This is a free edition of Brooklyn, Everywhere, a newsletter where I ponder the many meanings of gentrification, and what we lose in our relentless pursuit of “the American dream.” Sign up here to get it in your inbox. For access to all editions of the newsletter, including subscriber-only exclusives, subscribe to The Atlantic.
Past editions I’ve enjoyed include: And Just Like That... Is A Mirror Image of the New NYC, On Gentrification of Self: An Ode to Jeremy Strong, and America's Inside Voice.
For the past few weeks I have been in Palm Springs working on my next novel. Home, unfortunately, has distractions: a side effect of being a neighborhood buttinsky, I suppose. Plus, I like the sun and mountains and geriatric social schedule, and I have just enough friends here to not be lonely, but still productive. I was recently at lunch with one of these friends, gossiping, frankly, about a mutual acquaintance. I relayed what I would have suggested this person do, and my friend declared: “You know, the real way for Brooklyn to be everywhere is for you to offer your Brooklyn take on people’s conundrums.” This sounded, to me and my editor, like a winning idea. And so I solicited some questions on my social media. Here, without further ado, is the first edition of Ask Xochitl. You send me your problems, I give you my advice—Brooklyn-style.
I am an artist on a fellowship in Portugal until May. For the past few months my fiancé has been here living with me and working remotely at his finance job based in New York. But last week he got the email of doom. They want them to start coming in a few days a week starting the end of March. Our plan was to come back together in June, and we gave up our apartment in the U.S. His boss thinks he’s been “visiting me” for a couple of weeks every other month, and has no idea that he has been here since October. He’s been working U.S. hours and literally no one has noticed that he isn’t local remote. Should he quit and look for a new job or ask for more time? We are in our 20s and this is our first career dilemma like this.
Clara in Portugal
Truly a conundrum for our times. I want to start by saying that this column is, like Crunch Fitness in the ’90s, a place of no judgments. It’s been a wild time, and who wouldn’t want to be in Europe? (Assuming they have the stamina to manage the time difference.) As you point out, there are two choices: just quitting and looking for something new, or coming clean and asking for more time to relocate and get back to the office. Since quitting is, as they say, easy and there seems to be some desire on your fiancé’s part to retain this specific job, I’m going to focus on how he can pull this rabbit out of the hat.
The best thing for your partner to do is shoot straight and be mentally prepared for the consequences. Because what we have is a twofold problem. The first is universal: Companies want to get back to “normal,” and that idea of normal has a lot to do with the workplace being the centerpiece of their employees’ lives—but obviously employees are feeling a way about that. The second is specific, and has to do with trust, honesty, and admitting a lie. There may be a way to resolve this problem in the short term, allowing your fiancé to keep the job and stay a bit longer in Europe—but long term, his reputation with his employer may be irreparably damaged.
Let’s deal with the short-term problem first. First, your partner should reach out to his supervisor, armed with truth. It will be uncomfortable to reveal that he’s been engaging in some—let’s call a spade a spade—deception about where he’s been living. I would start with something like, “They say it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. As you know, my fiancé has had this fellowship in Portugal, and I’ve been able to work from there when I’ve visited. What I never mentioned, because I didn’t want you to freak out, is that I actually have been working from here full-time. So I need to apologize for not having been up front about that.”
This next part is really important: He needs to not try and make a jerk out of his boss, and instead concede that the return-to-office policy has forced him to reveal his whereabouts. The call back to the office was always a possibility; this was part of your fiancé’s gamble. So he needs to own it, not dance around it. But at the same time, he should be sure to express a positive attitude about returning to New York. He could say: “Obviously, I’m coming clean now because the timeline presents some logistical issues on my end. I’m very excited about coming back into the office; it’s been isolating working alone. My only issue is the timeline.”
And then just break it down, practically. “I need some time to find housing, etc. I am hoping we can work out a few extra weeks of flexibility.” And then it would be wise to point out, without being threatening at all, that he is a good fit for the firm and the team. Something to the effect of, “I love being a part of this team and understand the desire to get back to ‘normal.’ I’m hoping there’s greater value in a bit of flexibility than in finding and onboarding a replacement for me.”
A smart manager should want to work something out, because, simply put, this is an employee’s job market right now. The other day Forbes wrote about how job openings are at record levels, and they don’t anticipate that trend changing in the immediate future. And just this morning, The Wall Street Journal reported that wages for white-collar workers in finance and law are rising, in part because firms can’t find enough workers.
But should is the operative word here. At the end of the day, bosses are humans and no human likes feeling stupid. It isn’t that the lie produced ill consequences as much as the lie makes the person being lied to feel inconsequential to the liar.
Years ago, a friend of mine was a maternity-leave temp in an office. Her supervisor there called her Mary. Her name was not Mary. But she didn’t bother to correct them because, well, what did it matter? She was just a temp. When, weeks later, the supervisor found out they had been calling not-Mary Mary, the supervisor lost it! They weren’t upset that they had been calling an employee the wrong name; they were upset that they didn’t matter enough to the employee for her to correct them.
Your fiancé’s lie may not have affected his work performance, and his company might be especially keen to retain him in this market. But he should also be prepared for a future where his boss never looks at him the same way again.