I don’t think any phrase pisses me off more than “emotional labor”. As the term has become more and more common—going from a sociological term which, from what I can tell, is inspired from Horkeimer and Adorno, to one referring to the simple act of another person making you feel emotion—it has become less and less about capitalism’s effects on workers, and more about seeing human relationships as, fundamentally, market transactions (like an M-C-M transaction).

Beyond just revealing how much capitalism has infected peoples’ minds, it shows how the pickup artist mindset is far more banal than people think—both liberal/pop feminists and pickup artists1 can have the exact same outlook on people, the only difference is how they apply that outlook. Pickup artists see people as—in Marx’s terminology—fetishized commodities; pop feminists, on the other hand, see the relationship as a form of oppression—that emotion is somehow tantamount to suffering.

I would sympathize more with the pop feminist position if it wasn’t just a watered down way of saying “don’t make me feel bad”—the term went from sociological, to describing unpaid household labor (something that feminists have been dealing with since the 1930s if I remember correctly), to simply the act of feeling.

Personally, I don’t think that everything needs to be a transaction, yet somehow, even just friendship—not just romance and sex—has become transactional. I’ve heard people on tiktok talk about how they don’t ask friends for anything, or they hate it when their friends confide in them—as though friends only exist to have a good time with, and then be disposed of. This attitude is not only supremely capitalist, but also makes you a horrible friend.

I’m sorry, but if you have a good friend, and you view them as making you do “emotional labor” for crying around you—or even just asking you for help—you’re probably not their friend.2

  1. I need to explain myself a bit here: Pickup artists see relationships as commodities—listen to any of them flap their disgusting jaws for more than five minutes—they frequently talk about things like the “80/20 rule”, where “80% of women go to 20% of men”, similar to how wealth accumulates in people of varying social classes (among other bullshit rules). The pickup artist’s objective is not to remove this perceived market from relationships, but instead to optimize the self for this—essentially creating the human embodiment of the corporation, with its lack of understanding single-minded pursuit of profit. ↩︎

  2. The funny thing is I’m not immune from this either. Just a few months ago, I saw a concert with somebody I just met. They started crying, because the show was a lot for them, and went down to the venue’s lobby. I should have at least checked on them, but instead I stayed at my spot and kept watching, thinking to myself “oh why should I have to check on them?” I’m more than capable—as much as I hate saying it—of being a bad friend.

    Would I take back what I did at that show?—not checking in on somebody I was trying to be friends with? Yes. Can I take it back? No. ↩︎