In 2019, Twitter played as prominent a role as ever in our culture. It bestowed us with memes galore, sick political burns, and drama worthy of any soap opera. However, if there’s one thing the social media platform gave us in spades this year, it’s discourse. From vegans calling service pets ‘animal abuse’ to the New York Times’ complicity in white supremacism, Twitter was home to some seriously heated debates. Now, the Twittersphere has shifted focus to emotional labor and its impact on mental health. Consequently, phrases like “are you in the right headspace” and “I’ve been having some sexual thoughts” are now memes.
How the emotional labor memes began
Essentially, these two memes are spin-offs of the “I’m actually at capacity” meme that recently went viral. It all started with Twitter user Melissa Fabello offering templates for how to ask and respond to requests for emotional labor. In her thread, she expounded on the importance of asking your friends for consent before emotionally unloading on them.
I want to chat briefly about this text that I received from a friend last week: pic.twitter.com/cfwYx3tJQB
— Melissa A. Fabello, PhD (@fyeahmfabello) November 18, 2019
PS: Someone reached out and asked for an example of how you can respond to someone if you don’t have the space to support them.
I offered this template: pic.twitter.com/lCzDl60Igy
— Melissa A. Fabello, PhD (@fyeahmfabello) November 19, 2019
Unfortunately, while Fabello posted these screenshots in earnest, not everyone was on board with this method of communication. We already broke down the countless memes and debates this thread inspired. However, this bizarre, mental health-related trend soon started evolving.
‘Are you in the right headspace’ meme
In late November, a different Twitter user posted a similar take about emotional consent, complete with another template: “Are you in the right headspace to receive information that could possibly hurt you?”
I just want to say, a lot of y’all dump information on your friends at the wrong time without their consent. If you know it’s something that could hurt them, ask permission before you decide to be messy. Please. pic.twitter.com/L3jWGni1FW
— yana (@YanaBirt) November 29, 2019
This went over even more poorly than Fabello’s original template. Immediately, other Twitter users started critiquing the ominous wording of “information that could possibly hurt you.” Many asserted that saying “no” to such a message is extremely difficult. Thus, the whole idea of asking for consent is rendered pointless. Moreover, others pointed out that the anxiety-inducing nature of this phrasing might cause more harm than good.
It’s also framed as a yes/no question but in reality the possibility of “no” as an answer is not realistic. Once you dump that question on someone, even if they are not in the right headspace they kind of have to say yes or else deal with the anguish of an unknown horrible thing.
— JustaWoman (@petitlarcenous) December 2, 2019
Even if i was was in a very very bad headspace and could not handle that information this text would pressure me into answering yes because who tf can just sit and not agonize over someone cryptically saying they have information that could hurt me..i would have to know right now
— ｒｏｓｉｅ (@number1kitten) December 1, 2019
this shit sounds like an extortion note from the green goblin and would immediately give me a panic attack
— Goth Ms. Frizzle (@spookperson) December 2, 2019
i would literally start crying if i received this message
— brissa (@BrissaSRamirez) November 30, 2019
Meanwhile, others quickly drew a parallel between “are you in the right headspace” and the “do you have the emotional/mental capacity”/”I’m actually at capacity” templates.
— Liam (@LiamClarkMusic) December 1, 2019
— samah (@conquer_within) December 1, 2019
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for Twitter users to turn “are you in the right headspace” into a meme. They went from using the exact phrase jokingly to remixing it with relatable situations and pop culture references.
Help it didn’t work pic.twitter.com/9wtuIGS0IO
— Carol (@ballerguy) December 1, 2019
are you in the right headspace to receive a milkshake that could possibly bring the boys to the yard
— eric curtin (@dubstep4dads) December 3, 2019
*Opens fridge to look for last night's leftovers*
Fridge: Are you in the right headspace to receive information that could possibly hurt you?
— Hawayoudoin? (@Hawaaaaaaaaaaa_) December 3, 2019
Darth Vader: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
Darth Vader: Are you in the right headspace to receive information that could possibly hurt you?
— sloane (@skipper) December 2, 2019
Me: Hi can I get an ice cream cone please
McDonald’s worker: Are you in the right headspace to receive information that could possibly hurt you?
— The (Double Door Chrome) Fridge (@bayoulejeune) December 2, 2019
Then, just a few days later, yet another iteration of this meme appeared. In contrast to the previous two, however, this template dealt with sexual consent instead of emotional.
‘I’ve been having some sexual thoughts’ meme
Twitter user Suzannah Weiss tweeted out a “script” for people to draw from when initiating a sexual conversation. This script basically acted as a suggestion for how to ask someone for consent before sexting.
Ask consent for all sexual encounters, yes, even sexting. I just came up with this script that you're all welcome to borrow! pic.twitter.com/CXL5LggOMX
— Suzannah Weiss (@suzannahweiss) December 2, 2019
Similarly to the “are you in the right headspace” template, people instantly began disparaging this tweet. Likewise, they also started making memes out of it.
if someone sent me this I would tell them I was dryer than the Mohave desert and block their number lmaooo
— Emythée Chalamet (@emythee) December 3, 2019
I’ve been having some sexual thoughts about you that I’d like to share over text if you’d enjoy that pic.twitter.com/jvBmJnzqHH
— perky_yombos (@PYombos) December 3, 2019
Soon enough, the lines between all three template memes began to blur.
the holy trinity pic.twitter.com/kxi3QoDOBo
— sara (@whotfissara) December 3, 2019
Are you in the right headspace to receive sexual information that I'd like to share over text?
and remember, if you don't want it, just say
Hey! I'm so glad you reached out. I'm actually at sexting capacity right now, and I don't think I can hold appropriate space for you.
— Xarlable (@Xarlable) December 3, 2019
Him: I’ve been having some sexual thoughts about you that I’d like to share with you over text if you’d enjoy that?
Me: Are you in the right headspace to receive information that could possibly hurt you?
— Dumb Bitch (@suicune_jpg) December 4, 2019
All in all, this entire phenomenon is a perfect storm of well-meaning advice gone wrong. However, not everyone is against these scripts. Several disability activists and mental health advocates pointed out the necessity of having such templates to model certain kinds of social interactions after.
In defense of the templates
Everyone has different needs emotionally, sexually, and socially. All three of these emotional labor templates—”I’m actually at capacity,” “are you in the right headspace,” and “I’ve been having some sexual thoughts”—are just that: templates. They’re suggestions on how to ask for consent before engaging in a potentially weighty, uncomfortable, or draining interactions. Above all, they aren’t meant to be copied and pasted, but rather tailored to whoever you’re speaking with.
In fact, these are legitimate linguistic guides called social or behavioral scripts, and some people—particularly those who are not neurotypical—genuinely rely on them when learning how to navigate social situations. Several Twitter users shared that a more personalized version of any one of the consent templates would be helpful for them.
I have generalized anxiety + panic disorder and though I wouldn’t want my friend to copy and paste this exact message, I would 100000% want my friend to use language we share to ask permission to share something they know could be triggering to me, which was OP’s point
— 𝒸𝓇𝓎𝒷𝒶𝒷𝓎 𝒽𝑒𝒶𝒹𝒶𝓈𝓈 (@astro_milf) December 1, 2019
If anyone insults "scripts" or "templates" for autistic/ASD people, please do me a favor and block them and let everyone know they're an ableist. They're essential for folks like me, and I've relied on them in the past. It's not creepy, and it's not just good leftist fun to
— La Princesse Orpheline Nezumi (@Nezumi_Youjo) December 3, 2019
Neurotypical people use scripts in everyday language just to get through daily life. Weather chat, call-response greeting, you name it. If you have a problem with people using scripts/templates as a jumping-off point, you're being ableist as fuck when you could just be quiet.
— Fuck Marry Abraham (@ronwriteswords) December 4, 2019
Additionally, others acknowledged that it’s okay to prefer different phrasing. However, mocking scripts in general is ableist, and it shows a supreme lack of understanding and empathy for those who need them.
Pointing out that a scripted/template response is poorly worded and could potentially harm the person who receives it: yes, good.
Mocking the entire concept of people needing to use scripts as a communication aid: FUCKING ABLEIST, STOP IT.
— Ace in your face (@HippieGeekGirl) December 3, 2019
hey I've seen a few people dunk on text templates and how "unnatural" they can feel and….. please don't do that
there are very real issues about the "thanks for reaching out" and "information that could possibly hurt you" templates, but mocking ppl using templates is ableist
— Dream (@Dwimepon) December 4, 2019
"Are you in the right headspace" jokes just "triggered' jokes with a new coat of paint.
— traj ⛧ (@outtathisbinary) December 3, 2019
This doesn’t even sound corporate tbh- and it’s a prompt. Prompts are meant to give you a jumping off point so you can craft your own. It’s literally just “heres an example of something you could say” and y’all have dedicated WEEKS to shitting on it….when it doesn’t hurt you
— Lawrence of A Labia (@lex_about_sex) December 3, 2019
So listen can the people please stop talking shit about scripts like "they're impersonal" and "you need to do more work to communicate in relationships" and whatever.
I get that you think you're helping but you're kind of just showing you aren't aware of how scripting works.
— Eb (@EbThen) December 3, 2019
All in all, there’s nothing wrong with a stranger’s language not meeting your needs—but you never know if it’ll fit the needs of another. Just think before you meme, folks. That’s all there is to it.