A few weeks ago, I did a post about my Boy Person’s impending move-in date, and how, while I was excited, I was also weighing in my mind the ways in which I view this new definition of commitment as a limitation of opportunity. How very funny, in retrospect. This week is my first week as a cohabitant, and the challenges thus far are a little different that the ones I was expecting.
I planned to do my second post on the division of housework and personal time – you know, the standard day-to-day things that keep us all ticking along, and seek input on how you divvy up your own allotments of chores and space as cohabitants. While space is something the Boy and I are still working on, all of that has come secondary to The Most Important Thing in My Life: My Job.
As seems to be the nature of my job, things lurch along without much of a problem until, all of a sudden!, we enter a solid week or two of panic mode, wherein I am at the office 11 hours a day, perpetually stressed and wiped out and completely incapable of carrying on functional relationships with the people in my Real-Life, to the point where I am too exhausted and irritable to even make a phone call when I drag my ass home. I get so physically and emotionally tired that I am a fount of irritability. I am crabby. I am short-tempered. I am brittle. I am the worst version of myself and I have no time for anyone else. I never meet friends during the week and I don’t even like to call my mom, because when I get home I just want to inhale the little bubble of solitude I have for three hours until I collapse into bed to have anxiety-dreams and wake up dehydrated and achey at 4:00 am. It is melodramatic, completely self-centered, and I feel helpless to do anything about it.
The last burst of work catastrophe happened only two short weeks ago, so I sort of thought I was on solid ground for the next month. No such luck. In the space of a week, I have been assigned five new projects, four of which I will project manage with a team in Australia and America, one of which I will support from the UK. Handling five projects at one time is a struggle in the best of circumstances, but handling five all at the same initial stage of development is a recipe for a nervous breakdown. Worse, I have been angling for the opportunity to project manage for years – it means more client exposure, bigger bonuses, and a higher-profile. What I didn’t expect is that, rather than being eased into it with one or two projects at a time, I would be handed four with a five-week deadline, covering West Africa, North Africa, and Russia. If I had a panic room, I would be locked in it, sobbing and subsisting on Saltines.
Additionally, I won my first client assignment last week. I am the originator of the business, thanks to good networking and client management, and was really, really proud of myself. But that project was pushed aside for four days while I dealt with these new, high-pressure assignments and I got my proposal out late. Now, the client is avoiding me and while I was already concerned I would lose the project, I fucked up monumentally at the very end of the day.
I wrote a long email setting out objectives to my two teammates in Australia and the States about the West Africa and Russia projects. It was 6:30, I hadn’t finished the one piece of internal paperwork I really needed to get done today (the bit of paperwork I told my boss would be done yesterday, about which he pulled me into his office this morning and went nuclear on my ass, leading me to cry at work for the first time in a year), and my vision was blurring. I hit send, noticing in the actual blink of an eye that one of the addresses at the top of the email was not to my colleague, but rather to the client I am courting (my Outlook had helpfully moved the client email to the top of the queue for the initials shared by the client and my colleague). Too late. I recalled the message right away, but that doesn’t work anymore, it just sends an email to the recipient notifying them the original email has been recalled and please don’t read it even though it’s sitting in your inbox like a candy-filled pinata (and if you are anything like me, you read that “recalled” email extra carefully to see what the big deal was).
So I have essentially sent this new client details on a project we are working on for another client. While not strictly confidential, it is a stupid, stupid, unprofessional thing. I would be hesitant to hire me after that. Fucking fantastic, and radio silence from the client in question. With that, I decided I was done for the day, best leave before I accidentally set the office on fire or trip on an extension cord and land on a pair of scissors (although, if I was in the hospital… No, never mind).
The thing with my office is, if you are under intense pressure, you are not allowed to buckle. I have to sack up, be cheerful, and be Superwoman, or this will be a black mark on my record for the next five years (‘Tailfeather, you know, she can’t handle pressure. She’s weak and hysterical, god knows we can’t put her in front of a client, she might cry.”). So I do my best, with varying results, to hold it together at the office and exude a calm, capable demeanor, despite the gaping cracks in my armor.
Our first official week as cohabitants, and the Boy and I have not been playfully squabbling over where to hang his ties, or having intimate dinners, or cuddling up in bed to read. Sex (HA!) is a distant thought, the last thing I would want to do – don’t you know I am trying to cram in 7.5 hours of uneasy sleep so I can get up and have a terrible day again tomorrow? In short, if we do get to have a honeymoon period, it ain’t happening until mid-January because the next six weeks are going to be a living nightmare.
In contrast, the Boy has been something of a saint. I set out a list of projects for him to do around the house, as he is unemployed and we – yes, we, it’s been discussed – don’t want him to fall into an idle routine. He’s walked me to work twice this week, and every day he’s taken on an assortment of assignments. He’s scouring the bathroom (the best it’s looked in years, I’m certain – I am taking photos for the landlord, because it’s hours of elbow-grease to get the grout clean); he set us up with wireless internet; he cleaned the microwave, oven, stove, and is going to revarnish the counters; he vacuumed the floors; he took about 40 of his LPs to the charity shop; he has cooked me dinner every single night, and then taken care of the dishes. He’s also scouting out locations to buy a cafe, and we’re going to work on his CV this weekend.
I’ve come home every night, tired and bitchy. He’s made a real effort to give me my space, so while I glare at my laptop and chainsmoke and mutter obscenities to myself, institutionalized-style, he will quietly play online chess in the corner and do his best not to provoke me. The only time he lost patience with me was last night, when we were eating the red-wine chicken and vegetables he’d made, and I spent half the dinner pounding out an angry email on my Blackberry. I didn’t even realize what I was doing, to be honest – under normal circumstances, I would never even answer my phone, much less an email, over dinner, but I am consumed by stress. It was so rude and insensitive, and I know exactly how I would feel were the situation reversed. It was lousy of me.
As much as I don’t want to talk about work to him – I just want to come home and try to forget for a while – I give him enough information that he understands the stress I’m under, and why I’m having a very hard time being a civil, fun person. I feel so guilty, because I didn’t want it to be like this. Obviously, there will be periods where it will be like this, but god, I wanted a little breathing room for us to adjust to one another. I have to break the routines I’ve been in for ten years of living alone, and this is just a total shit start.
He knows this is not me; we’ve dated for long enough, and there’s a reason he fell for me in the first place. I’m just so angry right now. If I were an investment banker, or a baby lawyer, high-pressure workloads and extra hours would just be a part of the job, and I’d be paid damn well for the sacrifice. But I am neither of those things, because I am simply not a person who can work like that and function with any kind of humanity. One day at a time, I tell myself, while my Blackberry buzzes at me with more bad news and the knot of dread in my stomach twists itself into glorious origami. I am an in-betweener. I want to make more money that I could at a straight-forward, relaxed 9-5 job (if those even exist anymore), but I don’t want to be some high-powered executive either. I just want a nice life and some savings so I can buy a house and send any future children to college. I want my creature comforts and a good night’s sleep.
I guess, since my last post, my question is less how-can-I-live-with-him than how-can-he-live-with me. I know things will settle down and we just need to grin and bear it for the next few weeks. But my stress becomes his stress, and I want to be a better partner than I am right now – I’m just too tired to deal with it, although I have made sure to praise him for his accomplishments around the house and explain that what’s going on with me has nothing to do with him. How do other people handle their work/life balance? Because mine is in seriously unstable.