Looking For A Job Is Like Dating, But Worse

The process of looking for work is eerily similar to looking for someone to spend the better part of your life with.

The last time I was asked to address the sad state of my romantic life, I was sitting in my kitchen eating a post-gym popsicle, while my roommate made dinner.

“You really don’t want to be in a relationship with anyone, right now?” he asked me.

“No,” I responded. “I want a job that I like. I want a career that I find fulfilling. I want to be able to take care of myself.”

We bantered back and forth for a while, as I finished my popsicle and, under stress, consumed another. “Being in a relationship doesn’t mean you’ve lost your independence,” he said. “You can still be independent, but be with someone.”

“Sure,” I said. “But the energy I divest into finding an actual person is energy better used in other places.”

“Where?” he asked.

“Looking for a job,” I replied. “Figuring out my career. I need that more than I need a partner.”

For the bulk of my career, I have had ambitious tunnel vision, focused solely on getting a job, holding onto that job and then finding another one when the one I’m currently situated in doesn’t feel right. I am an inveterate comparison shopper; the grass is always greener, with better benefits and happier employees on the other side of the fence. My grass is yellow, scorched from the sun, boring and insipid and uninspired. Green grass smells good, feels better and will pay off my student loans in a fashion that’s less a slow march to hell and more a brisk sprint through the neighborhood—more efficiency than anything else.

The process of looking for work — putting yourself out there, tailoring a cover letter and wearing more makeup than you would on a normal day — is eerily similar to looking for someone to spend the better part of your life with. Both tasks require a preternatural amount of tenacity and both are inextricably tied to your self-worth in a way that feels dangerous and potentially damaging.

Like on a date, a job interview is your one shot to convince a person across the table that you are more than the words on your resume and the blandishments in your cover letter. You are sparkling and witty and extremely confident. You swear only if they do first but it is sparing and measured. You are your best self, despite the roiling insecurity just beneath the surface and the steady hum of your phone, vibrating in your grimy tote bag on the ground near your foot — a call from someone you certainly owe money to, but will not be bothered to answer right now.

Common knowledge and general experience tells me that dating is a numbers game. “Putting yourself out there” is advice slung by well-meaning strangers and kind friends who sit across the table from you at a bar on a weeknight, texting their partner while you’re in the bathroom. Despite how hollow a sentiment it may be, it really does work. Message the people. Don’t be picky. Throw yourself into the churning water and see what comes out of it. Success in the field isn’t some mysterious combination of factors that are completely out of your control. Success only comes if you try.

The same can be said of looking for work. Every time I find myself out of work, I attack the job boards with the same kind of blind determination seen most commonly in the eyes of people waiting outside a Best Buy on Black Friday. Cast the net wide, they say, and drag in everything the vast ocean has to offer. There will be flotsam and trash and weird fish that look fine from afar but from up close are terrifying, but somewhere in there will be the job that’s right for you. Apply for everything and hope something sticks.

Waiting to hear back about a job that you really want is often times more stressful than waiting to see if that person you met on Hinge will respond to your pithy quip about television shows and beers in the future. It’s just as easy to concoct an elaborate fiction about an email to HR as it is to make up reasons why the person you want very badly to kiss on the mouth is not responding to your texts. The mind is conditioned to cycle endlessly through the same patterns: They are busy; they didn’t get it; they have other things to do; they read it and are considering that moment when you somehow misinterpreted a simple social gesture and made the whole thing awkward for everyone involved. Left to consider your thoughts alone, your reasons snowball into grand narratives with the same denouement — rejection. Both kinds of rejection suck, but one is intrinsically worse than the other.

Being single is a choice, but unless you are very privileged and very lucky, having a job is not. Most people need to work to survive — to pay the bills, to feed themselves, to make sure that the fat cat you somehow own eats with some regularity. Capitalism is a scourge, but it’s also the way we live now. Money and the ability to spend and earn it with relative impunity is vital to feeling like a productive member of society. A job gives you the freedom to participate. Being in a relationship is another way to feel productive, but its rewards, while still valuable, are much less tangible. A job is essential to survival; a relationship, regardless of what your mother might tell you, is not.

The thread that unites these two disparate experiences is validation and the understanding that someone out there sees something in you that’s worthy of investment. If you decide to date someone and they decide to love you back, that means you have both deemed each other worthy of your time. Accepting a job is a similar transaction but is much more important. Someone has recognized you for what you can do. Someone has seen some value. Someone with money and the desire to give it to you sees potential. That potential they see is your ticket to independence. It is a semi-guarantee of self-sufficiency and freedom.

Megan Reynolds is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in New York.