Emotional Labor and Wearing Glasses

Part of our lives over the past few months has been learning how to redefine the simple structures of running our household. Pre-outing, I took on the burdens of emotional labor without second thought that maybe those burdens didn’t need to be entirely mine. I’ve always told myself that Katie and I have “different standards of cleanliness”, that “I am an anxious person”, that I “need the control of planning” when and where and how we do things. Some of this is true: I am incredibly anxious, and I over-analyze very simple interactions more than I wish I did. I want my house to always be “guest-ready”, although I rarely have the energy to maintain that standard, whatever it means. There have been times through my relationship with Katie where we have the standard argument for most couples: “Why can’t you be more proactive about: insert chore on this line?” Also, why on Earth do dishes need to soak? That is not a thing if you’re doing dishes correctly.

This classic argument tête-à-tête manifested itself this past Friday. You see, I’ve had a stressful month at my job. I’m going to leave the amount of detail about why up to the imagination because I like my job and details aren’t required for any of you to know that sometimes our jobs can be stressful. Imagine that week for you in your job and trust that it’s been that month for me.  One of the hardest parts of the Transition is having my home become less the space for me to run to in times when life is stressful. I want my home, my relationship with Katie, to be a place I can turn to when I am overwhelmed, but what do I do when my relationship with Katie is the cause of stress?  My time at work has become an outlet, a refuge. To have both work and home be stressful has been really hard for me.

In response to this moment of stress in my life, I practiced something I have learned through our couples therapy I am not very good at: I asked for help. I asked Katie to plan a date for us. I told her explicitly that I don’t care when (I was free all weekend) and I don’t care what (we could just go to a movie, or something else equally simple). I just needed her to do it. We needed the date, the time carved out to not talk about work or the transition or the family or the stress this is causing our family and everything else. We needed a break, a moment to be us. This request was on Wednesday.

On Friday, we had a work pot-luck and I ate a ton of food. As I was not sure of when our date was, I figured we were keeping Friday as low-key and the date would be later in the weekend. I was definitely wrong. On my way home I found out that Katie wanted to go to Asadero, a steak-house we’ve been scoping for a while around the corner. I told her I didn’t want that because I was full and spending money on dinner seemed silly when I wouldn’t enjoy the meal. When I got home, we had the conversation we’ve had before, just a different shape this time. It boiled down to me not feeling like enough was done, that I was once again having to plan something I didn’t ask to plan and Katie not fully understanding why this was frustrating. We moved past it and ended up having a good night out anyway.

The next day, I listened to a Dear Sugar podcast which is my Saturday ritual. If you haven’t listened to it, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s hosted by Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild) and Steve Almond (former Dear Sugar columnist). This weeks episode was about Emotional Labor (linked here), a concept I can’t say I’ve ever really understood or given much credence too before this past weekend. Guys, I had the kind of revelation you have when you’re in college and take your first class about the school-to-prison pipeline. Mind. Blown. I made Katie listen to the episode immediately. I needed her to understand that it’s not the tasks I’m asking her to do that are the problem, it’s that I constantly have to ask. I need a partner, now more than ever, that can share the emotional labor of making our household function. I’m too tired and drained to keep my end of the bargain we never discussed at the beginning of our life together. I need help! This conversation was sparked by the frustration of a date-night, but it helped put perspective on a conversation we have both been trying to have for years, but never knew what language to speak.

I’m not sure if it was the conversation about emotional labor, the stress-relief from being out of the transgender closet, or a combination of both, but we turned a corner this weekend. There was a point while eating dinner on Saturday, where I got annoyed with Katie talking too much about something nerdy I don’t remember. She does this thing where she can tell you everything you never wanted to know about. It was during my growing annoyance, that I realized I hadn’t felt that way about her in a very long time. We have been so pre-occupied with how someone is going to react to this news, or how to tell that person, or what we were going to do to pay for that, or the tension we are experiencing with each other through all the different stages of the transition, that I haven’t had time to be annoyed by the eccentricities that make Katie so classically Katie. It was so nice to be reminded of that feeling, of the one of the many reasons why I love her.

I was 4 years old the first time I ever put on glasses. I made some sort of comment about how the leaves on the trees were actually real. I hadn’t ever seen the leaves before, such a finite detail you have to accept based on the facts you know about the world at 4 years old. My mom likes to remind me that in those first couple days (or weeks?) of having glasses I was playing outside when I ran up to her, but I didn’t have the glasses on anymore. My mom asked me where they were and I told her that I had set them down for a while. They were bothering my face. We found them, obviously, but the point is that I had to learn the value of the glasses. I had to be taught the importance and beauty of seeing the leaves.

I feel like it is through this lens that I’m exploring my life now. It’s as if I’m seeing Katie and our life together for the first time. I’m learning alongside her how to communicate when our feelings are complicated, how to be better versions of ourselves so we can guide our marriage through what has been the most stressful experience either of us have ever navigated individually, let alone in a relationship. 8 Months ago today, my wife told me she’s transgender. 8 months ago, I was given my second pair of glasses.


3 thoughts on “Emotional Labor and Wearing Glasses

  1. D

    Oh my god. I feel like we could be friends. I am at a spot where my partner is still unouted (not a word). I remember how I felt when I first got glasses and I think the way you put this thought was very elegant. Thank you for talking about this.

    Liked by 1 person

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