Tumultuous convo about COVID with my best friend; was I in the wrong?
March 21, 2020 11:15 PM   Subscribe

I just had an incredibly emotionally charged phone conversation about COVID with my best friend and I need some perspective. For context, I've known this woman for more than a decade and we care about each other very much.

As is often the case these days, we started talking about COVID-19. She mentioned that she was heading over to a guy's house that she'd been dating. (He has housemates and so does she.) I said something along the lines of "breaking quarantine, eh?" without making too big of a fuss. She adamantly stated that the shelter-in-place order wasn't meant to eliminate all social contact, because that would be untenable, and that her actions were perfectly reasonable since she and this guy had been seeing each other almost every day. (For the record, I don't think I was accusatory in my initial comment.) I interjected by saying that even if the order allowed for this sort of social contact at the moment (which, as it turns out, it doesn't), I expected California and the rest of the US to impose even stricter measures in the near future. At this point, my friend started to get annoyed at me, and explained that this was an unreasonable expectation, that California already had the strictest quarnantine order in the US, that anything stricter than the current, voluntary order may in fact be unconstitutional, and generally made me feel foolish for even bringing it up in the first place.

Now, my friend is a fairly brilliant academic, and she has a tendency to talk in long paragraphs, with a fleshed-out thesis, outline, and citations at ready. I, on the other hand, am a complete schlub when it comes to in-person argumentation. I consider myself well-informed, but I don't have any steady facts to offer in a debate; my opinions are an aggregation of the content I ingest, and I don't keep around any references. Worse yet, when the discussion gets heated, I tend to drop whatever paltry reserve of knowledge I have on the floor, then lose the plot entirely shortly after. This leaves the other person talking to a despondent brick wall.

So when my friend asked me why I came to the conclusion that California's quarantine would get stricter, my mind went to the terrifying news I'd been hearing out of Italy; the discussion of exponential growth by academics and epidemiologists I follow on Twitter; the desperate cries for help from doctors working in near-full ICUs in the US; and the evidence that only the strictest quarantine policies in China, Korea, etc. were working to contain the spread — and blurted out the only fact-resembling image that immediately came to mind, which was a Tweet I saw the other day of a military convoy hauling corpses out of Bergamo. I replied that when the army starts hauling the dead out of our neighboring towns, the government would have no choice but to lock us down even further.

My friend got really mad at me at this point. She said that I shouldn't take as truth the paranoid musings of self-proclaimed academics on social media. (I couldn't defend myself here: even though I was confident in my sources, my reserve of facts was, as always, quite bare.) She then called me out for fear-mongering. When I tried to diffuse the situation by saying that I'd only be glad for her to laugh at me in a few weeks for being so paranoid, she said that she wasn't laughing: she was pissed.

Now I was incredibly upset, to the point where my hands were shaking. Fear-mongering? What news was my friend seeing that made her so damn calm?! I tried to explain why I brought up Bergamo (poorly, no doubt, because I was most of the way to the brick wall stage at this point) but she kept insisted on making me see, with heightening anger, why my comments were so frustrating. (Unfortunately, I was beyond explanations at this point; I couldn't make sense of anything in this conversation anymore.)

Eventually, we reached an impasse where we mostly recognized that we were talking past each other. She felt that my Bergamo comment was not a factual response to her question, but an appeal to emotion that sidestepped her defense of California already having the tightest quarantine in the US. I don't reacall what I said, but I think I suggested that I was probably missing a step in my argument: that quarantines were tightening around the world as the death toll climbed exponentially and as governments became more desparate, so it stood to reason that the US would follow suit.

Here's where it got ugly. In an idiotic attempt to exit out of this conversation, I tried to circle back and explain my perspective from from the ground floor. I said that we were in the middle of a dire pandemic: hospitals would soon be turning patients away, tens of thousands would die, and we would probably know some of them — (and so, I meant to continue, we should be prepared and vigilant for the difficulties ahead, instead of assuming that things would soon return to normal.)

My friend nearly screamed at me to cut me off, furious. She said she didn't want to hear any of this. For the sake of her emotional health, she was staying away from the news. She simply couldn't dwell on sickness and death. Pandemic or no, she needed to live her life. I was outright crying at this point, but she wasn't having any of it.

I'm currently living with my 60-year-old parents. We comfort and support each other daily in light of COVID news, no matter how hard is to hear the reports coming out of Euorpe and parts of the US. The danger we're in is at the forefront of our minds, but we face it head-on and adjust our lives to stay as healthy as possible. I've had similar conversations with my sister, and though pain and suffering is the topic du jour, I feel that these moments calm us down and bring us closer together in the end. When talking to my best friend, however, I felt like I was first bludgeoned to death with information, then made to feel like an idiot, and finally slapped in the face just when I was feeling vulnerable and frightened — all at at time when we should be keeping our loved ones close and trying to be more kind and forgiving to each other.

I told her I didn't understand. How could two best friends not talk about the toll of this calamity at all? In a time of war, did people just sit around and pretend nothing was happening? But she said that the country wasn't at war, and that if our conversations were going to be so stressful, then maybe we should talk less often. I stared at a wall for an hour afterwards crying my eyes out, because I felt like the person I considered closest to me just shut the door in my face. But looking back on our conversation with a clearer head and a few hours' perspective, I'm just not sure what to think anymore.

MeFi, could you help me make sense of all this? Did I push too hard on the death & desolation? Was I expecting an unreasonable amount of engagement on this difficult subject from a friend who's basically family to me?

(I have a hunch that my mind is fully set to "catastrophe mode" at this point, with an expectation that the country will see massive death and turmoil over the next year, whereas my friend still expects things to stabilize in a month at most. But maybe that's not it. I don't know. I'm just drained and need some outside perspective.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Ok, so there's a lot more going on here than the facts of the argument. To quickly address them, you are probably correct that ideally we should all be completely isolated, but practically meeting up with a romantic partner who you are seeing frequently, assuming your friend is not using public transport, is unlikely to increase the risk for anyone other than her and her partner. That assumes of course that both are isolated and neither works in a high risk profession that exposes them to more people.

But the facts don't matter here. I think it's very easy when we have a horrid argument with someone we care about to focus very much on the content and facts of what was happening, but the truth is that in the heat of emotion we often say things we don't truly mean, or certainly would not phrase that way if we didn't want to.

If I had to guess, your friend probably is feeling stressed and lonely, as most of us are, and is feeling super guilty about seeing her partner, and wanted reassurance from you that her behaviour wasn't a big deal.

When you (not fully unreasonably) pointed out that what she was doing was against guidelines, this no doubt upset her, which led to escalation from both of you.

Your worries about not being able to talk about the virus with your friend seems misplaced. They are not capable of talking about such things when they are already upset, and may well be able to have a conversation when it's less emotionally connected to them.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:39 PM on March 21, 2020 [17 favorites]

I'm sorry, anonymous. I hope a valuable friendship does not become another casualty of the current pandemic.

Reading the lines, " My friend nearly screamed at me to cut me off, furious. She said she didn't want to hear any of this. For the sake of her emotional health, she was staying away from the news." strongly suggest that your friend is in denial. There is a very strong possibility that the pandemic we're facing will worsen just as you suggest, and some people are not yet able to deal with that.

It's not very responsible or rational, but humans, as a species, are often that way.

Knowing that may or may not make it easier to come to terms with the unpleasant exchange you had, but just maybe understanding her response will help toward salvaging the friendship.

Good luck.
posted by wjm at 11:40 PM on March 21, 2020 [19 favorites]

You weren't in the wrong. Different people are handling this crisis in different ways, and it sounds like your friend is handling it by forcefully pushing away any information that would upset them. It's understandable in the circumstances - we've all got to look after our mental health - but it does make it hard to broach the subject of coronavirus at all (since let's face it, the situation right now really *is* scary!)
posted by Mauve at 11:41 PM on March 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

No you're good. She is wrong. Maybe less inflammatory references might have spread out the response but if she is fixed in ignoring reality it would not matter what you say. A week ago in France we were not ready. A lot has changed. Be gentle with yourself and your friend. Hopefully she will quickly see that "shelter in place" doesn't have a sub clause of exceptions to see your boyfriend. Be safe.
posted by bwonder2 at 11:42 PM on March 21, 2020 [30 favorites]

I am so sorry. I would guess that she knows at some emotional level that she’s doing what she ought not, and that she’s covering that up - maybe to herself - with the ‘cloud of squid ink’ that academia practices so well.

I had the same reaction wjm did to the bit wjm quoted.

This sort of argument did happen in WWII, according to autobiographies - especially in each country as the war was inevitable but not quite there. Denial and fear squeeze out in strange ways.

Respect and comfort to you. You stuck to the truth best you had it, doing our common duty to nudge each other toward taking care of each other.
posted by clew at 11:43 PM on March 21, 2020 [23 favorites]

Short answer seconding everyone else: she cannot deal with reality, doesn't want to hear it, and is going to do what she wants regardless of whatever you might have to say about it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:57 PM on March 21, 2020 [14 favorites]

I'm having some heated conversations with someone I know who keeps insisting that it's hype and the numbers don't really predict what everyone is predicting. I'm having a hard time with it because I honestly don't really understand the numbers either and yet everything else is obviously happening anyway. So our conversations are a lot of me shoveling all the bad news headlines at them and them swatting them down.
At the same time, I'm keeping up with the news but I also hate it when people send me stuff because I need to feel in control of what I have to know about. It really upsets me to talk about too much because it's scary and our brains hate scary stuff the most. It really freaks them out.
So I think I kind of know what you feel AND what your friend feels.

Anyway I think it doesn't matter who's right or wrong here. Your friend isn't really putting anyone else at risk it sounds like and if they can't handle the news then it doesn't really hurt you to do the kind thing & meet them where they are.
posted by bleep at 11:57 PM on March 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

Remember that smart people are really REALLY good at rationalizing their behavior.

You were in the right but could have struck a better tone; Your friend is putting her emotional needs above the common good. She got furious because she knows all this but didn't want her nose rubbed in it.

We are not that different from dogs no matter how smart we are.
posted by benzenedream at 11:58 PM on March 21, 2020 [16 favorites]

We are going through something which is incredibly massive and devastating and altering everything about the way that we live. I think you are absolutely right to try to explain to your friend that her plans to meet up with this guy are not advised during this time. Your only mistake was to get dragged into an argument with someone who is in denial about the seriousness of the situation. She is not willing to listen, at least not yet, and just dug her heels in. It's possible that she got defensive because deep down she does actually know that what she's doing isn't a good idea. So I say keep up your own self-isolation, continue to remind and encourage people to do the same, but try not to get dragged into something like this again. It's not probably not effective at convincing people (maybe it will plant a seed?), and it's terrible for your mental health.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 11:59 PM on March 21, 2020 [30 favorites]

My friend nearly screamed at me to cut me off, furious. She said she didn't want to hear any of this. For the sake of her emotional health, she was staying away from the news. She simply couldn't dwell on sickness and death. Pandemic or no, she needed to live her life.

You're right, she's wrong. This kind of selfishness is always why everything goes sideways in every disaster movie ever. Many people are not good at understanding risk or seeing the big picture, she's not alone, but this will lead to the virus spreading and more people dying. It's simple math.
posted by fshgrl at 12:03 AM on March 22, 2020 [28 favorites]

"You were in the right but could have struck a better tone; Your friend is putting her emotional needs above the common good. She got furious because she knows all this but didn't want her nose rubbed in it."

This is absolutely what happened.

For what it's worth, others have said a lot of good things, but I just want to continue to provide support: you were right, she was wrong. For what it's worth, I had basically the the exact same conflict play out with a friend, also in california. I mean, almost exactly the same! Except I had a bit more facts and de-escalated more quickly. But ultimately I just gave her space, and let her come to her own peace with the situation.

I was pretty upset (though I didn't explode or anything in our conversation), because...in China, Italy, South Korean, and so on people are making massive sacrifices. Nurses dying of exhaustion. Doctors dying of the disease. Doctors coming out of retirement, putting themselves at real risk. Beyond that, people's livelihoods are getting absolutely destroyed. People are losing work. Their businesses are going out of business.

And she thinks her own denial is more important than all of that. Fuck that attitude. You don't have to get into it with your friend, and you can let it slide (this is an extreme time after all), but I think it is profoundly disrespectful to the people who are making actual sacrifices.

Good luck (from someone on day 60 of shelter in place in China)
posted by wooh at 12:24 AM on March 22, 2020 [66 favorites]

The recommended Al Anon approach is to say your piece once and then let it go because we don’t get to control what other people do. No one likes to be corrected, not even during a pandemic, so it is very difficult to suggest a change in behavior to people we care about in a way they can hear without becoming defensive.

Also, I genuinely believe that every individual gets to decide for themselves what they are willing to listen to. I have shut down a friend over the phone who kept spiraling into catastrophic topics. I know things are terrible in many places and for many people. I share my friend’s concerns about continuing and worsening awfulness. But I am not going to listen to him or anyone else talk to me about how it may be the end of the world. Partly because I don’t honestly believe that and partly because I need to protect my emotional and mental health.

OP, I am not saying that you were doing that. I am saying that some topics or issues we have to talk about briefly and then move on. Relationships survive anger, disappointment, and challenges. There’s no reason to believe that you have actually lost your best friend forever. These are difficult times. Don’t talk to your friend about that topic. Save it for social media or other friends. Not because you did something wrong but because she cannot tolerate such discussions.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:32 AM on March 22, 2020 [19 favorites]

I said something along the lines of "breaking quarantine, eh?" without making too big of a fuss. She adamantly stated that the shelter-in-place order wasn't meant to eliminate all social contact, because that would be untenable, and that her actions were perfectly reasonable since she and this guy had been seeing each other almost every day. (For the record, I don't think I was accusatory in my initial comment.)

OK, this is actually where it got ugly. However "not too much of a fuss" you thought it was, you were accusing her of doing something dangerous and antisocial. You were passing a very negative judgment on her. Now please don't misunderstand me: this is a situation in which you could reasonably make and express such a judgment. But you need to be honest with yourself that that is what you were doing, and understand that there are social consequences for doing so. Of course you and your parents find your conversations soothing when you all agree that you're doing the right thing; you were accusing her of helping to spread the virus for a little nookie. That is not going to lead to a friendly, pleasant, reassuring conversation.

Again, this is not because your position was unreasonable. (I'm not saying you were wrong about the importance of adhering to an actual quarantine order.) It's because you were taking a position that she was doing a bad thing. Once you made that first remark, there was very little possibility that you were going to have a mutually soothing conversation, and certainly even less once you started stacking up imaginary bodies that might be attributed to her behavior. Certain segments of society are trained to disavow passing judgment so thoroughly that they have no idea how to acknowledge it when they do pass judgment, or to recognize what the costs are to offset them against the benefits. So here are some of the costs: if you tell someone they're doing something wrong and dangerous, under most circumstances you're going to offend them and it may well affect your friendship. You have to decide if it's worth it. In many cases, that remains a personal call. I know my own calculus would probably involve whether having the conversation would be likely to influence her behavior in any way, but there are other reasonable ways of looking at it. Either way, though, you have to accept what you were actually doing to understand what went on and to figure out how to repair the friendship, if you still want to.

(P.S. Being in free-floating "catastrophe mode" is not really sustainable and I would try to figure out how to modulate down emotionally.)

(P.P.S. Going to say it one more time in the desperate hope of avoiding misinterpretation: I'm not saying you were wrong in your judgment or wrong in expressing it. I'm saying that expressing that kind of judgment to a friend creates a emotional dynamic that you don't seem to recognize you created. Even knowing that, you may well feel it was worth it, and I'm not going to tell you it wasn't. But it's always better to know what you're doing, especially if you want to figure out how to ameliorate the consequences.)
posted by praemunire at 12:34 AM on March 22, 2020 [38 favorites]

You’re right, she’s wrong. She’s not interested in hearing that but you shouldn’t feel bad. I agree that she had a strong reaction because you triggered shame in her, because she knows you’re right or at least doubts that she’s right. If this was something only affecting her, I’d say let it be, but she’s undermining the point of social distancing. It’s very hard. It’s very hard on everyone. But it simply being very hard doesn’t mean people get exemptions for anything other than true essentials (food, medical needs).
posted by notheotherone at 12:57 AM on March 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

Just because she's clever, doesn't mean she's sensible. You came up against her denial ; since that's irrational there's no way to rationalise your way out of it. Hopefully if you reach out tomorrow for a normal conversation without mentioning the virus your friendship can resume - this is what's happened to me with family in this situation.
Remember, you are not responsible for saving her, she's a grown up, that's her job.
posted by glasseyes at 3:54 AM on March 22, 2020

I told her I didn't understand. How could two best friends not talk about the toll of this calamity at all? In a time of war, did people just sit around and pretend nothing was happening?

Oh hell yes.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:24 AM on March 22, 2020 [17 favorites]

No one has ever had to experience anything like this before. We are living in a time that effectively NO ONE HAS EVER GONE THROUGH. When I sit with that thought, It overwhelms me and I start to panic. How can I manage life when life itself has turned down an absolutely uncharted road and OMG WTF IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING and all I can do is rush out to stock my yet-to-be-constructed bunker.

And yet some people are not affected like that at all. They are able, somehow, to not spiral into anxiety. They can deflect and pivot and rationalize and use whatever methods they can find to make their way. And nothing is wrong with that. Everyone has to figure out the navigation that works for them.

I'll be honest, to me, they are like another species. I sort of envy them, but in the next breath, fear for them. Especially if they are close to me. The insecurity and uncontrolled-ness of all this is terrifying. How does each person cope? This calamity exposes fundamental differences in people that were pretty much buried before.

In every other way, you and your friend probably shared much the same mindset and frame of reference about life. But now, the unthinkable has shone a light on the difference in how you each respond to this particular crisis. It's a version of "I don't know who you are anymore!" and that can feel brutal.

So on top of the COVID stuff, now you're also trying to process the perception that this friend is "not who you thought she was," and that is very unsettling, at any time (let alone now, when we want and need support and solidarity from loved ones).

I hope you and your friend are able to find a calmer, more open moment to reconnect and put things back together in a way that lets you both be who you are.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:42 AM on March 22, 2020 [7 favorites]

I think your friend is wrong but I think this is a time when we have to exercise not just caution around the virus but empathy to each other. You don’t know what goes through your friends head in the early hours of the morning. You don’t really know the toll this is taking on her. You can do your best to educate her and express you disapproval but at the end of the day you can’t make people do things.

Friendships are going to be especially valuable in these times and while I will reiterate that I think her behavior is wrong and selfish you need to recognize the effectiveness of trying to change it and that she might not be your talking about the virus buddy at least at this time.

She will probably need someone to talk about this with at some point. The crisis is intensifying relationships and I think it has to be ok to the best of our ability to be there for each other, recognize the limits of what we can make people and be forgiving. I hope you manage to reconnect.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 5:55 AM on March 22, 2020 [6 favorites]

The lovebirds are putting other people at risk - the separate groups of housemates they both have.

It sucks that the conversation went badly, but OP, you are 1000% in the right, no matter how many rationalizations the academic threw out.
posted by FallibleHuman at 7:02 AM on March 22, 2020 [18 favorites]

I think we're largely mysteries to ourselves, let alone to other people. Some unusual situation happens and you find yourself reacting in ways that reveal a whole new side of you, or emphasize some aspect of your personality that you thought was minor. Sometimes what's revealed about you is good, sometimes not so much. Whether or to what extent it negates all the other aspects of you is an open question.

You and your friend learned some things about each other. (I think she's also trying very hard at the moment not to learn something specific about herself, namely that when given the choice between facing stark reality and discomfort and retreating into denial and self-interest, she takes the latter path. Chances are that conflicts heavily with her self-image.)

You both have to come to some conclusions, now or eventually, about how to place that new information within the context of everything else you know about each other.

How could two best friends not talk about the toll of this calamity at all?

You've learned that she's probably not someone you'll be able to talk with deeply about this kind of thing. Sometimes (I think usually) you can only rely on people for some things, not everything. You might have a friend who'll give you the shirt off their back, but be crap at keeping in touch. A friend who'll visit you daily in the hospital but never pay back loans. A friend who'll talk with you for hours but only about certain things. Sometimes you decide a relationship like that isn't worth keeping; sometimes you decide to try to change it; sometimes you decide it's worth it and to appreciate the good parts and make peace with the rest.

None of that answers your actual questions. Like most of the answers above I think that your actual point was completely right, that your expectation that your friend was someone you could have a good-faith conversation with about this was completely natural, and that your approach turned out to be not effective in retrospect, which is not the same thing as being wrong. Now you know, for whatever it's worth, and where to go with that information is up to you.
posted by trig at 7:08 AM on March 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

In a time of war, did people just sit around and pretend nothing was happening?

YES. People need respite from dark realities. It wouldn’t hurt you to have some time off from worry either.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:13 AM on March 22, 2020 [8 favorites]

You weren't wrong, she knows it & just didn't want to hear what you had to say because it didn't match up with what she wanted to believe. Thing is people don't want to think that they are the bad guys in any scenario and she is justifying a decision she's already made, probably entirely unconsciously. There could be a lot of reasons she doesn't want to believe it, everything from she's horny & full of hormones to she's scared & doesn't want to think about it. A lot of people handle fear, uncertainty & guilt by getting angry at anyone that makes them face those feelings, because it's easier than admitting that you are scared, that the sense of control you had is only an illusion, or that you are the sort of person that would risk infecting others that could die from that infection, just to get laid.
posted by wwax at 8:22 AM on March 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

As someone whose coping mechanisms line up more closely with yours than with your friend's, I warmly suggest that you consider that at the point at which you realize your coping mechanism is hurting her, you stop. (She should too, but you're the one who posted.)

So, you two both crossed each other's coping mechanisms with your own badly in the latter part of your conversation. Give it a day, then message her in asynchronous communication and tell her you're sorry the conversation went so badly, you love her, and you look forward to talking to her about everything else in her life soon.

As to whether or not it's our jobs in a pandemic to judge our friends' and family's behaviour, I personally am torn. I feel like I do have a social responsibility to speak out. But I also don't believe wounding someone when they are vulnerable generally results in lasting change. So it's a delicate line. I think with this particular friend, your initial comments were well within bounds. But I would leave it at that. .
posted by warriorqueen at 8:28 AM on March 22, 2020 [13 favorites]

Yes, sometimes even best friends have things they just can't talk about. Part of being a best friend is loving her anyway, as she is, flaws and all.

That doesn't mean you have to agree with her actions. But once it's clear that you don't have the power/influence to change them, then loving acceptance becomes a very reasonable option.

Her response in this crisis is not ideal by any means. But the same combination of traits that lead her to this response may make her an invaluable person to have nearby in a different crisis.

You have the right to be hurt and sad now too - you hoped for something from your friend that she wasn't able to give you. I'm sorry. People are the best and we need each other and also people can be a constant source of disappointment.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:37 AM on March 22, 2020 [5 favorites]

I'll join the chorus: You were right and she was wrong, both factually and morally.

What she's doing is selfish and probably endangers others. If she can't look at the facts and see that, she's not as smart as she fancies herself. Maybe this is a window into her true self that you've just never had before ... maybe she isn't who you thought she was.

I would posit that there are two options here: DTMFA for being selfish and awful (both to you and to society) or just accept that she is where she is and there's no changing it. Example: I have dearest friends with whom I disagree 100% irrevocably on the abortion question. We will never change each other's mind, so we don't try, we just don't talk about that.

At a minimum, I would not be in contact with her again during this crisis, and be especially careful about physical contact with her if the restrictions are loosened. If seeing her sweetie is a justified exception, how else is she violating isolation? What other rules don't apply to her?
posted by mccxxiii at 9:42 AM on March 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

It’s a little telling to me that you wrote this:

She said she didn't want to hear any of this. For the sake of her emotional health, she was staying away from the news. She simply couldn't dwell on sickness and death.

And then go into a paragraph talking about how you and your parents are communicating about this and it comforts you. The implication is that how you/your parents choose to talk about this is the right way and your friend’s approach is the wrong way. Even if your friend wasn’t already feeling defensive about her “hanky-panky before public health” stance, being told that she’s communicating about it wrong probably would have set her off.

From this read, it seems like you’re upset at your friend for multiple reasons: She’s still going out to see her boyfriend; she isn’t giving you the communication and support you think is appropriate; she got angry and pushed back at you at multiple points in the conversation, so instead of the support you had come to expect from talking with your family members, you got exactly the opposite from someone else you consider close. No wonder you’re upset. You’ve learned that someone you considered a source of support will not be there in the way you want them to be.

However, I think she was wise to set the boundary around conversations, for both of your sakes. I don’t know that she’s doing it for the right reasons, but she’s got the right to do it, and it’s ultimately kind to communicate to you that she is not the person to go to if you want to talk about COVID-19. Will this change your friendship? Probably. I’m sorry.

The question to consider now: What kind of relationship do you see yourself having with this person now? It might be wise to take some space and just sit with that question for a while. You’ve learned some things about her and about your relationship; you can do something with this information.
posted by sobell at 9:58 AM on March 22, 2020 [8 favorites]

I want to reiterate FallibleHuman's point that both your friend and her man are putting other people at risk because they both have housemates - that makes their behavior extra selfish and wrong-minded right now.

And most of what I was going to say has already been said, I wanted to add a thank you for being brave enough to take this on with your friend. Sometimes hearing that people we know and love think we're doing something wrong can make a much bigger difference than hearing from faceless officials and other impersonal sources; even if her initial reaction was defensive and aggressive, it's possible you've planted a seed that will ultimately nudge her towards taking this whole thing more seriously. Whether it does or not is not in your control and I hope you can be okay with that, but for whatever it's worth, I think you were right in pushing back with her. Sending support from my own little bunker.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:06 AM on March 22, 2020 [8 favorites]

Forward this question to her and ask her to read the answers!
posted by lalochezia at 11:31 AM on March 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

It doesn’t matter because your friend is being a massively selfish, self-justifying bung in the way only a fragile academic can be. The only way to be her friend is to pretend you’re fine with her whining bullshit.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:50 AM on March 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

You weren't wrong. That said, your friend wasn't wrong either. I mean, I disagree with her choices and think THOSE are wrong, and I think you were right to have a conversation about them with her, but as someone who is managing anxiety on top of everything else, part of that is limited exposure to horrors. This is a thing on which reasonable people will disagree, but to me it is okay to want to limit your exposure to horrors. This is a long haul issue.

Did I push too hard on the death & desolation? Was I expecting an unreasonable amount of engagement on this difficult subject from a friend who's basically family to me?

You care about your friend and that is a good thing. You want her to do something different than what she is doing. You think it's possible she is doing this because she doesn't know how bad it can get. You tried to impress upon her how bad it can get. This was not okay with her. Things escalated. You feel like you are at an intellectual disadvantage with your friend generally, and this time you are right and your friend doesn't want to hear it. That's hard for a number of reasons. My perspective is that you tried, your friend set a boundary, you have to figure out how you feel about that. People under extreme stress can make surprising choices.
posted by jessamyn at 11:56 AM on March 22, 2020 [10 favorites]

Wow. Just wow. Your friend is totally out of order.

(He has housemates and so does she.)

She is placing all those people at risk. Are they OK with that? Do they get a vote? Some of them may have underlying conditions or at a later stage will have to care for parents, elderly relatives, etc.

You were right to call her out. She is putting lives at risk.
posted by Pechorin at 12:12 PM on March 22, 2020 [12 favorites]

Also it’s one thing to stay away from the news because you have anxiety. Fully supportive of that. But refusing to act responsibly because you are afraid of the news altogether... she has no excuse.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:08 PM on March 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

My sister, with whom I am cooped up in close quarters during the quarantine, likes to spend several hours a day reading Internet stories about people who are not keeping as much to themselves as she believes they should, and going on long, loud, angry rants about how stupid they are and how can they be so stupid and selfish and stupid and wrong and horrible and stupid. I've asked her nicely to ease up when I'm in the room, I've begged her, I've reminded her of all the times I've asked her before, I've explained in detail how it affects me emotionally to be on the receiving end of all that righteous anger, and right now I'm napping on the floor of the mudroom because it's the only way to get any kind of respite from the onslaught.

You don't have to agree with your friend. You don't have to tell her she's right. But don't send her to the mudroom floor of your heart. You're not seeing her in person, so her actions are not affecting you or your vulnerable parents. Agree to talk about something else so you both get a break. We all need and deserve a break.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:22 PM on March 22, 2020 [6 favorites]

It's a numbers game. Any one individual act of travel or other form of social interaction is unlikely to result in infection. But in the aggregate, experience and research show that the more social interaction, the more infection. It's a Pandemic. It's a National Emergency. It's very serious; a lot of effort is going onto keeping the intensity of the spread manageable, so health care resources don't get overloaded. Everybody should Stay Home and Flatten the Curve. It's not easy, but it is the most important thing you can do. It doesn't feel heroic, but it is a small act of heroism.

Quarantine probably has a body of case law, and in the past has been used to outrank civil liberties. I DGAF how free you think you are, in a Pandemic, you don't get to go out and play with your friends. I suspect she is aware of the seriousness and wants the comfort of her sweetie's embrace. If she needs to be with her SO, they can self-isolate together.

I think your friend is avoiding her civil responsibility. She may very know it. Took me quite a while to figure out people get pissed off more, get more defensive, when they know they're wrong. I feel like I'm keeping my stress managed pretty well, until I have moments of sharp fear or tremendous loneliness. I talk to friends online and some of them are frightened and not doing well. We all deal with stuff very differently. This is a difficult time. But step the fuck up. Close your non-essential business. Stay the fuck home.
posted by theora55 at 2:30 PM on March 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

To repeat everyone else: you are right and she is wrong.

To repeat many people: she knows, deep down, that she is wrong. But denial is a powerful thing and makes people double down even more strongly.

To give you a glimmer of hope: I had an argument with my elderly mother about sheltering in place and not visiting my elderly dad in the hospital any more. She was pretty mad at me and thought I was overreacting. BUT. She has stopped going to visit Dad, is staying inside her apartment, and we have been talking to each other over the phone several times a day. So, you may have planted a seed in your friend’s head and she may well change her behaviour. You did a good thing by countering her misinformation with your own correct information.

It’s very hard right now and everyone is stressed to the max, but you did the right thing. Hopefully your friend will be able to come around.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:09 PM on March 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

This is all about anxiety.

Her script: "It's not that bad. It's not that bad. We're going to be fine. The authorities say we can do this. I'm doing everything they say that is actually possible. I'm gunna be okay. Oh god, I need someone to hold me. Let's close ranks so we know we're okay and nobody gets missed and is picked off because they were left out."

Your script: "Oh god, this is bad. Hide, everybody hide! If we hide we're gunna be okay. Just stay real quiet, get small, don't move. Shelter in place. No, no, no, nobody come near me. The danger will follow you. Hide!"

And then you both proceeded to trigger each other massively. She needs social contact to manage her anxiety which means when you presented a conflicting script you presented yourself as being in a different social group, just at a time when she was seeking extra connection. And you told her that her strategy was not going to work, so you hit her with anxiety and removed the hoped for reassurance of social cohesion.

Meanwhile she triggered all your anxieties, first that someone you love was going to put herself in harm's way, and second that she will infect others so that any secondary strategies like changing your hiding place or getting supplies delivered are becoming less possible for you.

You both doubled down when it would have been more effective to simply reassure each other. You were talking facts, not feelings.

Write her an e-mail telling her how much you deeply love her, how you are sorry you upset her, and don't talk about the different strategies. You are both so scared and worried that you are being flooded emotionally. When she floods she talks over other people. When you flood you stammer. If she writes back or phones you and tries to reopen the discussion of what is safe, ask her please to stay off the subject because it will scare you too much.

It is more than likely that in a few days she will be able to seriously increase her distancing. Keep in mind that since she lives with multiple roommates whom she can't control, you are asking her to do something that she cannot yet effectively do. She knows that your strategy is not really available to her, which is why she is not ready to practice extreme social distancing yet. First all the roommates have to be on board, and she has to decide if she will be alone or with the bf and has to get that negotiated with his roommates. When you tell her to practice extreme social distancing right now one message she is hearing is, "You gunna die cos you can't hide like me!"

Show her affection, love yourself. Remember both of you had the best motives and got upset only because you care about each other.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:59 PM on March 22, 2020 [13 favorites]

The Underpants Monster: My sister ... likes to spend several hours a day reading internet stories about people who are not keeping as much to themselves as she believes they should, and going on long, loud, angry rants about how stupid they are ... And right now I'm napping on the floor of the mudroom because it's the only way to get any kind of respite from the onslaught.

I see myself in this description (and I cringe). Having grown up in a family that favored the debating society approach to dinner conversation, I have been known to go on a tear on topics ranging from seat belt mandates to residential zoning to voting. People who like me have said things like, "I agree with you. But I'd wish you'd stop yelling. It's freaking me out."

I give a lot of credit to the friends who've been brave enough and honest enough to tell me to back off. Without them, I probably wouldn't have any other friends. (Group therapy helped a hell of a lot, too.)

You're not seeing her in person, so her actions are not affecting you or your vulnerable parents.

However, I have to disagree on this point.

OP's friend has housemates. OP's friend's boyfriend has housemates. Chances are that one of these people -- or one of their family members -- is going to get the virus if Friend and Boyfriend keep acting like they are exempt from the social distancing guidelines.

OP's parents are vulnerable because of their age. And it's becoming more and more clear, every day, that we don't have enough beds and equipment to treat everyone who's going to be hospitalized with the virus. If I were OP, I would be wondering whether or not my parents' access to care will be affected by someone who seems to be shrugging off the risks that she is incurring.
posted by virago at 4:26 PM on March 22, 2020 [5 favorites]

I totally get that, I really do. I've been taking insulin injections without alcohol for a few weeks now because of all the panic buying by people who don't even really need it. But with so many *direct* threats to manage, I just can't see getting *so* worked up about the *less* direct threats that I lose precious friendships over it. I mean, I desperately want the young people I love to have a planet to call home, but if I raise my blood pressure over every friend who's not giving up factory-farmed meat, I'm going to end up with an aneurysm and no friends. And people are going to just tune out and stop listening to me altogether, because nobody can handle having people angry at them *all the time.* We can only do so much to manage other people's handling of the crisis, and I prefer to focus on doing what I can close to my own family than wig out over what I can't control. I dunno, maybe Mom made me internalize that Serenity Prayer too hard.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:21 PM on March 22, 2020 [5 favorites]

You can't argue someone out of denial. It is pointless to try to pile more arguments on in a hope to change someone's mind.

Sometime soon, your friend may very well pivot into sudden awareness of the situation. If you want to continue to be friends, it is best that you avoid returning to this conversation and saying "told you so".

all at at time when we should be keeping our loved ones close and trying to be more kind and forgiving to each other

Sometimes it is best for the sake of keeping the peace to say, "well you have a good point there" and change the subject.

I know it feels like you should talk your friend into doing what is best for public health -- however, many times people are going to do what they are doing no matter what we have to say about it.
posted by yohko at 5:22 PM on March 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

^^^But with so many *direct* threats to manage, I just can't see getting *so* worked up about the *less* direct threats that I lose precious friendships over it.

That's a really good point. I think right now, anxiety and uncertainty make it hard to distinguish between direct threats and less direct threats, even though the more detached part of our brains recognizes the difference.
posted by virago at 5:40 PM on March 22, 2020 [5 favorites]

OP, I don't think it helps you to be told that your friend is wrong and you are right. I mean, sure you're right that she should definitely self-isolate, but what difference does it make for you to be told this? What are you going to DO with our reassurance?

(a) Us telling you that you are right won't help you change your friend's mind. She's not reading this thread. You could call her up to say, "I asked MeFi and fifty people all agree you're wrong and I'm right," of course, but she's never going to hear that and go, "Whoa, that is super convincing, thank you for helping me see the error of my ways!"

(b) Us telling you that you are right won't help you resolve your argument with her. Not one single argument between people who love each other has ever been dissipated by someone decisively proving that they are right and the other is wrong. Focusing on the fact that you were right and she was wrong makes you want to wait for her to admit she was wrong. The more we tell you that you were right, the stronger your conviction becomes that you don't have to do shit and SHE needs to make the first move. A silent power struggle builds as you wait and wait and wait for her to humble herself. The breach between you both widens.

So let's stop talking about who's right and who's wrong. That's completely irrelevant. Let's start asking instead: what is your goal, OP? What do you wish would happen now?

(a) You wish you could make your friend stay home and follow self-isolation protocols. It's okay to wish that. But you cannot make it come true. You (and the rest of us on this thread) have to accept that we can't change your friend's behavior. You don't control her actions. Let go of your fantasy that you have the power to get her to make better choices. Repeat the first verse of the serenity prayer to yourself ten times slowly. Okay?

(b) You wish she would apologize for yelling at you and being so angry with you. It's okay to wish that. But once again, this wish is about her actions, which you do not control. Breathe, say the serenity prayer to yourself. You are not diminished or weakened by her actions or her lack of apology. You are still yourself, whole and strong.

(c) You wish you could mend the rift between you and your friend, so that you have your comforting relationship back again to lean on in this stressful time. This is partially under your control, so YAY! There IS something you can do to make the mending of the rift more likely!
  • (Mandatory) Do some self-care, introspection, mindfulness exercises, therapy worksheets, etc. to find inner inner calm. Your friendship will survive. You will be okay.
  • (Mandatory)Open your heart to simply reconnecting without a grudge, and trust that you will resolve the argument after you've reconnected
  • (Mandatory) Tell her you miss her
  • (Optional) Apologize for your part in the argument (you have to figure this out for yourself, but IMO you might apologize for allowing your anxiety about the pandemic to fuel how judgmental and adversarial you became during the argument. Also consider apologizing for stressing her out by pushing her to talk about the calamity with you, and reassure her you will take your need to talk about this elsewhere).
  • (Optional) Say that her words and reactions hurt you, too, because it's important to be honest
  • (Mandatory) Propose to reconnect using a different, fun subject - e.g. "Can we please Skype tomorrow so you can talk me out of killing my housemate?" or "Can you send me that mango pie recipe you mentioned?"
  • Dwell on who was right and who was wrong
  • Re-explain your side of the argument
  • Ask for an apology
  • Go into detail about exactly what you found hurtful about the argument (leave it at "I felt bad, too")
  • Make a blanket apology that you don't believe in
  • Propose to reconnect in ways you are not ready for - if you're still kinda pissed at her, ask for the recipe, not the Skype call!
posted by MiraK at 11:10 AM on March 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

You are also 100% within your rights to actually let go of the friendship over this. It IS a serious concern and she IS putting real people in real danger - and especially if this is a pattern of behavior for her, you may feel like this is the last straw.

But if you decide to do this, decide it intentionally. Don't let the friendship inadvertently end by maintaining a facade of righteous indignation at her while secretly wishing to reconnect, or by turning this whole thing into a test, like, "If she's truly my friend, she will apologize first." Make an active choice to let the friendship end, if that's what you want. Hopefully you will decide based on the totality of the relationship and not throw away a whole person based on just this one argument or one instance of (admittedly dangerous) denialism.
posted by MiraK at 11:24 AM on March 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

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