EMOTIONAL LABOR REARS ITS UGLY HEAD (THIS IS US RECAP)
It seems that the appropriate length of time to be single, according to society, is 6 months. That’s what I learned after my marriage crashed and burned, thrusting me back into the heavenly—YES, HEAVENLY—world of the single woman. Everyone left me alone to mourn for 6 months. But once that deadline hit, my love life was up for debate, discussion, and dissection. Acquaintances, co-workers, friends, cousins, your neighbor’s dog wanted to know if I had my eye on someone. They urged me to go out, meet new people, be set up. The married folks wanted me to go on them apps so they could vicariously live through me, the singles folks wanted me to troll bars because they now found them absolutely adequate places for a romantic origin story. (This still blows my mind, but that’s neither here nor there.) When I said I wasn’t interested at all in carrying around the dead weight of a man, their reactions tended to be one of three:
1. Oh, you’re still pining for your ex. (Um, no.)
2. Oh, you think you’ll get your heart broken. (Hahahahaha, can’t get your heartbroken when you no longer have one.)
3. Oh, you think all men are evil. (Considering I have an excellent relationship with my father, brothers, and a healthy number of guy friends, I’m pretty sure they’re three-dimensional beings.)
Hard as I tried, I couldn’t get it through their thick skulls that I didn’t want to deal with the emotional labor of a relationship. I know emotional labor is the buzzword du-jour in this #Metoo Trumpian times but 2015 was a more innocent era. I had only really ever used it in the context in academia and maybe a comment on a Jezebel post, but it wasn’t something I expected lay people to know. After all, the concept itself was a sociological term rooted in Marxist theory that had NOTHING to do with picking up your deadbeat’s boyfriends dirty socks off the floor. I understand that definition has evolved to include that, though, and it was that kind of emotional labor that I was recoiling from. The idea of having to do things like remember to buy a birthday card for his mom or choose my words carefully so I don’t deal a blow to a man’s fragile ego or nag him for the umpteenth time about whether he got those tickets he promised he would, made my physically ill. No amount of sex, affection, or validation was going to make me think mothering a grown-ass adult was a worthwhile trade-off.
Which is why I watched this episode of This Is Us with a major heaping of side eye the likes of which have been rarely seen since Michelle Obama. In the world of the Pearsons, emotional labor can be wiped clean with a grand gesture.
To that, I will use the words of my president Emma Gonzalez: I call BS.
Adult Randall, Kate and Kevin
Remember how Deja showed up at Randall’s before the break? Me neither! In any case, Deja is back. For a split second. They’ve turned the gas off in her home and she ask for the money to turn it back on. In cash, please, so her mom doesn’t suspect she turned to Randall of help. This concerning but small emergency is enough for Randall to go on full terrorist watch alert. Even as he and Beth pack for Toby and Kate’s bachelor/ette parties in Vegas, he is worried about Deja. You know the dude has a binder full of spreadsheets with different emergency strategies, a corkboard with clippings and red yarn connecting all the thread, and Jack Bauer on speed dial. He is Mueller plotting out indictments, charges and plea deals. As for Beth? Beth is wearing her hair down, so you know she is ready to snort some coke off a Magic Mike’s ass. She tries to calm Randall down using logic: they haven’t heard from Deja in weeks. She’s fine. They’ll be fine. They all need one night of letting lose, letting their worries—foster children, addicted family members, crockpots---fly away into the desert wind.
In short, Randall is up in his feelings and Beth has to find a way to manage them. Emotional labor: 1.
Over in California, the bride and groom-to-be are also getting ready for the trip. They’re both nervous because it turns out neither of them is emotionally intelligent enough to have sustained friendships throughout their entire adult life. For real! Toby pity invited the IT department of wherever he happens to work (does he work?) while Kate only talks to people in her body support group. And yet they feel ready to get married. Okeydokey. At least Toby realizes they’re co-dependent and nixes Kate’s idea of having a joint party. Here’s how we know Kate is terrible: she’s nervous about Beth and has never gone out of her way to hang out with her for more than 7 minutes. Girlfriend has access to a beacon of light and wisdom and she scurries away? Ugh, maybe she does deserve Toby as punishment for her crimes. Even if it does sound like cruel and unusual punishment, given that she has to help him put clothes in his luggage.
Toby can’t choose between a suit and Kate has to guide him through his misguided sense of style. Emotional labor: 2
As for Kevin, he is in Vegas talking down to Renata, an unsuspecting hotel worker who simply wants to know if he needs more towels. Kevin, instead, unleashes his entire sob story on this woman he has just met. Renata already knows everything about his scandalous life because she’s a smart, quick, informed woman who is relegated to low-income jobs despite her degree in Political Science from la Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. Renata fled to the States when she was threatened by cartels over her research on the femicides in Tijuana, but was unable to secure any work fit for her skill levels due to the anti-immigrant suspicions inherent in our economic system. She likes her job ok; at least she feels safe. But she realizes that she is doing emotional labor, in the sociological sense of the term, for she is expected to regulate her own emotion at all times in order to provide a pleasant experience for hotel guests. Even when they request she do something like count the number of bottles in the liquor cabinet, effectively implicating her in the management of one’s own personal demons. Like Kevin does.
Emotional labor: 3
This ongoing thread continues! It does! So badly that I almost called Dr. Mark so we can talk for the umpteenth time about how I can balance my need for structure with my neurotic desire freedom. My acute claustrophobia was that intense as I saw every single woman in this show pulling in a 3rd, 4th or 5th work shift while the dudes sulked. His labor is freaking paid by my health insurance, so don’t you dare call me a hypocrite.
Take my darling angel, Beth. All she wants is to take ecstasy and see the magician that got eaten by the lion. Is that too much to ask for a woman so pure she doesn’t even know it’s called molly now? It’s apparently a demand too high for Randall, who accuses Beth of being “the head” when it comes to Deja’s situation. Welp, someone has to be Randall. Or do you really want to be known as the adult male who constantly calls a 12-year-old girl? Didn’t think so.
Then there’s Toby and his ragtag team of nerdy misfits. We know they’re hopeless because they all wear glasses and forgot to pack dress shoes for da club. Kevin bails on him when he finds out his movie co-star has been cut out of the Ron Howard movie. Does he offer words of sympathy? A kind hug? Hell, some D to make her feel better? Nope, he makes it all about himself and obsesses over the consequences it might have on his sorry career. Randall also bails when he receives a call from Deja, who answers every question with the kind of long evasive pause that middle grade girls have perfected. She does this because she doesn’t want to stress out Randall because yes, even as children women are expected to make sure the dudes are feeling ok. Randall is a bit more evolved than the average dude, I GUESS, so he at least picks up on her distress. This bums him out though so he goes in search of Beth cause he can’t carry this load on his own. He is a man after all. As for Toby and his friends, I’m sure they inflicted some exhausting horror on a group of single women who just wanted to drink some martinis and talk about their shitty bosses, until this gang showed up and tried to impress them.
Emotional labor: 57. Women: 0
Randall finds Beth wherever married women with a sense of humor are found: in the Magic Mike show. Even Kate, who has a permanent scowl taped on her face, is having a blast. Dollar bills are flying! Confetti is getting stuck in cleavages! Joe Mangianello is getting ladies pregnant simply by looking at them! Best of all, Beth has been anointed as the Oh Lucky One to get humped on onstage! This is all Beth asked Randall for: a night to blow off some steam and maybe get a tiny peek at Matt Bomer’s boner. Randall, of course, can’t allow that.
They fight. GUYS, THEY HAVE AN ARGUMENT, AN ACTUAL SHOUTING MATCH. Randall says she’s cold, dead, heartless. Beth says his anxiety issues are killing her vibe. It’s refreshing and glorious because this is what marriage is: one long back-and-forth that has the potential to ruin every fun moment in life. I mean, even a stage full of oiled up naked men wasn’t enough of a diversion; Beth still got sucked into her husband’s despair. Remember that next time you feel all sad about wedding season. Anyway, Randall and Beth are hashing things out when Kate butts in. At first, I was expecting a rare moment of solidarity. I would have totally been ok with her yelling at them for being in the way of her and Channing Tatum. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, she yells at Beth for taking her brother away from her. Then she runs away in a huff.
Why yes, emotional labor can occur between people of the same gender.
Emotional labor: Crushing it like Norway in the Winter Olympics. Beth: Subzero.
Randall finds Kate playing the slot machines and drinking a Cosmo because she is a self-described Carrie. Ugh, of course Kate is a Carrie. Two of the most self-centered, emotionally immature, navel-gazing fictional characters in TV. It was nice, though, to see Kate and Randall have a heart-to-heart. Unlike her and his relationship with Kevin, this sibling tie hasn’t been fully explored yet. There was a time when they used to be tight, as kids and after Daddy Pearson died. In fact, their way of coping was watching Sex and the City, which Kate did because she’s wannabe basic and Randall did because he wanted to hang out with her. Kate dubs him a Miranda, which he most certainly is not. Randall is a Skipper, AT BEST. Beth is Miranda, Toby’s Charlotte and Kevin is the guy who drinks his own jizz to impress Samantha. They make up and Kate then tells Randall about Toby’s big desire for his bachelor party. All he wanted out of that weekend was to be embraced by the 2 male members of the Big Three. So, Randall and Kevin show up to take Toby for a walk, as if he were a puppy in need of some love. Toby tries to play it cool for 2 seconds before grabbing his dress code-violating shoes and heading out.
Kate shows up at Beth’s hotel room with the excuse that Madison is White Girl Drunk. It’s hard to sleep when someone’s puking up pink-laced vodka in the toilet. But what Kate really wants to do is state the obvious. She admits to Beth that it’s hard for her to make friends with other women, because she’s the kind of woman who will accuse other women of being judgmental and dramatic without realizing that it’s a projection of her own securities perpetuated by a patriarchal society that pins women against women for the few crumbs that remain. Kate was intimidated by Beth. Beth is flawless, true, but she’s not Oprah. She can’t magically wave her arms and bend the universe to her will. She’s unhappy with her job. She found fostering incredibly difficult and letting go of Deja has been fun. It’s why she’s trying to detach.
Mommy and Daddy Pearson
It’s in this timeline that my goodwill towards the show got squandered. Because I actually thought they did a pretty good job of demonstrating why relationships are psychological dementors meant to leave us as hollow shells of our formers selves. They defeat this whole argument with Jack.
It’s Mommy and Daddy Pearson’s anniversary! Over the years, they’ve done huge, over-the-top celebrations for each other. Not this year, though. Rebecca doesn’t want any grand gesture. Their big plan is to put kids to bed early so they can watch TV in peace. A quick poll tells me this is exactly what most mothers want in any given day.
But, much like marriage, kids ruin everything. Little Kevin thinks it’s whack that they’re not doing anything special. He proposes that the Big Three plan a celebration for their parents. Mommy Pearson stares in horror, as she realizes she’ll be left with one gigantic mess to clean up. Jack thinks it’s cute.
Emotional Labor: Dropping nukes on our best laid plans. Mommy Pearson: hasn’t had a warm meal in over 6 years.
As the day goes on, the kids make Mommy Pearson work. She has to drive them, find things for them, explain shit to them. There’s no way she’s watching TV in peace tonight. Things come to a head when Little Kevin breaks down after ruining the Cornish hens he was going to make for dinner. In the middle of his tantrum, he tells them that he’s scared they’ll get a divorce. Mommy and Daddy Pearson reassure him that they’re never getting divorced, he feels better, and declares they all go to bed, which may be the most realistic reaction this show has ever seen.
As they clean up, Mommy Pearson says she missed giving Daddy Pearson a gift this year. She apologizes for “dejacking him”, which I refuse to Google for fear of the YouPorn link that might pop up. Jack says some platitude that made women under 25 swoon. After an exhausting day, they go upstairs to find a pathway of lights made by Little Randall and Little Kate, leading them to the roof with instructions to see that night’s meteor shower.
Up on the roof, Jack tells Rebecca what Little Randall told him about meteors. They’re always up there, but it’s only once in a while that you actually see how spectacular they are. “You are my daily meteor shower,” Jack tells Rebecca. “Thank you for marrying me.” Expect that sentence to appear in every single vow of your most obnoxious wedding this summer, along with that god-awful Ed Sheeran song about finding love or some crap. It’s going to be the pumpkin spice latte of the already vomit-inducing tradition of writing your own vows. That’s right, tradition. It’s done, overplayed, and does nothing but make your guests wish for Ye Olde Ancient Times when the ceremony involved trading cows.
In the last five minutes of the episode, we see Jack giving Little Kevin a whole speech about what a grand gesture is. At the heart of it, lies intent. It’s less about the object that is being give and more about taking the time to tell the person that you see them, hear them, and know what they’re about.
And that’s exactly what the bros do when they take Toby to seedy downtown Vegas, which he wanted to see more than the strip. Or what Kate does when she gives Beth a heart-shaped chocolate box after an entire weekend of being accused of having no feelings. It’s what Toby does when he tells Kevin to call Ron Howard and make a case for his movie roll and tells Randall that everyone else in this country should throw themselves off a cliff cause they’ll never be as good as him. HE REALLY DID SAY THAT. Uh, thanks????
And it’s what Beth does when she asks the cab to go to Deja’s place after they land. Randall guilt-tripped her into submission and to pour salt on an open wound, it turns out that Randall wasn’t being paranoid. They find Deja and her mom sleeping in a car.
Here’s the thing about grand gestures. They’re heartwarming in the moment and yes, they can be emotionally uplifting. But they can also be used to hold others emotionally hostage, in a state of perpetual gratitude towards someone who only makes the effort when it’s flashy and fun and convenient. Every single dude that’s depleted my energy has granted me grand gestures. At the end of the day, I would have preferred their daily support than these sporadic moments of affection.
At the very least, I would have preferred some cash compensation. Renata is the only real winner here. Sure, Beth and Kate are now friends. Toby feels accepted. Randall gets some peace of mind. Kevin’s film role is secure. But Renata sifting through the wads of cash Kevin left her for keeping him accountable to his sobriety is the image I’ll keep close to my heart.
Reasons to Lust after Milo
The glam Studio 54 disco bowling shirt has to me all hot and bothered.
Attempts at Emotional Manipulation
That dumb meteor compliment is going to haunt me for life.
Deep Quote of the Week
“Hey, I'm totally down with a pity invite, okay? I deserve a pity invite. I have two children, work a full-time job, and manage a tenement because you saw a mural and imagined a cat. Hey, I deserve this.” –Beth, saying what too many of us are afraid to say out loud. I LIVE for a pity invite, especially when it involves drinking straight out of the bottle.