the emotional labor of love

there was a meme that a facebook acquaintance (a woman i think is rad) posted earlier in the week that i attempted to make a thing on my own wall. one person was to post the meme, and then someone else would write something they loved about their friend and then post the meme on their own wall, with the hopes of setting off this wonderful chain reaction of love and admiration across facebook. the OP got a lot of well-deserved, awesome comments.

after i posted it, my good friend T reposted it and found that the majority of her respondents were women. out of maybe 6 or 7, only 2 were men. she reflected that perhaps men are reluctant to post things like that because they’re socialized not to feel their feelings nor to express them to women, especially female friends who are partnered. this began a brief dialogue between the two of us about doing the emotional labor for men in our friendships and romantic relationships. it got me to thinking about my own relationship patterns.

i wrote this:

yeah, it becomes a thing where you start sorting out and explaining and untangling and guessing and armchair-analyzing. i am, quite frankly, worn out on this. i think i need to move into a place where i SHRUG when men expect me to drag their feelings out of them and help them sort through. it’s one thing to ask a *friend* to do this *with* you. it’s another for it to be the expectation.

to clarify: this tends to be an A-1 issue for me in romantic situations or situations that could go that way. friendships with men that are clearly platonic or that are more surface don’t seem to be as tricky for me, but i think that’s because i’m able to draw a firmer line.

then i remarked that this seemed like the beginning of a blog post. 😉

i discovered sometime last year that my tendency in romantic relationships is to take on the majority, if not all, of the emotional work. this is particularly true at the beginning of a relationship. i spend so much time and emotional/mental energy trying to sort out how he might feel about me, what i might mean to him, where he might see things going (if anywhere), making excuses when/if (more likely when, in my case) things don’t quite gel or he acts in silly, thoughtless ways. it is exhausting work, trying to figure out where you stand with someone and doing most of the communicating.

it’s my own choice to engage with this, of course, and i’ve had to learn how to communicate directly about how i feel and what i need and want, and about what’s not acceptable friendly behavior. being direct doesn’t always feel good. but i’ll tell you what – ripping the band-aid off is much easier than the agony of being treated poorly in the long term. i’ve had situations where later on, i’ve realized just how much of an emotional bullet i dodged because i chose to walk away from people who couldn’t be bothered to be open with me or to respond to my requests for communication.

i’m a pretty intense person – both friend and partner – and i recognize that not everyone can hang with that. i don’t think i’m for everyone. BUT – i also refuse to apologize for my sensitivity and need for honesty. i deserve that as a minimum. i’ve spent a very long time disparaging myself because i couldn’t grow a thicker skin or detach from someone. nowadays i try to acknowledge when and where i hurt and then learn from it and move forward. and i also try to enjoy good times without getting wrapped up in things i can’t control, like any future outcomes.

there’s a lot of personal stuff i could write here, but i’ll just spare you that. you should probably read this article, though. if you want to be a good friend and a good partner to someone, you have to be observant and thoughtful for those relationships to succeed. you have to do your part. you can’t expect the other person to carry the weight of the relationship. if you’re not invested in or concerned with your stake in a relationship- whether platonic or romantic – you end up communicating that in your thoughtless behavior or in your silences. your lack of commitment comes through, even if you think you’re engaged. if your partner doesn’t feel heard or appreciated, it is probably because you haven’t tended to some need they have. or even asked what that need is.

sigh. it’s a hard road and so much of it is wrapped up in feelings of self-worth and identity. it’s been a long process trying to figure this out for myself and it’s still a struggle. but mutuality in all relationships is necessary and it’s what we owe the people we care about.

 

the emotional labor of love