Two weeks after saying yes, Benita Abraham of Long Beach, California, decided to share the big news with a Pinterest-worthy engagement shoot. She scouted a beachy location, picked out a flirty red dress, and artfully wrote her love story on a chalkboard sign from Dollar Tree. Then she framed her job offer letter, carefully blacking out the salary and employer name.
After seven months of searching, Benita had found The One: the position of her dreams, the perfect career match, her knight in shining compensation package. She’d been laid off from her previous job of nearly eight years in December 2015. Countless cover letters and online applications led to phone screenings, first interviews, second interviews, but alas, no offers. By summer 2016, Benita felt disheartened and considered moving back home to Texas for work. Then one day, when she least expected it, she met the right position in healthcare administration and fell head over heels. The feeling was mutual. “I told my friend Alyse that I wanted to share my new job on Facebook, and she suggested doing a parody of engagement announcements,” Benita recalls. “My friends know how silly and sarcastic I can be, so I knew they’d get a kick out of it.”
On Friday, August 5, Benita did her hair and makeup at home and walked to the beach to take pictures with her photographer friend, Liju Mathew. Then they headed back to Benita’s place to take some goofy “candids” of the happy couple. The next morning, Benita posed with her ride-or-DIY bestie Alyse DeCavallas for a carpool proposal photo. All told, the two iPhone shoots took about an hour and a half.
That evening, Benita posted a teaser to her Facebook page: “Can’t wait to share my big news! #bignews #atlast #answeredprayers #blessed #keeper #picscomingsoon” Friends guessed pregnancy, engagement, a puppy, and even a record deal. On Sunday, Benita came clean, writing in her #Employed Facebook album description: “I finally found my soulmate, my perfect match, my boo. After 7 long months, I found the perfect job with a company that truly cares about its employees and one I will learn so much from. #employed #myboo #loveatfirstinterview #LTR #careergrowth #perfectmatch #photoshoot #notjustforbabiesmarriagesandbirthdays #workin9to5” Her friends were thrilled… and thoroughly entertained.
When Benita started her new job on Monday, August 8, the post had been shared 150 times. By Tuesday, it was national news. It can take weeks or even months before everyone at work meets a new hire. Not Benita in Network Development! “When I told my boss what was happening, she was totally cool,” Benita says. “The post showed how excited I was about the new job.” The appropriate higher-ups were informed about the post, but Benita didn’t tell the rest of her co-workers. The mainstream media took care of that. By the end of the week, she’d been featured on Good Morning America, ABC News, CNN, Buzzfeed, Forbes.com, On Air with Ryan Seacrest, and more. On her fourth or fifth day on the job, someone printed Benita’s oceanside engagement photo and playfully hung it outside her cubicle. The ice was officially broken. Benita’s tale of triumph after unemployment resonated with strangers of all demographics, ages, and races. Women from across the U.S. and then around the world began sharing their own stories and thanking her for the encouragement. A few even said the engagement announcement rivaled their own. “Sometimes you feel alone in what you’re going through or the way you think,” Benita says. “But this experience made me realize that I have a voice and people can relate.” It was easy to laugh off the few haters, mostly men, who poked fun at her weight or ethnicity and the idiots offering dick pics and some time with a real man. As a 37-year-old Indian-American woman, Benita’s been asked when she’s going to get married and have children by concerned family members for oh, decades. Co-opting the traditional engagement announcement to celebrate a career milestone was undeniably feminist. Then there was #notjustforbabiesmarriagesandbirthdays, a call to unabashedly celebrate other big life moments.
“People getting married and having kids don’t own photoshoots!” Benita says. “We all deserve them, if that’s what we wanna do. Some of my friends asked if I was going to register at Staples, and I thought, ‘I should. Hell, I want a new stapler. Why not?’” Now, nearly four months later, Benita and her new job are more in love than ever. She laughs when asked how she’ll ever top her fake engagement shoot if and when she decides to marry. “I’ll have to consult Alyse,” Benita says. Maybe they’ll make it look like a job interview.