6 Ways to Encourage an Unemployed Girlfriend

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by Shawna-Kaye Lester

There is one thing I know for sure: time is an enabler of change. Time has taken me so far away from realities I once knew that it becomes difficult to remember them — it has cured heartbreak, erased joy, and brought along new friends and opportunities I never knew I needed. The West African Adinkra symbol Mmere Dane sums it up eloquently, “time changes.”

Recently I found myself thinking about January 2013. Back then, I was underemployed, often getting through a week on 10 or 20 dollars. Living in a cousin’s basement in Jamaica, Queens, I would wake up and fall asleep wondering when my reality would reflect the energy I had put into acquiring a quarter century of formal education.

I had been searching for a full-time job since September 2012, but I did not get an offer until March 2013—ironically, I received two offers in the same week. One obstacle was that I came to the United States as an international student, a category of job applicants some Human Resources departments are allergic to. My seven-month search was draining. Eventually, I started experiencing days when I was too tired to try. Being in that state surprised me as much as it saddened me, because if I am good at one thing, it’s trying.
There are four friends to whom I will forever be grateful for helping me bounce back from that dejected place: The one who played internet scrabble with me multiple times each week to keep me sharp and happy; the Dominican American who encouraged me with, “You are just a star baller who hasn’t been drafted yet”; and the one who wired me money to get a wardrobe when I eventually got a job. Three guys. Then there was my girlfriend, *Carissa.

I met Carissa when I was 11. We graduated from the same high school as 16-year-olds and kept in touch during my college and graduate school years. We both changed, but Carissa retained her hallmarks — kindness and optimism. She invited me to her Long Island studio apartment for a weekend while I was job searching. We discussed how far we had come, listened to Miguel croon “Adorn,” and cooked. She took me as her guest to the New York Sports Club where she worked out, and after exercising, we laughed the evening away in the sauna.

I returned to the cold basement, but Carissa’s warmth followed. She got me one month’s membership to NYSC as well as a pre-filled Metro card. Her gift moved me not just because it was thoughtful, but because I knew it was not one she could easily afford. I used the pass to take dance classes at the Forest Hills NYSC, sometimes two back-to-back. Most days I left the gym thinking about dance routines and feeling hopeful about the future.

I began my job on the first day of April 2013. One day, a co-worker there told me she wanted to do something encouraging for a girlfriend experiencing unemployment. Of course, I told her about Carissa’s intervention. I also gave her some ideas of my own.
Here are six ways you can support a girlfriend in pursuit of employment:

Invite her over for lunch or dinner

Affording a nutritious meal can be challenging when you are unemployed. Even if your friend is living with someone, she might not be consuming regular meals, much less her favorite ones. Help her stay healthy and happy by buying groceries, inviting her over, and allowing her to cook or share in a meal you have cooked.

Distract her with her lighthearted conversation

Does your friend like shady internet memes? celebrity love stories? womanist poems? texts from you? Occasionally send her material you are sure will make her smile. Remind her life still has simple things she can enjoy.

Remind her of her greatness

Chances are your girlfriend is every bit the ambitious achiever you are, but, Mmere Dane. So when “time changes” things in her world, remind her of how she overcame obstacles in the past. Tell her she won’t be jobless forever, because she won’t.

Offer to help her search for a job

Searching for and applying to multiple jobs requires great energy. This becomes especially true when continuing to apply despite having gotten sequential rejections. Offer to review your friend’s cover letter and resume; prep her for interviews; get to understand her qualifications and desires and send relevant openings her way; and of course, ask your family and friends if their companies are hiring.
Get her moving, Keep her mobile

Maybe it’s a one-month gym membership and a metro card. Or perhaps a weekly yoga class in her neighborhood and weekend walks with you. Getting your friend moving will help her stay physically and mentally sound. So too will empowering her with the ability to commute.

Ask her about life beyond the dream job

Sometimes a job is means to an end: You work because it enables you to create change in the world and/or in your personal life. Your girl’s next job is a vehicle, not her final destination. Ask her about what she sees beyond snagging the job. It will focus her on her legacy instead of on survival. It will keep her aware of what is possible for her life, which as you already know, is anything she can envision.

*Name changed for privacy.

Shawna-Kaye Lester helps ambitious college, graduate school, and job applicants stand out and win the opportunities they need to create the life and legacy they want. Her workbook How to Write a Memorable Personal Statement is available online. Follow Shawna-Kaye on Instagram @skayeonline.

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