When Two People Work From Home in a One-Bedroom
Life takes us all to strange places we never intended to go. Recently it took my husband and me on a journey of far too much togetherness. Now that it’s over, I have never been more in awe of couples who work together and haven’t garroted each other.
Like many in this bracingly cool new workaday world of ours, for the past year or so I have found myself laboring away as an independent contractor and freelancer. This isn’t really where I thought I’d be at this more-advanced-than-I’d-like stage of life, but one either rolls with the punches or takes a final trip to the Golden Gate Bridge. Fortunately, I’m still rolling.
Part of the rapidly expanding my-own-boss demographic means being part of the wondrous trend of working from home. This is probably the best aspect of the whole deal, or at least it was for a few months.
I’d roll out of bed between 8:30 and 9, fix myself a leisurely breakfast as I check email, read about current events for longer than I should, and then get a few hours of real work done with no supervisor or company co-founder looking over my shoulder. After my five- to six-hour workday was done, I’d go to the adorable but expensive neighborhood market and grab the fixings for dinner which I’d then prepare while listening to the Savage Lovecast. By the time my husband got home from his 8:30 to 5:30, I’d be happily buzzed off a glass of wine or a couple of hits off the vaporizer. It was kind of idyllic.
Then he got laid off.
Now, the reason I’m not parked in a cubicle or (God forbid!) sitting in one of the new open office plans guarding my screen from my coworkers right now is that I, too, had been laid off, so I’m not unsympathetic to his situation. I know all too well what a blow to one’s self-worth it can be. Frankly, he handled it a lot better than I did when it happened to me.
That said, he worked as the fulfillment and customer service guy for a porn studio—old-fashioned DVD shipping, no bareback gay porn studio—so he knew for quite some time that the end was nigh. Unfortunately, he hadn’t done anything to prepare for that eventuality. (Yes, there were a few “I told you sos” involved. I’m a bad person.) After 13 years with the company he was sent packing with two week’s severance, and we both got more togetherness than was good for either of us.
It was okay for the first few weeks. I had to give up my desk in the kitchen so he could use the desktop while I pecked away at my laptop in my new bed/office—yes, bed, not bedroom. We live in a 650-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco under rent control so we’ll probably die there. It’s a perfect size for a couple without a lot of stuff (Other than books. We have so many books.), but it’s not the kind of place where one needs an intercom to communicate with one’s loved ones.
Anyway, no room in the bedroom for a desk and the southern exposure living room gets way too sunny and warm in the afternoon. So bed/office. This would be one area where I was bucking a trend. Other people are getting into standing desks and I became more of a lounging pillow desk kind of guy.
He diligently pored over Craigslist, and sometimes LinkedIn. Does LinkedIn really work for anyone or are we all just lemmings? He talked to many recruiting agencies. That took up approximately two or sometimes three hours a day. I’m erring on the side of generosity. Obviously, it wasn’t three hours every day. If he had an interview—and eventually he was going on at least one interview a week—add another two hours.
According to a helpful UC Berkeley Extension commercial just now, only 2 percent of applicants get interviews. It was on TV so it must be true.
Now, the days he worked—and looking for work is work, that’s for sure—five hours a day, two of them out of the house were the “no problem” days. We only bickered at the usual level. (After 20 years we are a cliche in many ways and one of them is that we are often the “funny” bantering couple.) When my work was done for the day, I’d go to the market, or the taqueria, or the shitty Thai place around the corner, or GrubHub and get some form of pre-made dinner, after which he’d watch TV in the living room, or play games on his phone with the TV on, while I read in the bedroom. This was not great, but it worked out fine for about two months.
Then I began to notice all the things around the apartment that needed cleaning. Monotony has a way of fixing focus on the little things.
I kept quiet about my growing frustrations, hardly ever jokingly pretending to chuck his phone out the window as he played the same damn game (Pew! Pew! Wh-a-a-am!) over and over again while the carpet began to look more and more like a dirt floor. I was mature. I bought a new vacuum to inspire him, and because we desperately needed it. I think he used it twice: once for novelty and once because we had company coming.
(A word to the wise, if you need one, spend the money on a decent vacuum. We had a crappy model we got at Target in 2004 for $40, and the first time I used the new one I was mortified and more than a little grossed out by how much filth the cheap-o vacuum had left behind.)
For his part, he did load the dishwasher most days, and schlepped the laundry a half mile up the street because the San Francisco real estate market is so out of whack that our neighborhood laundromat couldn’t afford the rent and closed last August. It was my only alone time some days. I loved when he did laundry. LOVED IT. My chores included scrubbing the tub and toilet and trying to refrain from bitching about it. (On the last part, I failed regularly.) I was also generally in charge of noticing dirt and disorder and trying to keep both at bay. He is both color- and dirt-blind, god love him. He is much easier to live with, not as moody or shouty as I am, yet he still managed to drive me ’round the bend on more than housekeeping issues.
It wasn’t any serious trouble or wildly inappropriate behavior that caused my frustration. Other than the startup interviews he kept going on where he wasn’t “a fit for the culture,” i.e., he’s over 35 and therefore knows nothing of the amazing disruptive new world the rich little twerps are creating, my biggest complaint was his propensity to either loom or wander while I was trying to be productive.
It’s not as if he never randomly stopped in his tracks and stood still while continuing to read or play a game or watch a video before he was laid off. But once we were together approximately 100 millionty hours a week, I began to see things differently. I’d be sitting on the couch catching up on my internet reading, or working or eating breakfast, and he’d almost walk by and stop and stand there, breathing ever more loudly. I’d clear my throat, he wouldn’t notice. I’d cough, his head remained bowed over his phone or book.
“Would you please either sit down or move along?”
“What? Why? I’m not doing anything to you.”
“You know I hate it when you loom. You’re annoying the crap out of me.”
“Whatever, this isn’t a castle and you’re not a king.”
He would usually keep walking after such an exchange—walk downstairs for one of his carefully rationed cancer sticks—and I’d have about a moment’s peace.
The wandering was even worse. Once his job hunt hours were done each day, he’d have trouble sitting in one place. If he’d used his over-caffeinated energy for a special project or even for a long walk outside, I’d have been cheering him on. Unfortunately, taking short meaningless walks between the kitchen and the bedroom became his favorite hobby. His circuit was a bit too long to call it pacing. He was more like a dog who keeps going back and forth from the window to the front door waiting for master to get home. Only master was home, and was trying to get some damn work done. Not easy when Mr. Meander blankly strolled into the room every ten minutes or so to look out the window or examine an interesting new facial hair in the mirror.
“Would you please stop wandering? Find something constructive to do. I need to get some writing done and every time you come in here you distract me.”
“I’m not wandering.” Plucks at little black hair a quarter inch above his eyebrow with his fingernails.
“Then what was your deliberate reason for coming in here?”
“I’m not wandering.” Strolls into the kitchen to the computer for 20 minutes before drifting back.
Sometimes I’d escape to a coffee shop or sex club (just kidding! just kidding). Or a bar, but one can linger in front of the glory holes only so long. (Seriously, just kidding. I had an unemployed husband, who had money for a sex club?) You have to go home eventually. I didn’t have the cash for much beer and there is such a thing as too much chamomile tea.
After six months we were nearing sitcom territory and were about ready to paint a line down the middle of the apartment and move our books around to accommodate said line.
The day of glory, however, finally arrived. He was doing laundry when he got the news that his persistence had paid off and he’d gotten hired. Funny thing, after accepting that job he was offered another the next day. God has a pretty f’ed up sense of humor sometimes.
He called and told me the news immediately and I sat there on the other end of the line near speechless with tears welling and chest swelling with pride and the anticipation of regular alone time again. Then I shuffled through the discarded candy wrappers, crumpled cigarette boxes, and crumbs, and got out the new vacuum so I could begin to make the place look like home, not a home, again.
Remember, no matter how much or long you’ve loved someone, you will want to push them out a window after spending nearly every minute of every day with them for six months, and that’s okay as long as you don’t follow through. Now, we’re back to the mostly loving couple we always were. He still looms, though.
This story is part of our relationships month series.
After decades of procrastination, Kevin figured he should finally start writing more than pithy Facebook updates and cleantech press releases before his professional epitaph became “adequate PR guy.” You can check out his lackluster twitter feed @kevmudgeon.