a lot of people have. Therapy may halp; having a productive plan for networking and improving his skills may help. Probably also it is simply and enragingly a question of a lot of fruitless effort over a longer period of time than anyone would like it to be.

  • Jane says:

    Nthing on therapy, etc. I think he had a failed launch and took it really hard; the second bachelor's, for no particular career gain, sounds fairly avoidant to me, too. I think he's really trying to create a map of failure that makes it not personal–it's somebody else's fault, it's inevitable–because it's so scary to him to feel like he's failed again.

    But none of that's going to make failure less likely or success unimportant, and it's really going to hurt him both in job searching and in free-lancing if he can't get past it.

  • ferretrick says:

    "I wouldn't say R's out-and-out depressed; on a daily basis he manages fine and we go out often"

    That does not mean he's not depressed. Depression isn't always (actually it's rarely) hiding at home, unable to go out and face the world, because few people can afford to give in to their disease to that extent.

  • Sarah says:

    Going to therapy one time, I think, doesn't exactly constitute ye olde college try. Just for the record. I myself am a therapy-skeptic, and yet! I have gone twice (because my partner asked me to), and when I go, I go for months before I give up on it as being dumb!

  • JB says:

    In a way, I feel quite a bit of empathy for R, as a fellow English major who struggled to break into the workforce out of college in the midst of economic doldrums. I had a similar experience with the company I freelance for, where I was getting upset and resentful for never being able to get past the interview stage, complete with grumbling about the inferior interpersonal skills of those hired over me and speculation that the site manager we had at the time was an angry closeted lesbian who didn't want to work with younger men. Earlier this winter I interviewed with a manager at another site in my company who passed along feedback to my new boss. Turns out that although I brought some good things to the interview, my resume was a lot weaker than those I was competing with and the interview and cover letter failed to build a case as to why I would be the best candidate. That, for me, was the lightbulb moment… I couldn't assume the quality of my work and the fact that I was well-respected by my peers would land me the job, I had to sell them on what specifically my strengths were. My ex-boss wasn't specifically trying to hold me back; she just chose to recruit coworkers who were more in tune with her management style (and given her later firing for gross misconduct, I take that as a badge of honor).

    It seems to me, though, that unless he just struggles in interviews, there's a disconnect somewhere in terms of his perception of job performance. Is this a case of a model employee in every way that just has been kept down by the man, or a capable but not extraordinary employee who gets into a huff whenever his employers fail to view him as a special little snowflake? The fact that he seems paralyzed by fear that he'd be viewed as difficult to work with is probably grounded in the knowledge that, well, maybe he hasn't historically been the easiest to work with. If he's developing a habit as a freelancer of locking horns with clients and supervisors over perceived slights and not being appreciated, this could very easily lead him to be viewed as a less-than-desirable hire. It seems as though he knows that he's developed a poor reputation without fully understanding what specifically he's doing wrong to create that reputation, hence the anxiety over losing further clients and truly bizarre logic as to why he's not getting hired. (Female English majors have outnumbered males by at least a five-to-one ration at every college I've attended, so that argument doesn't hold water.)

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Everything Sars and Kristen said. And Ferretrick. R's so down with self help books, he needs to read I Don't Want To Talk About It By Terrance Real.

    He needs therapy and he needs a writer's group. Besides the book above, pick up Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird, which is a writing guide that is filled with advice about putting together groups and dealing with the wretched flailing jealousy and exhaustion and insecurity that come hand in hand in sweaty hand with writing for a living.

    You can't fix him. Just because he's depressed/anxious doesn't mean he gets to commandeer all the understanding/support in the relationship. You're both adults and both need to pay into your bond for it to last.

    And the reverse male sexism thing? No. Cut that off at the root. There's sympathetic listening and there's supporting ridiculous bullshit.

  • JC says:

    R may not be depressed, but some kind of anxiety disorder certainly sounds possible. I worked in publishing for quite a while, and early in my career, I was struggling with depression and anxiety issues. His anxiety over the time it takes to get e-mail response and the like sounds a lot like how I was at that point. Until I got the anxiety reasonably under control, work was agony, especially detail-oriented work. Therapy and medication worked for me.

    That said, I know I wouldn't be cut out for freelance, and maybe he isn't, either. I'd be a nervous ball of sadness if I didn't have a steady paycheck and medical insurance, so maybe he needs to focus on more stable employment. I know, easier said than done…

    I'd also add that if freelance writing is anything like publishing in general, then his attitude can be a killer. Everybody knows everybody in publishing, especially editorial (where I worked), and if you get the reputation of being a big whiny pain in the butt, your opportunities for work are going to dry up. There were definitely freelancers that significantly hurt their careers with me, not because I was power-hungry or evil, but because they were truly terrible to work with. I wouldn't hire them for work at my company, and when other people in the industry asked me about using them, I was polite and professional, but I told the truth.

    The anti-male sexism also reminds me of a problem worker I had: She didn't get her contract renewed, and since one of the higher ups was gay, she became convinced that there was some kind of homosexual conspiracy against poor, hetero little her, and she was happy to tell anyone and everyone about it. (She also has "interesting" ideas about Jews, in spite of having Jewish heritage herself, but that's a whole other anecdote.) And you know what? She doesn't work in publishing anymore, in part because she got the reputation for being a rage-filled pain in the butt.

  • Dukebdc says:

    Just to throw it out there – although you don't specify what non-US country you are in, your BF is not from where you live now, right? So does any of this job search difficulty have to do with work visa/immigration issues? I know that this letter makes it clear BF would be irritable about the situation anywhere, but wondering if moving back to his country of citizenship at any point would be an option? Apologies if this is irrelevant.

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    On the one hand, it's a pretty terrible feeling to be let go and be out of work for a while. It really does completely undermine your confidence; it also makes you realize just how much your job (or career) can end up defining how you see yourself. In my case, it's true that I had developed some bad habits that weren't helpful, and thanks to a combination of office politics and "mentoring" that mostly equaled "put up and shut up/be creative but none of your ideas work/make this pretty (no, really – those were one boss's instructions – try to translate that for me) I was really apathetic.

    However, after having both bosses treat me like a personal assistant (that was not my job) in some pretty appalling ways, and the dishonest way they chose to handle things in the end, it was all around just a miserable experience and I too still have bad dreams that I work there.

    That being said, attitude has a lot to do with getting hired. BF seems to blame everyone else for his issues. He's going through a rough time, a REALLY rough time, that's true. But in my case my performance issues were my fault too. (I say "too" because these people seriously did not know how to utilize me any more than I could figure out a way to be useful to them. In my current position, they gave me the ball, I ran with it, they loved it, and it was – and still is – amazing.)

    BF needs to get some outside help here. Maybe through networking, maybe through counseling, maybe through volunteering of some kind, or taking classes, etc., maybe all of the above. In my case I finally found something that was the right fit. It ain't perfect, but it works. I hope things go well for him and you too.

  • Elizabeth says:

    You guys are all nicer than I am. The moment he started blaming women for his not having a job, I would've been gone.

  • At a loss says:

    Hi, the letter-writer here… Thanks Sarah and everyone for your advice and opinions. It's very helpful, though getting this through to R is still difficult.

    We've had many intense, emotional conversations about his work and his lack of confidence and they are pretty painful. Eventually he asked if he should just not talk about his work with me because it was hard for me to deal with. We kind of tried that for a bit, but it didn't really work. We eventually both learned that I can't really do anything for him aside from try to be supportive, but I can't solve this situation, which is what I was trying to do. Now if he goes on a work rant, I try to just listen but not feed into the discussion too much to keep it from spiraling into a talk about all of this. That seems to be working better lately.

    He does have some writer friends, but I don't think he talks to them much about Writer Stuff. Or at least not _his_ Writer Stuff. Perhaps he feels comfortable unloading on me but not on them.

    I think he knows that a negative attitude isn't going to do him any favors, but he feel so beaten down and like he never catches a break that it's hard for him to fight against that. I don't know, what can you do with that, except for him to decide himself to make a move against those thoughts? As far as I know he doesn't complain to or have a rough attitude with the people he works for, though he always worries about over-contacting them, following up too much on invoice problems, etc. (which I don't think he does, he is just always concerned about keeping the balance right). But he may come across as insecure and very nervous in interviews, which may have cost him the job to the perky girl. I wasn't there, obviously, so I can't say how he came across exactly. But even I was surprised he didn't get the job because his work with them had so far gone so well. But who knows what skill the other person offered that tipped the scales in her favor. In any case, it was a mistake in the end; she was difficult to work with and only lasted there a few months, adding to the letdown of them hiring her instead of R.

    To answer some questions: he desperately wants a steady, "normal" job, but the job hunt has been very tough. We live in the Netherlands, so, on top of everything, there is a second language to deal with in terms of his job options. I know, he should learn the language to increase his job options, but that's not something that's going to happen overnight and it's a whole other issue on its own. He's fully legal to work here, so that's not a problem. Neither of us really wants to move back to the US, so it's sort of an option, but it's really the last resort.

  • Suzanne says:

    Oh HOLD THE PHONE, the Neth? (I got a foreign country from "over here," but I didn't guess the specific one.) That puts an interesting spin on job-finding troubles, in terms of the way cultural differences might exacerbate bosses perceiving his nervousness, etc., in interviews. Although my older Dutch relatives would glare (politely) at me describing these traits so, the formality, punctuality, presentation of achievements, etc. in a not-over-the-top but also-not-insecure-about-them way = a very Germanic style of interaction.

    How long have you both been in the Netherlands? In which part do you live? Are you yourself a native? (if so, my bad for generalizing about Dutch culture – it's from 1st-gen "over here" POV.)

  • Suzanne says:

    double-post (sorry) to add: the above is not mean to give R a get-out-of-self-examination card, blaming everything on the culture. Rather, as an anxious person myself, I know that certain aspects of that same culture (blunt critique, to take one example) can really give a sweet, sweet boost to my negative self-talk. :P

  • Felis D says:

    OP, you totally described the situation with my husband, except in our case, he's a freelance lighting designer in the theatre industry, and in our city, while there is work, it is not always kind. Also, instead of an overly-critical sister, he has an overly-judgmental ex-girlfriend with whom he has to keep contact because they had a child together, whom he pays child support, and who tends to go on a bit about his being "non-functional". Given, he's also never played the sexism card, but I feel that's more symptomatic of what your man is going through, than a red-flag issue, myself.

    Like your bf, mine is very anti-therapy, and has what I call "situational depression". I.e., when he's working, everything is fine, but when he's not, cue the self-loathing, self-blame, self-deprecation/flagellation, "everyone is doing well except me", "the world is a terrible place where only terrible people succeed", anxiety, inertia, etc.

    I wish I had advice for you other than keep on keeping on, and make sure he stays motivated to keep up the job search and seek therapy of some form or another (self-help or otherwise). Like Sars said, be an ear, and when he starts self-flagellating a little too much for your comfort, help him put the brakes on and maybe take a break from the job search. If you are interested in making sure he gets to therapy, and you (or your medical coverage) can afford it, you may need to help him make that first appointment or three in order to ensure he gets there. Even couple's counselling might be a good foot in the door if it helps get your concerns on the table.

    Just wanted to let you know that there are others who are going through what you and your bf are going through.

    Stay strong, and most importantly, if helping him lift his burden is getting to be too much for you, remember that YOU should take a break from it too. Make a spa appointment, or allow yourself a guilt-free YOU-day to go out and pamper yourself. Otherwise, you'll be no use to him, support-wise, and worse, you'll find him dragging you down emotionally as well.

  • Dukebdc says:

    Thanks for writing back in with an update. Sounds like improving his language skills would widen the opportunities for him, so if he wants to be taken seriously as a job applicant, he *really* needs to make the effort. If he can read and write in Dutch his work opportunities would definitely increase-you can't argue with that. Showing little interest in learning the mother tongue of your current home is a tangible strike against him from the get-go. Maybe he can take some of the negative energy he uses venting to you and throw himself into learning the language. I can't speak to the culture issue, but it's worth looking into as well. If nothing else, taking language classes will keep him busier and with less opportunity to complain endlessly. :)Complaining makes it easy to stay stuck in one place. Look for other options, not excuses. I'll say the fact that he doesn't discuss his writing with his WRITER friends is sort of a red flag. Isn't that the point of having colleagues in the same field?

  • Nikki says:

    If his attitude is bleeding into his interactions with superiors or hiring managers (etc), it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. And it really sounds like that's what's happening. R thought the friend was "harder on him," and they had a falling out, and that's why he lost the job.

    Similarly – if he believes he's going to fail, why bother trying? Soon his excuses are going to turn from "those guys don't have it as bad as me" to "can't apply for that job, a woman is applying too" etc.

    In this case, I think Sars gave him WAY too much credit… this guy's been officially out of work for years and he's seized the opportunity to spend more time pity partying than writing.

  • At a loss says:

    Suzanne: No offense taken, I'm not Dutch. ;) I'm American. I've lived here over a decade, R's been here about 3 years. We live near Amsterdam.

    It's true that culture can add another dimension to the problem. Though, since he's looking for writing jobs in English, the companies he's interviewed or worked with are rather international. He's dealt with Dutch, British, Spanish, and Canadian people at the companies he has contact with. But I do see the difference in how he handles and responds to the different cultures vs how I do, since I've been here awhile and have worked with people from various backgrounds for years. Not that he's negative about it, he's just not used to it. The Dutch bluntness is certainly tough on someone with insecurities. ;)

    Thank you for your reply, Felis D. Your situation definitely sounds familiar.

    Dukebdc: Believe me, I've made all of those arguments about learning Dutch and the benefits of taking some classes and meeting people. But again his lack of confidence gets in the way; first of all, he believes he's practically unable to learn the language because a second langauge has never been his strong suit. Second, he feels super awkward in a class and has a hard time working up the courage to talk to anyone. He did take one Dutch course and during the breaks he hid behind his phone. Anyway, in terms of looking at other options, I thinking looking into teaching/tutoring English are more viable for him than trying to get up to speed in Dutch, and we have discussed some of those ideas.

  • s says:

    Has R ever looked into a job or career coach? It sounds cheesy, but when I was going through a difficult transition and struggling with inertia, the coaching kept me moving and motivated. The right person will be able to address both the emotional and the practical side of the job search.

    Especially since R is reluctant about full-on therapy, this could be a good option for him. It's focused, short-term and goal-oriented.

    I don't know about career coaching in the Netherlands, but this was the first result on Google.

  • Elizabeth says:

    It strikes me that you are taking on a lot of responsibility for solving this problem for him. Believe me, I understand why, not just intellectually, but through my own experience with an unemployed partner. But… is this the relationship you want to have, with him or at all? What are you getting from this?

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