To belabor the point … on emotional labor, that is.

I was thinking as I walked home today and I had an idea – we should simply make up boardgames that traded in emotional labor as teaching tools!

It actually started out as an intent to come up with something to explain emotional labor. I originally thought that I’d just run through all the thought processes that go through my head at night “after work” but I thought that might get unwieldy. So, flowcharts. Everyone loves a flowchart, right? But if we’re doing flowcharts, why not just go ahead and design a board game? Do this, spend three points of EL, gain some peace and quiet in the house. Don’t do this, save the EL points, but toggle your strife meter higher. Choose to outsource the problem: lose money, gain temporary peace and quiet, but “underlying tension” goes up. It’d be like some unholy combination between Settlers of Catan, Arkham Horror and Power Grid.

Seriously. Any takers? Because this might need to be a thing now.

There’d be a million moving pieces, ten thousand things to track, and toggle-y things galore.

But in the meantime, a view into what goes on behind my eyes when it’s just “dinner”.

Dinner:  What is there in the fridge? What can I put together? What will ex eat? What will ex eat that can also go into a lunchbox and reheat well? What do I want to eat? How much energy do I have versus what needs to be done? What absolutely needs to be cooked or will go bad? Do I need to run out to pick up some ingredients that we have unexpectedly run short of? Have I seen our friends recently? Should I invite one or more of them over? If I do, do I have the energy to play hostess? Will we have enough food? If I cook that roast I was saving, will that be too much food? Do I have the basics of a balanced, nominally healthy meal? Veg, starch, protein? Dessert? Am I doing dessert?

If I’m inviting guests, then play the “who won’t eat what” game. K can’t eat anything spicy. Meg won’t eat anything with ground meat, including burgers. M and C loathe mushrooms. M likes fruit with his meat. I despise fruit with my meat. Thene won’t eat anything smushy like stuffing or raw cheese. Joseph won’t eat anything too weird or anything with mustard. CA is vegetarian. N is allergic to ginger. E went gluten free.

(yes, I can recite all this from memory. I defy any of the guys to do so.)

I go look in the fridge and make sure my memory isn’t faulty about what’s in there and come up with a menu to accommodate everyone eating. I start food prep.

And that’s the mental gymnastics just for what is for dinner and who is eating it. Add in cats that need to be corralled and it becomes even more painful. E is never on time. Thene will show up directly after work with C. Iddt will show up slightly later. Joseph will decide if he wants to eat or not once he gets home and looks at the dinner, no confirmation before because he won’t know until he sees the food. How to time the food so people are not starving while also making sure we wait for everyone to more or less be in place. Appetizers are key here, but not enough appetizers to put people off dinner. Then time the main course and all the cooking and prep and stuff. Anticipate who will eat how much of what and plan portions accordingly.

The whole thing is a mess of math and politics and psychology.

Then we come to clean up.

I load the dishwasher. I’m exhausted and I feel grimy from airborne oil from cooking and I just want to collapse, but the kitchen needs to be clean. I would really love it if boyfriend helped, but then the question arises: is it worth trying to “nag” him into doing it and having him be pissy or should I just do it myself?

We’ll have the following conversation:

Me: Hey, can you wash the pots and do some cleanup?

Boyfriend (while playing video games, not to make this more of a cliche than ever): Yeah, sure, later.

Me, later: Hey, pots?

BF, impatient: Yeah, sure, later

…repeat until a raging fight breaks out, or I’ll bite my tongue and leave them in the sink until I get to them.

Underlying tension goes up and it gets brought up later when I start shouting about “you don’t care about me to do shit!”:

BF: I do! I do everything you tell me to!

Me: I don’t want to have to tell you! It’s your home too and I cooked and you’re not a three year old and seriously!

BF: What more do you want from me? I do it eventually and so what if I’m pissy about being nagged and I only go after we get into a minor tiff about the number of times I’ve said “later”? The point is that it gets done, right?

Me: NO, because usually I end up doing it so I don’t get sucked into fights like this!

The emotional labor then becomes: um, is he in a good mood? Can I get him to unload the dishwasher?  If I ask and then he puts it off, can I wait, or do I really need to empty the sink a couple more times and it needs to happen now? If I ask him to unload the dishwasher and then he doesn’t do it in a timely fashion, will he be paying attention and start a fight out of guilt when I start doing it instead? Do I want him to unload the dishwasher twice, or do I want to save on the fight that will happen if I ask him to do it twice in one day instead of one?

In the end, I usually end up doing more work than my share in addition to all the mental gymnastics in trying to keep the peace.

Yes, for anyone who still doesn’t see how terrifyingly grinding this can be on a person, it’s all the small things. It’s all. the. small. things.

But this is where the quantum of solace comes in. Do you care enough for someone that their well-being hovers on the peripheries of your mind? Do you think of them and try to find ways to cherish them and make their lives better?

When I pause and am reminded of C when I see peanut butter anything desserts and think to bring him something, just to brighten his day – emotional labor.

When I try to balance what I cook so it’s healthy and there’s fiber because he’s troubled by hemorrhoids and try to make sure he has a blueberry yogurt smoothie daily – emotional labor.

When I try to arrange our social gatherings to accommodate both his need for company and his inherent cave-troll-hermity tendencies – emotional labor.

When I take care to think of his daily life and consider what might benefit him and help him as gifts – emotional labor.

Forget about roses and diamonds and even cash – this is what love looks like. Love is made up of endless small fragments of emotional labor.

And it is what the lack of love looks like.

Lack of true and abiding love is when:

- the boyfriend goes out to a party and leaves the sick girlfriend home alone with no clear plans for dinner except take-out

- the boyfriend doesn’t bother to text or call or anything about when he’s getting home and it’s already midnight

- the boyfriend never has a “oh, hey, girlfriend would love that” moment because, well, really, she might as well be furniture

And so on and so forth.

Right now? It’s not about how much you make or how tall you are or how handsome or how good in bed. It’s definitely 100% about how much fucking EL you’re willing to perform (willingly! happily!) without being prompted.



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