ariake ya ie nashi neko mo koi wo naku
the homeless cat, too
cries for love”
— Issa Kobayashi
Growing up, I must have heard the scriptures about what love is and isn’t about a tetrahecadonahillion times. Interestingly, nowhere in said scriptures was there the sentence “Love is definitely not two or more ladies/dudes/gender non conforming people. Ever.”
But anyway. I digress.
It’s Valentines, and here we are. The hallmark cabal and the all powerful florists lobby wants us to feel like shit, and have a miserable day of lamenting that either we are a. single, or b. in a two-some which will now experience inordinate amounts of pressure and faux red velvet, or c. married and bitterly resentful about it.
They would also very much like us to engage in the cultural trope that Men Want Sex and Women Want Love. Therefore, Men can buy sex with shiny things that stupid pathetic Women will mistake for Love, ???? and Profit!!
And so on, and so forth. Ad nauseum, weep and eat pints of ice cream, make a sweeping exit whilst tossing down a bouquet of red roses in the rain, trashy lingerie, jazz hands.
I maintain that Valentines is a day for making your own goodies, if you can, and handing them out at random. Thats it. Me and Mr. Lee Hales won’t be doing anything exciting, seeing as we both have the head cold of doom, but even if we didn’t, thats about all I would be able to muster. And frankly, cupcakes of universal love are plenty.
But I’ve also been thinking about emotional labor, and how much we do, and how much we make the other people in our lives (especially of the significant other variety, but certainly of the friend and family variety) do for us.
Whenever we refuse to own our shit– that is, to admit that we are sad, or restless, or bored, or pissy, or angry, or wounded, or lonely, and we make someone pry the truth of us like a toddler with a filthy disgusting blankie, we are making that person do our emotional labor. When someone can tell by our body language that we not fine, that we are, in fact the opposite of fine, and we say “I’m fine. No, really, everything is fine,” when what we really want is to either talk about it or be left alone, we are making that person do our emotional labor.
There is also the reverse. Refusing to do emotional labor– refusing to accept the validity of someone else’s feelings comes to mind. Flat out telling someone that “no, you don’t feel that way, you actually feel this way,” yeah, thats refusing to do any emotional labor.
I’ve heard various lobs back and forth about whether relationships take work, or whether the “best” relationships are labor-free– and for me, relationships take care and tending. You know, emotional labor. The labor of going beyond merely not being an asshole.
I think this is one case where gender doesn’t have a whole lot to do with things (OMG a card carrying Feminist just said gender doesn’t have a whole lot to do with things, alert the press, call out the hounds, it’s the end of the effing wooooorld!)– because although I’ve seen unbalanced emotional labor dynamic play out in plenty of hetero couples, I’ve also seen it play out in many a same/different gender friendship.
People, it must be said, tend to be lazy. I include myself in the class “people” in case you were wondering. It feels awesome to behave like a lazy, angry toddler, and have someone there to clean up the mess. It makes you feel more secure, and more loved, because the other party is proving how awesome and special you are, how worth it you are, by putting up with your nonsense. Paradoxically, it also makes you feel less secure– why, you wonder, are they putting up with this? Are they using me? They must be more fucked up than I am. I’d better start behaving even worse, to see if they still love me.
And this is how the asshole spiral of guilt, fear, doubt, laziness and asshole behavior begins.
I speak from experience– I’ve been on the dishing out and taking it ends of this sad sad cycle.
Emotional labor, it must also be said, is, uh…work. Having the guts to own your moods, and tell other people when they’ve hurt you, or crossed a boundary or failed to do right by you, well, it’s really hard.
I don’t have any great golden mountain of wisdom to end on. I don’t even have cupcakes of universal love for you.
And the sincere hope that we can all learn to do our own emotional labor, to maybe not do so much of someone elses that we can’t do our own, and to know when to let someone help us when we need help.