May I invite a friend to take a walk?
May 23, 2020 7:14 AM   Subscribe

So, even though I live with a spouse and children, I am lonely. Would it be OK to ask a friend -- or even a somewhat friendly acquaintance who lives nearby -- to take a walk around the neighborhood with me for 20 minutes or so? (More inside)

Surely I am not the only person who -- despite not living alone! -- feels alone and socially isolated. Is it OK to spend time with someone else for 20 minutes or so walking around outside in the suburbs, especially if masks are worn and there is reasonable social distancing? If someone texted you and said, "I haven't seen you (or almost anyone else) in a while, let's take a walk," does the invitation violate social norms in the C19 era? Would you find such an invitation intrusive or rude or demanding, or might you welcome it? I appreciate that I am overthinking this, and I don't want to come across as needy either in IRL or on this page, BUT I WOULD JUST LIKE TO SEE A FRIEND OCCASIONALLY. Thank you.
posted by PaulVario to Human Relations (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think it really depends on where you live/who you interact with, but porch/stoop visits and outdoor walks seem to be becoming fairly normalized where I am. I think so long as you preface it with “I totally understand if you’re not up for this,” it’s probably a reasonable request.
posted by mskyle at 7:27 AM on May 23, 2020 [9 favorites]

I don’t think it violates social norms to ask, but I would ask (“would you like to take a socially-distanced walk?”) vs the way you have it written (“let’s take a walk”). It’s also thoughtful to explicitly say something like, “I know everyone’s comfort levels with this kind of thing varies, so of course I totally understand if you’re not up for this kind of thing yet.”

This is of course somewhat location dependent - I live somewhere that seeing people in person in a socially distant manner is now explicitly allowed under our stay at home order, plus in a neighborhood where it’s easy to take a walk and stay distant from both the person you’re with and others. YMMV.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:29 AM on May 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

It really depends on where you live. Where I am, this would be allowed and would not violate social norms. But we have very low case numbers, few deaths and not too much current concern about community spread. If you live in an area which has been very hard hit, some people may be more sensitive about doing anything which gives any kind of appearance of not taking the pandemic seriously, even if the activity is actually quite low risk.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 7:31 AM on May 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

As long as you're not in a particularly hard-hit area, you're both wearing masks, and you're maintaining a six-foot distance, I think this is totally fine. I've done it a few times (always with the same person, who I know has been taking distancing seriously).
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:46 AM on May 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

Yes, unless it violates your local orders, this is fine and reaching out to friends right now is a good thing to do. Check in with your spouse first to make sure they feel okay about the slightly increased exposure for your household.
posted by momus_window at 7:56 AM on May 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

As others have said a lot depends on your local guidance. Where I am taking a walk alone is frowned on; inviting a second would be dicey ethically and legally.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:06 AM on May 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

As it's begun to look like covid-19 could be with us for quite a while, and man of us have been learning what it feels like to be isolated for a long period of time, more of us seem to be moving into a gray area. How do we manage our risk and also take care of our very real social needs?

I think it depends somewhat on local restrictions and your relationship with the askee, and your risk factors. From social media I can tell which of my friends are most in line with my own risk appetite and factors - working from home, getting groceries curbside, open to walking with social distancing, definitely not going to restaurants or church). I was isolating very strictly for a while, and have gradually started to do socially-distanced walks and visits with those whose risk appetite and factors are compatible with mine. It helps immensely.

This article, COVID CARE: A Way Forward to Opening Up Social Circles [Medium] might be helpful. The same author published a very similar article on LinkedIn.
posted by bunderful at 8:14 AM on May 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

The social norms as well as the official guidelines depend not just somewhat, but entirely on where you live. The question is basically meaningless without that information.

I'll answer as if you live in my country:
Yes, it's totally fine, as long as you stay 1.5 meters apart and outdoors. Don't wear masks unless you can stand it if some people look at you funny.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:17 AM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would absolutely welcome it! I was thinking the same exact thing this morning!

While comfort levels will vary, it doesn't hurt to ask. I think a couple of my friends would be up for it, yet I haven't asked because I'm not completely sure if they are willing and it feels awkward. I use precautions and haven't seen anyone socially. I wear a mask and stay at home when I'm not at work, yet one of my main anxieties is that I don't want to be viewed as careless and this anxiety prevents me from asking.

In a recent conversation with a friend I did brooch the idea of walking outdoors or having a glass of wine on an outside patio. The friend said she was still socially distancing. I am too but "forgot" because I long for socializing and it's not natural to have a conversation with a friend who lives in the same town and not make some sort of plan to get together.

Don't be anxious like me. Send the text. You'll probably have some takers.
posted by loveandhappiness at 8:20 AM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

The social norms as well as the official guidelines depend not just somewhat, but entirely on where you live.

This is a great point. It's also possible that one or the other will be vague about what you are proposing, with it falling somewhere in between explicitly prohibited or approved activities -- you may not get total clarity on this, but it's still a good way to read the room and see what is socially acceptable.

To answer this personally, I've started doing this myself, taking outdoor walks with a friend. Yes, we are probably certainly taking on some additional level of risk, but the benefits in terms of mental health have been huge for both of us and that tradeoff seems acceptable at the current level of the outbreak around here. I had known I was socially starved, but experiencing how ridiculously good it feels to have a real, in-person conversation with someone for an hour really brings home how isolating and unhealthy the stay-at-home scenario has been.

More generally, I'm seeing lots of people doing this on my walks, and hearing from friends that they are doing it as well. The "outdoors together" of going on walks or standing and talking in a driveway or yard seems to be developing among people I know as a safer social option for people wanting contact without wanting a lot of risk. (I'm also hearing second and third hand about people still having big indoor birthday parties and so on, so there is that, too, but that is a different set of people than the ones who are taking these risks seriously.)
posted by Dip Flash at 8:37 AM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yes. You can absolutely do this. At least I hope so, as I do it at least once a week. Most everybody wants to get out of the house a little and to see different faces.
posted by donpardo at 8:42 AM on May 23, 2020

I think it's a nice thing to do, if you're in an area where it's allowed under the local shutdown/reopening guidelines.

I would maybe change the wording a bit so as not to appear to be assuming their personal situation allowed it though, since people's circumstances and risk assessments vary so much. (Obviously you're not assuming that, hence this question, but I just mean it might be good to make that somewhat explicit.)

So instead of 'let's take a walk', some shorter version of 'hey, not sure if this is something you're comfortable doing currently, but if you are, do you want to go for a walk around neighborhood/park/wherever?'
posted by dogwalker3 at 8:46 AM on May 23, 2020

Or rather, 'a socially-distanced walk', as insectosaurus' comment suggested, to make it clear you'd be being careful, wearing a mask, etc.
posted by dogwalker3 at 8:50 AM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

The social norms as well as the official guidelines depend not just somewhat, but entirely on where you live.

Where I am, this is acceptable and it's what i do. We haven't had a new case in a week, no one is sick in my county, and that is what the Governor of my US state allows. And if I am wearing a mask, I am doing more than most people in my area to be on top of the situation. The thing to remember, of course, is that in addition to the safety of others (thank you for wearing a mask) there's also your own safety. Sticking to places where there is likely to be more mask adherence and you're not forever stepping out of the way to avoid joggers and cyclists is going to lead to a calmer and more pleasant interaction.Around here we take to the golf courses (still closed) and it's nice and peaceful. Wash your hands when you get home. Don't touch your face or your mask when you're out. Make sure this isn't against local regulations.
posted by jessamyn at 8:51 AM on May 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I've had two friends over (at different times) in the last couple weeks. They met me in my backyard and sat on one side of the patio and I sat on the other side 10' away and we chatted for an hour or so while wearing cloth masks. They did not come in my home at any point. I cleaned their chair after they left, and changed clothes and so on.

I felt like that was careful enough. I hope so.
posted by ananci at 9:13 AM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I can tell you that I did this (it was actually just an invitation for our kids to play a socially-distant game in the park together, but quickly morphed, at the other parent's request, into "let's all just go to the park and can you and I please just have an adult conversation while the kids play") and the other parent sent me a note of gratitude later. If it's fine by your local guidance and it's fine by your spouse, then yes, it's fine to extend the invitation.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:37 AM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Since you are allowed to leave the house for exercise, this is not forbidden even under the NYC order as long as you remain outdoors and six feet apart from people. Technically masks are not absolutely required if you are certain you can remain six feet from EVERYBODY at all times. In practice, unless you have access to some private space, you can't assure this. So you need masks. And somewhere to walk where you're not constantly maneuvering around people, because then it just gets to be a logistics exercise rather than a social one.

I would caution you to be careful as it's natural to move towards someone while you're walking and talking together and so it's easy to lapse on the six feet distance if you're not deliberately mindful of it. You also have to stifle the reflex of shaking hands/hugging/whatever when meeting and parting.

My mom (in her seventies) does this every day with a likeminded friend and despite her being older and being in a hard-hit state it doesn't worry me.
posted by praemunire at 9:59 AM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Seems like a reasonable ask to me. Everyone decides their own risk factor. As long ass you are not imposing your views of the risk on people who cannot avoid you, go for it. This is part of what is meant by expanding your bubble. If you trust that the person with whom you are going to walk has been diligent or at least diligent to your level of diligence, go for it. I put my mask on every time I walk past someone on the street in my suburban area. But, I also had a socially distant BBQ with 6 friends last weekend. It takes some getting used to to stay 6 feet apart while still being social, but good times were had by all.
posted by AugustWest at 10:02 AM on May 23, 2020

If it’s not prohibited in your area, sure, ask. But be prepared to take a no graciously, and ask in a way that makes that no easy - I agree that I’d rather get a “would you like” than a “let’s.”

You might also offer different options if you’re after the social interaction rather than specifically the walk. Personally, for reasons entirely unrelated to COVID, but rather to another chronic medical condition that not all my friends or acquaintances are aware of, a walk is not a good option for me and I’d say no to that invitation. But I have a friend who lives within walking distance who walks over a couple of times a week and we sit about fifteen feet apart outside my house (well away from anyone who might pass by) and chat for a while. I don’t particularly need that social interaction, but my friend does and I’m happy to provide it in that manner while drawing a hard line about touching or getting any closer than that. If you’re open to alternatives that might be more comfortable for the other person, for whatever reason, be really clear about that.
posted by Stacey at 10:06 AM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I live in a city and have a high-energy dog, so I end up going on walks with people a lot — either with my parents, who dog sit for me a couple days a week, or with other dog owners who I’m acquaintanced with and who keep a similar schedule so our dogs can exercise/play together. The norm here is to wear masks and to try and social distance, but there is some range in how cautious people are being.

At least around here, you wouldn’t be breaking a norm to ask a friend on a walk, but it also wouldn’t be breaking a norm for the friend to say no.

When asking, I would lay out how you envision the walk (whether that means masks on, 6 feet apart at all times, no eating, etc), so they know what you’re actually asking them to do (“socially distant” is so vague!), and I would also leave room for them to say no. For what it’s worth, I would also invite them to something with less physical contact if they do say no (like a FaceTime hangout, food drop off, etc), because just because they’re more cautious about covid19 doesn’t mean they don’t want to socialize just as much as you do.

Stay strong, you’re doing great 😊
posted by rue72 at 10:46 AM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would suggest that before you invite someone, you think about where you would walk and how easily you would be able to comfortably walk 6 feet apart and maintain a conversation. In most neighborhoods, this would mean at least person walking in the street. On trails, very few are wide enough to stay 6 feet apart and not have to constantly adjust for on-coming hikers. So, if you know what you would like, you can provide more (reassuring) details if the other person shows interest.

Where I live (relatively impacted still) the rules are that you are supposed to stay home except for essential reasons, shopping or outdoor exercise and not interact with anyone who isn't your family bubble (except, of course, for all those people who have jobs requiring lots of interactions!) Still, most people figure that if you stay 6 feet away you are within the rules so nobody that I know would be put off by your invitation.
posted by metahawk at 12:08 PM on May 23, 2020

I think you would get an easy no-controversy Yes on this were it not for the sense of unease raised by your use of the vague&fuzzy "social distancing" in place of hard specifics. If you stay at least 6 feet away--more is better bc nobody is great at measuring by eye--and wear masks, sure it's fine. But it's hard to have a conversation that way and a lot of people will kind of inevitably get sick of being breathless from bellowing through fabric, slip their masks off, and drift a teensy bit closer as they go.

If you do not do this (re: masks) and do not take advice telling you that would be fine, you will be fine.

(It's true there's no particular danger I am aware of in walking around in the outdoors without a mask when you're nowhere near other people. but not only might other people walk right by you, you might be turning your face towards your friend's face and talking the whole time. maybe leaning in to project a little bit. I hate masks more than anything but the kind of constant vigilance it takes to avoid the drift-in and the lean-in to a conversation partner is almost more mentally intrusive. so pick the option that you don't have to think about every single second (because you would have to. Living with other people means you have to be even more of a tiresome distance-policeman to yourself than otherwise.))

this is mostly an answer about health precautions and not the "social norms" you asked about, but maintaining these new and very fragile social norms, especially in places where they feel like they could all slip away in one nice weekend, is honestly in the interest of health. If you do this, your spouse and perhaps children will feel just as free to do it; if your friend has a spouse, etc. etc. That doesn't mean it's unacceptable, just don't do or not do anything you wouldn't want a household member doing/not doing around a sick stranger.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:33 PM on May 23, 2020

Where I live, this would be fine as long as you stayed 2m apart at all times. If you someone to go for a socially distanced walk this is what you would do. People here sometimes have very strongly held views on what is 'right' to do in the current situation, so I wouldn't ask an acquaintance unless I knew their approach to the restrictions was compatible with mine.
posted by plonkee at 1:19 PM on May 23, 2020

Honestly, I don't think it's okay to be around any humans at all whatsoever no matter how lonely you get. My paranoia level is at an 11 and I feel like the science and what we know is either unknown or constantly changing and confuses the fuck out of me and I just cannot get a handle on the risks myself. I'm just not okay figuring out how the hell to gamble under the changes when it feels like what's "okay-ish, maaaaaaaaaaybe?" and what's not and how many feet or miles the droplets travel changes by the hour. I feel like the stakes are way too high and my brain is too broken to try to process all of this or figure out how much risk I want to take, so I choose "none."

However, I shall pass on the links on this topic that I found within the last 24 hours, if that helps you any.

Thinking About Expanding Your Quarantine Circle? Here's What Public Health Experts Say: "There is no such thing as safe," one infectious disease professor said. But "there are some things you can do to make it safer."

6 feet away isn’t enough. Covid-19 risk involves other dimensions, too.

How to weigh the risk of going out in the coronavirus pandemic, in one chart
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:25 PM on May 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I will recommend local cemeteries as a good place to walk with a friend. It's easy to walk six feet apart side by side. You can generally see people coming and choose another lane. And they're not too crowded, generally speaking.
posted by RedEmma at 2:37 PM on May 23, 2020

This might not be a factor for you or your friends, but 6-feet-apart walks don't work for me because I can't hear/ focus on what the other person is saying (which also leads to us starting to move closer together). What HAS worked is sitting up to 10 feet apart outside but facing each other. That might be made even safer if you place a fan in the middle blowing perpendicular to you.

If you're going to see other people, might as well figure out which options maximize the benefit you get from it!
posted by metasarah at 2:56 PM on May 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

In my friend group, outside hangs are fine. I prefer hanging out on picnic blankets in the park, on our stoop, or in a backyard to walking -- it's easy to sit 6-8 feet apart. It's really hard to walk 6-8 feet apart on a sidewalk.
posted by amaire at 3:26 PM on May 23, 2020

I've averaged about a walk a week with someone. Each time, we both wear masks and walk around in a quiet neighborhood where it's easy to step into the street if needed, which happens kind of a lot. Sometimes, we are slightly closer than six feet, but we keep moving and I don't hesitate to walk in the street or somewhere weird if needed. I've found it to be an incredible boon to my mental space, and everyone I've walked with has said the same. We avoid popular areas and weekends in order to reduce the number of people we encounter. I'm very clear when I invite someone and tell them what my standards are by describing my previous walks. I also recommend industrial areas and cemeteries. The point is not to see the glories of nature, the point is to be around another human.
posted by redsparkler at 3:35 PM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've been doing socially-distanced walks as well. With masks on (although after going up a hill I have to pause to take a few breaths with mask off, facing away from my friend) and generally avoiding other people. Getting out of the house for exercise and connecting with friends and family are both pretty essential for my health and I feel I can meet those needs without putting my health at risk from covid. Or, in the case of my sister, putting HER at risk.

I posted a similar ask on fb and had a couple of people who live nearby respond, so we're planning for regular, safe walks in the neighborhood. I found this article helpful at assessing relative risks.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:41 PM on May 27, 2020

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