I said no to including someone on my pandemic roadtrip... am I a jerk?
June 24, 2020 4:28 PM   Subscribe

My brother's gf asked if I could include her brother on my drive to visit them later this week. I declined, mainly due to mental health concerns. Am I being reasonable?

This weekend I am planning to drive 7 hours from SF->LA to visit my brother and his girlfriend. I have been quarantining alone since March, and they have been trying to convince me to come stay with them for the entirety of the pandemic. I had repeatedly turned down the offer due to safety concerns. However, I lost my job suddenly last week and realized that I was facing a mental health emergency if I didn't get some live-in human contact soon.

So, I made a plan to drive down this weekend and stay for a week. I have planned to pack my own snacks, pee on the side of the road, and avoid all human contact if I can help it. I felt very prepared for doing this drive on my own.

However, last night my brother called to ask if I'd be willing to pick up his girlfriend's brother and bring him down with me, and then the both of us would crash at their apartment.

My immediate reaction was "no." I felt an overwhelming sense that this is something that I didn't want to do, even knowing this was selfish. The reasons I gave to my brother:
- Since I am planning a very conservative drive with no real breaks and lots of awkward peeing, I feel weird doing that with a dude I don't know that well
- My mental health is suffering and I do not have emotional space to be a pleasant, charming road trip companion
- I would prefer to stay with them alone, and maximize space and privacy (if he came he would be crashing on the communal couch while I would sleep in the guest bedroom)
- Adding another person to this trip would also increase risk of covid transmission

Privately, I selfishly just really want to do this trip alone and get to be the guest of honor at their place, especially after 3.5 months of loneliness and self-sufficiency. I am kind of cracking around the edges mentally and I just don't feel like dealing with anybody else right now.

My brother assured me it was okay that I said no, but I feel terrible and like I may have hurt my relationship with his girlfriend. I would love a gut check to confirm that my choice to decline wasn't a major faux pas - I'm pretty sure that his gf will be my sister-in-law at some point and I would like to maintain a solid relationship with her! Thank you!
posted by stella1 to Human Relations (47 answers total)
In my opinion, you did the right thing--good self-care! Your brother even agreed. Go easy on yourself, take your trip and relax and enjoy the visit.
posted by agatha_magatha at 4:36 PM on June 24 [49 favorites]

I feel like usually, if someone really close to me says "it's okay if you say no", that likely means the GF asked him and he thought "yeah, probably not under the circumstances" and warned her of that and is willing to manage any fallout.

I think it's a little rude of her to ask, honestly, especially under current conditions. I guess this is how it is now, that we need to explicitly discuss social distancing with the people we're letting into our bubbles, but maybe you do need to have a second convo with your brother about how many people they've been exposed to in the past two weeks. It sounds like you may be facing a mismatch in distancing standards if she was just like "yeah let's all get exposed to extra people, that's a good idea", and you want to know that before you get there, not after.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:36 PM on June 24 [33 favorites]

Nah, you made a good choice. If these were normal times it might be a bit awkward, but under the circumstances you’ve got right on your side.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:38 PM on June 24 [9 favorites]

Under the circumstances, no. I think it's good (and reasonable) to be realistic about your limits in crazy situations like this.

If the brother really wants to get there, he'll get there.
posted by praemunire at 4:39 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]

Prioritizing your own health and safety is a reasonable thing to do. She does not live in your head and does not know any of the context that you are feeling guilty about. She might feel $NEGATIVE_FEELINGS about you declining to do her and her brother a favor, and that's okay. The favor may have fallen under the umbrella of 'it can't hurt to ask!' -- which from what your brother said kinda sounds like where they were coming from.
Let yourself off the hook for the internal struggle, too. You're making the right decision for you.
posted by ApathyGirl at 4:40 PM on June 24 [4 favorites]

Adding a stranger to a 7-hour road trip is a big ask. Since you say you might be related to them in the future, maybe make an effort to talk to the brother soon and get to know him, but only if you can.
posted by amtho at 4:44 PM on June 24 [22 favorites]

No, you're not a jerk. You did absolutely the right thing and you're not even in the same universe as a hypothetical jerk. And honestly, I'd absolutely support your right to say no to something like this even if we weren't in the middle of a pandemic. Seven hours on the road with someone you're not already quite close to is not a minor ask even under the best of circumstances, especially if it's just a "Hey, let's all hang out together" kind of plan. And I agree with Lyn Never that it was actually kind of rude of her to even ask; I wouldn't dream of asking someone to pick up my brother and spend seven hours in the car with him, unless it was someone who already knew my brother well and liked him.
posted by holborne at 4:47 PM on June 24 [5 favorites]

Even if we weren't in a pandemic, saying no to this on the basis of your own mental health is totally reasonable.
posted by heatherlogan at 4:47 PM on June 24 [28 favorites]

You're entitled to put your own physical and mental health and well-being ahead of that of a stranger. People-pleasing is behaviour which is hard to break, as it's natural to want to do things that won't upset others and/or will make them like you. But at best, it can make you feel bad about yourself for not saying no, and that's not good for you. Your feelings and wishes are important too. And at worst, particularly in this current situation, it could expose you to a deadly illness.
posted by essexjan at 4:53 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]

Road tripping with a stranger for seven hours is my idea of hell even without anything special going on. No, that's entirely unreasonable and you are fine to say no.
posted by corb at 4:54 PM on June 24 [42 favorites]

I understand your point of view completely. I'm pretty friendly, but also mostly introverted, and the idea of driving someone I don't know for 7 hours would be my idea of hell.

You were justified, don't feel bad. And give the GF the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she asked knowing it was a big favor and that it wouldn't be a big deal if it were turned down. Assume that and you'll be able to put it past you, I hope.
posted by Philemon at 5:05 PM on June 24 [6 favorites]

I would've said no even without covid being a part of it all.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:12 PM on June 24 [8 favorites]

You're not a jerk for saying no, especially right now when no one's at their best.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:22 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]

Who would want to do this? In non-COVID times it would be hard to say no and you’d be wishing for some totally impossible science-fiction type scenario like an actual pandemic to save you. You’re fine. You have the perfect excuse. Don’t worry about it.
posted by HotToddy at 5:25 PM on June 24 [22 favorites]

If it helps think of it this way, you're doing them all a favor by being honest & not putting them through an unpleasant experience because you were too scared to avert it. You are helping them & being brave.
posted by bleep at 5:43 PM on June 24 [4 favorites]

It is absolutely fine that you said no As everyone else said a 7 hour road trip is a big ask. However, it might be a good sign of things to come just in terms of how much their home will be just the three of you in case something else comes up or the brother finds another way to get there. So it might be a good chance for a quick expectation-setting conversation about what the house situation might be there in terms of other people being in and out. If you're going there for a mental health-connected recharge (and I hear you, it sounds like a really good idea) you may want to make sure your brother and his GF are on the same page in terms of what that means for both them and you. I hope it's a good trip.
posted by jessamyn at 5:47 PM on June 24 [12 favorites]

gf's brother might be in the same boat as you are but without the means to do anything about it. It's not clear that he'd be there for the whole of the 7-hour trip (or maybe he's in SF as well). gf does get to think that her and bf have invited you over and over until you came but you won't consider treating her brother the same way she's treating you, her bf's sister. I'd at least investigate, maybe the brother has also been locked up for the past three months and would also really like to visit his sister.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:03 PM on June 24 [6 favorites]

Where possible, don't be reasonable, be safe.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 6:06 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't want to spend seven hours in a hot car with some of my family members, much less a total stranger, much less during a pandemic....
I get that they might (in a backhanded, odd pre-pandemic way) want to provide company/a second driver for you. Maybe they think you would appreciate the help (weird, I know). And there may be issues with the girlfriend's brother (which sounds like a red flag of its own -- ouch).
But unless your brother offered to drive up and get both of you... no. Just no.
posted by TrishaU at 6:11 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]

It's fine to prioritize your mental health and do the 7 hr drive alone, that's not really the selfish part. But you ensured that your brother and his girlfriend don't have another visitor in their home so you could be the special guest. Own it, you maneuvered to get what you wanted.

You might have asked to stagger your trip to accommodate the GF's brother's visit if this was truly about Covid. That guy has also been living through a pandemic and he would have gotten the couch while you got the guest bedroom if you had been there together, which is already special treatment towards you. There are ways to handle these situations such that you're not put in a tough spot mentally but also such that you're being considerate of others by communicating and offering to be flexible about the timing of your trip. Offering sincerely would go a long way towards maintaining a healthy relationship with your future sister-in-law.
posted by whatdoyouthink? at 6:11 PM on June 24 [8 favorites]

I wouldn't even have said yes to including someone I like. You are making good choices!
posted by phunniemee at 6:25 PM on June 24 [3 favorites]

Before reading below the fold, my immediate reply was "yes, you're being reasonable." After reading below the fold, my considered reply is still "yes, you're being reasonable." Even just, "I don't really feel like spending all day with this other person" is reasonable, all other considerations aside. "I was hoping to spend time with my brother and gf alone" is also entirely reasonable, all on its own - but needs to be clearly communicated rather than assumed.
posted by eviemath at 6:27 PM on June 24 [5 favorites]

I mean, if I were the girlfriend yes, I would have been offended. She probably wants to see her brother as much as your brother wants to see you, and you don't get to dictate the terms of the visit when they are hosting you.

It wouldn't be, like, nuclear offense. But I would put a mark next to your name in my "book" as somebody who wasn't willing to do a favor.
posted by mccxxiii at 6:45 PM on June 24 [8 favorites]

They've been asking you to do this for months, and now is the first time a carpool has been proposed? I think refusing is perfectly fine. That long a trip (plus a week in close quarters and then another long car trip) is a big ask in normal times, when you aren't having to ration contact with humans and reinvent the logistics of peeing.
posted by mersen at 7:14 PM on June 24 [5 favorites]

I get it.

You don't say this, but I at least would be terrified by this. Um, hello? I don't want to die?

However, I would experimentally try looking at it like this: apart from whose car it is, you and the brother are in the same situation. All the many reasons you have to want or even need to make this trip? He probably has them, too. As much as your brother wants and needs to see you, the gf probably wants and needs to see her brother.

As fucked up as the last weeks and months have been for you? Well, it's probably not exactly the same, everyone's life is different, but: this is a time of crisis for most people. I bet this guy is suffering. I bet it would mean the world to him to be able to stay with family for a bit.

You have a chance to do for this guy and his sister what, I think, you would want him to do for you and your brother. I won't say it's heroism, that's too much. But it's a form of decency that is harder to follow through on in these extreme times, and all the more needed.

Maybe if I knew all the facts I would think differently. Like, if this guy is perfectly able to drive down himself and just prefers the buddy system, then, fine, let him do it. Or if he like works in a really high-risk profession? I would chicken out probably.

But barring any of those additional circumstances, I think you should reconsider. Your sister is treating you like family here; I think it's both smart and the right thing to do to reciprocate.

Get a 7-hour audiobook. What's important is not that you be a good conversationalist, or non-awkward, or even nice, really. What matters is that you have the power to really improve this person's life.

Now, I don't think you're a bad person necessarily if you still say no. Like I said, it's a scary time.

But I do think you should think hard about this, think about the very great thing you have the power to do for someone who is, after all, almost family to you. I think you should try to be stronger!
posted by grobstein at 7:20 PM on June 24 [3 favorites]

Thanks to all for the thoughtful answers. A few clarifications!

- Yes, he would be on the entire 7-hour drive. I live in the East Bay and would need to drive about ~45 min out of the way to SF to pick him up in order to include him on the drive.
- I've met the brother a handful of times, so he is not a complete stranger (my brother and his gf have been together for about 1 year)
- The idea of the carpool was floated casually a few weeks back, but I didn't expect it would be on the table given the last-minute nature of the trip, so the question took me by surprise. I think the last-minute surprise element added to my stress in receiving the request.
- As far as I know, the brother had no specific plans to visit LA on his own, this was only brought up in the context of my visiting.
posted by stella1 at 7:36 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]

I personally would have found a way to do it, but don't think you are wrong to decline as you seem sure you are not capable. I'd look at it as a chance to grow your relationship with your bro's GF. Show her this thread even. That you asked this question shows you are not being selfish, and do care about these people.
posted by vrakatar at 7:36 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]

Another voice that ugh, no, I would not want to do this, and I would be annoyed that they asked. Honestly, just reading this question and your follow up made me angry on your behalf. You are being very reasonable to have refused this.
posted by whistle pig at 7:56 PM on June 24 [10 favorites]

Your brother's bf's request is one which should never be made, yet once made, cannot be refused.

If you go down there and her brother shows up too, you will feel awkward around both of them, and if he doesn't, you will feel awkward around her.

The best move, in my opinion is to make some excuse, such as car trouble, and not go.

That will put the onus on her, where it belongs, and she can try to make it up to you later – and to your brother – if she wishes. And if she doesn't, that might be valuable information for your brother to have down the road.
posted by jamjam at 8:32 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]

I would never ask someone this without a firm and sincere “it’s OK if you say no.” So there are at least two types of people in the world. In all honesty I’ve been the brother in this scenario and wormed out of it because, just, no thanks!

I think there are a lot of variables here. You certainly didn’t do anything morally wrong. But that’s a different question from “will this harm our relationship or hurt someone’s feelings.” If you’re close, you could apologize in person and tell the truth, that you are just not in a good place right now and are lacking the bandwidth. But if that’s too awkward, you can always use a white lie, whatever.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:44 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]

If the brother wants to visit, he should do it on his own, after you leave. This is a trip for you, for your mental health. Of course you should feel like the guest-of-honor! If your brother's gf wants to see her brother, then that should be talked about separately, without involving you and definitely not piggy-backed on your trip.
posted by lesser weasel at 8:46 PM on June 24 [6 favorites]

For me part of the fun of road trips is the quiet thinking you do on the road. Road trips are very sacred to me. And it’s absolutely ok not to wanna drive with someone you hardly know. Kills the whole vibe. Don’t feel bad. You made the right choice.
posted by ljs30 at 9:16 PM on June 24 [4 favorites]

Another vote for "you made the right choice." It's possible he and his sister will be unhappy about that but if they're reasonable I think they'll understand. Offer to take him along on some other visit at some later date, I guess, if that is something you be willing to do - but you are doing nothing wrong in wanting this trip to be for you alone or for not wanting to spend seven damn hours in close quarters with someone you don't know well (and I'm guessing you also don't know how well he been quarantining). This just isn't the right time for that ride-along.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:13 PM on June 24 [3 favorites]

You have done nothing wrong. Saying No is a hard thing to do but you are so well within your rights. It was too much to ask -- especially on such short notice.
posted by y2karl at 10:58 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]

As someone who often overrides a gut feeling of "no" and then regrets it, I offer you a mental high five! You're my hero of the day.

I'm sorry the ask cast a pall on that trip. Is she generally a "doesn't hurt to ask" kind of person who can handle a no?

Either way, I think what's done is done. Even if you changed your mind, it would still be grudging and it would be seen that way by your SIL. Better to stick to your guns. Be cheerful (as possible) but firm. Don't apologise abjectly.

Instead (briefly but earnestly) thank them for understanding that you couldn't do it and for being so graceful about your refusal. Thank them for giving you their space and their company at a time when you really need it. When all this is over you would love to have a family get together with the brother.

I think gratitude and treating them as big hearted people will go a long way.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:32 PM on June 24 [3 favorites]

Seven hours in an enclosed space during a pandemic of a highly-transmissible respiratory infection? Hells bells no.
posted by lulu68 at 11:38 PM on June 24 [6 favorites]

I have mixed feelings about this. I'm a big scale balancer so if someone does something kind for me I make sure to return the favor x3 just so they know I appreciate the kindness. Since they will be playing "good host" to you for like 168 hours I feel like playing good host for a fraction of the hours is a worthwhile token of appreciation. I'm not sure how the girlfriend is but if she doesn't understand your position could this cause some resentment? I think this is something to consider because you may end up staying in a possibly hostile or maybe just passive aggressive environment.

if you do decide to take him I think maybe to minimize possible trauma you can make the caveat that you likely won't be able to drive him back. that way if the trip there is just utterly horrible at least you showed that you're a team player and did them a favor but you'll be able to drive back home in peace. if the drive there does go well then you have a new friend who you can drive back who would also count as live, human contact
posted by simplethings at 1:19 AM on June 25

As someone who once was at the receiving end of a “No” to an in hindsight not very reasonable request, I think that sometimes, people need to be told when a request isn’t all that reasonable.
posted by Namlit at 2:18 AM on June 25 [12 favorites]

i would fake my own death to get out of that road trip even if there wasn't a plague, and i wouldn't even do it believably. you're fine.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:40 AM on June 25 [12 favorites]

Public health person here.

Are you thinking this through? The Covid 19 situation in Los Angeles is like a wildfire. It's not great in SF but LA is much worse - frying pan into fire comes to mind. I have a friend in LA who has not been out of his house for at least 6 weeks, except to check on elderly grandparents in their backyard the entire time with masks on.

Have your brother and his gf been completely isolated for greater than 2 weeks? If not, I would not travel to LA, and would absolutely not go without a serious agreement with trustworthy people that they will continue to isolate for the entire time you are visiting.

Picking up another person to share an enclosed space with would be unacceptable to me - how can you be sure that he has been seriously isolated for the last 2+ weeks? Another person adds more variables and seems very risky. But then to me moving from a lower risk area to a very high risk area would be unacceptable.
posted by citygirl at 6:07 AM on June 25 [6 favorites]

I would fake my own death to get out of that road trip even if there wasn't a plague

I'm withpoffin boffin on this one, OP, especially given that you'd been volunteered for this one.
posted by virago at 6:26 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]

Ugh. I feel like their request is inappropriate. But when I've turned down similar requests, things have been weird. I hope that's not the case for you here!
posted by salvia at 7:07 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]

I think what it boils down to is that yes, the sister and brother might be upset and yes, things might be awkward, but neither of those are signs that you are doing anything wrong. Ideally they'll shrug it off as no big deal (because it's not - again, you are right to prioritize your mental and physical health), but some people find "no" to be a truly shocking thing to hear. That isn't your fault.

You can't control how they'll react, but even if they try to make you feel bad you don't owe it to them to do so. Safe travels.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:51 AM on June 25 [6 favorites]

> But I would put a mark next to your name in my "book" as somebody who wasn't willing to do a favor.

This strikes me as extremely uncharitable given the circumstances.
posted by STFUDonnie at 11:09 AM on June 25 [12 favorites]

If people really have books of who will and won't do favors there should also be a notes section - was it in the middle of a pandemic? Were they having a mental breakdown? Were they declining to do me the favor in the context of me trying to do them a favor because they were having a mental breakdown in the middle of a pandemic as well as lots of other crazy shit happening at the same time? And were the reasons they were declining to do me the favor the exact same reasons for me doing them the favor in the first place? It all adds up.
posted by bleep at 1:09 PM on June 25 [8 favorites]

I would bring up with your brother again your concerns about the increased risk of covid transmission, and ask some hard questions about how much your brother and gf have been isolating.

Personally it's reasonably likely I would say yes to giving a relative of one of the people I was staying with a ride in normal times in this circumstance -- though there are a lot of things that would tip that balance to a "no", and I would definitely say no if this wasn't something that would work well for me. And someone who knew me well would probably be aware that I have done similar things in the past, and would likely feel it was within my comfort zone to consider. If that's not the case for you, this is a much bigger ask even without the pandemic on top of all that.

You may wish to review some of the classic "Ask vs Guess" discussion as it's very relevant to people having different ideas about it being OK to refuse to do this or OK to ask or not. Frankly I'm surprised your question has this many answers without someone mentioning it.
posted by yohko at 3:54 PM on June 25 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I was raised Guess Culture and I would have had to say "Yes" to this, and it would have been absolutely terrible.

So be glad you're able to say no.
posted by mmoncur at 2:46 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]

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