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Lose Your Job, Gain a Life

New America Media, News Feature, Leslie Casimir Posted: Jan 23, 2009

Editor's Note: Free from the shackles of their once-demanding jobs, some of the newly unemployed are rediscovering themselves and their libidos in ways unimaginable, NAM editor Leslie Casimir reports.

SAN FRANCISCO -- When Nilo Sarraf was let go from her engineering job at Yahoo last month, she went out for a long lunch with friends and home to sit in a long, deep meditation.

"There was no point in asking myself the question why this was happening to me, " said Sarraf, who found herself comforting other distraught colleagues in December when Yahoo axed 1,500 people. "There was this one girl who was crying and I hugged her and said 'come on, this is only a job -- you're not going to die."

Since that gloomy day in December, Sarraf, a Pleasanton, Calif., resident, describes her life as being anything but dead.

She has more time to socialize with friends over dinners. She also is enjoying the outdoors by going on nature hikes.

"I've been so busy these past years with school and work, I never gave myself time to really reflect and ask myself the question: what do I really, really want," said Sarraf, an attractive Iranian Swede who has lived in the United States for eight years.

Across the nation, hundreds of thousands of workers have lost their jobs -- a record 2.8 million in 2008 -- and some of the newly unemployed are gaining social lives.

People are traveling more, taking up hobbies, dating and having more sex.

Saraff, who is in her 30s, last week formed a Silicon Valley online networking group on meetup.com Layoffs Caf(http://www.meetup.com/Layoffs-Cafe/) -- where the recently unemployed can not only find people to talk to about job hunting, but also socialize, commiserate and even distract themselves by going out.

"My hope with this group is that we set up a fun type of activity or just have coffee somewhere," she explained.

Within 12 hours of setting up the online meet-up group, more than 30 people signed up for the new adventure, said Saraff. And this week, that number swelled to more than 50, with additional requests for East Bay, Central Valley and San Francisco chapters, Saraff said.

Any dating potential?

"I don't want to say that's one of my ambitions and goals, but if it happens, it happens," she said.

It could be one of the only upsides to this frightful recession, said Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. People want more meaning in their lives, more human contact.

"It's built into the brain: when you're stressed out the human instinct seeks out others for strength," said Keltner, author of Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. "When we have lots of people around us, we feel less stress."

Maria never imagined that getting laid off from her high-profile editing job for a New York magazine would translate into, well, getting laid.

The 36-year-old Latina, who did not want her real name used (she's still looking for a job), said her dormant sex life has blossomed in ways unimaginable.

Before losing her job, Maria's workday was from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. When she left the office, she would go out with colleagues to talk about work.

"We were just going out to vent or I would go home so exhausted and just veg out in front of the TV," Maria said. "I did almost five years of that shit."

Since then, Maria has amassed freelance assignments and has set up her office hours at a Brooklyn coffeehouse, where she has become part of a tribe of writers and creative types who work on their laptops.

Maria discovered that she's getting work done but in a less harried manner. She also is jogging on a daily basis and has taken up new hobbies, like snowboarding.

"Because I felt comfortable in my new world, that really began to show in my face," said Maria, who said her self-confidence is way up. "I smile a lot more, I'm more open because I'm not at work all the time."

Men have noticed.

"For two years, I hadn't had sex with anybody but since then I've slept with four guys -- that's a lot for me," said Maria, tan from a recent trip to Miami with a head full of curly hair and a bright smile. "It's like being a teenager and you're away from your parentsNone of this would have happened if I had been working."

Jennifer Grizzle, a spokeswoman for Durex, the condom manufacturer, said she does not know what type of protection Maria is using, but the economic downturn has been a boon for her company's condom sales. In December 2006, for example, the company sold $18 million worth of condoms in the United States. In November 2008, the last date for which sale figures were available, that number jumped to $19 million.

"While we're not in people's bedrooms, condom sales remain very strong," Grizzle said. "If you're staying in more, instead of going out and spending money, you can't stop the force of nature."

Maria's personal growth is not limited to the bedroom. Her freelance writing and editing gigs have become more meaningful and she more often visits her parents in Miami. She regularly goes out to clubs and lounges with friends, but drinks seltzer water instead of cocktails to save money. And she says she is fine with that.

"I'm finding out that I don't need alcohol to have fun," she said.

Maria's life mirrors Yasmine, another laid off New York magazine editor, who wished to remain anonymous. Not only is she dating more (she's seeing a couple of men right now), but she has reconnected with old friends she never had time to see.

Next month, the former travel editor will go to the Kashmir region to volunteer with UNICEF on the Pakistan and India border.

"I hear it is one of the most beautiful regions in the world," said Yasmine, who is South Asian. "And I finally have an opportunity to go there. It's like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and I'm doing the things that I want to do."

Leslie Casimir can be reached at lcasimir@newamericamedia.org

Related Articles:

Retired Job Seekers Swell Unemployment Rolls

The Fading American Dream

Sour Economy, Layoffs Dampen Inland Holiday Spirit


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