It’s time, friends. That high-pitched hum that’s been getting louder, the tap-tap-tap of your left foot, the way every interaction with another human makes you feel a new and more vinegary anger – these are signs that it is time, time to quit. What are we quitting? What’ve you got?
More people are quitting their jobs than ever before. In April almost 4 million Americans gave in their notice, while in the UK more than a third are planning to do so before the year is out. In that filthy way the pandemic has, where everything it touches is suddenly changed, Covid has impacted working life. Not just the shape of our days, our salaries, our lunch hours, but the way we feel about it, too. Explaining why they quit, one former pet store worker told the Washington Post, “My life isn’t worth a dead-end job.”
Nor a dead-end marriage. After a year inside with their partner, and a dishwasher that broke in October, and a puppy that seemed like a good idea at the time but appears to have an issue with authority and/or dairy, and a discussion about children that ended abruptly after an ad break in Poirot and was never returned to even when it was completely obvious who the murderer was, many are quitting their relationships, too. Lack of childcare, loss of loved ones, the sharp tension of living adjacent to a sometimes-fatal disease, nowhere to go and nobody else to see – these anxieties pried open cracks in marriages that were difficult to grout. Which, I guess, was a blessing in some houses, in some relationships that had petered out some years ago but were forced to the wall by these new germs. Forced to look at themselves, and imagine the luxury of a future apart.
For these people it will be expensive, but it will be worth it. Which brings us to something else people are quitting – spending sensibly. On we quit, unable or willing to take it any more, and sometimes we quit with drama, something slammed, more often though with a series of sighs drawn out over many weeks. Sometimes we quit with a credit card. The head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce said post-pandemic, the business lobby group expects the strongest growth in spending since 1988. There’s been a surge in demand for luxury goods as the very rich have got even richer and the less rich have seen their chances of owning homes dwindle, and as both have looked into the sun and seen the end of the world coming and thought, “Fuck it, I’m buying a pony.” A combination of vast inequality and imminent apocalypse has led to a lot of people buying… stuff. Watches and handbags and clothes that will fly behind them as they stride fearlessly into the unknown.
By which I mean, the countryside. People are quitting cities in their thousands, some because they no longer need to live a bus ride away from the closed-down office, some because they craved nature during their enforced lockdowns in flats three storeys above the street, some to be closer to their families, whose stuttering faces on Zoom got glitchier and greyer as the wifi strained with emotion, and some, many, because the city became too hard. It stopped working. Its highs did not outnumber its many stinking lows, so they quit.
The idea of quitting, of quitting anything like this, it thrills me. It thrills me in a cold and dangerous way, one of those fantasies that must not be prodded too hard or questioned too late at night. To quit is to rebel against the stories we’ve been told since birth. What success looks like, what comfort is for, which compromises are necessary in order to live a good life. It can be difficult to accept that it’s possible to quit a marriage without damning the relationship as a failure, instead seeing it simply as a success that finished. It can be terrifying to sacrifice a steady income for something more mutable and loose, but if the cost of that security is larger than the income itself, then that terror is worth risking. Saving money is objectively sensible, but also objectively extremely boring, and today, when doing so no longer guarantees a happier life, the moral judgments that hang from the former become transparent in the rain. Cities, well, I’m not the person to argue for a rural existence, as I will cling on to these rat-piss kerbs with my fingertips until only my gelled red nails remain, but for many, many people, not me, but many, many others, much satisfaction and peace can be found in, what, a field? Of some sort? Where was I? Oh yes.
It requires a certain amount of privilege to quit, of course, a quantity of privilege the size, roughly, of a blue Ikea bag, and a certain amount of bravery, too. Also, naivety, a sweetly pink-edged stupidity with which to tell yourself everything will work out fine, despite much evidence suggesting otherwise. But gosh, the rush. The joy. Of taking charge and saying no, no thank you, of joining your fellow travellers on a freshly tarmacked road, past burned-out cars and shock-faced friends, to somewhere completely, terrifyingly new.