It’s Wednesday night. I’m at my favorite tiny neighborhood bar that specializes in vintage cocktails. I don’t drink them, of course, because my liver hates hard liquor. I stick to my two glasses of happy hour rosé, and a plate of charcuterie to keep me satisfied while I get caught up on all of my work over the next few hours. I have my earbuds in, I’m cozied up at the end of the bar with my shoulder against the wall, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.
For awhile, it works. Wednesdays aren’t busy here, and the bartender fully respects my space while wordlessly replacing my empty wine glass and topping off my water. This is my sanctuary, a haven of adult energy and adult drinks carved out of necessity for my sanity. I have a preschooler and a baby. I work from home, and rarely have even an hour that I can think and work without interruption. So, Wednesdays are my re-fuel time.
I know the friendly faces around the bar by name, mostly, except the guy sitting right next to me. He doesn’t fit the typical vibe of the bar. He has the tenderly soft hands of a man who sells things for a living and the lightly starched Brooks Bros. shirt that denotes his professional affluence. He has warm eyes and a nice smile. He offers me a piece of gum. I accept with a thank you and pop my ear buds back in.
But he insists on talking.
I go along good-naturedly. He’s harmless. We make small talk (which is my least favorite kind of talk), and I try to go back to work. He interrupts me again, this time to talk about family history, and eventually his wife. The mostly one-sided conversation turns personal. He divulges their history with infertility, newlyweds trying for a baby. He orders takeout to pick up on his way home to his pregnant wife.
And yet, he stays.
He pours out his heart and life history. He’s struggling, and I know he is in a hard moment. I can’t just blow him off because I am an empathic, compassionate person and I feel for him. I offer him the name of my doctor and acupuncturist, tell him his wife can text me anytime, and urge him to go home to her. (I’m fairly certain he won’t pass along any of my information. I hope he has the kind of marriage that is founded on trust but based on the 2-hour long conversation we just had, I’m doubtful.)
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I say goodbye to my momentary friend and return to work. I check the clock. I have an hour left to finish three hours of work that I have to do for my actual job. I have watched two hours gurgle down the drain. Hours that I could and should have spent processing my own sh*t, but instead I have spent it being a sympathetic listener and confidant.
I wish this were the only time. But no. This happens nearly every week, and it is always a man. And it is always a man who needs something. A confidant. A pal. A woman to flatter him and make him feel, well, like A MAN. So much so that he is willing to interrupt the work that I need to do, and casually assume the time that I have painstakingly carved out of my own obligations and responsibilities.
So, listen up Men of America. I am sorry your marriage is strained. I’m sad for you that you want babies and can’t have them. I can’t wait for you to move to my city and bring your good vibes and spend your tech dollars here in support of our local commerce. It’s cool that you have Russian royalty in your family tree and you also cook for a living, even though your homelife is shit.
But I DO NOT OWE YOU MY SYMPATHY. Or my time. Or my ear. Or the inherent emotional or mental labor that follows your confessions of unhappiness or dreams of the future. I’m not rude if I wordlessly smile and keep typing. I’m not your personal cruise ship director. You matter, but I matter more. You are not entitled to my time or my emotional labor. I mean, do you even know how much emotional labor I clock on a daily basis? Between my husband, my four-year-old, and my tiny baby, I’m stretched thin. Believe me. If I wanted more emotional or mental labor, I know exactly where to look.
Maybe instead of asking me, an anonymous woman in a bar, who is in a decade-long marriage with small children, to help you do your own emotional work, you could find a therapist instead? Or, better yet, you go home to your babies, to your partner, to your own responsibilities and own what is yours. Because you see, I am not here for your betterment. I am not here to be your dumping ground for all of your thoughts and fears and hopes and dreams into like a slightly sexier and much younger version of Dumbledore and his Pensieve.
I do not exist to make you feel like a good person.