“I was laid off six months ago and feel utterly lost,” said Ilene, 47, who worked as a public-relations coordinator for a large biotech company. “I know it’s not personal but after working 25 years in a job I loved — well, it sure feels that way! It was so abrupt. The HR person called me to her office, said my department had lost its funding and told me to clear out my desk by 5 p.m. I was crying so hard I could barely drive home. When I told Ken he shrugged and said, ‘Well, we’ll have to deal with it.’ No hug, no reassuring words. Financially we can get by on his salary, and I’m grateful for that. But I feel as though someone pushed the pause button on my life.
“Ken and I argue constantly. Part of the problem is Heather, his daughter, who’s 23. She graduated college last year but can’t find a job, so she’s back home. You might think that our being in the same boat — unemployed with time on our hands — would bring us closer, but we get on each other’s nerves. She was 5 when her dad and I got married. We got along okay when she was a kid, but Ken has always put her ahead of everyone else — including our son, Adam, who’s 14. Heather’s mom died in a car accident when Heather was 3, so Ken overcompensates. He’ll watch TV with her downstairs, for example, not in the den with Adam and me.
“Yesterday I was on the phone and Heather picked up four times, slamming the receiver down when she heard me talking. We live in a rural area and her cell phone doesn’t work well here, so at dinner I said, ‘If you need to use the phone, just ask.’ She claimed she picked up one time. I said, ‘Try four.’ ‘Are you calling me a liar?’ she screamed. Ken sided with her, asking if she wanted to go to 7-Eleven and get a Slurpee — as if she were a 6-year-old! I felt totally betrayed. I know she’s anxious about not having a job, but join the club. Don’t I deserve some compassion, too?
“We also fight about Adam, who’s doing poorly in school. For seventh grade we transferred him to the private middle school Heather attended. She loved it but Adam is miserable. I want to switch him back to public school, but Ken cuts me off every time I bring up the topic. In fact he won’t talk to me about anything. If I say I feel as if I’m wasting my days, he’ll snap, ‘Find a hobby!’ or ‘Go back to school!’ Just thinking about that paralyzes me. If I go back to school, I’ll be 51 by the time I graduate! Ken couldn’t care less about all that, which infuriates me. I’ve never been a complainer, but I know I’m turning into one.
“I’ve only ever worked for one company. I started there right after community college. That may sound boring but I loved it. Over the years I gained more responsibility and got to know so many wonderful people. In fact, I met Ken through a colleague. He was quiet but cute and smart. After we’d been dating for a while, he told me he’d been nervous that I wouldn’t like him. That was so sweet. I didn’t think I was the type to make a man nervous. For our wedding we posted an invitation on our office doors inviting coworkers to stop by, and more than 200 people showed up! We barely had enough cake for everyone.
“I miss my colleagues so much. I try to keep in touch but we live far away from town, so meeting someone for lunch is not as simple as Ken seems to think. He and I never do anything together, except fight. I’m not pulling in a paycheck, so I feel guilty even suggesting a movie or dinner out. The days all blend together. I suspect our marriage is doomed, but I’m so unhappy I don’t know what I think anymore.”