Mens' emotional labor support group

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Mens' emotional labor support group

Post by Paladin on Wed Mar 30, 2016 8:39 pm

Just the other day there was a thread about Emotional Labor, including links to larger articles on the subject. While it mostly pertained to women, a few of our male commenters also piped in, before one of them pointed out that the subject probably deserved its own thread. So, here it is.

This subject is particularly near and dear to my hear. Apparently, I was raised in Bizarro world, because in my family, doing emotional labor was almost the exclusive responsibility of the men of the family. It was my dad's job, and after he died, it became my job. He was the one who did all the little things to keep my mom functional and happy, and I was taught that this was the right way to behave. This attitude led to a number of toxic relationships, abusive behavior by various would-be friends, and culminated in me spending over two years taking care of my mother after she lost my dad, putting my career and social life on hold. (My two sisters flew the coop to out West as soon as they were able). While I've finally toughened up my boundaries and put some space between myself and my mom, I still find myself stuck doing emotional labor for friends and relations.

As a result, I feel really conflicted on the emergence of emotional labor as a hot topic. On one hand, I finally have a vocabulary to describe what it is I do. On the other, since it's an otherwise exclusively female experience, rarities such as myself excepted, I can't really talk about it without appearing to hijack the conversation, and of course there's no real support network for male emotional labors. It also means that I react rather...badly to notions that men simply need to more emotional work, since I'm doing far too much of it already. As another forum member put it, "the straitjacket of masculinity is bad for you, so here's another that's more comfortable", and that's all too accurate, in my experience.

Any other dude-types have similar experiences? Thoughts from anyone welcome.

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Re: Mens' emotional labor support group

Post by Werel on Wed Mar 30, 2016 9:54 pm

I am not a dude-type, sorry! But I am in a relationship with a dude-type who is also very good at emotional labor, but has found ways to not be doing everyone's emotional donkey work all the time. I will not pretend that I fully get what it's like to manage those boundaries as a guy, but I think for him, some important things are:

1. Ask for emotional labor back as a baseline in any kind of friendship. There are exceptions (family members, friends since very young childhood, etc) who get a pass because you love them and will take them as they are, but throughout every step of becoming friends with someone new, see if they can pull roughly as much emotional weight as they're asking you to pull for them.

2. Make clear that this stuff is work. Do not be afraid to tell people that they are exhausting you when they are. Do not do the "no it's no problem at all" dance (maybe "don't trade in the Traditional-Masc straitjacket for the Traditional-Fem straitjacket"? Razz). Mix a good dose of honesty into your expressed willingness to do the labor.

3. Don't do more than you want to do. I know that when I ask him to do some emotional heavy lifting for me, he will only do it if his heart is in it. And this is a good thing, because I don't want anyone's resentful emotional-indentured-servitude; that's not a nice resource to have. A "sorry, I'm not up for that right now, check back later?" is not going to kill anyone.

Are you mostly looking for ways to enforce the boundaries you're setting, or is your main problem not knowing when/where to put those boundaries?

And I agree that "all men need to do more emotional labor" is not a fair generalization, just like "all [members of enormous group] need to do [thing]" is usually not a legit statement. Maybe for you, sharing the skills you already have is a better path to improving the world? I'd love to see some talk amongst dude-types along the lines of "how do I learn emotional labor skills by interacting with men who are good at it?" Because I think there are some distinctly masculine ways to do emotional labor, and it's usually pretty helpful to learn new skills from folks who have some of the same relevant life experiences as you.
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Re: Mens' emotional labor support group

Post by Conreezy on Thu Mar 31, 2016 1:57 am

Any other dude-types have similar experiences?

Yes, absolutely. I won't claim to be a Zen master or anything, but I do my fair share of the "emotional labor" and then some. The biggest reason why I'm on this board, read things on DNL prime, and lurk other feminist sites is because I wanted to be better at the emotional side of my relationship. It's done wonders, but my wife does not take such an active approach to self-improvement and it makes me feel like I'm the only one who's trying. So the imbalance (if there is one; I hesitate to say that) is tilted the other way.

I'm also the one who does all the traditionally female duties in the marriage, like domestic labor, while my wife is the bread-winner. Like many women complain, no matter how busy I am (work and full time-school), those duties fall on me like another job because I'm the one more qualified to do them. I nod along when I hear/read women who say their household work isn't respected, but I feel weird jumping into the conversation like "Ooh, girl, I know."

Even just typing this out makes me uncomfortable, because I'm a guy, and I feel like that casts a whole lot of doubt on my case. I feel like I have to put in all the right details to ensure that I have an airtight complaint, that I'm really not just a piece of shit male who's whining when he's just as lazy as all the guys women (rightfully) complain about.

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Re: Mens' emotional labor support group

Post by BasedBuzzed on Thu Mar 31, 2016 3:59 am

1) Everybody gets to vent. You have to be a bit aware of whom you'll vent to, but even if the amount of emotional labour you did wasn't skewed compared to how much you receive it, venting is perfectly fine. If you were not used to it, doing something new can be exhausting. Fallacy of Relative Privation and all that, plus you repressing stuff is exactly what they don't want you to do in order to have healthy masculinity.

2) Never, ever neglect the tools toxic masculinity gave you in order to 'solve' emotional labour. Can-do peptalk, grim humour, rationalizing away one's insecurities and distraction by doing stuff go along with a good listening ear, self-care, taking feelings at face value ("it's enough that something hurts you") and therapy recs. Not sure if that list maps completely to traditional gender roles, but there you have it.

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Re: Mens' emotional labor support group

Post by Werel on Thu Mar 31, 2016 4:35 pm

Conreezy, I'm sorry you feel like you have to shut up or "prove" your case in some of those conversations. That's shitty in all the same ways that doubting somebody's description of their experiences is shitty. FWIW, my relationship has the same setup (I'm the breadwinner and terrible at domestic labor, he does all the housework and sometimes I'm probably not as aware/respectful of it as I should be), so I know it's a real thing and completely undersign your right to complain about it. Shoot, you can have my seat at the "my domestic labor is underappreciated" table, if that's a thing girls automatically receive at birth--I'm not using it. Here is my ration of "ooh, girl, I know"s. Razz
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Re: Mens' emotional labor support group

Post by Hirundo Bos on Sat Apr 02, 2016 6:16 pm

I have... other experiences, but certainly experiences. And feelings about them that I don't know where to put. Because they concern privilege and disability mixed together.

I'm autistic, and that's had an impact an many of my practical and social and emotional skills... It takes me more effort than for the average person to use them, and more time than for the average person to learn them. And it's probably a ceiling to how good at them I can become.

Many of the things I'm missing in my life, and much of my anxiety, and several of the poor choices and wrong turns in my life, can be traced back to my relative lack of skill with emotional labor.

(And to complicate things, I have a strong desire to be helpful with that kind of labor, which is why I wanted to be a teacher for a long time then tried for a few weeks and gave up, then studied for years to become a therapist and tried for a few weeks and gave up.)

On the other hand, male privilege probably means I'm significantly less impacted by this than people who aren't men. As a man, I've been less pressured to learn and perform those tasks at the cost of my mental health, and I've experienced less punishment in the cases when I've fallen short.

So I my feelings about it, that I don't know where to put, arise when I see rhetoric I interpret as meaning that these tasks are simple, and easy, and people are just lazy for leaving them to others. Like "just communicate, it's not exactly rocket science," which I've heard several times. Or "you have google at your fingertips, and still you come to me for answers".

And I don't have a problem with the main message here – that people in general and men in particular should expect less unreciprocated emotional work from others. It's the part where it's all supposed to be so easy that I don't really know where to put. It's factually wrong, and it feels like it's dismissing a big part of my life – but with all of that, I'm still the privileged party here, and my concern with the rhetoric shouldn't derail discussion about the actual matter.

So I don't know. Maybe I'm answering my own questions. And maybe asking about this is itself asking for emotional work. And maybe hoping for some answers that can put me at ease is that. It's only... it's been on my mind for quite some time, and this thread seemed like a relevant place to talk.
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Re: Mens' emotional labor support group

Post by Enail on Sat Apr 02, 2016 6:42 pm

One thing about what you're saying, Hirundo, aligns quite closely with what a lot of women are saying, and maybe in a way that would be helpful for you to hear: it's not easy. It sounds like it's a skillset that's particularly difficult for you to learn and a kind of work that's particularly taxing for you to do, and I'm not meaning to dismiss the increased difficulty you experience - but the fact that it is work and that it isn't simple and that it doesn't always come naturally isn't in opposition to the main message, it's part of it.

And I think the fact that you recognize that it is work, is itself something that can help you find ways to fit your privilege and your disability into interactions in ways that are both workable and ethical wrt emotional labour.
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Re: Mens' emotional labor support group

Post by Guest on Sun Apr 03, 2016 1:30 am

I'm a dude-type! Grin But sadly, how do I shot web? As in, I-I'm... still kind of an idiot and still have no idea what it means to do "emotional labor" or even provide emotional support -- other than listen to whoever needs an ear.

One of my good female friends was talking about that kinda thing with her and her boyfriend to me once. I listened but I couldn't really give her much of a solution nor could I fully understand what she meant. So all I could really do was listen and say "you're doing just fine" and get ramen with her.

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Re: Mens' emotional labor support group

Post by Wondering on Mon Apr 04, 2016 4:58 pm

Emotional labor is in part emotional support, but it's also planning, organizing, deciding, remembering, and reminding.

So, to give you an example, in my house, I cook and my husband does the dishes. Seems pretty equally divided, right? But there's a lot more work that goes into cooking than just the cooking itself. Some emotional labor involved in cooking dinner:

1) Deciding what to cook (believe me, this is usually the biggest hurdle for me; it can be truly draining) which involves knowing what I have available in the fridge and pantry; thinking of how many, if any, leftovers it will create so that my husband and I have lunch for the next day; keeping in mind what day of the week it is and how many leftovers I'll need for dinner the next day and lunch the day after if the next day is a day I'm not home to make dinner*; making sure it's a balanced meal, especially now with the baby; making sure it works for my diabetes and isn't too heavy on carbs; knowing if I have time to make the thing I want; deciding if I have energy to make the thing I want; figuring out if I can realistically make it on weeknights with the baby running around the house.

*Mondays I go to pilates at dinner time, so I need to make a dinner that's quick and ready before I leave for me to eat early and my husband and baby to eat while I'm gone; must thus be a meal that keeps warm, like soup. Tuesdays I do the weekly grocery shopping with the baby late in the afternoon, so I don't have the energy to make dinner that day (thus, Monday's meal (or the leftovers in the fridge from prior days, which I also need to keep in mind) needs to cover lunch and dinner Tuesday and lunch Wednesday). Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I can usually make anything (unless it's Lent, and then I need to make sure I'm not relying on a meat dish for Friday, but my husband also isn't fond of tuna or shrimp, so if I need to keep that in mind for Lent Fridays, too), but I want to make a meal Friday that will give us leftovers for the next day since on Saturday, we're usually out running errands and get home too late for me to cook up something big. Sunday, I can make anything as long as we don't have other plans.

Hey, are you tired yet? I am, and this is just the deciding-what-to-cook part.

2) Making sure that if I use up a perishable item in the fridge, I put it on the grocery list right away, otherwise, I'll forget. Or, if it's dairy, telling myself I need to remember to log into our milkman account after dinner and add the item for the next milkman delivery. If it's not a perishable item, I need to move the spare from the pantry to the fridge and get that on the list, too, so that we restock the spare. I make sure to keep spares of everything that's non-perishable in the pantry so I never run out in the middle of cooking something.

3) Thinking about what pots and pans to use to make the meal. I don't want to use more than necessary. They might not all fit in the dishwasher, and it puts an extra burden on my husband cleaning things he didn't need to (note, here, how I'm thinking of his task and being considerate toward it). So, do I really need to use all these bowls or measuring cups? Is there a more efficient way to use the food processor? I do spend a lot less effort on this part than I would if I was doing the dishes, though.

4) Going grocery shopping. This was a thing my husband and I used to do together on Friday nights. But that doesn't work with the baby now. It's too late for her, and we both want/need to be there for her bedtime. We don't want to take up precious house/yardwork or other errand time on the weekends going grocery shopping, so now, I do grocery shopping alone with the baby. And I go to three stores every week: One the local grocer for really good produce and meats that I can afford; one Whole Foods for things I just can't find anywhere else; and one a major national chain for all the other things. I also pay attention now to what's on sale and look at the sale fliers the night before I go shopping to see if there's anything good on sale and if I can plan a week's worth of meals out of what's available on sale. The sale part is something I didn't used to do, but I recently had my employment slashed, so it's important now to save that money. I have a budget to keep weekly grocery costs under and need to keep that in mind when shopping. Since I go to those stores, I need to make sure I get home within 2 hours so that the food from the first store hasn't been unrefrigerated too long. If two hours seems like a long time to go grocery shopping, try doing it alone with a 1 year old at three different stores. Wink

Also, due to my employment, we don't eat out, take out, or order in for anything now except special occasions. So I can't just decide I'm too tired and have my husband pick something up on the way home like we used to. And holy cow, are toddlers who want you to constantly zip and unzip their sweatshirts while you're trying to cook tiring. "Sorry, honey, my hands have raw meat on them right now, I can't zip your sweatshirt." "Dip! Dip! Dip!" Wink

So...that's the "emotional" labor involved in me cooking a meal for dinner.  Does that help explain a bit more what that label can include, even if it's not exhaustive in its examples?

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Re: Mens' emotional labor support group

Post by Hirundo Bos on Mon Apr 04, 2016 5:45 pm

Enail: Yes, I've been thinking along those lines too. I know it's not easy or effortless for anyone, and that that's part of why it's a problem when it goes unrecognized. But I still see a bit of rhetoric that I interpret as claiming that it is easy... and what I'm wondering is if I'm misinterpreting it somehow? Are people meaning something else when they say things "communication isn't exactly rocket science", or "it's not like you couldn't just look it up on Google"? Or if they are meaning to imply that it is easy... that's when I'm not sure if it is my place to point out that it is not, but from the inside I feel a pressure to do so.

(Less of a pressure when it comes from someone I also know to be autistic or have similar cognitive and emotional issues.)

Wondering: Thanks for a good and detailed example of emotional labor. The better I understand the concept, the better I'll get at learning the skills, and at recognizing when others do it for me.
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Re: Mens' emotional labor support group

Post by Enail on Mon Apr 04, 2016 6:02 pm

Hirundo Bos wrote:Enail: Yes, I've been thinking along those lines too. I know it's not easy or effortless for anyone, and that that's part of why it's a problem when it goes unrecognized. But I still see a bit of rhetoric that I interpret as claiming that it is easy... and what I'm wondering is if I'm misinterpreting it somehow? Are people meaning something else when they say things "communication isn't exactly rocket science", or "it's not like you couldn't just look it up on Google"? Or if they are meaning to imply that it is easy... that's when I'm not sure if it is my place to point out that it is not, but from the inside I feel a pressure to do so.

I think those kinds of statements are meaning to imply that it's easy, but my sense is that it's often an expression of frustration that might more precisely be expressed as "this is something [whoever they're talking about] is capable of doing or of learning to do, but they're feigning helplessness or remaining purposefully ignorant" or "I find it easy but not so easy that I'm okay with being responsible for doing it all the time by default." Like many expressions of frustration, it's incomplete (missing the part that establishes that it isn't easy) and not meant to be applied universally (ignoring people for whom it is legitimately more difficult, among other things).
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Re: Mens' emotional labor support group

Post by Paladin on Thu Apr 14, 2016 8:25 pm

Well, I'm glad this thread's been useful to folks. That was the idea.

I'll keep it going for at least my use, as that was sort of my original purpose for it. An update: Turns out while I'm better at setting up boundaries with family, still kinda bad at it with friends. A case in point; my friend B.

B. is one of those people who just can't seem to catch a break. She's been in an abusive relationship, has health issues stemming from a nasty accident, employment woes, etc. No matter what's going on in my life, it seems like hers is worse. And she's quite vocal about it. She recently moved back into the area, and we've gotten lunch together occasionally. The last few times, what I thought was going to be fun hang outs and catching up turned into her bitching about her job and health issues for an hour.

Thankfully, she had one bright spot, her new boyfriend. At least I wasn't her sole pillar of support. Well, at least until a few days ago, when, of course, he suddenly dumped her. When I talked to her on Wednesday she seemed to be doing ok, but apparently yesterday she got shitfaced drunk and called my sister. Sister tried to hand her off to me (of course), though I managed to dodge that since I was at longsword practice. However, I did end up getting talked into taking B. to a concert that a mutual friend is performing at tomorrow. While I'm sure the concert will be lovely, I'm also sure I'll spend the rest of the evening listening to B. wailing and gnashing her teeth.

Honestly, I'm just....tired. I don't feel like I have the energy to deal with this. But I'm apparently B.'s only support right now, so someone's got to step up to the plate. So it goes.

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