You’re in a bar, making flirty chitchat with a potential mate. But then, just when the mood seems to be swinging in the right direction, a prickly inquiry enters the fray: So, what do you do for a living?
In a city where one’s desirability quotient is linked—exponentially—with one’s professional status, this question is the ultimate buzz kill for the thousands of unemployed singles seeking love. “It comes fast and bites,” moans Richard, a 30-year-old unemployed equities analyst. “Saying you don’t have a job can definitely mark you as a loser.”
There are, however, ways to cope.
BE IRONIC, BE PROUD. Richard, for instance, has found that humor works well. Since losing his job, he has traveled the world, which impresses the ladies. “They’ll ask what I do, and I tell them, with an ironic smile, that I’ve retired,” he explains. “Some people actually believe me, which is fine, too.” Lately, though, he’s adopted a confident “what-you-see-is-what-you-get mentality,” which is working—at least to a degree: “I have no trouble hooking up and getting first dates, but I’ve noticed a serious decline in second and third dates. My lack of a job probably isn’t helping.”
SPOIL YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER. A 26-year-old event planner has been living better since her boyfriend lost his job. “He spends all day watching cooking shows and cooks a gourmet dinner every night,” she says. “He’s like a trophy wife!” Recently, he won brownie points by moving her into a new apartment while she was off partying in Las Vegas. Still, it’s a thin line: “It’s getting old having to get ready every morning with the light off so he doesn’t wake up,” she admits.
CHEAP IS CHIC. Try to make a big impression with what little money you have. Jay, 27, who recently lost his job in film, lives large off government checks. “I have enough money that I was able to buy a plane ticket to see this out-of-town girl I’m dating,” he says. “And if I had a job, I probably wouldn’t have been able to take off in the first place.” He says the key is “not going to places like the W Hotel, where all the women are attracted to ‘upwardly mobile’ dudes.”
MAKE YOUR OWN CONNECTIONS. A 25-year-old filmmaker was horrified when her unemployed 32-year-old boyfriend asked her to ask her father to help him get a job. He had left his $180,000-a-year job at a law firm for $110,000 at a hedge fund—but the fund insisted that he move to Europe, so he quit with no work lined up. “He was clearly emasculated,” she says. “He was losing his sense of self.” Since her father’s successful business was in a field far removed from anything her boyfriend had any experience with, and she knew they would never get married, she refused. “It changed our dynamic completely. He became more and more dependent on me, and I became more and more emotionally absent.” They broke up and haven’t spoken since.
GET A SHRINK. Potential mates might be able to overlook your low funds, but don’t expect them to put up with low self-esteem to boot. One out-of-work 31-year-old lawyer says she’s been “incredibly uncomfortable and insecure” since losing her job last April: “Without work, there’s this huge gaping hole.” Which, for her, has been made more apparent since she recently started seeing a successful corporate lawyer. “He feels bad for me and has offered to lend me money,” she gripes. “But all that does is make me more depressed.” In other words? A recipe for disaster.
STAY ROMANTIC. Erin, 29, a theater professional, recently found herself smitten with a man she met at a wedding who’d been laid off from a huge computer corporation. “He didn’t love what he did and is being careful not to rush into something that won’t fulfill him,” she says, adding that he’s been working on his writing. “After meeting a ton of people who seem so beaten up and controlled by their stupid jobs, I find his attitude really admirable and attractive.”
They’re qualified, even overqualified. They’re talented. And they’ve been laid off – some three or four times. Young, top-of-the-class creative New Yorkers are wondering if the jobs they moved here for have disappeared forever.