I'm scared for my relationship, Belle. My boyfriend was laid off last year and is now having financial problems, and he seems depressed. It's causing us to argue a lot. I try my best to be supportive and loving, but he just seems like he's giving up on everything. He says it's not me, but I'm scared. I want to help, but what to do? —W.N.
It's not you; it's him. Being "let go" — whether it's called laid off, downsized or fired — will be a blow to most people's self-esteem. They will feel incompetent and unappreciated, and some will become resentful. Combine those feelings with the stress of being unable to find work, with bills piling up and money running low.
Some people have an additional factor at play: There are those who define their worth by an ability to "provide," and when they cannot, they feel as though their very being has taken a hit akin to what Basketball Wives co-star Tami Roman once landed on cast mate Meeka Claxton.
With all that your boyfriend faces, hearing you describe him as "depressed" isn't all that surprising. And unfortunately, there's not much you can do about it.
The unemployment rate for African-American men is 15.2 percent, nearly double that of white men. That means there are a lot of women in your position.
The conventional advice I've heard about how to "manage" an unemployed man is to let him know that you believe in him, assure him of your loyalty to the relationship, encourage his spirits with positive words and help him look for work by revamping his résumé or searching for job leads with him. The unconventional advice (which I don't recommend) suggests that you cheer him up by putting it on him as often as possible and putting off his creditors by paying his bills as if you're an ATM.
Does all that sound like BS? Good, because it is! Every woman I've spoken to who has been in a relationship with a man who's been laid off or fired has told me that she tried all of those tips, even the unconventional ones, and it was all in vain.
"We made it because I put my head down and got through it," one woman told me. In other words, she practiced patience, adopted an uncanny ability to ignore the worst of her partner's newfound traits and just plain hoped that her man would someday be transformed back into the person she fell in love with rather than the frustrated lump he'd become.
You're right on target to be concerned about the relationship under these circumstances. When I was in this situation, my guy and I didn't survive. I was with a man I adored when he called to tell me that he'd been let go. I sought advice from close friends and family members — men and women — who had been down that road before, and they unanimously told me to break up with him. "The bottom is getting ready to drop out of your world," a well-intentioned relative told me.
I didn't believe her, especially because I believed in my guy. He started off optimistic and enthusiastic, picking up odd jobs, spending his lunch hour making calls to set up informational interviews and sending résumés. He started talking about going into business for himself. He put together a business plan and hired a lawyer to get it incorporated. Work trickled in; investors didn't. That's when he changed.
At one time, he was the type of guy who, if he was supposed to meet me somewhere, would show up early and wait. But then I started showing up on time, and I'd wait so long that I had to text to ask if he was still coming. Sometimes he was.
He had always been the responsible one in his crew, the designated driver. Then I ran into him at a party and had to leave my friends to drive him — and his friends — home because he was wasted. Oops! He told me once that he hadn't smoked pot since college, which was five years prior, but on more than one occasion he showed up at my house — because we never went out anymore, not even to the park — with bloodshot eyes and reeking of marijuana and would respond only with "Huh?" and a giggle when I asked if he was high.
The final straw was when I threw a fancy rooftop birthday party, where he was, obviously, supposed to be my date. He texted me a half hour before it ended to say that he wasn't coming — as if I hadn't already figured that out.
I got it. He was depressed. He felt worthless, likely how your man feels right now. I'd felt about the same after I graduated with a master's degree and couldn't find a job for seven months. And I acted about the same way, sans the drugs. Many a good person tried to snap me out of it, but the only thing that worked was a job.
That's also what other women have told me finally turned their frog back into a prince. Knowing what I'd been through and what it had taken for me, and remembering the initial advice I sought, I knew that there was nothing I could do to help my guy. And I wasn't willing to be mistreated or taken for granted until he landed a new position, however long that was going to be.
I tell you all this so that you understand what you may be signing up for if you choose to stick it out. No one gave me details, just warnings. You sound as if you really want to make it. I hope you do, without too much wear and tear on you.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at email@example.com.