David and I met in 2010. The economic recession was technically over by then, but we were trapped by the lingering effects. Before we met, it had been a private and lonely journey plagued with disillusionment, shame, and resentment over losing our jobs. The layoffs brought on by that economic crisis affected all sectors but did a real number on the newspaper and advertising industries, where we both had landed after college. Our pain went unacknowledged until we met.
The joys that typically chaperone a nascent relationship (dining out, travel, happy weight gain) seldom happened for us. Job hunting, car repossession, bankruptcy, moving in with parents, and soul-searching were profound humbling experiences around which we bonded and anchored our love. He introduced me to scooters as alternative mode of transportation. I introduced him to a cheaper cellphone plan. We celebrated the little victories, such as finding a shy $10 bill tucked away in a seldomly used pocket or getting a discount.
The unemployment gap we lamented as ambitious young professionals fueled our life as a couple in ways fruitful times would not have. It gave us a shared purpose that might not have emerged otherwise. We called this purpose: Slaying the Dragons. It meant sticking it to the man. When we eventually re-invented ourselves and found jobs, this fantasy manifested itself as small, achievable missions that conveniently matched the state of our finances: frugality, paying off debt, courthouse wedding, car-free lifestyle, child-free lifestyle, cans of tuna, white envelopes labeled _savings__. We told ourselves they were conscious decisions to get back at the system that failed us. The truth is, we had no choice. Not really. We did have a say in dreaming up what the future would look like. This time, we would do everything in our power to retain control and reject external manipulation.
The crowning piece to our Slaying the Dragons campaign has taken us a decade to conquer. Imagine building a 1000-square-foot house at the rate of one paycheck’s disposable income at a time. That’s what we pretty much did to have a chance at homeownership. We rejected the alternative of an absurd mortgage enslaving us for the next three decades.
Note, I don’t recommend this path to anyone with a herniated disk, active social lifestyle, or prone to peer comparison. The sacrifices made, reenactments of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and self-pity parties held of the past 10 years are too many; far more than one can count. What I know with certainty is that this sweet thing hitting our taste buds lately feels like Pride, and it derives from being our own masters.