Few things can kill dawning desire sooner than being asked, suddenly, to act as a de facto social secretary by a possible prospective lover. Long term relationships can also sour when one member is constantly expected to serve (upaid) as the Family Memory Bank for dates of anniversaries, school plays, doctor’s appointments, and classes. The (unpaid) Family Memory Bank is also the (unpaid) Family Data Base for how to wipe down a kitchen counter, pack a dishwasher, complete a grocery list, prep for earthquakes, and/or pack a diaper bag. No one else needs to remember because the FMB/FDB is always there, expected to remind them of what is needful. And because the other members of the household don’t need to take responsibility for remembering their own stuff, memory is undervalued. And the (usually cis-female) holder of collective memory is also undervalued. The work–emotional labor!–of remembering and reminding is not considered worthy of consideration or compensation. It’s traditionally “women’s work.”
What follows may apply mainly to cis-het relationship dynamics, and as I happen to have lived my life til now as a cis-het person (alas), it is also written from the “(cis) woman’s perspective.” I write partially from personal experience but also as a professional observer of sexual, emotional, and communicative habits that can ruin potentially promising love affairs as well as thirty-year marriages.
Such habits and habitual forms of communication can eventually cause the recipient to feel unloved, unappreciated, and taken for granted–unless appreciation is consistently expressed. Anger and resentment follow. For survivors of relationships gone bad, simple phrases may trigger the urge to flee in one person. For another recipient, it may trigger or deepen another cycle of depression. It’s also depressing when setting an important personal boundary by refusing take on the role of the “Reminder” results in being ghosted or dismissed.
When someone (usually cis-male) says “remind me” or “send me that again” (often to a cis-female), this sends several powerful messages, though they may be unconsciously sent and received. These messages may impact as a low-level form of “micro-crumminess” or as full-blown micro-aggressiveness. These messages convey or imply one or all of the following:
(1) The thing we agreed to do together is not important enough for me to remember on my own, so “remind me.”
(2) I said I wanted to do that thing, but it isn’t important enough to me to remember, but you want to do it more than I do, so “remind me.”
(3) Things that we do together or agree upon, even if they affect the children in our lives, are not important enough for me to remember on my own–because YOU are not important enough for me to remember anything you said or emailed, so “remind me.”
(4) I am too important to bother remembering the trivial details that make up your tiny life, and that sometimes must impinge on mine. So, remind me if you must. You’re such a nag.
(5) Remembering is not important work, so it does not deserve recognition or compensation.
(6) Since YOU do the remembering, YOU are not important and do not deserve recognition or compensation.
(7) I’m too lazy to remember, or retrieve the email you sent with all the details, so “remind me.” Send it again. Leave another post-it note on the fridge (I might remember to read it.) Set my cell phone alarm for me–I guess I can’t ignore that. Set up a TRELLO account with all the details listed in an orderly fashion–I might remember to use it…oh, I forgot my password, could you remind me?
(8) I don’t really want to listen to you or remember anything that’s important to you, but we can still have sex, right?
(9) My mother used to do this stuff for me. You’re female. You can do it for me now.
And so on.
What does it mean when someone you haven’t even kissed yet, except with emoticons, begins to ask you to “remind him” of stuff? Is this supposed to signal that I’m allowed or invited, to a certain extent, into this person’s life? Is it supposed to be a precursor to greater intimacy? If so, it is a signal that backfires. Many women past a certain age–or with a depth of experience–are wary of taking on men who present (even in small ways) as “projects”–i.e. men who must be “reminded” (schooled) to take relationship details into account on their own, even in the giddy first burst of new relationship energy! The women have already busted their asses in bad marriages and disappointing love affairs. I’m not saying all women have it bad, and all men have had it easy–but what I describe in this blog post concerns a wearisome, very gender/sex role-based feature of the sadder parts of most women’s romantic lives. It’s the women who spend years keeping calendars, writing the post-it notes, packing the suitcases for every family vacation (so that nothing will be forgotten, not even his underwear), and numerous other 24/7 tasks that fill the day of a cis-het woman living in a patricarchal, capitalist, consumer society. The women are tired, as I am, of doing upaid emotional and administrative labor.
I am old enough to remember the days when men never touched keyboards, unless their work was tech. Anything with a keyboard (like typewriters) was associated with women’s work (underpaid, under-appreciated). These days, men use keyboards. They text, swipe, google, and email. They have numerous apps to enable them schedule and manage their lives. My iPhone has an alarm clock app, a notes app, a reminder app, and a calendar. I use TRELLO to store and manage project details. And all my email servers let me search and find previous emails, and to organize them in lists (Business Expenses, Action, Appointments, and so forth). We can even use voice commands to ask Siri and Alexa to bring us the information we need (though personally, I’m lusting after Q as my AI helpmeet).
So, with all that, why should anyone, including any cit-het woman, be asked to “remind” a man–unless it’s a consensual, kinky role play or part of a compensated job description? Why should it be assumed that one person will play that role, based on gender role expectations? If it is really important for one person to take on the role of Remember and Remind (perhaps due to a diagnosed lack of executive function skills in one partner), then a request–not an assumption!–should be made and discussed (leaving room for consent or non-consent). The expectations and boundaries of the role should be negotiated and occasionally revisited. There should be compensation or an exchange to benefit the person who takes on this role.
Oscar Wilde once wrote, “when men give up saying what is charming, they give up thinking what is charming” (Lady Windemere’s Fan). “Remind me” is not charming. It is depressing. Charm is: “I could never forget anything having to do with you, my darling.” However–“I am counting the moments until our anniversary, next Tuesday. By 9:45 AM, I will have packed my own suitcase with everything I need, consulted GoogleMaps, and will meet you at the hotel on Fifth and Main next town over at exactly 11:00 AM for lunch in our luxury suite. I’ve made all the reservations for our special afternoon of pleasure and intimacy, with cellphones turned off”–is functionally sexy! Money doesn’t have to be a factor–“I’ve packed us a picnic lunch so we can watch Cat Videos in the Park on Sunday. I’ve got napkins, cutlery, and a tablecloth too and I’ll remember to wear fragrance-free sunscreen so you don’t sneeze”–is equally sexy.
These days, the most appealing signals a cis-het man can send will demonstrate a simple, considerate capacity to manage the details of his own life, without assuming the cis-het women in his life will do this for him. And the most intimate thing he can do is to consistently and willingly collaborate in the emotional labor of managing the details and logistics of their shared time together. Love will not only bloom in those circumstances, it will grow and endure.
That’s straight talk from a sexologist, dudes!