This is an old post which sat in my 'drafts' box for a long time, but I'm killing time and blogging now that my writer's block has been beaten in to submission.
If you haven't done so already I highly recommend checking out the Metafilter megadocument on emotional labor. Once you're done reading it, let me know, and we can start making plans to go live on Crone Island. Well, not really, but it got me thinking a lot about it, because up until fairly recently I did not know what emotional labor was, and it's actually a huge portion of how I spend my day, if you include what I do at work.
For the TL:DR version of things, emotional labor, as colloquially defined by feminists in terms of people's daily lives, covers a lot of ground but gets lumped into the "second shift" of stuff people do. The "I want a wife" post summarizes it in a nutshell. Some examples include buying groceries, cleaning, cooking dinner, making doctor appointments, sending birthday cards to grandma, going to parent teacher conferences, helping the kids with homework, etc, etc. I'm going to lump all of this boring stuff into what I call "adulting." The rest is more subjective, but includes offering emotional support for spouses/lovers/friends, subjecting one's own needs for others, remembering everyone else's preferences and schedules, etc. I'll call this emotional labor.
So the core discussion is that adulting and emotional labor are work, take time, use up mental bandwidth and are tiring. On average, women have been socialized from birth to do these things more than men have. This often leads to situations where the person doing more of the adulting and emotional labor is frazzled, stressed, etc, and the person who's not doing it has more free time and doesn't get what all the fuss is about.
I'm really good at adulting. That doesn't mean I always like it, even though the perks are good. I was really happy in grad school when I could just work in the lab and hang out with my friends. I lived in a dorm and never cooked. I did not have a car. I did not own any furniture and packed all my stuff into a friend's truck when I moved to NC. I called myself a minimalist, but in reality I just didn't have to do a lot of adulting. As I've gotten older, I've spent an increasing amount of time adulting. Gotta go refinance that mortgage. Gotta talk to my financial advisor. Gotta go to the dentist twice a year and the doctor once a year for a checkup. Gotta clean the house, gotta take my car in for an oil change, gotta take the cat to the vet, gotta send that form in to HR, etc etc. One of my students graduated and then stayed in town for a few weeks before starting her real job. During this time, she got her driver's license, dealt with the movers, set up a new bank account, located and rented an apartment from 750 miles away, etc. She came in and told my boss and I that she didn't know how we dealt with that stuff - it was exhausting! We laughed and told her it only got worse, but there were some advantages too. In my current job, I do a lot of what I will call research adulting. I like fixing instruments and making sure the big fancy robot works well, but hate ordering stuff, so I outsource as much as possible to the senior students and departmental folks, but nonetheless the buck stops here. This is different from my previous job, where we had lots of technicians/facilities people/IT support and they kept things humming really smoothly. I'm not going to lie - I really miss that aspect of my old job.
I'm ok at emotional labor. I consciously try to be a good friend, but know that I have my faults. I'm introverted and although I love to talk to y'all on the phone, I have this weird introvert phobia of picking up the phone and making a call, and I rely too heavily on text/email/Facebook. Joe is an extrovert and is much better at emotional labor than I am, although I am better at adulting.
In my mid-forties, I suddenly was doing a lot more adulting and emotional labor than I'd ever done before, due to the combination of job stuff and Joe 'guesting' at my house 95% of the time but not officially living there. I was surprised by how scatterbrained it made me feel. Things got better once I started delegating more at work and Joe officially moved in so I got out of host mode and he got out of guest mode. We're continuing to get better at playing to our strengths and dividing up the adulting. He reminds me to call my mother. I remind him to get his oil changed. Anyway, I'm over the hump now, but for about a year it was challenging. When I discovered the metafilter document it was my own 'Eureka' moment. I realized that it wasn't just my imagination or a failure on my part - this stuff is draining and bandwidth consuming for everyone.
I had a very busy month at work. I had a student visiting to run experiments on the robot, and we had a jam-packed schedule. Soon after that ended, it was research proposal time with a big dose of election distraction mixed in. At the outset, I decided I was going to minimize the amount of adulting I did. Joe helped a lot with household stuff, and for the rest of it I just gave myself permission to put it on hold unless I wanted to procrastinate. I'm still fried from the proposal, but it was a huge help to put most of the adulting on hold.