Nonetheless, I set out a few years ago to write here about sex and romance and the social games we play around those two topics. I want to keep writing, even if I have to make myself look away from politics and make myself look for topics that don't leave me emotionally drained.
A friend in London Town tells me that I should continue to write about the idea of "emotional labour". She writes---
About the emotional labour thing-- It resonates with me at the moment because I have just been spending three weeks with a good female friend/colleague. With her, the emotional labour is equally shared, and we are very good about taking turns. It has been refreshing--which has made me aware of how one-sided most of my relationships with men are and have been in terms of that emotional work. Not the case in all of those relationships, of course, but definitely the vast majority.
If you're having to mediate someone else's emotional responses to the world, you are essentially, and often necessarily, putting your own feelings second. It's not necessarily a bad thing, as you say--indeed, it's very important. it's just something that does tend to be a bit gendered in its provision (like, say, house-work and buying holiday gifts) and perhaps often goes unrecognized by the beneficiaries. It's one of the reasons why there is that cliche of the man who becomes depressed approximately 1-3 months after breaking up with his girlfriend/wife, having initially been pleased about the breakup. It's also why many divorced men, who have become used to someone providing for their emotional needs, tend to quickly get attached again, where women will more often rely on their female friends for their emotional needs for a good while following a divorce while they figure out what they want from a future partnership. These are generalizations, of course. But in my own experience, most women, and a very few men, do it naturally. Unsurprisingly, these men I know who do know to share the giving and receiving of emotional support are particularly dear, long-term friends.
I was thinking about what I expect from girls in a relationship. Validation, certainly. I do expect a lover to make me feel valued and valuable. I do understand my friend's invocation of the cliche of male depression a month or so after a break-up, even if the man himself initiated it. You realise one night that there's no one to talk to, no one on the other end of the phone, no one there across a table. One of the very worst things about a break-up isn't so much the anger and bitterness, or even the sexual deprivation. It's the silence on the phone, the lack of another voice. That's what I've always hated most after a relationship ends--- the silence. There's no one to talk to late at night, no one to go with for coffee at a late-night cafe. There's silence where there used to be conversation, and that's an incredibly empty sensation. This isn't just about the loss of pillow talk and flirtation. It's about living in a space where it's possible not to hear another living human voice for weeks.
This goes to the social pressures that keep men from having male friends who'd function as a support network. Male friends may help you bury that inconvenient body, but they're not people to whom you'd turn for emotional support.
So...where does that leave us? What are we to think of the need for a partner as someone who'll provide support and solace and defense against emotional upheavals? What are we to think of the very different networks men and women construct for friendship? And...are we still allowed to think that one of the key parts of a relationship is having a partner who will act to make you feel better or keep the outside world at bay?