I will be away for coming few days so am posting 3 chapters .Oh! And I may not be able to read and reply comments bcz y’all know how it is being a PhD student, it takes over your life.


A. Why ‘Just say no’ actually doesn’t spare us any grief

1. Back to school

a. Yeah, you guys act like women can just opt out of emotional labor consequence free. If we opt out of doing the expected emotional labor, then we get to deal with the generalized opprobrium for opting out! My husband and I have been together for 20 years and when I finally asked him “Why is your father’s wife calling me to arrange for the two of you to go hiking together?” he said “. . . because the patriarchy. Just tell her I’ll call my dad directly.” So now I have to deal with her calling me 18 times a day and texting me “CALL ME ASAP” until my husband finally remembers to call his father 10 days after the barrage and onslaught starts. I could block her number, but that would probably have even greater consequences , not just for myself but for my husband and children.

I’ve told this story here before, but the year our older child was entering first grade, I had a gig the night of the Parent Curriculum Night at the school, so my husband went instead. When it asked for contact information, he gave only his email address and phone number, because he is used to thinking of himself as one person, not as a representative of the family. So it was his email address and his phone number that went out in the “get to know your classmates’ parents” email, and he got every birthday invitation, every teacher email, every playdate invite, every Wacky Hair Day or Wear the Regalia of Your Favorite Sports Team Day email. And not me! Suddenly, he was in charge of

managing our daughter’s social life and school interactions. And even though what he did most of the time was just throw it over to me, he found it absolutely exhausting.

“NOW YOU UNDERSTAND,” I told him. “Except that for me, it’s not just like this for the school, it’s like this for EVERYTHING.”

posted by KathrynT at 5:40 PM on July 15

b. For a bunch of practical reasons, Atropos Jr’s dad ended up being the one who took her to ballet class, did her hair in a bun, made sure she had her ballet slippers etc. Fast-forward to her recital one year and I introduce myself to one of the other mothers as I’m dropping off some costume piece. She stares at me for a second and says, “we all assumed Atropos Jr didn’t have a mother.” At first I thought she was just being snotty, and there was definite disapproval there, but she was also completely sincere. For this woman, the only possible scenario in which a kid’s dad did that job was one in which the mother was dead or otherwise absent. My husband got either pity or adulation from women for doing this stuff; once it turned out I was alive and just not doing “my” job, I was treated with a lot of hostility. Yeah, dance tends to be gendered but this kind of thing happens all over.

posted by atropos at 6:50 PM on July 15

2. Others’ expectations & shaming

Why is it MY job to keep track of my husband’s mother’s birthday, when that I the sort of thing I am terrible at and he is reasonably good at? Because even my lovely husband unconsciously offloaded a bunch of familial emotional labor on me when we got married. Worse, why does my MIL get mad at ME when he forgets her birthday? Because the whole WORLD expects me to be the birthday rememberer!

Actually, the one that annoys me is Christmas presents, because it’s fucking exhausting to think of presents for him, our kids, and all the members of my large extended family. Then I remind him we have to get something for his parents and he looks at me helplessly and says, “I don’t have any ideas, can you think of anything?” NO. I HAVE USED UP ALL MY IDEAS AND THEN SOME AND MY BRAIN IS TIRED OF THINKING OF GIFTS.

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:30 PM on July 15

3. Daughters expected to drop all-clear

c. … But I too have been shouldering the emotional labour as my parents have aged, and so I’m dropping off my story here. It’s this: when my mother came out of the hospital after having both hips replaced, I left my apartment and slept on her living room couch for three weeks so that I could help with her recovery, and cook for her and be available in case she needed anything during the night. And everyone thought that this was the correct and appropriate thing for me to do, despite the fact that my brother was already living there. So yes, this thread is one that resonates a great deal in my own life, despite everything.

posted by jokeefe at 5:06 PM on July 22

4. Layering

[re: mom nagging me to call my brother]

The layers here are fascinating. If you focus on the unfairness aspect, it’s easy to miss that your mom is not only asking for you to perform emotional labour unequally based on gender, she’s also performing her own emotional labour by reminding you in the first place, and if she corrected the gender imbalance by reminding you both, she’d be taking on an even higher burden. One that neither you nor your brothers seem to want, but that she feels is necessary for whatever reasons.

I’m sure this layering of emotional labour (enforcing/training other people to perform emotional labour) happens in many other situations as well. Teaching your children emotional labour skills (and teaching them to be aware of gender imbalance there), figuring out how to ask your partner to increase their emotional labour without hurting their feelings, etc etc.

posted by randomnity at 11:30 AM on July 21

5. Holding the line is exhausting, and results in loss

I started a relationship 20 years ago where I vowed not to do it out of step or proportion with my partner.

I verbalized this notion at the first missed birthday: ‘“it’s on you dude, to remember your family members’ birthdays/ and also, while we are at it: you can also: make appointments to see a doctor/lawyer/dentist/ choose your own shoes/shirts/pants/shampoo / write job applications/ know when your bills are due/pay them / clean your own shit off the toilet bowl/ buy us all loo paper etc” Doing all this stuff for a bloke is exhausting and invisible in its expectation - from the guy himself and the family and community he inhabits. Yet, fifteen years on, the It’s Probably Just Easier To Do It Anyway aspect of holding this line, or breaking my line, killed the relationship.

As was so quickly and earnestly contested early in this thread to abdicating blokes (“Well, duh Ladeez, stop doing it if you hate it so much”) there are consequences of losing this core Kin Keeping work. If you stick to this line of behaviour you have to do without all those things you’d love for yourself. You close off that labour supply and hopeful expectation of reciprocity and maybe, like me, you realize you’re better off alone.

posted by honey-barbara at 8:09 AM on July 20

6. The consequences aren’t just rebuke/shame for the woman who says no: they land on vulnerable people

The grandparent-birthday example cited above was what happens when a person (almost always a woman) stops doing the unacknowledged and Unrewarded emotional labor: someone vulnerable and without alternatives gets hurt, in this case a child. I refused to do the work for that grandparent relationship so it doesn’t exist. Recently post-separation I said I would no longer be the point person for the kids and the in-laws cousin, that the ex would have to handle those play dates, party invites, phone calls etc. Result? No relationships any more. The kids miss out on relationships because adults can’t be arsed to do emotional work and then wonder why their kids are lonely and upset.

posted by [D] at 2:36 AM on July 17

7. Falling on your sword… and the cost of being last in line

a. My favourite line this week from my ex has been him musing on how he plans to go to therapy because he’s come to see that after a decade of my asking him to go to therapy that he needs help beyond (his original plan) my reading the self-help books and preparing an executive summary with instructions for him.

The reason, after telling me that I’m selfish for throwing away our long and happy marriage, why oh why won’t I go to marriage counseling (I have agreed to, I’ve just refused to be the person who schedules the appointments as I have for the last decade, and refer to them as divorce counseling) is so that “I’ll want to get married again of course and not have these problems with my next wife.”

I don’t think he’ll actually go to therapy - I mean, I can hope, but I’d be deeply surprised. But get remarried? Definitely. He’s barely functioning as a human being after a decade of telling me I was the incompetent one in our marriage. I hope she’ll be okay, but I expect to wind up being the person who looks after him in his old age because he’s managed to isolate everyone else and it’ll be me or our kids, and I don’t want my kids to bear that burden.

posted by [D] at 9:42 PM on July 21

b. “I expect to wind up being the person who looks after him in his old age because he’s managed to isolate everyone else and it’ll be me or our kids, and I don’t want my kids to bear that burden.”

It goes upwards too in the generations - the daughters writing here about being expected to do work for their families and when they don’t, that their mothers and mother-in-laws have to take over or get blamed for their daughter’s failures.

And sometimes the cost of saying no can be borne because you have enough support, you have alternatives. But sometimes, especially when vulnerable children and elderly are involved, caregivers who are overwhelmingly women, get trapped as the final decision makers. Everyone else has been able to say no, but the woman who is the caregiver, her No is treated as the worst of all the no’s possible, visible in a way that the rest of the no’s from the people and society around her who failed

to help so she finally had to say no, is held as a judgement on her. A judgement with punishment - social isolation, the withdrawal of practical support, down to outright misogynistic attacks because she’s “such a cold bitch”.

posted by [D] at 10:54 PM on July 21

B. Why it’s not a feminine frivolity we should just set aside

1. These tasks are actually necessary

They are necessary, though. All of these things, perhaps small in isolation, are basically social glue. At its most basic level, all of this emotional labour is saying to another human being “you matter. I will take my time to show you that you matter.” And maintaining that glue is something that devolves mainly onto women, 24 hours a day.

It feels like most men are taught (ex- or implicitly) to do emotional work only when it gets them something they want now, whereas most women are taught to do emotional work as part of an ongoing exchange that benefits everyone.

posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:30 AM on July 16

2. It’s not the cards

It’s really weird that people are honing into the detail of birthday cards and dismissing it as unnecessary without realizing what they represent - the maintenance of social relationships. Okay, yes, maybe you or your mom or your fourth cousin doesn’t really care for birthdays. But even if you aren’t sending birthday cards, you’re phoning them or bringing over flowers for their big occasions or sharing recipes with them or shopping and sending them gifts for Christmas and sending them thank you notes for the gifts they sent you. And then maybe you’ll argue that the person in question doesn’t care about any of THAT shit in isolation, and maybe it’s true that you could drop one or two of these things and not see a big change in your relationship - but try dropping literally every token of social interaction and then seeing how far your relationship gets on radio silence. Like the whole point is that relationships are built upon hundreds of small interactions, none of them essential, but all of them important in cumulation. Honing in on one aspect and going “pfft that’s trivial” doesn’t make sense.

posted by Conspire at 5:39 PM on July 15

3. It’s not the gift

I thought of this thread yesterday after getting the mail, because I got a thank you note from a friend/neighbor who lives a five minute walk from my house. She recently had breast cancer surgery. When I was going to see her for the first time since the procedure last week, I thought “oh, I should take her something— right, I have that relaxation aromatherapy lotion/soap gift set, that works.” I ran upstairs to grab it (I always have a stash of gifts on hand just in case), I gave it to her (unwrapped), she said thanks.

And in her thank you note (she had already thanked me in person, which I would consider more than sufficient, by the way), she said thank you not only for the gift, but for the thought behind the gift, the feeling it gave her that she is going through this scary time in community with people caring about her/caring for her/trying to signal their love for her.

To a lot of the people saying “ugh, cards, who cares” or “just skip it, no one I know cares about getting presents for [X] occasion,” this is why these things matter. The present itself is secondary. The thank you card itself is secondary. They matter as vehicles for messages of love. They matter as ways of saying “I value you, I am thinking of you, I treasure your place in my life and my community, and I want this tangible object to be a talisman of my care for you.”

The gift itself is not the thing. The card itself is not the thing. The relationship is the thing.

(I know that there are families/groups where the gift or the card become obligations and/or weapons, but the assumption that this aberrant dysfunction of certain social spheres makes the practices unnecessary in the rest of the world is flat-out absurd.)

A lot of the behaviors that people here have framed as “pointless” or “a waste of time” have almost magical powers, when they are used correctly. I got that card in return for a last-minute “feel better” gift, and the glow from it lasted all night, and on through today. I’m not glad she sent the card NOT because people who get gifts are supposed to send thank you cards, but because it allowed us both to feel loved.

Part of the invisibility of emotional labor is that its tools are so often damned as absurd or frivolous. Listen to the scorn so many men show for women who “gossip”, for example. How often is “gossip” a shorthand slur for “discussing their lives, their hopes, their dreams, offering one another advice, support, affirmation”?

posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:05 AM on July 17

4. Avoiding EL hurts men

The thing about “but I don’t care about cards” is that they kind of don’t care about this stuff, and as a result they don’t have very many real, strong relationships. This really is a patriarchy-hurts-men-too situation, because reciprocal emotional labor is necessary for real intimacy, and life without intimacy sucks for most people. I don’t particularly care about actually sending cards, but the basic emotional labor of listening empathetically, attending to other people’s needs, keeping in touch, etc.? That stuff is really important. It’s unfair that women have to do most of it, but it also stunts and hurts men when they don’t do it.

posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:40 PM on July 15

5. *The hard data on men’s health and EL

Yes, but widowers are notably more socially disconnected that widows, because when men don’t do the work of social connection (of which birthday cards are merely a subset) and don’t have a wife to do it for them, those social connections wither and die, with statistically notable ill effects on the health of older widowed men:

The evidence indicates that the aged male survivor experiences a different impact from spousal loss than his female counterpart and that he encounters severe difficulties in adapting to the single status. Adjustment problems are especially compounded by the loss of his occupational role, which abruptly removes him from meaningful contact with friends and co-workers. Social isolation among aged widowers leads to a precarious condition which is reflected in unusually high rates of mental disorders, suicides,

and mortality risk.”

It’s super-great if bros in their 20s don’t care if their old roommates send them birthday cards or not, but a lifetime of skipping out on “emotional labor” and the pernicious social expectations that turn it in to women’s work (so that men who DO do emotional labor are sometimes bypassed by social structures that push it onto their wives) creates real and significant negative outcomes for men who suffer emotionally and physically from their social isolation – most notably for widowers, but divorced men also have a drop in well-being when they lose their spouse.

“Loneliness, depression, and social isolation also contribute to the excess mortality associated with bereavement, divorce, or never having married. A Harvard study reported that socially isolated men have an 82% higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with men who have strong interpersonal relationships. And the New England Research Institute reported that 66% of men rely on their wives for their primary social supports; only 21% rely on other people, and 10% have no such supports. Clearly, subtracting a wife greatly increases a man’s risk of isolation. ”

You may be in the 21% of men who have social supports other than a spouse. That’s great! But a huuuuuuuuuuge proportion of men rely almost entirely on their wives for social connection and that is a) a significant form of work for the wife (or same-sex spouse) who must manage not only her own social- emotional health but her husband’s; and b) really dangerous for men who then end up totally disconnected from social and emotionally supports through the loss of a wife by death or divorce.

Part of what creates that is the societal expectation that women are the “social arrangers” and that’s what we’re trying to talk about in this thread.

And now that I’ve underlined #WhatAboutTheMen and given evidence that a) women do actually do the bulk of emotional labor and b) it has negative effects on men, can we go back to talking about women and emotional labor? Instead of men complaining that women are just doing things that nobody gives a shit about? WE GET IT, YOU DON’T GIVE A SHIT, BUT WE STILL CARE BECAUSE IT MAKES YOU MEN DIE SOONER AND THAT’S JUST THE KIND OF EMOTIONAL LABOR SERVICE WE WOMEN PROVIDE FOR YOU.

And go send your college roommate a goddamned “thinking of you!” card so he doesn’t croak.

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:45 PM on July 15

[See also, III. A. 1. I was going to get you flowers…, on page 15]

C. Why we don’t ‘just need to communicate better about our needs’ (God, we have tried)

1. Do you seriously think we haven’t tried that?

[re: suggestion to ask for reciprocity instead of cash]

Are you under the impression that we haven’t tried this already? Because many of us have tried this. As a result, we have been told that we’re imagining the imbalance, that the man buys all the stuff and thinks that’s a fair breakdown, that he feels like a terrible person when we ask him to step up (which leads to him sobbing and her back patting, but no change from him), that other men are so much worse and really he’s awesome, that we nag too much, that we don’t remind him often enough, that we should use a different tone when we ask, that he does perform emotional labor and we just don’t notice, that he knows he has privilege, but it’s not his fault he was born male.

But before even getting there, you are also suggesting we ask men to notice when we need support. Which (not all men) men are already not doing, and must be taught to do. Or you are suggesting that we request emotional labor at the time we want it. (The classic example of woman complaining about her day at work and the guy offering “solutions” instead of saying “wow that really sucks and it sounds like you handled it well. Can I do something to help you feel better?” Or better still, he just does a thing he knows will make her feel better.)

Many women already/still do these things. Many women have given up because the arguments and assorted emotional labor that stem from such requests are painful and time consuming. Many women never did these things because they saw what it amounted to in the lives of their forebears.

Many women would consider it a great achievement to simply have our emotional labor recognized with any regularity.

posted by bilabial at 9:20 PM on July 19

2. Regarding a story of tone and word choice policing

This is the worst mindfuck because there are no magic words, yet you can spend years (in my case) trying to find them. I stopped caring whether I’d brought something up at the right time and in the right way with the right words because they were literally never right. But it took years of trying to finally stop caring.

[username]: there are no magic words to make him understand. It’s extremely hard to accept that either he does not care to understand, or he does understand and doesn’t care to admit it. But assuming he speaks English fluently, those are your only two options. I’m sorry.

posted by desjardins at 11:50 AM on July 27

3. I literally could not be clearer… (also, It’s relaxing?! Do you even hear yourself?)

a. [username], I am so glad you showed up here. Your story (and the resulting thread) has been a revelation for me and finally – finally! – given me words for something that has bothered me for so long and that I could never articulate. Count me in as another person who’s life this has changed.

I haven’t read all the way through your second article yet, but so far it’s reminding me a bit of my own marriage breakdown. I had a good husband that I loved but because of one major issue, I had to leave him. He continues to this day to be confused about why I left. Which is nuts, because, being a big believer in open communication, I told him more times than I can remember – “Hey, [this issue] is a real problem for me. I feel scared/sad/worried/depressed when you do it. I can’t live like this. I love you but if something doesn’t change, I will have to leave.” I was that direct. I told him this multiple times. Then, when I finally did leave we had multiple long arguments about why I was leaving because as he said, he was a good husband! He never hit me, he never messed around with other women, he helped around the house, etc. I was like – that is BASELINE behavior. You don’t get awards for things you are or are not supposed to be doing to begin with! I reminded him I told him multiple times what my problems were and what I would do if they were not addressed. I actually

reminded him of this MULTIPLE TIMES AS WELL. It was insanity. I was like, THERE IS NO WAY FOR ME TO BE MORE CLEAR ON THIS. He still doesn’t know why I left and that encapsulates it for me. He heard what he wanted to hear, what was convenient for him. If it didn’t cause him any issues, he had no problem listening to me and hearing what I said. If it did, he mentally disregarded it.

Anyway, that was five years ago. Fast forward to now and I’ve gone out a few times with a guy that I like. I know he really likes me too. I know he loves being around me. He is a very progressive, liberal guy and seems to be a feminist in every other way without even trying. Super respectful of women, takes them seriously, all of it. He told me he wanted to take things slow. Fine. We recently had a talk and he told me again that he doesn’t feel ready for anything serious but he loves hanging out with me and he’s not dating anyone else. I know both of these things are true. He said he’s trying to figure out why he doesn’t feel ready (he’s a few years out of a long term marriage), but he thinks it’s because he’s not ready for the emotional commitment of a relationship. When I asked him to elaborate he said he really likes hanging around with his guy friends because nothing is expected of him and he feels like he can relax. So I asked, then why even date women? Why not just hang out with your guy friends? And he said that he loves being around women because they’re kind, and soft and comforting and they make him feel relaxed and good in a way that men don’t. And I was like – you mean nurturing? And he was like – YES, nurturing. And so I then took the opportunity to tell him briefly about your article and how emotional labor is the glue that ties things together and makes things feel safe and comforting and everything else, but then he was distracted (conveniently) by a really bad storm that was going on outside at the time and I dropped it.

But essentially, this guy told me that he wants all the good things that come from being with a woman

– the comfort and the care – but that he wasn’t “ready” to reciprocate in any way, i.e. he doesn’t WANT to do it. And the thing is - he’s actually an otherwise really nice and smart guy. He was super unaware of what he was actually saying. I think if I told him a similar story, but framed it as just some man who wanted to take from a relationship but give nothing back, he would be horrified by the guy’s behavior. And the reason is that I don’t think he sees it as actual WORK that women do. I think he hasn’t ever thought about it and just assumes that maybe being comforting and nurturing is just a

part of a woman’s essence or something and that it’s natural and always just kind of magically there. Like a lot of people, he doesn’t see that there is effort behind it. Because he’s never had to see it.

Anyway, thank you again for putting words to this and getting it out there. You’ve empowered me and countless other women and I hope this is the beginning of a huge awareness-building era in our society around the invisible work that women do.

posted by triggerfinger at 2:48 PM on July 20

b. “When I asked him to elaborate he said he really likes hanging around with his guy friends because nothing is expected of him and he feels like he can relax. So I asked, then why even date women? Why not just hang out with your guy friends? And he said that he loves being around women because they’re kind, and soft and comforting and they make him feel relaxed and good in a way that men don’t. And I was like – you mean nurturing? And he was like – YES, nurturing.”

You know, my husband for the most part is one of the stellar ones in picking up on emotional labor. He deals with his family, remembers dates, pays attention to what I like, etc. etc. etc.

But he said he could totally related to the above sentiments.

So, I laid it out flat for him, and he said he’d never really thought about it that way. (Excuse the all caps)


So, to be effectively told that you want to reap the benefits of someone else’s hard work and then not reciprocate at all, because it’s hard work for you (no fucking kidding) is… well, it can be devastating. It’s an indication of how little you are valued. The complete lack of empathy where you can’t even conceive that the thing you don’t want to do bc it’s not relaxing is also not relaxing for the other person.


posted by [username] at 9:20 AM on July 21

4. The catch-22 of being upset enough

The catch-22 of being upset enough sucks. I’ve had to explain over and over that I don’t like the way that things have to reach breaking point, where I’m crying uncontrollably and forgetting to eat in order for my needs to be taken seriously, since asking and voicing my concerns isn’t enough. I don’t like having to slap my hand on the table and say ‘stop’’ because all my ‘ugh’ and ‘ew’ and ‘no this is gross’ isn’t enough to signal that the conversation is going places I don’t want it to.

I hate having to explain that this isn’t silent treatment, as if I want to talk but I’m refusing to out of pique, it’s that I genuinely am done talking. I have tried talking. It didn’t work. Now I have to do emergency mental healthcare, so yeah, your sudden need to talk can wait.

posted by [GA] at 5:39 PM on August 13

5. When men react defensively

a. […] to take criticism and learn from it and be told it’s not a personal attack and try not to cry if heaven forbid you’re one of the sensitive ones. As opposed to immediately getting your hackles up and going on the defensive.

posted by fiercecupcake at 12:18 PM on July 24

b. Ours always went like:

him: you think I’m such an asshole pout

me, trying to soothe him: no, I never called you that, I said I had a problem with [behavior] I guess I would have saved us both a lot of time if I’d just called him an asshole.

posted by desjardins at 12:24 PM on July 24

c. Oh that “fragile male ego”. I hear it very often, you know. Including from women who have been taught that hardly anything in this life is more important than protecting men’s poor defenseless egos.

I once told a female friend about my then-boyfriend. He was steering me towards the bedroom way too fast and I told him as much. He was not happy with me and got all upset and defensive, and when I told my friend about this, she said, “But of course he was! It was like you told him he was doing something wrong!” Honestly, no comment.

posted by Guelder at 1:40 PM on July 22

d. I [a man] have to assume it’s subconscious (or maybe not even all that sub) attitudes about taking any criticism or direction from women. I’ve probably spent about half my professional life answering to a female boss. Which is probably not something I would have given one thought to if I hadn’t fielded questions about whether that was a problem for me. Multiple times. In forms like “and you don’t have a problem with that?”

There’s just no way to interpret that question from another man in any way other than an accompanying message of “because you should.” Unless I’d earlier run off on some excessive anti- woman screed, I guess, and they thought this was a contradiction; You’ll just have to take my word that such was not the case.

If criticism from X strings more then that’s a pretty clear indication that one thinks X is not qualified or within their rights to criticize you. Maybe it’s not always internalized misogyny but absent a reason someone can vocalize that sure seems like a reasonable go-to assumption.

posted by phearlez at 12:29 PM on July 24

6. Reflexive apologizing…

My mother reflexively apologizes to inanimate objects she drops/knocks over/offends. We laugh about it, but in light of this thread it’s slightly horrifying.

posted by restless_nomad at 4:13 PM on July 26

7. You thought they were running to meet you, too

Hey [username], it took me two days to realize that my ex’s rage because I wouldn’t comfort him over failing to pay child support was not only crazy, but that oh hey, he didn’t even think to apologize for not paying child support or notice that it might be a tad stressful for me with the far less well-paid job and full-time parenting to hear that there’s no money for groceries, so can he borrow some money to pay the health insurance…

You get trained to think handling all this is what A Good Woman does. That it’s selfish and cruel to be angry and unhappy about someone you love hurting you, and God forbid that you express that aloud or make them feel any more distress for what they’ve done. But that’s because in your head, you’re running towards them and imagining that they’re running towards you too, that the path to recovery will be short because both of you are running towards each other.

But really, they’re just standing there checking their phone and waiting for you to run a marathon over to them while they complain that you’re always late, why does it take you so long to get there, you get enough practice after all…

He [username’s cheating husband, just busted again] can run the fucking marathon to Crone Island. You can sit on the beach and read a book and drink something with an umbrella in it and nap.

posted by [D] at 9:18 PM on July 20

D. Why ‘Aren’t you just over-reacting?’ misses (and worsens) the enormity of our pain

1. Freud’s kettle

Whoever linked the Harper’s article “Cassandra Among The Creeps” upthread, thank you (ah, it’s by

Rebecca “Men Explain Things To Me” Solnit, of course it would be):

Still, even now, when a woman says something uncomfortable about male misconduct, she is routinely portrayed as delusional, a malicious conspirator, a pathological liar, a whiner who doesn’t recognize it’s all in fun, or all of the above. The overkill of these responses recalls Freud’s deployment of the joke about the broken kettle. A man accused by his neighbor of having returned a borrowed kettle damaged replies that he had returned it undamaged, it was already damaged when he borrowed it, and he had never borrowed it anyway. When a woman accuses a man and he or his defenders protest that much, she becomes that broken kettle.

That article focuses on sexual abuse, rape, and sexual harassment, but the joke applies more broadly too. “Emotional labor? What’s that? …But that’s what females are biologically programmed to do, so doing it daily unthanked and unnoticed can’t qualify as ‘damage.’ OK the unnoticing and taking it for granted qualifies as damage, but it’s the way things have always been and will always be, so why pick on me to change something that’s never going to change. Look, i don’t agree that emotional labor exists, cuz I never benefitted from all those petty things you do that you’re calling ‘labor,’ because you had the nerve to forget my craft beer. Seriously you want me to thank you for forgetting my craft beer?”

posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:53 PM on July 23

2. What the term “venting” implies…

a. I think the thing that irks me about calling it venting is the implication that it won’t change anything, which tacitly states that nothing NEEDS changing. Steam just builds up and needs to be let it off the system every now and then, nothing to see here.

posted by stoneweaver at 10:08 PM on July 23

b. stoneweaver pretty much summed up my feelings about the word “venting” as used in the context of what’s going on in this thread. Calling it venting trivializes the way people are just offering up huge pieces of their souls. I have made keeping up with this thread a priority this week, because I don’t want to let anybody’s pain go unwitnessed, even if I can’t possibly respond to each individual story. Our feelings and struggles matter, and this work we’re being largely unassisted with and uncompensated for is the fucking glue that holds society together, and coming together to talk about it is something that rarely happens for the vast majority of us. I can hardly believe this thread exists, that it’s gone so well, with so few derails, with no acrimonious MeTa reacting to it. I am not exaggerating when I say it feels miraculous.

posted by skybluepink at 12:34 AM on July 24

3. Men: can we learn that someone being upset is enough to act? (*great note on consent)

“Why do you need to understand anything other than that it bugs me?”

It all boils down to whether it’s okay to just shrug off stuff other people care about. We men are getting a cultural message that it’s okay to not care about something other people care about, even if making a change for their sake costs us no physical and only minimal mental effort. That’s (in my opinion and in privileged world I inhabit) stupid, so I don’t really need to do it.

https://www.kenyatalk.com/file:///C:/Users/Personal/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.gifI see otherwise smart people do the same thing about consent. They mock affirmative consent because they don’t get the way that ask/push till you get a yes is wearying (emotional labor!) for women.

posted by phearlez at 9:50 AM on July 22

E. Why we don’t ‘just walk away’ from unequal relationships

1. Not so easy to just “find a better man”

One of the things I’ve struggled with as a male feminist is understanding why women so readily put up with male bullshit; of course I’m not talking about cases where they live in fear of violence, but about those “normal” relationships in which the guy basically lets the woman do the housework and emotional labor. I’m guessing women tend to be far more worried about the relationship breaking down than men (and thus afraid of putting it at risk by confronting their partner), which makes sense because the guy is likely to have an easier time finding another partner, and he is far more likely to find a woman willing to let him get away with shit than she is to find a guy who’s significantly better than this one.

posted by languagehat at 8:17 AM on July 30

2. You aren’t asked to make that painful choice

[re: advice to just walk away from people with unrealistic expectations] SHUT THEM OFF. WALK AWAY. YOU ARE AN ADULT.”

Which is exactly what some of us do. I’ve done it more and more over the years. About 4 seconds after my mother’s corpse was cold, I told my sister, “I am never ever attending another family Christmas. Adios, muchacha.” And I’m perfectly fine with accepting the fallout of that. The thing is, most men not only don’t have to deal with the fallout of “”walking away“ or opting out of various emotional chores, but they are very, very often never expected to have done The Thing in the first place.

In US culture at least, there are certain people within a family or relationship who are going to be asked or automatically expected to step up in situations like an elderly relative needing in-home care or support or company, a niece or nephew needing a last-minute babysitter or someone other than a parent to attend a school play, hosting a holiday event or reunion, visiting someone in a hospital, providing goodies for a playdate, mending fences between arguing parties or keeping lines of communication open, etc., etc., etc. and other people who aren’t asked or expected to do those. And we know the general gender breakdown of those two groups.

posted by FelliniBlank at 5:52 PM on July 15

[See also, V. A. I’d rather be single, on page 27, for some who have permanently walked away from romantic partnership]


A. Keystone stories

1. I was going to get you flowers…

I’ve been reading this thread incessantly and it’s like something I’ve always known has finally been put into words. I still haven’t reached the end and I have a lot of thinking to do, but had to comment when I read [the comment about a boyfriend wanting credit for thinking about, but not buying, flowers]:

When I was a teenager I had a boyfriend who used to say this exact thing, and I remember being charmed. And a few years later I found this poem and I cried when I remembered the scraps I had been so grateful for…

Flowers, by Wendy Cope [poetryarchive.org]


posted by [username] at 7:43 AM on July 29

2. The address book

Dear gods, you guys. This thread. So much resonates.

When the husband and I first married, his grandmother gave all of the sisters in-law an address book for Christmas one year. It had all the addresses, birthdays, and anniversaries of the entire family, including extended family. The husband is number 6 of 7, all 7 are married and have kids. Many of the cousins have similarly large families. I looked at the book and said “Jesus christ, that’s a fucking lot of family.”

And never did a godsdamned thing with it, because it was not my family.

The nagging started pretty much instantly. “Why didn’t you send Jan and Steve a card for their anniversary?” “Who”? “Jan and Steve, my cousins in Elyria.” “Never met ‘em. Not my family.” And there was grumbling. The next event came around. Why didn’t I send a card to this person for their birthday? “Never met ‘em. Not my family.” This went on for a couple years, with him nagging me about using the address book, and me finally getting fed up and pitching it in the trash.

Time passes, various bits of the family moved around, and he started complaining about never seeing his family. We had a screaming row about it one night, and he threw a huge tantrum about how I never send cards or call people, and it was upsetting to those people, and he never sees his brothers, and why don’t I ever make any plans? My screaming response was “THEY ARE YOUR FAMILY! If they’re mad because they’re not getting cards and you’re mad because you don’t see your brothers, that is 100% on your shoulders, because they are YOUR family, NOT mine, and I am not your fucking social secretary.” It had never occurred to him that it was HIS responsibility to maintain relationships with HIS siblings!

He does not make friends of his own. The few friends that he has, he has because I talked to them first. He’s very proud of the work that we do for a small MI winery, and likes to make a big deal of the fact that we are now on the Board of Directors, but the fact is, we would never have even started volunteering there if I hadn’t been the one to become friends with the fascinating and hilarious vintner and his wife. When I want to do things with my friends, he wants to be included. When I want to do things with my friends and I don’t want him along, he sulks. And when he’s upset with me and fussing because he

doesn’t have the same kind of relationship with my friends that I do, he refuses to understand that it’s because I have done ALL the work of maintaining those relationships, and he has done none. When he’s feeling especially sorry for himself, he complains that if we ever split up, he wouldn’t have any friends any more, and that my friends would be right there to help me move out. Well, duh. That’s because I’m the one who makes plans with them, talks to them about everything and nothing, makes them feel welcome and happy in my home when they visit.

It has only been in recent years that he has finally gotten it into his head that my emotional needs matter, too, and that he needs to get out of the habit of expecting me to be his everything. He is finally understanding that I cannot fulfill his every want and need, and he needs to take responsibility for his own social life.

The notion of women as the Caregivers of the Entire Fucking Universe is so deeply ingrained in some people, and it weighs heavily. Performing this sort of work only when I WANT to, rather than when it is expected of me helps ease the burden somewhat, but stars and stones, it is still a heavy burden when your partner is willfully clueless.

posted by MissySedai at 9:12 AM on July 20

B. Pets and euthanasia

1. My pets, your pets

“This makes me curious: Heterosexual couples, who is the one who takes the cats and dogs in to be euthanized?”

[…] when I was a kid, I had a dog and a cat. The dog was given away when I was in my early teens and the cat ran away (I think someone let it out on purpose) and I never saw either of them again. I heard later that the dog got mean because the new owners left her outside and overfed her and generally mistreated her. Even thinking of it now (and the fact that now she is either quite an old dog or dead) fills me with this deep, awful sorrow and feeling that I should’ve been an obnoxious little kid and done everything possible to save my dog and cat, even if it wouldn’t have changed anything. Instead I just let it

happen to me, because my parents were going through a divorce and my grandmother had just died and I was used to the knowledge that awful things were inevitable and that I had to deal with my emotions myself, and also feeling that abdicating control made these emotions easier to deal with. Just letting bad things happen with my stone face on instead of fighting it or letting anyone know I was sad. (I had younger siblings and my mom left suicide notes around the house when my grandmother died, so I felt

like I had to “be strong” for them.)

Anyway, putting aside the massive amount of female conditioning in that paragraph alone, my last ex was such a broken mess about his cat who had died… ten years ago. Of course it’s awful, of course it’s sad, but if I spoke of his cat in anything but hushed tones he’d get rather mopey and upset if he thought I was being glib. Did we ever talk about my childhood pets? Did he ever bother to process those emotions and think of them as his own to deal with and not to unduly burden others? No, of course not. There was no maturity in how he dealt with the situation. Whenever I mentioned the name of a local town that

contained the name of his cat, there was always a hushed “moment of silence” to reinforce how important his emotions and attachment were and that I was responsible for fielding them at any opportunity.

I just thought about at least three other adult men in my life who deal with the death of pets in the same way. I think it ties in with the idea that women experience menopause and empty nest syndrome (it’s all about children and fertility, naturally) but are incapable of existential crises. No, we are not. We are just used to processing them and realizing that no one else will be there for us when life goes on.

posted by easter queen at 12:13 PM on July 20

2. Shamed by a 9-yr-old

“who is the one who takes the cats and dogs in to be euthanized?”

When my sweet and lovey Murphy fell ill with epilepsy, the entire family was a complete wreck. But on what turned out to be his last night on Earth, I was the one who dragged a futon mattress into the basement to lie with him on the floor while he recovered from a particularly awful seizure and I was the one who covered him with a wet towel and turned the fan on to get his temperature down. And when we rushed him to the emergency vet at 4AM because the seizures just kept coming and coming and coming, I was the one who demanded that the vet let me stay with him while he was sedated.

The next morning, when the vet called to tell me he was locked in status epilepticcus, with very little hope of recovery, I was the one who had to make the decision to show the sweet boy love and mercy. The husband “couldn’t”, he said. So the Monsters and I went to be with him, to hold him and pet him and cradle him and tell him how much he was loved. We were with him when he breathed his last, and it was devastating.

The husband made a big show of slamming his fist into the wall and railing at the heavens about “his” dog after we came home. Younger Monster bluntly told him to stop making an ass of himself, if he loved Murphy so much, why wasn’t he there to help him leave this world peacefully?

We have lost three well loved pets since then. He goes with us now.

It took being shamed by a 9 year-old for him to grasp what a burden he had expected us to carry.

posted by MissySedai at 3:07 PM on July 20

C. Managing health

1. He’s lucky I hadn’t found this thread yet

So I lost a shitload of weight going on for a decade ago. I have kept it off, so yay me, I guess. My husband, after being diagnosed with Type II Diabetes, embarked on his own weight loss and exercise regime, and he’s doing well. He’s finding it easy, and guess why?

Yes, I am his (qualified only through my own experience) in-house dietician. All he has to do is go to the gym, and eat what I give him. (And yes, consistently going to the gym isn’t all that easy for a lot of people, but he actually enjoys it, so it’s not really a challenge for him, personally) All tasty, nutritious, pre-portioned, calorie-counted, Fitting His Fucking Macros. Which he changes all the time, incidentally, depending on what he’s reading at the moment. And oh god, the endless conversations we have about

this. I am over it. I am glad to help, and I want him to succeed for my own selfish reasons (i.e., I love him and want him around for a long time to come, and he really is a great guy most of the time) but I only was able to get my own shit together through a lot of effort and FINALLY fighting my ever-morphing eating disorder to an uneasy truce. Something I did quietly and with little fanfare, beyond it being kind of obvious what I was doing, because, of course, I was shrinking.

I totally internalized all the bullshit about women being neurotic about their diets, their bodies, etc., and made a huge effort to keep my struggle to myself, so I wouldn’t be one of those women constantly talking about being on a diet. I made a point of not being a pain in the ass or a bore. And I did it, so yay me, I guess. Now I really don’t want to talk about it, I just want to get on with my life and eat and exercise in this moderate and healthy way I have fought SO HARD to achieve, and while I mostly don’t mind helping the spouse out, it’s impossible for me to stop thinking about food and exercise so much when I now have to do it for a minimum of two people, and often many more than that, since I seem to be regarded by far too many people as some kind of free diet consultant. (This doesn’t even get into how I feel about people I barely know commenting on my body, which is not at all happy, thanks.)

So where I’m going with this is to say on Monday, as my husband was getting ready to travel to an on-site job for a few days, I asked him if he wanted a protein shake with his breakfast, because I knew he had a karate class later that night, and wouldn’t really have much time to eat properly during the day. (I don’t even want to get into our differing opinions on The Protein Thing; I am humouring him totally on this, because it’s his body, and if he wants to supplement with that disgusting whey protein isolate, so be it. I don’t have to drink it.) There was some agonizing, and then yes, he wanted the shake. Awesome. Great. Then he said to me, as he was eating and I had sat down at the table to do some kind of crap household paperwork, that he wished he could avoid making decisions about what/when to eat. That he found it mentally tiring to be asked these questions and it would just be wonderful if I removed the element of choice entirely, and just gave him whatever it was he was supposed to eat. Because thinking about food

all the time, when there are so many other things he needs to be thinking about is just too much sometimes. (But of course, he didn’t offer never, ever to complain or offer opinions about it, either.)

He’s really goddamned lucky I hadn’t found this amazing thread yet. That luck is going to run out at some point this weekend.

posted by skybluepink at 10:35 AM on July 22

2. Diabetic men without their wives

Then he said to me, as he was eating and I had sat down at the table to do some kind of crap household paperwork, that he wished he could avoid making decisions about what/when to eat. That he found it mentally tiring to be asked these questions and it would just be wonderful if I removed the element of choice entirely, and just gave him whatever it was he was supposed to eat. Because thinking about food all the time, when there are so many other things he needs to be thinking about is just too much sometimes.

There’s a thing with diabetic men where they frequently get very sick or even die after their partners leave/die because their wives have been taking full responsibility for their meals and they have no idea how to cook or choose foods. Not only should you dump that emotional labor for your sake, he should be doing the mental work of knowing what’s in his food for his own sake.

posted by immlass at 11:33 AM on July 22

3. “Takes care of herself

Not to beat a dead horse, but it has always made me laugh when men say they want a woman who “takes care of herself ” (i.e., diets, works out, does her hair, makeup, nails). Meanwhile, so many of these men literally cannot take care of themselves.

posted by easter queen at 11:36 AM on July 22

D. EL and sex

1. An even more unthinkable complaint than housework: Sex, the final frontier

Speaking of consent, the emotional labor of sexual labor is just… oh god. The expectation that women should “fake it” (or else men will feel bad that they couldn’t perform well enough), that we should have sex all the time when we don’t want to*, that we should “take care of ourselves” (i.e. diet) so that our

men don’t stray or feel like less of a man, that we carefully modulate our “no’s” so we don’t hurt anyone’s feelings OR put ourselves in danger, that we make our man cool with the idea that we won’t always come, but can’t necessarily ask for them to try something different if there is a way we will come, that we explain away our sexual desires as selfish, that we tell women to try dating older men but never suggest the reverse for men, blah blah blah…

*Some degree of this, reciprocated by both partners, is necessary-- but when you’re female there’s a whole dimension of pain/roughness that men do not have to experience.

This is a whole thing I’ve never acknowledged before-- that being a female partner in a straight relationship means a BUTTLOAD of emotional labor around sex, that you really really can’t talk about, because there is so much male fragility on this issue. In some ways it’s the final frontier. Say what you will about housework, but do not speak of orgasms!

posted by easter queen at 10:00 AM on July 22

2. Postpartum sex…

The husband asked about this while I was getting THIRTY TWO STITCHES after a deep perineal tear delivering Elder Monster. Can I tell you how much I LOVE my OB-GYN? LOVE! He stared at the husband and said “She just suffered a deep perineal tear that is going to take several months to heal. If you so much as THINK about sex in her general direction before she is 100% healed and feeling frisky herself? I will tear your testicles off and give them back in a ziploc.”

Dr. Shah was perfection incarnate.

posted by MissySedai at 11:19 AM on July 22

3. Why you only hear about sex being soothing for men

And yes, the whole “but when can we bang again??” thing after giving birth… I will be like, never. Never again can we bang. Goodbye forever. (jk I will be like “let me manage your expectations gracefully and carefully, I am a woman.” Also jk because this is something my boyfriend is quite chill about! Men, it is possible.)

It really hurts me how much emotional management women have to do around sex (also forgot to mention like, not asking for toys or anything in the bedroom that will actually allow us to orgasm, because again, ego damage, even though it helps so many women). Like did it occur to anyone that we might want to enjoy sex? That it might be relaxing for us and not another venue for constant performance? All those times people insist on how men and women are just different-- maybe during this one time, sex, where men and women are frequently DEMONSTRATIVELY different, we could treat women the way they’d like to be treated sexually and not shame them for not being porn actresses (i.e., pretending to be a giant, male-ish erogenous zone)? We could remember that their sexuality is special and that they have a clitoris? And that what works for men might not work for women, for obvious physiological reasons, which men just don’t want to think about?

We spend so much time and energy as a society talking about how men are comforted and affirmed and soothed by sex and never stop to think about why the same isn’t true for women. It’s because women efface their own needs to satisfy those of men. Sigh.

Also, w.r.t. pregnancy and parenting and giving birth, it drives me CRAZY when women post to the Green about how their husbands/male partners are freaking out about becoming a new parent. Acting distant and defensive and claiming they’re not ready. As if the woman is not freaking out, as opposed to just literally having no option to run away and hide. The idea that “daddy angst” (that manifests in checking out, cheating on their partner, etc.) is like this special, specific thing that needs to be acknowledged instead of just the same old shittiness that is frankly ridiculous.

posted by easter queen at 10:47 AM on July 22

4. My pain “ruins his mood”

easter queen: This is a whole thing I’ve never acknowledged before-- that being a female partner in a straight relationship means a BUTTLOAD of emotional labor around sex, that you really really can’t talk about, because there is so much male fragility on this issue.

HELL YES. I hadn’t even thought of this. Yet as soon as I read your comment, there he was popping up right in my head: Mr Previous, complaining that I ‘was ruining the mood’ if I told him that it hurt when he was rough or clumsy (or just impatient) during sex. So, never mind MY mood, whenever he did something that hurt me, I couldn’t just go ‘Ouch, that was a bit too rough, sweetie’, no… I needed to word my pain in a gentle and, I guess, sexy way, in order not to ruin his precious, precious mood.

Of course, this was the same guy who got impatient during foreplay, and asked me if he couldn’t just stick it in every now and then, without all of that hoopla? And then I had to be gentle again while I tried to explain that that’s not how vaginas work. Or at the very least not mine.

posted by Too-Ticky at 10:50 AM on July 22

5. There is no place for our lust, and you call us frigid?

You know, I also think this is part of the unvocalized censure from women about sex work. Of course there’s also the jealousy component and pearl-clutching and all of that, but subconsciously I’ve always felt that it’s just so massively ridiculous that not only can women not have the sex we want, without an excess of emotional labor, with our male partners, but we can’t even pay for someone to give it to us. At least not in the casual way a man can. Meanwhile, men can demand it from their partners and garner sympathy for cheating because “needs” and pay for it any time they can afford it.

There is no strip club I can just go to and creep about and let men utterly gratify my senses, not because I don’t WANT that (we’re animals!! I want it like I want to pig out on snack cakes!) but because I’m socialized to pretend I am better and more virtuous than that and will do the sex work for my partner and ignore that I would like someone to do it for myself. The only way I can actively objectify a real man who is physically present is if I do it with a wink, at a kitschy club-- certainly I can never do it with a partner (men have too much dignity to let us objectify them for our pleasure in any way that doesn’t resemble male worship). Meanwhile, women are being told they should shave and do anal. Women’s needs are so utterly invisible.

I remember during my sexual awakening as a teen how voracious I was-- I read the smuttiest smut, about women doing things to men and men doing things to other men. Men were sexual objects! I was a huge pervert! I was a voyeur* and a leerer, like any teenage boy. As I got older and the pressure to be “marriage-material” grew in my life, I basically suppressed my sexuality-- it was too embarrassing, too ridiculous, too impossible. The effort to enjoy that was not consonant with my identity as a woman. Most straight men are NOT down with that stuff.

And men wonder why so many women are sexually distant. They think that if women just “woke up,” they’d enjoy the sex that men want to have and be more open to the kinks that they themselves enjoy. Not only does it never occur to them that women have flattened out their own sexuality in service of male sexual dominance (they have been objectified within an inch of their own feelings), it also does not occur that the sex women want to have might be totally foreign, alienating, and overwhelming to them (much like the male gaze/porn culture is to women). Objectification might take its toll on them. In a future

utopia that I can only imagine a million years from now.**

I would be a supporter of legalized sex work if it ameliorated the horrible humanitarian fall-out of the current industry, but I am also profoundly uneasy about a culture that makes it so easy for men to get what they want, commodified and utterly divorced from any emotional effort or attention, while denying that thing to women at almost every turn (and making us labor to provide it for free).

*Not only that, but I was not a seasoned voyeur, because I didn’t watch porn, I read erotica. Because women are just verbal and emotional and prefer erotica? No, because I could not FIND pornography for myself. It didn’t exist. I tried!

**(Also I feel bad about calling a world where we objectify men til they can’t feel a “utopia,” it’s not a utopia, there’s a better way! There has to be!)

posted by easter queen at 11:24 AM on July 22

6. Why some women turn down oral sex…

a. “that being a female partner in a straight relationship means a BUTTLOAD of emotional labor around sex”

Adding to this, how about the fact that a man who does not perform cunnilingus won’t get any shit from society (though he very well should from his partner, if that’s something she’s into), but a woman who won’t? Boy howdy is she a bad girlfriend/wife.

And it just occurred to me, I wonder if it is more common for (heterosexual) women to not be into receiving (more common than heterosexual men) because it is sexual emotional labor that is performed by their partner when women are socialized from birth to take on all that responsibility and like easter queen said above:

women have flattened out their own sexuality in service of male sexual dominance (Sorry if that’s not coherent. This is the first I’ve tried to put this idea into words.) posted by LizBoBiz at 1:31 PM on July 2

b. "I wonder if it is more common for (heterosexual) women to not be into receiving "

Oh yeah, I’ve definitely excused dudes from going down on me solely because I did not want to deal with how much work it is for me when a dude is performing oral sex on me for any reason other than that he’s super into it. The last guy I had sex with made big claims about how much he loves performing oral sex, can’t get enough of it… then he gets down there for five minutes and is like “ugh could you just come already”. I wanted to grab this twice-married middle-aged fool by his ears and shake him until his teeth rattled… but looking back on every way this guy shirked doing any EL at all, ever, it’s no longer surprising to me that this guy is on his second divorce and has few friends he can turn to for actual comfort and support.

posted by palomar at 1:50 PM on July 24

7. Basic science: women are biologically disinclined to have sex with their caretake-ees…

a. Someone got shirty with me in an AskMe recently because I pointed out that women are biologically disinclined to have sex with their caretake-ees so, you know…if you act like a toddler don’t be surprised if you get the sex life of one.

posted by Lyn Never at 12:15 PM on July 22

b. “I pointed out that women are biologically disinclined to have sex with their caretake-ees”

You have no idea what framing that in a way I’ve never seen before, succinctly stating something I’ve tried to sort out in my head about “maternal” feelings and love for a partner and the impact on

desire, has done to begin to shift a massive burden of guilt I’m carrying. Thank you.

posted by billiebee at 12:28 PM on July 22

c. Just wanted to pop in and say that after some reflection time I realized that this:

women are biologically disinclined to have sex with their caretake-ees

explains so much about how some my past relationships had evolved into. I always thought that the

‘losing desire’ thing is just what happens or that it was always me having some sort of issue with some sort of hang-up. Like I don’t get how super hot and bothered I was for this dude before, I mean I know about the honeymoon phase and all but the drop-off seemed pretty quick.

Huge ah-ha moment. Like holy-moly, wtf I can totally see the progression and correlation now!

It makes total sense, especially now that I’m older and think of things that I do find sexy and a turn ons. Most have to do with some sort of competency related to so much emotional labor skills that have been brought up in this thread.

posted by Jalliah at 12:08 PM on July 24

E. EL in the workplace

1. Performance review

I once had an annual performance review where I was told that I was good at my job, good at managing deadlines, good at helping out in multiple departments.

BUT. (My boss told me this shamefacedly, which is how I knew telling me was something she had been forced to do.)

The important dude from an upstairs office (who often gave speeches about the importance of

empowering women) thought it was rude that I never stopped working to smile at him when he walked by my desk. Not even when he came to my desk to ask me for something-- when he walked past me on his way to talk to someone else. I was supposed to stop doing my actual work, give him a big smile, and say “Hi, [dude’s name]!”, as if it was such a treat for him to visit our part of the building.

This was at a well-known progressive institution in a major city, and yet “hey girl, give me a smile” was an unspoken part of my job requirements, and my non-compliance with that secret requirement had to be mentioned in my annual review.

posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:01 AM on July 22

2. Valuing EL: concierge banking

This thread reminds me somewhat of the work that private bankers do for wealthy people. It’s been described to me as “emotional concierge” - the actual money stuff is 10-20%, and the rest is reassuring them about their decisions, knowing their family and personal issues, arranging personal crap like birthday presents and tickets, and listening to them endlessly. It’s understood that you’re being paid to make your client happy, because the actual financial service you provide is replaceable and minor. Surprisingly, the female private bankers I know tend to be pretty tough outside of work - they won’t put up with it if they’re not getting paid either.

posted by [D] at 5:05 AM on July 16

F. A day of one’s own

1. I just want ONE day

That moment, to me, is the absolute ideal of what a partner of any gender can ideally do: providing a time that is exactly what your partner would like, without asking. And what that takes is simple-and- complex: pay some goddamn attention.


Marry me. OK, I’m already married, and you don’t go my way, but marry me anyway. OMG.

You would think that paying attention is hard or something. “Hey, what do you want for Christmas?” I always ask for some kitchen gadget or other, because cooking makes me happy, it’s how I chill. Christmas comes around, and I’m hoping for the requested kitchen gadget or something like it…and it’s a ring. I HAVE RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS! I stopped wearing rings after I had to have my wedding band cut off

for the 3rd time. I asked for [kitchen gadget]. “Well, [kitchen gadget] isn’t very romantic!” WTF? It took

YEARS to break him of that.

Mothers Day, all I want is to sleep as late as I please, have a hot bath with fancy bubbles, and I want to go out for sushi or something with the fam. In the bits in between, I want to fuck around on the internet or watch Doctor Who or just lie on a blanket in the yard with the dogs and read. I say this explicitly every year. For YEARS, he would wake me up at ass in the morning to go hither and thither, and then be upset because I was unhappy. Well, dammit, none of this is what I wanted. I just wanted a really chill day where I didn’t have to do anything except eventually get dressed for sushi out. The Monsters are older now, with jobs and schedules and such. They buy me nice Tequila, fancy bubble bath, and dramatic eyeshadow, and leave it on my computer with an obnoxious card before they go to work in the morning. There’s usually a note to the effect of “Reservations at [sushi place] at 8PM, should probably not wear the leopard print jammies.” They get home from work, tell me the eyeshadow looks fantastic, and we go stuff our faces

with fishes and sake until I can barely move. The husband doesn’t get it. Even when I explain that I just want ONE DAY where I only have ME to take care of, he still does not understand. Why don’t I want [thing on TV that advertisers say every Mother wants]? It is genuinely upsetting to him that I want what I want, and what I want is to do not much of anything.

It shouldn’t be hard to pay attention, but I seem to be wrong in that assumption, because so many people just don’t.

posted by MissySedai at 8:10 AM on July 21

2. “Vacations”…

…and he didn’t lift a finger to help with the kids, it was, after all, a VACATION, and why should he have to do a damned thing?

I feel you, Sister. Twice, I planned “vacations” that involved me doing EVERYTHING, him doing nothing, and me being so angry and stressed out because everything had to be what he wanted, and nevermind what I wanted. I very nearly pushed him off a bridge, and refused ever after to plan another “vacation” while the Monsters were small.

I started going to Chicago by myself every few months. I let him come with once. Once. “But I don’t want to go to the Art Institute. I don’t want to go to the Field Museum. I don’t want to go to Gino’s East for pizza. I don’t want to go to Navy Pier. There are too many people here. This isn’t relaxing at all.” I told him tough shit, he was tagging along on MY vacation, and we were going to do what I wanted.

WHY is this A Thing? Why does “vacation” mean “the man gets doted on, the woman needs to suck it up and deal”?

posted by MissySedai at 7:48 PM on July 21


A. Why aren’t men drawn to the satisfaction of EL? (Spoiler: toxic masculinity)

1. Allowing men to care: the next frontier

I agree with [username] that emotional labor, at least in US society, is so inextricably coded feminine that men are discouraged (at best) and punished (at worst) for an interest in it.

It makes me think about how women and men are supposed to react to children. Women must love children - all children. Even if we don’t have any of our own, we are expected to shower attention on nieces, nephews, godchildren, and/or children of friends (“honorary nieces and nephews”). We are expected to say stuff like, “I don’t have any children of my own but I LOVE KIDS anyway!” If you dislike children, or even are indifferent to them, you are unnatural, unwomanly, a harpy and a monster.

Men, on the other hand, should only love their own children or children of family or close friends. A man who loves children not related by blood - unless they are offspring of very close friends - is a creep, and suspected of nefarious motives. Men should only love a select few children, and definitely shouldn’t try being a kindergarten teacher or anything. Only about 2% of kindergarten and preschool teachers are


I think that nurturing, caregiving, and emotional labor is the next big obstacle to conquer for gender equality - and I think it’s just as important as getting women into career jobs was during the 70’s.

posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:39 PM on July 21

2. That can really sap any enjoyment (the guff I take as stay-at-home dad)

I’m not “Average American Male” by any stretch (I’m the one that stays with the kids all day, does the cleaning and cooking, and the work I do is split evenly between music and part-time retail work), but I enjoy wide swaths it. I take pride in being a thoughtful host and get excited about giving gifts. I even enjoy a lot of the day-to-day logistics planning of parenting and family-ing in general.

But you know what? In order to get to the point where I can admit that without some sort of explanation, I had to overcome the fact that at least 1/3rd of my family thinks I’m a loser because I chose raising my kids to have a full time paying job or career, and think I’m less of a man because care about stuff like “hey it hurts my kids\wife\friends when I do X”. Heck, I once got crap from a brother because I called home to let my wife know when I’d be home from fishing. Then there’s the people whose opinions of me shift a little (for the worse) when they hear I’m a stay at home dad. I honestly don’t think most of them are even aware of it. That sort of thing still can really sap any enjoyment out of it.

posted by [username] at 2:31 PM on July 21

3. Special dispensation for Major Moments in a Man’s Life…

a. I think [username] and Rosie M. Banks and Mchelly made excellent points.

I would add, though, that when emotional labor is somewhat culturally acceptable for guys, it’s in the context of Special Occasions, things that happen a handful of times a year or a lifetime - birthdays, Christmas, weddings, graduations, death of a family member, lost your job, etc etc etc. So I think that (some) men can feel and understand the pleasure or value of emotional work . . . . . . . . . but we haven’t learned that it’s a daily process. We can understand the pleasure of finding the perfect Christmas present; the idea that you could give & receive similar pleasure on any random Wednesday isn’t even on the radar.

posted by soundguy99 at 6:20 PM on July 21

b. it’s in the context of Special Occasions

So true - and it’s why the Best Man Speech and the Last Minute Pep Talk and the I’ve Always Admired You Dad and that sort of thing are such common movie and TV tropes. Like, it’s a huge payoff when the usually checked-out male suddenly shows up and does the needed thing and makes an incredibly touching statement - not a dry eye in the house, when they crack that membrane, but just once or twice.

posted by Miko at 6:38 PM on July 21

B. It’s not an intrinsically female “gift”; it’s a learned (and learnable) skill

1. Not the opposite of rational & analytic

“This thread has been so enlightening. I’m actually seeing more of myself in the ”male“ group here, contrary to my actual gender, and hearing people talk about why all this emotional labour is important, I’m feeling a little guilty for not making more of an effort to improve. Somehow I’ve escaped the pressure to learn these skills so far, very luckily because they absolutely aren’t natural for me - very analytical/practical, ADHD-PI, introverted, independent”

This is from way, way up-thread, but I just wanted to address the notion that emotional labor is somehow the opposite of being analytical, practical, and/or independent. That idea seems born of the insidious stereotype that women are these emotional, helpless creatures who need the help and protection of the menfolk with their rational minds and practical ways.

In my experience, performing emotional labor day in and day out takes a lot of analytical, practical, intellectual skills. Just read all of the stories in this thread from women detailing the ways they’ve silently, invisibly performed emotional labor on behalf of their families (and others). One great example is the idea that a man says what he wants done, and the woman then figures out all of the intricate details to make that thing happen (including a million logistical things that never cross the man’s mind).

Thank you to everyone who has been sharing their stories; this thread has been a revelation in a lot of ways. I see myself, my mother, and so many other women I know in so many of the stories.

posted by JenMarie at 2:59 PM on July 21

2. There isn’t a “female” and a “male” way: there is trying and not (an absence of work)

Honestly I find all these theories about male answer and fix-it syndrome and needing to be “rational” and understand a problem before sympathizing to be overelaborate… on one level, yes, of course men are no more rational than woman, and I know that’s not what you were implying, phearlez. But on a deeper level, no need to label this stuff “male” or “problem-solving” or any of those words we use to rationalize away the problem. The reality is that men are either too lazy (privileged) or too blind (privileged) to the issue to learn how to be emotionally supportive. No woman is born knowing how to listen or be emotionally supportive all the time. We’re not born with an innate desire to put ourselves last. We all learn it*. Men don’t-- they refuse to or fail to-- and it has nothing to do with being a man and everything to do with just not. doing. it. It’s not a separate, male way of being-- it’s an absence of effort. An absence of work.

I am just as “fix it” as the next man-- when I don’t want to listen, or make an emotional effort, and I just want the problem to go away (i.e., don’t want to offer emotional support).

*unless we don’t, and then we’re punished for it

posted by easter queen at 9:50 AM on July 22

C. The one time men willingly do EL

1. The backbone of relationships, not the entry fee

I was thinking more about this last night, and it struck me that part of the reason a great number of women have so much buried resentment about these issues is because men actually do perform emotional labor so willingly at the beginning of a relationship, which shows that they can do it and they

are aware that it exists, right up until the relationship is secure enough that they can designate it “not my job anymore” and tap out.

Setting up special dates based on her preferences, wanting to talk about feelings (because the feelings are all rosy and nice at the beginning, but still), calling just to hear her voice, finding out the little things she likes so he can surprise her with them, being kind to her friends and family, we can watch whatever you want to watch (and meaning it), and on and on. But for a lot of men, these are the means to an end, where the end is a relationship where they never have to do any of these things again.

But for women who end up in relationships that start this way, it is hardly surprising that they feel cheated and duped when the mutual emotional labor disappears and she’s left handling it all by herself. She thought that this man was promising to live this way. She thought being noticed and validated would be long-term. Women consider emotional labor to be the backbone of relationships, not the entry fee.

posted by a fiendish thingy at 5:47 AM on July 20

2. Rocket boosters

I think it’s tied in with slut shaming and the Madonna/Whore complex.

I know many guys who are completely befuddled by -and won’t date- women who date casually.

I’ve reflected on this a lot too. That’s absolutely part of it, but i always see guys trying to get to the cohabitation stage as quickly as possible and i can’t help but think that yes, it’s an EL thing more than anything else.

Men want to stop doing the initial hard work of EL as quickly as possible. It’s basically like the stages of a rocket taking off in to space, where space is the homeostasis of a full committed relationship. They want

to ditch those big heavy “extra” rocket boosters of doing lots of EL and move on to just passively orbiting

and not having to constantly do that “hard wooing stuff ” like buying presents and planning cute outings and grinding their mental gears on “hmm, from what i know about her and what she likes, would she like this?” and having to do things like keep track of what music she mentioned listening to so they can go “oh, it’s that band she likes! i should get tickets and surprise her!”.

The more i reflect on it i think it isn’t even about having someone to mom them as that’s generally something you slide in to over time. Although i will admit i’ve watched guys i know clean up their house, and keep it clean when they’re first meeting and tentatively dating someone then just… stop(or they have a come to jesus moment of “fuck, she commented on my house being a sty, now i have to CLEAN it!!! OMFG I’M GONNA DO THAT RIGHT NOW” but they see it as like a relatively one off thing, not a regular maintenance task).

Because nah, it’s about having to do the emotional lifting and easing off that ASAP.

I’m interested to see and hear others opinions on this though. But this thread made that jump out at me watching friends short relationships that either they(if they’re guys) or the dude they were dating went official on super fast and then flamed out as soon as the guy ditched those solid-rocket-boosters of EL.

posted by emptythought at 1:27 PM on July 30

3. ‘Budgeting’ for decline

So that’s fascinating to me, fiendish thingy, because it taps into another discussion I’ve been having recently with a group of female friends elsewhere. Some of them have been divorced and are in the dating world again, involved with partners for several months, and trying to figure out whether these are people with whom they should try marriage again. As they talk this through with other people in the

group this theme keeps coming up that these boyfriends should be dancing as hard as they can now to be the best possible partners and prove they’re worth marrying, and that obviously after that they’ll get lazy, that’s to be expected, but they should be on their very best behavior right now until they can get a ring

on my friends’ fingers.

That conversation is confusing as hell to me, probably because I’m the only one of the group who has opted out of marriage in favor of a long-term (15-year) unmarried partnership, so I don’t have the same framework for understanding marriage as those who have experienced it personally. Emotional labor has changed in my relationship over time in ways both good and bad, but not in relation to some specific milestone like a wedding.

So I’m pretty seriously weirded out to find that my good friends explicitly expect and plan for the men in their lives to start off acting one way to get married, and then to change after marriage and become a less-good partner, and that’s just…the way it’s supposed to be? It feels like something I don’t have standing to challenge in these conversations because I know jack about marriage. But I really thought this pattern was something to expect men to break, not to just deal with it by expecting them to dance twice as well as you need them to before marriage so that when they slack off after marriage they’ll still be somewhere in the realm of acceptable partners. I want better for my friends and it makes me sad watching them tie themselves into these knots for people they fully expect will let them down later.

posted by Stacey at 6:09 AM on July 20

4. Low bar

“I want better for my friends and it makes me sad watching them tie themselves into these knots for people they fully expect will let them down later.”

It IS sad. Because a man who is cognizant of and fully invested in developing his role in emotional labor is

so rare. And there are a lot of women who do not want to fully opt out of relationships, because there are a number of pretty big consequences in doing so. I won’t speak for other women, but I know for me a man just showing signs that he is trying and open to being guided is huge, because they take this SO

personally and get SO defensive and as mentioned countless times above, the emotional labor required to soothe their feelings and tell them that they personally are not bad people, that it’s just a bad system, is VERY draining . I think lots of women just don’t even bother. It is less draining for me personally to just carry on in a relationship doing all the emotional labor while the guy remains happy and clueless about my needs, than it is to try to soothe the hurt feelings and resentment that he gets after I attempt to suggest that he maybe could do more.

posted by triggerfinger at 8:03 AM on July 20

5. Imagine

Now I can’t stop thinking what the world would be like if men started treating everyone with the same care and concern they show women they’re trying to get into bed.

posted by sallybrown at 5:37 AM on July 16

Uuuuuuuuuuuuui!!!:eek::eek::eek::eek: Hii yote?