Emotional Labor Part 2

What is emotional labor, and why do we have to do it? Previously at the RO Studio we discussed this concept in relation to paid jobs where emotional labor is a component: "Emotional labor is the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfill the emotional requirements of a job. More specifically, workers are expected to regulate their emotions during interactions with customers, co-workers and superiors."—x

But today I want to talk about it in the context of relationships. Since I can’t find a good definition of it online, let’s look at a list people on the internet compiled to describe it.


# Partnered Life
* Am I checking in with my partner to see if they had a rough day?
* If so, am I stepping up to make their life easier in other ways (cooking, cleaning, etc.)?
* Am I open and clear about my wants, and not forcing my partner to guess/drag it out of me?
* Am I contributing constructively to planning of meals, events, trips, etc?
* Am I actively trying to make my presence feel safe for my partner?
* Do I try to do nice things for my partner without being asked (flowers, treats, etc.)?
* Do I take care of my own administrative life (paperwork, bills) without needing to be repeatedly reminded?
* Am I supportive of my partner’s decisions, big and small?
* Am I respectful and validating of my partner’s emotions?
* Am I vocally grateful when my partner goes out of their way to do something nice for me?
* Am I nice to my partner’s family [if that’s a thing they want]?
* Are you interrupting your partner unnecessarily? Consider whether you really need to ask them, specifically, right now, about this particular thing. Consider whether you’ve actually looked for answers. Have you googled? Have you checked the most likely places? Several times? Have you actually reached in and looked with your hands for whatever you’ve lost?

# Friend Groups
* Do I work to coordinate peoples’ schedules so that we can have a nice picnic/party/board game night/etc.?
* When planning an event, am I conscious of possible interpersonal conflicts?
* When planning an event, do I take into account different peoples’ preferences for food, beverages, music, etc., so that no one feels excluded?
* Do I actually have everything prepared in advance for an event I’m hosting, or at least clearly and fairly delegated?
* If there is an imbalance of emotional or physical labor occurring, am I willing to risk social awkwardness to improve the lot of those negatively affected?

# Third Party Relationships (Familial & Otherwise)
* Do I remember to make phone calls and visits to people I care about and want to have relationships with?
* Do I remember to send cards to people I care about?
* Do I send thank you notes to people to acknowledge their emotional labor for me?
* Am I actively sensitive to and supportive of people who are experiencing a difficult time (death of spouse/child/pet, etc.)?

# Health/Self-care
* I’d add “am I going to the doctor regularly” to what you have. I hear a lot of guys complain complain all the time about x, y, or z weird body thing that they have going on, but 9 times out of 10 when I ask if they’ve talked to a doctor about it their response is no. So now they’ve involved me in concern for their Problem Freckle but have no ability or intention to manage it themselves. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself and being proactive about your healthcare (physical and mental) so that the women in your life don’t have to feel like your nurse.

# Mental Health/Self-care
* In reference to mental illness or trauma or disorders: are you doing your own emotional work?
This means asking for support and accommodation for your feelings and your illness if you need it, and negotiating with your partner about your needs, but also not making your problems their problems. If you have depression or past trauma, tell your partner, don’t make them guess. Ask them to make reasonable adjustments to their behavior and interactions if you can, or if you’re not sure what you need, just keep them in the loop as much as you can.
And then, do your own work and get to a doctor, a therapist, or another appropriate person who can help you in a solid professional context. It’s reasonable and sane and wonderful to ask for support and love and reassurance, but don’t make fixing your own internal workings your partner’s problem any more than you can help it.

# Dumping Responsibilities on Others
* How often am I saying knee-jerk defensive things like “I forgot,” “I’m trying,” “I’m doing my best,” “It’s not a big deal,” vs “Oops, shit, I’m sorry, let me [take independent action and come up with my own fucking idea for how I can finally make this change that you’ve repeatedly told me is important to you and that I’ve said I would do but still haven’t.
* Do I pretend that I have no idea how the vacuum cleaner works, or what day of the week the recycling truck comes? Do I act clueless about schedules and appointments, forcing other people to remember for me? Do I seem to never understand basic equipment or procedures in the office, forcing other people to do it for me?
* Am I difficult as hell to work with and expect everyone to work around it?


Now let’s look at a list of a different kind of ‘emotional labor’. What is the definition of this, and how is it different than the previous list?

Friends and Roommates
• Emotional labor is when my friends and I carefully coordinate to make sure that nobody who’s invited to the party has drama with anyone else at the party, and then everyone comes and has a great time and has no idea how much thought went into it.
• Emotional labor is when I have to cope, again, with the distress I feel at having to clean myself in a dirty bathroom or cook my food in a dirty kitchen because my male roommate didn’t think it was important to clean up his messes.
• Emotional labor is having to start the 100th conversation with my male roommate about how I need my living space to be cleaner. 
• Emotional labor is reminding my male roommate the next day that he agreed to clean up his mess but still hasn’t. 
• Emotional labor is reassuring him that it’s okay, I’m not mad, I understand that he’s had a very busy stressful week. 
• Emotional labor is not telling him that I’ve had a very busy stressful week, too, and his fucking mess made it even worse.

Partners
• Emotional labor is reassuring my partner over and over that yes, I love him, yes, I find him attractive, yes, I truly want to be with him, because he will not do the work of developing his self-esteem and relies on me to bandage those constantly-reopening wounds. 
• Emotional labor is letting my partner know that I didn’t like what he did sexually last night, because he never asked me first if I wanted to do that. 
• Emotional labor is reassuring him that, no, it’s okay, I’m not mad, I just wanted him to know for next time, yes, of course I love him, no, this doesn’t mean I’m not attracted to him, I’m just not interested in that sort of sex. 
• Emotional labor is not being able to rely on him to reassure me that it’s not my fault that I didn’t like the sex, because this conversation has turned into my reassuring him, again.
• Emotional labor is when my friend messages me once every few weeks with multiple paragraphs about his life, which I listen to and empathize with. 
Afterwards, he thanks me for being “such a good listener.” He asks how my life has been, and I say, “Well, not bad, but school has been so stressful lately…” He says, “Oh, that sucks! Well, anyway, I’d better get to bed, but thanks again for listening!”
• Emotional labor is when my friend messages me and, with no trigger warning and barely any greeting, launches into a story involving self-harm or suicide or something else of that sort because “you know about this stuff.”
• Emotional labor was almost all of my male friends in high school IMing me to talk about how the girls all go for the assholes.
• Emotional labor is when my partners decide they don’t want to be in a relationship with me anymore, but rather than directly communicating this to me, they start ignoring me or being mean for weeks until I have to ask what’s going on, hear that “I guess I’m just not into you anymore,” and then have to be the one to suggest breaking up. For extra points, then I have to comfort them about the breakup.

Boundaries
• Emotional labor is setting the same boundary over and over, and every time he says, “I’m sorry, I know you already told me this, I guess I’d just forgotten.”
• Emotional labor is being asked to completely explain and justify my boundaries. “I mean, that’s totally valid and I will obviously respect that, I just really want to understand, you know?”
• Emotional labor is hiding the symptoms of mental illness, pretending my tears are from allergies, laughing too loudly at his jokes, not because I’m just in principle unwilling to open up about it, but because I know that he can’t deal with my mental illness and that I’ll just end up having to comfort him because my pain is too much for him to bear.
• Emotional labor is managing my male partners’ feelings around how often we have sex, and soothing their disappointment when they expected to have sex (even though I never said we would) and then didn’t, and explaining why I didn’t want to have sex this time, and making sure we “at least cuddle a little before bed” even though after all of this, to be quite honest, the last thing I fucking want is to touch him.


Talking to people who don't do emotional labor about emotional labor is actually emotional labor, and often unrewarding
“Describing emotional labor to the men I have dated is always exhausting. They do not fundamentally understand what the phrase even means.
"Emotional labor?" My last boyfriend shrugged when I told him how tired I was, doing so much emotional lifting for other people - both him and many of my friends, often male, who generally treated me like a therapist. "I don't even understand what those words even mean when you put them together." I told him: it is taking care of someone else's emotional needs without having your needs even acknowledged. It is sitting down to lunch and having your friend tell you a long story about themselves, expecting you to interject with suggestions and kind words, for forty minutes before they even ask you how you are doing. It is the expectation that if you want something nice - say, someone to plan a weekend away, or to have pretty flowers around that make you feel special, or for someone to think of you when they are at the grocery store and to pick up dinner for you as well - you should do it your damn self. It's the expectation that you will walk away from an argument feeling low, after apologizing, without getting an apology in return, and that you'll be all smiles when they're ready to engage again after stonewalling you. He just looked at me and laughed; then, he said, "You're a crazy person; that doesn't make sense," and he walked away. Sigh."


Emotional Labor: the Checklist
Finally, here is a very, very thorough checklist compiled by people on the internet to describe all aspects of doing emotional labor. This list seems to be actually a very good checklist for how to be a mature human being. Check it out if you have some time!



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