Overhead

“What brought you here?” is usually the first thing people ask me when I mention I’m new to the area. I’ve tried out a few different responses. “It’s a long story” (true). “To be closer to family” (false). I’ve yet to really settle on something, because the truth isn’t something easily reducible to small talk. After the first few times, you’d think I’d just stop mentioning it. But what else are you supposed to say when you’re new in town and don’t have anything else to talk about?

I picked the theme “home” for the Carnival of Aces last month, and it got a lot of submissions, but between Rowan’s post and my own current situation, I’m not done thinking about it. This is mostly just a reflection post. At the same time, it’s also a post about “overhead” — which here applies in the literal sense (a roof overhead) and another, more economic sense: referring to the concept of “overhead costs,” i.e. the expenses required keep the lights on and a roof overhead. Normally, the term’s applied to business expenses. But you can also think about it in terms of homes and people, too.

[This post has been crossposted to Pillowfort.]

The way I understand it, there are about three main, boilerplate reasons that adults move to new places: to follow a partner, to be closer to family, and to pursue a career. Neither of those exactly applies, for me. Or rather, they apply in reverse. I had moved to pursue a graduate degree… and then upon completing the program, there was nothing left for me in that town. And so I moved out of it. That town, that university, the last address known to my birth parents. Moving here wasn’t really about moving to anything — just away from what I knew to be a dead end.

In some ways, I’m worried that this place will be a dead end, too.

And who am I going to turn to if it is?

I’ve talked some before about being “single” in the sense of an all-encompassing social status. In that post, I mostly talked about breaking off from blood family, but the resulting social precarity is something intensified by other factors. Namely, material and financial precarity.

Like I’ve said, I’ve mostly been able to ignore the matter of what’s next for me as long as I had my head down and kept busy with school. Assistantships as a grad student don’t pay much, but mine was enough to keep me afloat, for the time that it lasted. Now, in a new city, with no program to enroll in and no assistantship and no job lined up, I have to ask myself what happens if I don’t find a new job before my savings run out and I’m no longer able to pay rent.

It seems like survival in my country is supported by those same three main legs I mentioned before: a partner, family, or money. What you lack in one, you can make up for with another, at least temporarily. So for some people, it’s okay if they’re between jobs for a while — they’ve got a support system they can fall back on, people they can turn to. And vice versa — sometimes the legwork performed within families and close relationships can be compensated for, if you’ve got the money to pay someone else to do it.

Can’t say the same here. I’ve severed one of those legs for myself, another’s never been a presence in the first place, and the last one may be in jeopardy. So I hope you can understand, then, the renewed sense of inner urgency, surpassing anything I felt in middle school or high school or college, to try and make myself more dateable. I ask myself, how many of my preferences and dealbreakers can I renegotiate? How many personality traits can I saw off? I look in the mirror sometimes and I think — I’m only getting older. This might be the most attractive I ever get to be. What if I let these years go to waste and I miss my chance?

It’s stupid, sure, but it’s not the kind of stupid you can talk down with the reassurance that everything’s going to be alright.

In some ways, I feel like I never should have left Texas. I don’t regret it, not really — not when I remember what made it feel so important to quit living like I was — but I also have to partly recognize that I’m in an exile of my own making. I could go back. I might have better luck getting a job there. And yet. Considering I still tense up in the grocery store when I see old women with hair like my ex-mother’s and I still have nightmares about getting chased down… I think I’m going to still be listening to songs about never going home again for a good long while.

What I want to know is, what’s supposed to be the longterm solution here? Aside from continuing to apply for jobs and hoping to nab one, how do I arrange for my own survival?

I don’t expect anybody in particular to have the answers. What I do ask is that people care about the question, in a more general sense. “You don’t need to have sex” and “you don’t need to date” are nice sentiments, but we need more than sentiments to address how interpersonal relationships, partnership, and sex are bound up in the material realities of keeping each other alive.


14 responses to “Overhead

  • Silvermoon

    I think about this kind of thing a lot- I do have a familial safety net I could fall back on if something drastic happened to me, but tbh there’s a non-zero chance (I don’t want to say “high” chance, but like) I’m going to be single/live alone for the rest of my life, and jeez, everything is just so bloody expensive if you don’t have a partner.
    Mind, I do live in Australia so it’s not like our minimum wage sucks or anything, but with what I’m doing currently I struggle mentally/emotionally with a part time job so I’m left like, ok, but how do i find the PerfectTM job where I *can* work full time, or at least closer to.
    Plus considering what will happen if I get sick or something and I don’t live with someone who can look out for me…
    I feel a bit better about some things nowadays, though, because I’m slowly building a better friendship network… eg, I helped someone out majorly when they were moving earlier this year…. and I know that when I move next they’re someone who owns a car that I can count on to help me out… (Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal to some people, idk lol, I’m just… it takes me a very long time to make friends and build a network like that…)

    • luvtheheaven

      I think about those kinds of things a lot too. It is very hard and time consuming to build that kind of network of friendships. They also are still subject to people just moving away.

  • luvtheheaven

    FYI the “Never going” song link is broken.

    I’m sorry you’re struggling with all this. We have a significant problem with the rates of homelessness in this country and how those in that transient population are treated/not assisted in any reasonable way. It’s a thing most people desperately wish to avoid for survival reasons. In fact making money through illegal sources becomes so appealing for a lot of people if it means you can keep paying rent, even if the risk is extremely high for an extremely lengthy prison sentence. There are unemployment benefits accessible to certain people, there is the concept of crashing on friends’ couches or crowfunding for rent money, etc etc. Mainly it all sucks. That’s not even getting into any of the other things important to address regarding survival and what you talked about here about family/partner/money like healthcare, ableism, etc.

    I do hope you apply to a job that works out for you soon. I hope this stress be alleviated. I really do.

  • aceadmiral

    Ah, the topics that keep me up at night~

    I don’t have any answers for you (obviously), but I agree that there are so, so many conversations that we need to have about this. It 100% affects the way I interact with my family, the way I interact with friends, the choices I make about where to live and what kind of jobs to take and how to spend my time and money…. the pressure is *immense*

    I actually messaged Rowan after their post because… I just want to build some sort of safety net for every ace in the world, and yet I know it is outside of my power. I mean, I guess Sci is managing it to a certain extent, but I am… pretty far from financing the dream at the moment. Ah, these hashtag-millenial-problems…. it feels pretty hopeless

    But you gave us a song, and that is the foolproof way to make a heavy post palatable, so no complaints from me!

  • Linkspam: September 6th, 2019 | The Asexual Agenda

    […] Coyote wrote about moving, and how we support ourselves. […]

  • Vesper

    The way I understand it, there are about three main, boilerplate reasons that adults move to new places: to follow a partner, to be closer to family, and to pursue a career.

    hmm… i think that ‘to pursue a dream’ and ‘as a means of escape/survival’ are also pretty big reasons why adults move to new places… or at least, they have been for me in the past. but you’re right.

    It seems like survival in my country is supported by those same three main legs I mentioned before: a partner, family, or money. What you lack in one, you can make up for with another, at least temporarily.

    it is difficult to make it through life in America (and in general) without at least one partner (of the romantic variety or not) and / or [living, non-toxic, accepting] family (of the biological variety or not) and / or money (of the paper & coin variety or not). i agree that dismantling, [re]examining, and challenging the status quo relationship between interpersonal relationships, materialism, and sheer survival is something that needs to be done more for everyone’s sake.

    personally, i’ve never felt interpersonal relationships (intimate or familial) to have ever been a means of survival for me… then again, i’ve always had a distinct lack of any sense of futurity for myself and thus never felt the pressure of potentially needing someone to take care of me in my old age, of needing someone to fall back on in a financial crisis (although, ironically, that has been a reality for me now), etc because i’ve always been focused on surviving the present, as well as being of the mindset of materialistic resources + me, myself, & i [+ a cat or three] being what would get me through life—interpersonal relationships with other people being but a means to an end in terms of accessing said material resources via the social currency and leverage that they would provide…

    …which i guess does still boil down to the point that you are making.

    as i mentioned, i’ve always lacked any sense of futurity. that is to say, that i have never really been able to picture any sort of “in the future” for myself to begin with, so there’s also that. you’d think that that would have changed now that i’m 34 rather than, say, 12, but it really hasn’t. i should sit down sometime and try to dismantle, examine, & challenge my own lack of futurity in addition to the larger picture that is the shitty status quo surrounding survival in this county. hmm. [/thinkingaloud]

    • Coyote

      I should probably do that too, honestly. For a long time, my mantra for getting through high school was “I don’t want to die without going to college” — just because I wanted to see what it was like, to accomplish at least that much. Then it was to finish college. Then it was to get published academically, for a while, which turned into just getting into grad school. Then once I finally managed that, I was solely focused on getting through grad school. Now I’ve basically run out my long term goals, besides getting published, and am floundering again. You’d think after a few rounds of this I’d have decided to start working on more long-term goals, and yet…

      • Sennkestra

        I actually am pretty deep into working on some of the longer term goals, esp. setting aside savings and investing them in order to be able to fund a lengthy and stable retirement (including possibly a house purchase when/if I get more motivated to “settle down”) – and honestly, the whole ace and increasingly-likely-to-be-unpartnered thing has definitely influenced me to save a fair bit more than many retirement guides recommend, precisely because I know that I won’t have access to the kind of partner support that many people assume, and that having more money to throw at things is going to be one of the most likely ways for me to compensate for that.

        As far as milestones, I’ve gone through the same thing once I got my undergrad degree (and had the revelation that I didn’t actually have any real interest in grad school).

        I think the hardest part for me is that sans mid-life things like kids or marriage or home-buying, most of the next set of big goals (like retirement) will only come to fruition in like 30-40+ years, which is far enough out that it makes it hard to imagine concretely and get excited about. Aiming for round number landmarks (like, I have $12,560 in this 401k, let’s aim for a round 20k!) helps a little, but it still much much harder (emotionally and logically) to get motivated about compared things like degrees or job/apartment searches with more immediate payoffs.

  • Sara K.

    It may be worth looking at how the LGBT community has grappled with these issues over the decades and take notes. Yes, many LGBT people form sexual and/or romantic partnerships, and their relationships can now take more mainstreamish forms than before (hello same-sex marriage), but for a long time (and still today, in some cases) many LGBT people did not have the option of forming stable socially accepted partnerships AND were often alienated from their families of origin AND faced adversity when looking for jobs.

    When I was in college, I took an introduction to Gerontology class taught by an expert on LGBT gerontology. Even though it was a 101 class that wasn’t specifically about LGBT community, since it’s his research specialty he dedicated an entire lecture to LGBT aging, and how LGBT elders, who often don’t have a living/stable partnership and severed ties with their families of origin decades ago, face old age. How they deal with it to some extent depends on which generation of LGBT people they belong to, and to what extent they were involved in LGBT communities when they were younger.

    Not that LGBT communities have solved the problems you’ve described, but they do have experience.

    • Sennkestra

      There’s also a lot of work on alternative aging and support structures specifically because of the AIDS crisis – because even a lot of people who did find parters, close friends, or “found families” still lost that support when AIDS ravaged entire communities (and which, like many medical crises in america, could wipe out a persons finances even if they were fortunate enough to have a well-paying job or ample savings).

  • Rowan

    I don’t have anything particular to add here, but I felt like I should appear in this comment section and nod in stressed-out sympathy, so… that’s what I’m doing. I hope you are able to find more supports.

  • Jess

    Just wanted to say thank you for posting this; I missed the last couple of Carnival of Aces months, actually (funnily enough b/c of my own impending move), but ‘Home’ is a great theme for one.

    My anxiety has skyrocketed in the years I’ve lived on my own. If I have a health emergency, I have to deal with that. I have to figure out what to do. If I have a mean landlord, I have to deal with that. No one’s going to help me. Not to mention the fact that I can’t split the rent with anyone, a fact that largely gets ignored by my coupled friends when we complain about expenses. If I’m injured and can’t get around as easily, I have to figure out how to get groceries and get to and from work and do what needs to be done (and I’ve done this for the past couple of months and it sucks). Luckily, I do have ties I can rely on in many respects, though they are not in the area. But even in my fairly lucky situation, I don’t have that type of robust support system that having a partner provides.

    I think Sara K. and Sennkestra make great points about places to look for examples. I do think more millennials are looking into different ways to build community generally, but it’s not very widespread, as most people (at least the ones I know) still have/are trying to have more traditional partnerships.

    Thank you for posting this, and I hope that your situation feels more secure soon.

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