How a woman’s cold ‘rejection form’ text message became an ’emotional labor’ meme

In this crazy, mixed-up world we live in, sometimes it’s hard enough to find the bandwidth to deal with our own problems, much less be there for those we care about. But we soldier on and just try to be the best friend or family member we can, because that’s what people do. However, a recent Twitter thread opened up a dialogue on “emotional labor,” and how much of yourself is OK to give. The puzzling outcome has now become a meme.

Melissa A. Fabello, PhD, a self-described Feminist Wellness Educator, tweeted earlier this week that she had received a text from a friend, who—instead of unloading on her without warning—asked if she had the “emotional/mental capacity for [them] to vent about something medical/weight-related for a few minutes.

In the following series of tweets, Fabello explained that she would always make time for her friend, but why asking for consent for emotional labor was so important.

She continued, noting that she is normally juggling several crises of her own and that though she found her friend’s text “astounding,” it should actually be commonplace.

All in all, Fabello does make some fair points (you can read the entire thread here), although she kinda boned the landing by offering her followers a template of what to say to a friend whose emotional labor you just absolutely cannot shoulder.

“Hey! I’m so glad you reached out,” she wrote. “I’m actually at capacity/helping someone else who’s in crisis / dealing with some personal stuff right now, and I don’t 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?”

Well, a simple “I don’t have time for your shit” would have sufficed, but uh, sure—we guess this is probably fine too?

As the thread began to go viral, others chimed in to point out why a text message like this would actually be the worst thing to say to a friend in crisis.

Because the internet movies at nothing if not a brisk clip, it didn’t take long for the “actually, why this is a bad take” stage to progress to the “roasting the take with memes” stage. In one of the earlier examples, someone imagined getting this savage response from “Clippy,” the now-defunct Microsoft Office Assistant. Clippy definitely ain’t got time for you and your emotional labor.

Others imagined other scenarios of being on the receiving end of the emotional labor text, mashing up Midsommar and Joker memes, and so on.

“When I perform the financially uncompensated emotional labor of friendship,” joked another user, alongside a panel from the Watchmen comic.

Honestly, this whole messy thing could have been avoided if Fabello would have just remembered the so-called Golden Rule in the first place: “Do emotional labor unto others as you would have them do emotional labor unto you.” Words to live by, indeed.

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Stacey Ritzen

Stacey Ritzen

Stacey Ritzen is a reporter and editor based in West Philadelphia with over 10 years' experience covering pop culture, web culture, entertainment, and news. You can follow her on Twitter @staceyritzen.