The longest relationship I’ve ever been in lasted seven years. It started when I was barely 16 and survived through two college degrees and a cross-state move. It brought me some of my closest friends and happiest, albeit insane, memories from my late teens and early 20s. As long-but-over relationships are wont to, it ended amicably but was tumultuous almost entirely throughout.
It was also with Best Buy.
Things started out slow: I was sixteen and legally wasn’t able to commit to anything too serious (because of labor laws and my mom) so I was just a cashier. Part time. Low-level. Unassuming. But it was easy and I got paid.
It was comfortable for a while. Too comfortable, for too much of a while.
As comfort tends to do, that one stagnated and I started asking more of the relationship. More time together, more responsibility, more commitment. Although I was scared to ask for this “more,” I consulted my friends and family and they agreed: I deserved it. So I asked: more time, more responsibility, more commitment. I was quickly given what I spent so much time fretting over and by 18, I was full-time, in charge of customer service, with cashiers answering to me. From my naive vantage point, the relationship was going places.
I didn’t like the time we spent together and any time we were apart was generally spent complaining about it, but why throw away what you can manipulate? So I stayed.
The longer I stayed, the deeper into things I became. Roots grew, ones that would later be tedious and painful to pull out and that tethered me in place, trapping me. I became so entrenched that I couldn’t take it anymore. I quit for the first time when I was 19; I was still running the customer service desk and everything was too stale. I needed something new, clean, fresh, different. So I walked away for a summer.
It didn’t work out. I came crawling back.
A few more times that dance was performed until, as I graduated college and returned for the billionth time to the customer service desk – which I was still running, because the commitment had at this point lost all comfort and compassion and was by now completely mechanical – resigning myself to the unhappiness. After all, I’d already invested nearly a third of my life into this relationship. I’d grown with it, and I was worried that that growth would be cut away if I severed ties.
Of course, it wasn’t.
I quit working at Best Buy for the fourth and final time over four years ago and my life has slowly grown better every day since then. I could still be in that same stagnant situation – since underwhelming, unhealthy relationships are also the kind that you can stick with forever, if you’re lazy enough – but I’m glad that I’m not.
From this, and to some extent throughout this, I recognized that although something like a dead-end job can be tolerated for long periods, a dead-end relationship can not. It wasn’t that I stuck with Best Buy for seven years that made it unhealthy; it’s that I stuck with Best Buy expecting it to yield results it would never deliver to me. I would never be more than a spoke in Best Buy’s wheel. Necessary, but not by much and not very difficult to replace.
Learning this was an important part of life and growing up. If I hadn’t dragged myself through seven years of on-again, off-again customer service hell then I might never have understood that speaking up for myself in a situation where I don’t feel like I’m being treated fairly is the most critical, yet vulnerable thing to learn how to do as an adult. There’s never an excuse to accept stagnation, and speaking up against it is not only the only way to overcome it, but the only way to know if there are options that exist aside from it.
Of course, it fucking sucks to be the spoke in someone’s wheel when you’d rather be sharing an axle. But parts of life have to suck, and I’ve never made a mistake I didn’t then learn from. All there is to do is roll on, tread against the gravel, sometimes lurching and sometimes cruising blindly toward the future.