Throughout the pandemic, my partner and I have been very very careful about our exposure to the virus. We’ve done this out of fear for ourselves but also out of a sense of responsibility to everyone around us. We cook every meal at home and don’t really go out except for the occasional masked and distanced walk in the park with some friends. It sucks but until we are both vaccinated we plan on keeping up this routine.
My partner’s best friend, who I’m also close to, is not as careful. Every time I see her Instagram stories about eating at restaurants I want to scream, and even though I’ve told her she’s taking risks with her health she hasn’t listened.
Well, now she has covid. All of our mutual friends have been sending sympathetic messages about how they feel so bad for her but.... I don’t know if I can do that! Obviously I want her to get better but I’m just so frustrated that she could have avoided this, plus who knows if she infected other people.
Am I allowed to be a bit angry with her? My partner thinks I’m being too harsh but I’m really having a hard time feeling too much sympathy in this situation, especially after a year of being stuck inside because we’re responsible people.
When I first moved this column over to Jez, at what in retrospect was the early days of the pandemic, I was worried that the only questions I would get would be about pandemic-related behaviors. I figured that since people weren’t really out there making questionable sexual decisions or having many new experiences at all, it would just be variations on the theme of “how am I supposed to feel about people doing or not doing things I am not doing or doing.” Turns out that was a baseless concern as this is literally the first time anyone has written a letter about it!
I’m not exactly sure why—after all, my bread and butter is people asking me how they should react to the decisions of others. I suspect, perhaps cynically but with a fair amount of anecdotal evidence to back this up, that few people are admitting they don’t know how to feel about how everyone is behaving because the predominant affect of the last 10 or so months has been a kind of blustering certainty.
I encounter so many people who seem very sure that the way they are doing the pandemic is the right one and that they can easily identify people who are doing it wrong. I’m not talking about politicians here, who have almost uniformly fucked up and let us down and for whom there is no hell hot enough, but the quite specific ire people direct towards their neighbors and friends who they see as either idiots or scolds.
I’m sympathetic to both the idiots and the scolds. The people taking risks you personally would not probably feel comfortable doing so because the rules are constantly changing and we have received very little guidance from those in power about what is permissible versus what is advisable. The scolds are often simply reacting to the same vacuum of information by clinging to a type of superstition: As long as I forcefully denounce the risk-takers then I myself will be made safe.
Quite frankly, I don’t know if the choices I’m making are always the right ones. I’ve made significant and punishing alterations to my daily life, but I do sometimes go to a bar with a backyard to have drinks with friends because I live alone and the total absence of human contact would be unbearable. The people being slightly more strict about quarantine will think I’m irresponsible, and I am often tempted to think the people being slightly less strict than I are reckless. But the fact is most people I know are trying their best with the information they have.
I’m noticing that you didn’t say your friend is going to anti-mask protests, or sharing misinformation about vaccines, or that she is the head of a government agency. Simply that she goes to restaurants. To my mind, that does not constitute a transgression serious enough to revoke your sympathy.
Yes, there is a danger in giving the people we love a sort of tacit permission to be careless with their own health and the health of others. But I think there’s a far greater danger in being swayed by the idea that people invite their own misfortune. There is nothing more corrosive to public life than this belief and it can lead you nowhere fruitful.
You asked if you’re allowed to be angry with her but that’s not really something I can tell you. I can no more give you permission to experience an emotion that I could tell the sun to set, but I can urge you to give that anger as little room as possible. Your friend is sick and probably scared. That you told her this could happen makes you right but don’t let being right get in the way of being good.
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