It’s a harmless question that I get asked maybe once or twice a week by my boyfriend: “Hey, babe? What are we doing [insert day of the week here]?” I’ll either rattle off the dinner or family obligation we have to go to, or I’ll check my calendar app, where our entire social calendar is carefully outlined.
Most of the time, I answer this question without any hint of annoyance, glad to go over our schedule for the week. But I would be lying if I said it didn’t irritate me from time to time that I, and I alone, am responsible for the social calendar of two people.
Now, a very fair disclaimer, my boyfriend is great. He respects my busy schedule and helps out around the apartment without me having to nag him, often taking the initiative to clean things I would have never gotten around to. In fact, I’m sure if I asked him to plan some social events and keep track of plans, he would gladly play a part. But the fact of the matter is, I would have to ask him.
I took it upon myself to be the walking, talking calendar of our relationship because I noticed one of us had to stay on top of that stuff. And the fact that I automatically assumed this was my job is actually part of a real-life phenomenon that women everywhere deal with. It’s called the “mental workload” and, ladies, it seriously sucks.
This invisible anomaly is the result of being the “Knower” in your household; noticing when groceries are low, when bills are about to become overdue, when it’s time to catch up with grandma, when your friend has a show you need to buy tickets for. And, you guessed it, keeping on top of this eternally exhausting checklist usually falls to the woman in a hetero relationship.
No wonder we’re always tired.
Worse, this doesn’t even take into consideration when children come into the picture. I might have taken it upon myself to be the socialite of our relationship, but my boyfriend and I really do a good job of equally splitting up our housework. We’re a modern couple, after all. But throw kids into the mix? That’s where things can exponentially more complicated—and more mentally tiring for women.
Now you’re talking meal planning, doctors appointments, school obligations, soccer practice plus a million other small tidbits which typically falls on the mother to remember and delegate. Even if dad does do half the errands and take the kids to dance practice every week, it’s likely because his partner TOLD HIM he had to, until eventually, it becomes a habit for him (most of the time).
Sociologist Susan Walzer published a research article called “Thinking About the Baby” in 1998 where she interviewed 23 couples (all new parents) to discover if the gender gap was present in their parenting/household routines.
Walzer found that women do more of the intellectual, mental, and emotional work of childcare and household maintenance. They do more of the research, worrying, organizing, and delegating, even when their male partners “helped out” by doing a fair share of chores.
In fairness, this research is nearly two decades old—but that doesn’t mean the “mental workload” Walzer uncovered doesn’t still exist.
Even in today’s more progressive world, where the amount of paid and unpaid work split between male and female partners is almost equal, the mental workload still acts as women’s “second job.” There’s the job that pays the bills that women focus on during the day and there’s the job of making sure everything is okay at home after work.
This popular cartoon from blogger “Emma” perfectly describes the topic of the invisible workload and as DailyWorth writer Kelly Burch discovered, plenty of modern women are still struggling with balancing their work away from work.
If you’re reading this and slowly realizing that you also suffer from this tiring mental load, know that there are ways to make your partner aware of your struggle. And not just “nagging” them to do more around the house/with the kids but actually getting through to them on the issue.
For me, running a one bedroom apartment for two without any kids, I got off fairly easy. Like I mentioned earlier, my big burden was becoming the “cruise director” of our relationship, being the only one to buy birthday presents or make our plans.
All it took was this: I told my boyfriend that from now on, we were going to share a social calendar. When someone reached out to get dinner, I would put the event in the joint calendar. When he wanted to go to a concert, rather than tell me so I can put it on the books, he would put it on the social calendar himself. Obviously, we talk through the plans first to decide if we both want to go, but once we reach an agreement, onto the schedule it goes. This way, there’s no more stress for just me to keep an eye out on upcoming plans, the burden is shared.
For women who are dealing with a more laborious mental workload, like any moms out there, the best you can do is be open with your partner. If you just give up the mental workload altogether (which, let’s face it, is easier said than done) your household could easily fall apart.
So rather than quit in protest, try showing Emma’s cartoon to your partner; it might be the most easily digestible way for your S.O. to grasp the exhausting checklist going on in your head at all times. It might take some time for them to train their minds to notice all the little things you notice now, but that transition begins with an honest, respectful conversation.
Let’s free up some space in the hectic space that is the female mind and start breaking down the mental workload from its source, shall we?
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