he fact that I like Mondays more than Sundays might be the most inflammatory thing about me. It’s a blatant betrayal of social code, a violation against the social media-enforced conduct manual wherein weeks — particularly the beginnings of them — are maligned and weekends are worshipped like the leader of a religious cult. I’ve played into this dichotomy myself, a willing supplicant, repeating watered-down aphorisms like, “Thank god it’s Friday” or “Ugh, I can’t believe it’s Monday” to an audience of supportive nods, propagating this generation’s most ubiquitous variety of call and response.
At a certain point, though, I couldn’t help but take note of a conflicting pattern: one in which my stress levels would start to crescendo and peak over the course of almost every weekend and only return to their normal, neutral hum when I woke up on Monday mornings. As a generally anxious extroverted introvert with a busy work and after-work weekday schedule, I can venture a guess as to why this cycle kept repeating itself. While the business of my weeks is couched in a pretty regular structure (wake up, work out, go to work, have dinner with close friends or cook for myself, read, go to bed), my weekends are relatively routine-less, characterized by a freedom that might be liberating if it wasn’t frequently puckered by social obligations, errands I couldn’t get done during the week, wonky sleep schedules and down time I feel guilty for neglecting to maximize, then guilty for not enjoying.
I’m sure these trappings of my individual personality and schedule play a role in how I’ve been feeling, but there’s an overarching cultural component at stake too — one in which weekends have morphed into something more than just weekends. They are now Weekends with a capital W: pressure cookers that incubate the bulk of both our social engagements and, somewhat contradictorily, our “free time,” not to mention the performance of who we are outside the workplace. Given how much is projected onto a run-of-the-mill 60-hour window it’s no wonder weekends frequently leave me with the strange feeling that I’ve done too much and not enough simultaneously.
Like almost any trend in 2018, weekend hype is shaped in many ways by social media, and vice versa: the existence of internet language like TGIF, FOMO, Sunday Scaries and sayings like “Saturdays are for [fill in the blank]” or “living for the weekend” are proof that our cultural obsession with weekends is shaping the way we think and talk about our lives. The hashtag #selfcaresunday has over 300,000 posts on Instagram, and #fridayfeeling has over 2 million. Brands are understandably capitalizing on this phenomenon — literally in the case of new skincare labels like Saturday Skin and Summer Fridays, but also more broadly with media platforms like Girls Night In, a newsletter “for girls who’d rather stay in tonight” that’s sent out every Friday morning.
The widespread documentation of weekends on Instagram Stories and Snapchat only further amplifies their cultural currency. “Every week at work, at the end of a Thursday meeting, we go around the room and tell our Weekend Plans — this is when I feel pressure to have something cool to say,” someone messaged me on Instagram — one of hundreds of responders to a callout I posted asking for people’s thoughts on this topic.
“I see people out doing all this fun stuff and I want to try every bar and club and restaurant but can’t feasibly spend a fortune every weekend just to go out two nights in a row,” another said. “And it’s emotionally exhausting to not have a quiet night every once in awhile, but I also feel guilty if I don’t make an effort to do something new and fun with friends and make the most of my weekends.”
A few people pointed out this conundrum might be endemic to the U.S. “I’m an American working in Germany and the use of free time is much different here,” one woman told me. “Americans generally have more porous boundaries between work and home and I think that makes for a different type of weekend […] With Americans having the weekend as their only free time, there’s so much pressure to energize yourself in every regard — social nourishing and self nourishing — to show yourself and others (via social media) that, in the midst of working, you value yourself enough to allocate weekend time.”
Another: “I’m American and live just outside Switzerland with my French husband who is the son of immigrants from Morocco, a culture that does weekends right in terms of general relaxation. Sleep is unlimited, food is savory and always homemade, there are no obligations to attend because nobody plans them on weekends. There is absolutely none of the American weekend consumption that seems to fall into either the category of showing off and having crazy experiences or the borderline damaging idea of ‘self-care’ that has grown exponentially since 2010.”
Even within the U.S., different cultures and lifestyles lend themselves to different weekend experiences. One woman, an Orthodox Jew, told me she was grateful for the Jewish law that mandates eschewing social media and focusing on family and friends every Saturday (incidentally the same law that conceived the U.S.’s now-ubiquitous five-day work week in 1908). Another spoke about becoming a mother and how childcare turns weekends into work days, too. The same can be true for people who work more than one job, or self-employed people who have less of a traditional Monday to Friday work schedule. By and large, though, the vast majority of responses echoed my hypothesis that 2018 is privy to a new kind of weekend industrial complex, one that spawns clicky headlines like “Your Weekend Has 60 Hours–Here’s How To Wring The Most Out Of Them” and CBD gummies marketed specifically as a means of alleviating Sunday Scaries.
The shadow of weekends’ gargantuan presence looms even more absurdly given that they are, in essence, a social construct. “Counting days in chunks of seven now comes so naturally that it’s easy to forget that this is an unusual way to mark the passage of time,” Witold Rybcznski wrote in the 1991 Atlantic article “Waiting for the Weekend.” “What does the week measure? Nothing. At least, nothing visible. No natural phenomenon occurs every seven days. Nothing happens to the sun, the moon, or the stars. The week is an artificial, man-made interval.” As is the two-day stretch that constitutes our beloved weekend.
I don’t have a solution to 2018’s weekend enigma, but I do have a reassuring thought: Like #prairiecore and moth memes, weekend worship is a fad of the times, a movement constructed wholly from the particular particles that happen to make up the era we are living in now. In that sense, how we emotionally approach, build and evaluate our days off is in our hands more than the zeitgeist might imply. So perhaps, come Friday afternoon, the question we need to be asking is not what are we doing, but what do we need?
Illustrations by Audrey H. Weber.