Here’s What Happened When I Invoiced Someone for My Emotional Labor

We “dated” for just a couple weeks, but our connection was immediate and undeniable. He was, I thought, everything I was looking for: witty, intelligent, argumentative (in a fun way), and so sweet… he also had a job, his own place, and he didn’t care that I was polyamorous. He wasn’t sure he even believed in monogamy, he said. But he was looking for something serious, just like me.

Our first phone call was two and a half hours long. He wanted to know my rising and moon signs, and he accurately guessed my Myers Briggs personality type (ENFJ). He casually pointed out that our types were supposed to be perfect for each other.

Our first date only proved what I was already suspecting. When he kissed me goodnight, I knew: I could actually fall in love with this guy.

Fast forward hundreds of texts, more phone calls, an amazing second date and… I woke up one morning to a text saying that another girl he was dating (they had met just before he and I met) had given him an ultimatum: either date her exclusively, or don’t date her at all. He chose her, and I was heartbroken.

We met up in person to talk about it, and it was clear that that wasn’t what he wanted to do. He couldn’t keep his hands off of me. He was so sorry. He wanted to be with me so bad. I was perfect for him… so he said he was going to tell the other girl that he wanted to keep dating both of us. He was going to call her bluff, he said, and it was a red flag that she gave him such an intense ultimatum so quickly into their dating relationship anyway.

I wasn’t sure what to do but I liked him so, so much and I didn’t want to stop seeing him. I made him promise he wasn’t going to just end things again the next time she issued that particular ultimatum. He said he wouldn’t, that he couldn’t just stop seeing me.

We texted and talked several more times on the phone, but I never saw him again — a week later, he dumped me for a second time. “If it’s any consolation,” he said, “of all the people I’ve dated in my entire life I’ve liked you and her the most.”

I cried. I felt so stupid. I felt cheated — I didn’t even get a chance to have that third date, to prove how good we could be together. “Why can’t it be me?” I asked through tears. He never really answered the question, but it was clear that at least part of it was that she could give him what I couldn’t: monogamy.

The next morning I was still so sad, but I was also angry. Not only did he promise that this exact situation wouldn’t happen, he continued to lead me on even after he had decided that he couldn’t be with me anymore. I thought of all the phone calls where he went on and on about his worries about his career, the stress and daily annoyances of his other job, the issues he was still having with his ex. I thought about the hour and a half we spent at Starbucks as he waffled back and forth between ending things for good or seeing both of us at once.

So I did the only thing I could think to do: I drew up an invoice detailing my wasted time… and then I sent it to him.

Here’s what happened when I invoiced him for my emotional labor:

At first, it felt like a weight lifted off my chest, a weight I didn’t even realize was there. Then, a moment of triumph and satisfaction. Maybe now he’ll see why what he did to me really sucked, I thought. Maybe next time he won’t take some other girl’s time for granted, or make promises he can’t keep. Then a rush of shame. Am I being too petty? But no, my friends had all agreed: this was exactly the right amount of petty.

You see, the large majority of my friends are women or folks who either identify as or are read as femme or ‘feminine’. In our culture, feminine people are expected to perform the majority of the emotional labor in any relationship, to the point that it’s taken for granted and rarely seen as a type of labor at all.

This doesn’t just happen in romantic relationships. Think about where you work — who’s expected to remember things like birthdays and plan the parties? To get the card when someone’s relative dies? Who do you go to when you need an encouraging word or someone to vent to?

Which parent deals with the kids when they’re feeling emotional? Who is more likely to be a counselor, a social worker, an HR rep?

Anyway, the point I’m getting at is this: for two weeks I did a lot of unwarranted emotional labor, and in return I was treated like shit. That invoice felt like I was reclaiming my time.

Here’s what he did upon receiving the invoice:

Absolutely nothing (besides turning off read receipts for our conversation).

Of course I don’t actually expect him to pay me, though I wouldn’t reject the funds if he did. It was a symbolic gesture, and one that I hope he will take to heart. But even if he ignores it or deletes it or thinks it’s completely ridiculous, what matters to me is that I didn’t take my own time and effort and emotional labor for granted.

Because even if he doesn’t see my worth, I do.

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3 Comments

  1. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect analogy for the way capitalism creeps into all aspects of our personal lives than sending someone you went on two dates with an invoice for emotional labor because they didn’t want to date you anymore.

    1. While I think you are vastly understating what happened and the harm that was done (this was not your typical “date a couple times and then it doesn’t work out” experience), I think this is an interesting critique. As someone who is very critical of capitalism, I agree that we must be mindful of the ways that we allow its toxicity to creep into our lives, and especially our intimate relationships.

      That being said, labor that is traditionally undertaken by women (especially domestic and emotional labor) is vastly devalued under patriarchal capitalism, and demanding respect, dignity, and payment for that labor *within the capitalist context in which we live* is important.

  2. Here are my thoughts on the “Emotional Labor” article. I will start by stating that I am a cisgendered, heterosexual, male and I 100% support this!!!
    I think that it is SO important to acknowledge your unreciprocated and taken for granted. I don’t think it was petty; it was empowering. I definitely think that while ppl may balk at placing a $ amount on emotional labor, I do not. we can discuss this further if you want… YOU GO GIRL!!!!

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