Maybe Physical Stuff Is Overrated

Why I don’t mind telling you that I failed at my Best Self pledge.

The “winter fun” stamps purchased with perfectly good intentions last winter.

Early in 2016, I went to the post office and bought plenty of stamps. One strip of Valentine’s Day hearts. One strip of “Winter Fun.” After pledging — very publicly! — to be more intentional about mailing cards and gifts to my loved ones, I was sure that I would use up those stamps quickly.

My Best Self Spends More Money at the Post Office

It’s November, nearly December, and I still have half of those stamps. Luckily, the snowman stamps are coming back into season now. I felt a little funny using a Valentine’s Day heart to mail off a rent check in July. The sheet of stamps are a far too on-the-nose physical representation of my failure at my Best Self in 2016 resolution.

It’s a little embarrassing, knowing that I announced this to the world — or at least The Billfold and an assortment of my friends on Facebook. The people who commented on the Facebook post include a close childhood friend who definitely didn’t get any mail from me, a college friend who I’ve barely spoken to since I graduated, and another college friend who begged to become pen pals and also received no mail. Do these people remember that I told them I would be spending more at the post office to show my loved ones I care? At least this admission will prove that it wasn’t just them who didn’t receive any cards in the mail: it was pretty much everybody.

When I looked back on 2016 and tried to come up with occasions when I had mailed something to a loved one, I could only come up with one thing. One.

My best friend got laid off this summer. She had spent months unemployed and job hunting, and had barely been in this job for six months when they decided that it wasn’t a good fit. It wasn’t a good fit, and she didn’t love the job, but that didn’t make a layoff any easier. When I was laid off in 2015, Sam showed up at my doorstep with wine and ice cream after a work trip to Albany, and stayed to keep me company. But she had moved to Chicago since then, so I couldn’t copy her. I looked into wine delivery services, but instead I baked a batch of cookies, grabbed a swear word coloring book out of my mom’s work samples, and mailed her a box of unemployment treats.

That’s the only real example I have of fulfilling the goal of my Best Self in 2016 essay. It’s the only time that my response to a loved one in need was to mail a physical object.

In my original essay, I said that “emotional labor is the necessary work to keep a relationship going.”

That’s still true — and that’s why I don’t think I need to feel bad about not mailing things, even if my supposed failure still stings.

In 2016, I reached out to friends whenever I would be in their cities, and made time to see them even if only for an hour. I sent my friends links to funny articles and pictures of things that reminded me of them. I told them when a podcast episode made me think of them.

I sent “happy birthday” text messages to friends and family alike, and got plenty of happy birthdays in response when it was my turn.

I successfully made it to nine consecutive monthly breakfast dates with the friend who begged to become pen pals, and December will make ten.

I invited friends to share my grief after the election and tried to feed them. I invited friends to share my joy in my new apartment over Shabbat dinner and successfully fed them.

I took a day off work to attend my cousin’s baby’s bris, and used my Millennial superpowers to take good video footage of everything-but-the-snip for family members stuck on delayed Amtrak trains.

I visited grandparents in Florida and friends in Chicago and agreed to be a bridesmaid and helped my mom cook for holidays. I convinced my mom to invite all my cousins over for dinner when I would be in town, and made homemade popsicles for everyone.

In short, I did the work. And it paid off.

So maybe I didn’t actually spend any more at the post office in 2016. But I took a look at how I perform emotional labor in my relationships, and I took it up a notch. And it was time, and energy, and love well spent.

Rachel Goldfarb is a writer, editor, social media strategist, and activist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @RachelG8489.

This article is an update to The Billfold’s 2015 end-of-year series, “Our Best Selves in the Coming Year.”

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