Me:So, let's say that you're at school and you see a guy you know. I mean, you guys talk every once in a while and he's pretty cool, but you're not like friends or anything. You just talk to him every once in a while.
Guy Friend:What's his name?
Me:I don't know. Frank?
Me:Okay, fine. His name is Will. Okay?
Guy Friend:I don't think it really suits him, but okay.
Me:...So anyway, you're at school during lunchtime and you see Will. So, you notice Will's not eating anything. That's when you realize that Will has no lunch, no money for lunch, and no way of getting either. He's just sitting there like he normally would. He's not acting any differently and he's not asking anyone for anything. Not money, not a fry, not even a salt packet, but you know he's gotta be hungry. So, what do you do?
Guy Friend:Do I have any money?
Me:Yeah. You have enough for you and another meal.
Guy Friend:Duh, I buy him lunch.
Me:Okay, cool. So, like you said, you buy him lunch. You buy your lunch and you buy his lunch and you go over and hand it to him. And, he says, "Wow. You know, that's really nice of you, but I wasn't gonna ask anyone for lunch. I was probably just gonna wait until I got home to eat." And, then you say--
Guy Friend:Nah, it's cool.
Me:Exactly. You say, "Nah, it's cool. I'm just being nice. It's a gift." And, Will says, "You know, that's awesome. You're really nice, bro." And, after that, you guys start hanging out. You guys are like really good buds. You are always hanging out and laughing and just having a good time. So, you guys are friends for a few months, and it's tons of fun. Then, one day, you go up to Will and you say, "Hey, Will, you know, I've been thinking, and I kinda want that five bucks."
Guy Friend:What five bucks?
Me:Hold on. I'm getting there. So, Will says, "What five bucks?" To which, you reply, "Well, we've been hanging out for a long time and it's been really fun, but like, I've done a lot of really nice things for you. Like, I'm always nice to you and I always listen and do things you wanna do, so I was thinking that because I've been so nice, you should pay me back that five bucks I spent to get your lunch right before we started really hanging out."
Guy Friend:What? Why would I--
Me:I'm not done yet. So, then Will looks kinda hurt and he says, "But I thought you were just being nice. I thought that was just a gift." So, you say, "Whether or not it was a gift, don't you think you kinda owe me that five bucks since I've been so nice to you?" And, Will says, "No. I don't think I owe you that!" And you get mad, so you say, "Well, I think that you do, so I think you're being really shitty and stuck up about this and I feel like I've been completely wronged."
Guy Friend:Oh, my God. That's so fucked up of me. I would never do that to Will. Will was nice. We were buds. That's way screwed.
Me:I know, right? Hey, just wondering, have you ever heard of this fictional place called "The Friendzone?"
The worst thing about the “friendzone” isn’t that some poor guy didn’t get to have sex with the girl he likes even though he’s such a nice guy, it’s that some poor girl finds out one of her friends was only trying to be close to her with the hopes of getting in her pants. Any idea what that does to someone’s self-worth? Or are you too busy lamenting your unrewarded sense of entitlement? Fight me on this. I’m angry tonight and I will bite your throat out.
I feel like almost all of the guys who’ve had an unreciprocated thing for me developed it because I listened to them and was emotionally supportive, etc., but they themselves never thought to do the same for me. Which ended up with this weird situation where I knew them super well but they literally had zero idea about who I was as a person other than “listens really well and is emotionally supportive.”
Like, they didn’t know the first thing about what was important to me, my beliefs, my family, my work, how I spent my time when I wasn’t with them. Because not a single one of them wanted to know. They would just… never ask, or they’d ask politely and when I started to answer they’d show extreme disinterest and change the subject back to themselves.
But they still thought they loved me, because to them that’s all love is - being emotionally supported by someone. It did not even occur to them that the support could ever go both ways, and they were always bewildered about why I never loved them “back” - even though all they gave me to love was a person so self-obsessed that he couldn’t see me at all.
Emotional labour is so, so important to be aware of in relationships. It has to have some kind of balance, or the person performing it will just burn out. And a relationship consisting only of one person demanding and demanding and never giving back is not love. Love is not a demand. It can accept, and it can ask, but love listens, love cares about how its requests affect the beloved. Love wants to give back.
Does anyone else fill up with dread when you realise your guy friend has a crush on you, because you’re now going to be socially obligated to provide him with additional emotional labour if you don’t want to suffer social sanctions for not fulfilling your gender’s role of managing men’s feelings?
Men who are attracted to women routinely make their crushes a problem for the women they’re aimed at. If they possess the basic understanding that they’re not entitled to a woman’s interest - which honestly can’t be assumed - they still generally feel entitled to her time and emotional labour.
They expect explanations, a chance to ask questions about her lack of interest, and perhaps even a chance to convince her to “give him a chance”. They expect to be let down in the gentlest, most complimentary way possible, to have their feelings managed every step of the way by a woman who did not ask for this interest or the job of handling it.
This is one form of male entitlement, a near-ubiquitous form of misogyny that’s so embedded it often goes unnoticed. Men, think critically about the expectations you have of a woman you’re interested in. Are you making your feelings her problem, or are you managing them on your own like a respectful adult?
No one likes to be rejected. But it’s not the job of the person rejecting you to comfort you about it or listen to heartfelt confessions they don’t want to hear. Your interest doesn’t mean they owe you. Find someone who consents to giving you that emotional labour; don’t demand it from someone you’ve trapped in an awkward situation. Let “no” be enough.
People’s reactions when a woman says she isn’t interested in a man that is interested in her is absolutely terrifying and disgusting. They honestly think the man’s right to have her is more important than her lack of interest. Like, because he is interested in her he deserves to have exactly what he wants and she is supposed to just ignore her lack of connection and put her feelings aside and cave to his desires. ‘Give him a chance’ and ‘you might grow to like him’ and every other excuse in the book is just a dressed up version of ‘he wants you and your opinion and feeling don’t matter at all because your life is secondary to his’
Overprotective Dad getting out the shotgun when his baby girls first bf shows up at age 14 isn’t ‘cute’. Modest Dad telling his sweet precious daughter to cover up her shoulders isn’t 'sweet’. Concerned Daddy wanting to know where his baby is and who she’s with at all times isn’t 'good parenting’. Loving supportive father who gave his sweetheart a promise ring and danced with her at the chastity ball isn’t 'old fashioned but harmless’.
Fathers who think they are entitled to their daughters bodies are the scum of the earth and need to stop.
At its most basic level, all of this emotional labour is saying to another human being “you matter. I will take my time to show you that you matter.” And maintaining that glue is something that devolves mainly onto women, 24 hours a day. It feels like most men are taught (ex- or implicitly) to do emotional work only when it gets them something they want now, whereas most women are taught to do emotional work as part of an ongoing exchange that benefits everyone.
I’m really unbelievably tired of (mostly male) characters being “redeemed” from their bad attitudes, bad manners,
poor treatment of other characters, etc. by the big reveal of their supposed genius.
Being intelligent (no matter how intelligent) doesn’t make a person worth more than anyone else. It doesn’t excuse any of those things. It isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card for bad behavior, and having other skills (no matter what they are) doesn’t justify never prioritizing learning how to not hurt the people around them.
It’s not an excuse.
And I think this is especially important to bring up for (mostly white) male characters, because actual men outside of fiction are excused by society in the same way that narratives excuse them in fiction. As long as they’re perceived by society as being “more important” than other people (which they already are by default if they’re men, and even more so if they’re white, etc.), any inappropriate, harmful, or offensive behavior toward other people is excused.
The excuses are always that it would be “hard” for someone who is SO INCREDIBLY GIFTED to… be kind? Show compassion? Consider the effects of their actions on others and act accordingly?
Fundamentally the trope is ableist (by basing someone’s worth around their mental capacity), with undertones of classism and racism (in the same ways that IQ tests are classist and racist), and it perpetuates a narrative of male privilege and entitlement.
And by the way, if you were reading this post and thinking “Is this about [specific male character who does this]?” then the answer is yes.