Friendship out-of-office messages are all very well until you find yourself in need | Coco Khan

A Twitter thread has tapped into a wider conversation about womens emotional labour, says commissioning editor for Guardian B2B, Coco Khan

A friend in need is a friend indeed, but a friend who asks permission to talk is better. Thats at least according to Melissa Fabello, a US-based activist and writer who posted a screengrab of a text message shed received from a friend, asking if Fabello had the capacity to listen to her vent about something medical/weight-related. Fabello argued that this was something we should all be doing asking our friends if they can listen to our problems rather than unloading without warning in a now-viral thread that divided audiences online.

Fabello lays out the benefits of this practice, such as recognising that a friend may have limited time or that the conversation may be upsetting, and encourages people to say no to their friends if they choose to. She even drafts a delete as appropriate template message that reads: Hey, Im so glad you reached out. Im actually at capacity/helping someone else whos in crisis/dealing with personal stuff right now and I dont think I can hold appropriate space for you. Could we connect [later time or date] instead/do you have someone else you could reach out to?

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Its a decidedly business-like template, but the argument follows that it is better to have this exchange than to, for example, ignore a friend in need because the conversation is too much, or have a half-hearted, on the spot chat where both sides walk away feeling resentful. Asking for consent for emotional labour, Fabello concludes, even from people with whom you have a longstanding relationship that is welcoming to crisis-averting, should be common practice.

Personally Im not convinced. If I think of all the times a friend has wanted to vent out of the blue to me often when theyre at their wits end and most vulnerable Im fairly certain sending back this kind of friendship out-of-office message would result in friend-relegation, and maybe a glass of ros to the face.

And that would be fair enough, wouldnt it? Because friends arent work. It isnt labour we give to our friends, its (old romantic alert!) kindness, and even love. Friends are neither clients nor employers, and if it feels like they are, perhaps it might be time to get new ones.

The term emotional labour as coined by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild refers specifically to the world of work, where earning your crust depends on displaying certain emotions, such as deference (think of the waitress who has to smile to get a tip). More recently, the conversation around emotional labour has moved to the domestic setting to describe the emotion-work many women had to do in heterosexual relationships to keep households moving. For example, planning every meal and keeping on top of what chores need doing even if theyre being delegated out. (Interestingly, Hochschild has argued that this is not emotional labour as it is not about managing emotions. It is in fact, just regular labour that is mental rather than physical).

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But in both of these scenarios, there is a clear power imbalance employer to worker, man to woman that is not quite the same as a relationship to that one mate who still isnt over their ex.

Melissa A. Fabello, PhD (@fyeahmfabello)

I want to chat briefly about this text that I received from a friend last week: pic.twitter.com/cfwYx3tJQB

November 18, 2019

That said, eliminating ambiguity with an upfront conversation Friend, I need this from you, can you give it? is a necessary tool for some neurodiverse people, and ultimately everybodys friendships are different. Some people keep a short roster of friends, never maxing out their capacity, while others are the go-to person for everyone while juggling their own hardships. Surely then, this tiny tweak that recognises our different contexts can only be a positive, especially in our burned-out and exhausted society?

Perhaps this is why Fabellos Twitter thread caught fire it tapped into our wider conversation about wellness, self-care, and helping people (especially women) liberate themselves from the expectations of constant caregiving. Who could begrudge that?

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And so I dont begrudge, but I cant help but cast a suspicious eye at our collective creep towards extreme, capitalist thinking where we see ourselves as a scarce resource, we see our relationships as transactions and where solutions for community problems are put down to the individual. Because, as necessary as self-care is, it is also an individualistic quick fix. Think about the reasons why a friend might call to vent stress about the rent or bullying at work. These are collective issues that require a collective response, and certainly more than a sheet mask and Netflix.

Or perhaps the thread provoked such a reaction because it tapped into that deepest of womens paranoias: that we talk too much, or that were (heaven forbid) needy. Isnt this the fear that stops most of us from reaching out to our friends in the first place?

Whatever the case, any conversation about having boundaries and respecting others especially one that celebrates the wonderful things we do for each other is always welcome. As for me, Im lucky enough to have found a rhythm with my close girlfriends, meaning that there is always someone available if one of us is in need. Can I call this collective care? Im not so sure. But it is a daily reminder of the beauty and power in the small act of compassion that is listening.

Coco Khan is commissioning editor for Guardian B2B

Original Article : HERE ; The Ultimate Survival Food: The Lost Ways

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