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Emotional labor and building support networks - House of Forgotten Thoughts

Jul. 28th, 2015

02:13 pm - Emotional labor and building support networks

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I ended up reading a lot of this thread about unpaid emotional labor (which has a wonderfully moderated comments section, this is a "do read the comments") and it's speaking to something I've been struggling with.

I'm bad at many kinds of emotional labor. (Good at other kinds, but bad at many kinds listed in this thread.) So are most of my friends. So are most of my family members.

We don't get together because almost no one organizes it. I'm having a horrific time managing support for my surgery aftercare because it means dealing with thinking about strategically contacting people, and actually knowing their contact information, and having some semblance of understanding of where our social currency stands so am I being a giant jerk.

Many people I know have trouble with this in phone or person, but do great with online social networking. For years I was one of those, but with the de-relevancing of LJ, I've been slipping from it. I'm just... disconnected.

Also relevant on that thread, my circuits on doing housework and opening mail and other personal unpaid labor tasks seem deeply, deeply broken.

This is an entire sphere of competency in which I feel deeply, deeply broken, and I can't tell how common it is to my friend group and how much it is that everyone I knew who did the good reciprocation thing has drifted away to other friends because I didn't.

ETA: I realized I didn't really give a discussion direction here, which is a piece of emotional work. I'd appreciate people sharing their perceptions of emotional labor in our mutual friend circles or their lives in general, and some kind of reality check on where I stand here.

It's okay if that assessment doesn't reflect too well on me, especially if it gives positive feedback on "here are some friends who are awesome at this," because I'm starting from a place where I'm pretty clueless about what's being done that I'm not aware of. I'm also curious about how this interacts with mental health issues.

Comments:

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From:pielology
Date:July 28th, 2015 09:30 pm (UTC)
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Hah, I was just thinking "gee this care team volunteer management thing is sure sparing me a lot of emotional labor trying to figure out how to offer help, this is great!". Without it I probably would've spun around trying to figure out what kind of aid would be appropriate for our level of social bond and not figured it out and then felt guilty forever. So I'm glad you've made the effort on that front that you have.

There was one comment in that thread from someone who'd basically avoided learning how to emotional-labor, because of how her mother resented the role of sole emotional laborer in the family, and... oh man yup yup yup. I have some balls of feelings to unwrap.
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From:gement
Date:July 28th, 2015 11:07 pm (UTC)
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Excellent, I'm glad it's having the intended effect! It's been a useful structure for me to be very specific about needs, while allowing people to opt into my "interested in being part of these requests" connection level.

I'm realizing my mom actively opted out of the family dynamics by moving 100 miles away from the apron strings (she's talked about it repeatedly, how it felt like swimming out of a whirlpool), and that has had profound effects on my understanding of extended family interactions.
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From:maribou
Date:July 28th, 2015 11:59 pm (UTC)
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It is generally my impression that people in our mutual friend circles have a reasonable amount of emotional-labour awareness (we know what could be done, and probably even feel an "ought" about doing it) and not a lot of emotional-labour energy (we have chronic illness that make functioning hard and/or jobs that drain all our extrovert and/or children and/or and/or).

I actually think in general people our age have a lot less "free time" than people a generation older did, and/or a much wider circle of family, friends and acquaintances, such that we are bound to feel like we are failing on the emotional labor front even when our intentions are sterling.

My parents aren't particularly good examples of this or any generalization (because hella dysfunctional) but if I think of my friends' parents, aunts and uncles, etc - it seems like having every adult in the household working 40 hours a week outside the home was dang rare, and their energy was mostly focused on their families and maybe 3 or 4 close friends and (to a much lesser degree) another 3 or 4 activity-related acquaintances - and when I look around at my friends and acquaintances, it seems like having every adult in the household working 40 hours a week is ... a lot less than the average amount of hours every adult in the household works. And might be kinda nice for them, and let them stay in much better touch with their favorite people. Who often number upwards of 20 before we even start counting family members.

In most of my friend circles, including those that don't necessarily overlap with yours, I've noticed that as we all get older and have more friends and more things going on, it becomes harder and harder to actually SEE each other. Four of our closest friends here, we used to see 3 weekends out of 4... now it is more like 1 weekend out of six, and one of us has to get really fired up to make it happen. And these are still our CLOSEST friends, and 2 of the 4 are really good at emotional labor and do a ton of it (the other 2 aren't bad at it! just not holy cow off-the-charts good). Just everyone is kinda busy and outa cope when they aren't busy and we know we can trust each other to still be friends.

In the latter case, those 4 people? I know with no hesitation that in a crisis they would totally be there for me. And I would equally not hesitate to be there for them. This has been proven many times (would that we had fewer crises in our lives). It did take me a while to really BELIEVE that though, even though I knew it. It's really kind of weird to know that even if we hadn't talked in 2 months I could call them and ask them to meet me at the hospital, no questions asked. But it's also completely true.

Which is a really long way to say I sympathize? But also that just because you haven't been "keeping up your friendships" doesn't mean those people don't love you and won't want to help you. Even if they CAN'T help you, it doesn't mean that they don't want to! And I think most of them will want to, and some will be able to. *hugs*

Sorry if the above is incoherent, I just started a new med yesterday and incoherent is kind of where my brain is at.




Edited at 2015-07-29 12:00 am (UTC)
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From:gement
Date:July 29th, 2015 04:44 am (UTC)
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That was pretty damn coherent and incredibly helpful. I think the sheer head-count of people we expect ourselves to keep track of, sans the yesteryearly Feminine Kin-Keeping Training that some people on the thread are talking about their families expecting, goes a long way toward explaining my expectation gap.

So, yeah, I could be doing better, but it's telling that I felt like I should personally notify nearly a hundred people about my diagnosis before splashing it on social media, and then some of those have been getting back to me a week later saying "I kind of fail on keeping up with communication lately sorry" and are clearly feeling the same way I do.

Thank you.
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From:randomdreams
Date:July 29th, 2015 05:01 am (UTC)
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I feel like we're an entire culture that is so overwhelmed we have trouble keeping up with all the stuff we want to do.
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From:plantae
Date:August 2nd, 2015 10:41 pm (UTC)
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Yes.
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From:gement
Date:July 30th, 2015 03:36 am (UTC)
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For my later reference, the comment where someone said something close enough to the thing I was feeling so I could finally breathe again. That particular expansion stays central for about the next 20-30 comments.

It doesn't cover the "I see these things need doing and then my anxiety is a train wreck," but the discussion really begins to get to the fact that *knowing* it is an issue that takes up bandwidth is the real bridge to be crossed in most of the complaints. Yes, some of us are really bad at this for a variety of reasons. Meaningfully acknowledging that is, sadly, enough, a big step up from what most of this thread is talking about.
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From:gipsieee
Date:August 9th, 2015 05:34 am (UTC)
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You were someone I wanted to get to know better when I was living in town. Busyness, lack of free slots on (my) dance card, and not wanting to impose got in the way of that. After I moved across the country, LJ and fun reading (did I ever tell you how much I smile when I have a patient named Gerard come through at work? It's actively hard not to giggle) did a LOT to cement our friendship for me and at this point, our interaction level seems pretty evenly matched to me... We ping at random and interact when it lines up well (which is shortly after most pings), but it helps a LOT that I'm in a later timezone than you are as I have stepped on your bedtime pretty regularly every time I've tried to communicate with you or set up getting together when I'm actually in town (except this last visit where we stayed at your place and (I think) didn't keep you up tooooo late every night).

Speaking of which, I'm back to civilization and my cell phone is able to talk to the world again (sigh virgin mobile customer service is truly incompetent, mumble grumble, scream). If you still have need of that question answered, ask away, I'm happy to do a little digging if it's not something I'm already familiar with.
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