The Case for Increasing Your Emotional Labour Load

Labour Day and the performance of emotional labour for friends
Photo by Chris Piascik on Trend Hype / CC BY-NC-ND

Yesterday was Labour Day, so I am going to use this opportunity to talk about something that has been on my mind a lot lately: emotional labour. (Apparently, I am on a bit of a theme lately, because this dovetails pretty nicely off last week's post about community care.)

These days, I feel like everywhere I turn I am being warned to be super careful to never require emotional labour from anyone.

This makes sense when we are talking about marginalized communities and asking a stranger who I don't know to teach me about their experience while being so nice about it that I never have a bad feeling, but I also recently listened to a podcast where the host warned us to ask ourselves "what kind of emotional labour you are asking of those you hold near and dear." As if we shouldn't expect our nearest and dearest to perform emotional labour for us.

Ummmmm.... guys. Isn't that literally what friends are for? Not to carry the weight of our emotional burdens, but to be there for us and help us out while we go through them and maybe even share the load once in a while? To be with us while we unpack both the joys and sorrows of life? To cheer us up and comfort us when we fall and then we do the same for them?

Here's a concrete example. Last weekend, one of my nearest and dearests had a bombshell drop: she was moving and had hired movers to avoid having to ask her friends to help her (again). Then the movers didn't show up. They ghosted. She and her husband were standing amongst all their boxed-up belongings on the last day of the month with no truck and no people.

What happened next?

After a few emergency texts, over ten people showed up with whatever vehicles we could scrounge up and started hauling boxes.

Did any of us want to perform a bunch of labour (both physical and emotional) that morning? Not really. Did most of us have other plans for the day? You betcha. But, as a fellow helper and I discussed on one of our shuttles between the old home and the new home, "This is the difference between Facebook friends and real friends." (Also, was it still pretty fun? Of course!)

Caveat: you don't HAVE to show up every time a friend needs help moving to be a "real friend." You have a life too, and that's okay. I think it's called "having boundaries" and it's not a bad thing unless those boundaries are so fortified you never let anyone in and never go outside your happy zone.

The Moving Crew

Here's another example, this time showing the flipside! A few years back, I created a Society6 art shop with some random designs I had been working on but hadn't told anyone about until I announced the whole thing on Facebook. A different nearest and dearest jokingly commented that I was keeping secrets from her and wondered what else her friends were hiding.

She was kidding, but I realized that I had, indeed, not been acting like she was a best friend. Best friends don't find out about your big projects when you tell the world. They find out in advance so they can get excited with you, help you plan, and encourage you. I had denied her the "friend work" that was hers by right of her station in my life.

When I apologized for not telling her, she responded that I didn't ower her anything, but the truth is that I did and still do. When someone is that close and you want them to stay that close, owe them things. You owe them your emotional labour and you also owe them the opportunity to give you their labour in return.

We all like to talk about how romantic relationships are "hard work" and that staying in a long-term relationship takes dedicated effort. If we want friendships to last a lifetime and to mean something in our lives, why wouldn't the same apply there?

The necessity for work is a lot more salient when you are sharing a home and a life with someone and they are around all the time, but the needs are the same. Friends need to know that we care! You can show them we do the same way you would show a partner. Find out their love language and then shower them with it! Tell them yours!  Communicate. Be intentional about spending time together. Unpack that weird thing that happened at work, and then unpack their kitchen on moving day. Babysit their kids. Talk through decisions you're both trying to make. Do stuff you don't necessarily want to do because it makes them happy and that makes you happy. And then ask or let them do all the same things for you! Give and take your emotional (and sometimes physical) labour!

Labour Day and Emotional Labour

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