When a Job Feels Like a “Failed Marriage”

Fresh out of school two years ago, I waltzed into my first full-time job like an eager young bride who was looking forward to a blissful matrimony.

Slightly less than two years after that, I filed for “divorce”, after being fully aware (and told in my face) that this “marriage” is failing.

Of course, nobody likes to fail. Failure imbues us with a sense of loss, shame and worthlessness. Most failed relationships (regardless of whether it’s professional or romantic) can be attributed to incompatibilities, and the sensible way of dealing with breakup is to recognise the irreconcilable differences, suck it up and move on to find a more compatible option.

But it’s hard, and if you were a worrywart like me, you might be constantly plagued with questions such as “What if I really was the one to blame for this?”

“What if the next relationship will still fail?”

“What if…I am just not good enough for anyone or anything?”


After countless rounds of internal debate, I realised a problem: Long before this date, I had been turning a blind eye to the warning signs of what had caused the relationship to fail. I use the generic term “relationship” because many parallels can be drawn between a failing employer-employee relationship and a marriage. It’s alarming how an employer can resemble an unsuitable (I want to refrain from using the word “bad”) spouse. Here are just some similar traits that they may display and some of them might look familiar to you:

  • They want you around to fill a void and perform certain duties, but they are not quite sure if they want or need you.
  • They are not doing well themselves and they whine about it from time to time, and sometimes they even blame it on you, but they have no clear directions and plans to address their problems.
  • They give you little power and responsibilities, but want you to make a big change to the existing state of the company/ household.
  • They are often missing in action, disconnected and seem to care little about what and how you are doing because they are “too busy for that”.
  • They are not willing or able to invest their time and resources in you because cutting cost is more important to them than helping you grow.
  • They do not communicate clearly with you on how you can help or do better. Instead, they prefer to hold silent grudges against you when you’re not giving them what they want.
  • They grow angry and insulting when you are temporarily unavailable to do their bidding, despite the fact that you have reached a prior agreement with them that you would be unavailable during that period of time.
  • They hardly acknowledge or appreciate your contributions, but will always remember your imperfections and mistakes.
  • They see you as more of a liability than an asset.
  • They have no feelings or ill feelings towards you and they badmouth you to others.

In some cases, when they have finally decided that they don’t want or need you, or when they realised that they are unable to keep you anyway, they tell you that you are the reason the relationship fell apart instead of being transparent and honest about what did not work out.

All that being said, I realise that by having certain expectations of companies (i.e. treating employees like people, and recognising, utilising and growing their potential, etc.) I might have sounded like just another self-entitled millennial who wants to have everything good on their plate—a stress-free white collar job with a good pay, a sense of purpose and achievement, and much respect at the workplace without putting in the necessary hard work.

avocado toast
Excuse me while I cry over my avocado toast. 

I am also aware that it is only normal for companies to hire people to solve their problems, generate revenue and help the company grow. One cannot simply expect the real world out there to be like a sheltered school environment where the students are the ones paying out of their pockets to buy a few lessons. In the real world, most companies are driven by profit, and few by grandiose ideals or a need to create value for the betterment of mankind. The employer-employee relationship is essentially very transactional. Thus, like what psychologist Jordan Peterson has said, most people have jobs, and only a rare handful have careers. A lot of us simply have to fill “nonsense job roles”, working on things that we do not necessarily believe in for people whom we do not like.

I wonder how my parents would feel about my impending lack of a job/career. Somehow, I am under the impression that they are not very good at giving career-related advice. It would also be highly inappropriate on my part to tell them that my current job feels like a “failed marriage”. How do I, an unmarried silly young thing even explain this concept to this couple who’s married for nearly 30 years?

“Um, you know when a guy marries a girl just so that he can get her to cook, clean, and have his babies, but he does not actually like or want her as his wife apart from that? My current company is like this guy.”

He is also pretty sexist, by the way.

Okay, that sounds a bit too melodramatic.

But at the end of the day, I am glad that I am leaving this “marriage” instead of wasting more of my youth on it.


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