The concept of emotional labor, and how I suck at it.
Been reading through this article and the comments about it here about emotional labor (there are a lot of them. Seriously, be prepared for it to eat at least two days’ worth of your free time.) and - well. It gave me a new vocabulary for talking about myself, so here we go.
After my first attempt at college failed, my mom seized on the fact that I wasn’t very good at making friends and decided that was the source of all my problems. She scolded me a few times for not appearing interested enough in other people, or for looking like I was mad at them (that’s just how my face looks!) or having a ’tone’ that she insists I have sometimes. At one point she set up a day trip with some friends of hers, who had a couple of daughters about my age. We explored some little antique shops and basically just enjoyed a rare not-too-hot sunny day in Misawa, and I remember having a fairly good time and exchanging a few friendly words with the daughters, which is about as much as you’re ever going to get out of me the first time I meet someone new.
My mom decided that I had failed by not making those girls my Buddies by the end of the afternoon, and proceeded to initiate the most straight-up abusive thing she had ever done: a week of the silent treatment, at a time when I was at my most emotionally broken point in my life. That was the thing that drove me closest to committing suicide that I have ever been. When she finally ended the silent treatment and I explained how her treatment had made me think she didn't love me anymore, she responded, "Have you met me?" as though I were stupid for extrapolating how she felt about me from her behavior towards me. I was too broken to tell her to go take a flying leap at the time, but now I kind of wish I had.
(Those of you who were with me at that time in what limited way you could, let me pause to thank you.)
The reasons that I failed in my mother’s eyes was the same reasons I tend to fail at job interviews, why people think I’m ‘so quiet!’, why I had to get two people to help me on my CV and tried, with dubious results, not to whine the whole way through; why I was terrible at making friends and never kept in touch with the few I did make. The skillset the women in those comments describe as having been hammered into them from birth - organizing people, remembering birthdays and anniversaries, making people feel comfortable, thousands of little acts that act as social lubricant - just missed me completely somehow. I don’t know if there’s something wrong with me or I just got turned off to People early in life and never went back, but guys, I fail so completely at being a human being in the company of other human beings. Add in the issues of how these skills are feminine-coded and therefore both required of me and simultaneously devalued, and it’s no wonder I’ve been at a disadvantage so long. I’m a woman who doesn’t perform to spec, but I don’t have any “manly” traits to make up for the lack. Looking for work, my lack of a social life, the weird tension starting to show between me and my new in-laws - it impacts every area in my life and I finally have a way to start to talk about it.
I don’t know how to feel about this. If it’s a skillset, that means I could potentially learn it, right? Yet it seems all as impenetrable as quantum physics. I just feel so overwhelmed.
Honestly, it’s my relationship with my dad that I really worry about. He and I barely communicate; if Mom dies before he does, we’re going to have no foundation for sending the occasional email to each other, much less support each other as he gets older. I hope he’s not like the older widowers in the comment threads, the ones who wind up basically alone when their wives die because they let her do all the work of socializing. …or maybe he prefers it that way, how the hell should I know. He’s as bad as me, and I’m a person who sometimes thinks ‘alone’ isn’t the worst way to die after all. If I’m one of those people nobody misses until my house starts to smell, that’s kind of my ideal.
Don’t want that for my dad though. So how much responsibility is mine for it? He’s a grown-ass man. And hell, if he wanted a better relationship with me he could have easily had one.
…heh. Reading back over this, it’s kind of amazing to me that I ever got married in the first place, much less have such an amazing relationship with my partner. It’s like “Oh woe is me, I will never learn how to People, I will die Forever Alone” while slipping on a banana peel and into her arms. XD I won’t say that there’s no emotional labor involved, but we’re both committed to Using Our Words and supporting each other, which makes things a lot easier for me. If People are an unnavigable maze, my parter’s maze has great big neon blinking signposts. <3