My boyfriend wants to see his other partner
June 26, 2020 12:02 PM   Subscribe

We (m/m non-monogamous couple) have been in hard isolation since the middle of March, basically. We both have other partners that we've been seeing in a masked, socially distanced way. This isn't ideal and we miss them, but we both have pretty serious health issues that make it highly likely that a COVID infection would be disastrous. Now my partner's other partner wants to talk seriously about being able to have sex again, and I have concerns.

Let's call the other partner George. George has been living life pretty normally with their partner - still seeing friends, getting takeout, hanging out with people. They've been doing it masked, but are seeing people pretty much every day in addition to their live in partner continuing to work (outdoors). They've suggested that they could do a two week quarantine and get tested, but I have serious concerns over this plan. With false negatives at about 1 in 5 for testing and asymptomatic carriers shedding the virus for extended periods of time, I'm not feeling confident that this plan is enough to share spit with someone who has been in contact with so many other people.

Social distancing and wearing masks isn't perfect, and transmission still happens and the more people you see the more likely it is.

I'd like to be able to say yes. This has been really hard on us, and both of us have had to forgo having physical contact with our other longterm partners. But given that one of us is already on oxygen and the other is prone to catching every single illness that goes around, opening up to having a quarantine pod seems like something we need to be extremely cautious about. We've both been in the hospital on numerous occasions over the last couple years. We seem like pretty much THE couple for whom the answer is just No, but can you think of a way? Our risk tolerance is basically zero since the AIDS pandemic looms large in our thoughts. We live somewhere with moderate risk right now - not super hard hit, but with definite community spread, a lot of tourists and an "opening" economy.

George's partner will have a small medical procedure in the next couple weeks, after which they would be proposing to do the quarantine and test. What would it look like if we were going to move towards them being able to swap bodily fluids?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total)
George's partner will have a small medical procedure in the next couple weeks, after which they would be proposing to do the quarantine and test.

Getting tested will involve breaking quarantine. Honestly it would probably be better for both households to quarantine for two weeks and then go immediately from quarantine to meetup, in a private car that no one else has used recently.

If you guys were otherwise healthy I'd ask "do you definitely trust these guys to do a strict 2-week quarantine first? If so, go for it." But if one of you is already on oxygen I would pass. Think of all the 2021-and-beyond sex you won't be able to have if you die.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:32 PM on June 26 [4 favorites]

They've suggested that they could do a two week quarantine and get tested, but I have serious concerns over this plan.

Both New Zealand and Austrailia are doing very well using this as a standard. Particularly you might look at New Zealand’s procedure for incoming travelers as the country has remained completely clean. The only incident they’ve had was when they broke their own rules.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:44 PM on June 26

George has been living life pretty normally with their partner - still seeing friends, getting takeout, hanging out with people. They've been doing it masked, but are seeing people pretty much every day in addition to their live in partner continuing to work (outdoors).

I mean to me he sounds like someone who doesn't give a shit and just wants to go back to doing it. My husband is in a similar medical situation to yours and I'm pretty sure if the virus gets within 5 feet of him it will have a field day. So I'm doing anything I can think of to keep it away from him. That being said it's his body so if he was really so horned up that he absolutely had to see his other partner I would say godspeed and he could go quarantine with them. I don't want this thing near me either.
posted by bleep at 1:02 PM on June 26 [17 favorites]

one of us is already on oxygen

Holy crap, definitely no. Like showbiz_liz says, you can save the sex for 2021.
posted by schroedinger at 1:04 PM on June 26 [21 favorites]

George and their partner would have a pretty high bar to clear to convince me that they’re going to get serious now about a strict quarantine if they haven’t been doing that so far. What, is their partner going to quit their job or take a two week vacation to stay at home and not set foot outside? Maybe! You know them better than we do. But I would not count on test reliability here; it’s all about whether you can trust them to do and then maintain a 180 on how they’re treating safety.

Given your health conditions, this feels like a hard no for me, or at least like *they* should be the ones taking responsibility for coming up with a quarantine plan they believe is sufficient and that they can stick to.

Edited for pronoun assumptions, but since that changes the last bit there - I think both George and partner should take responsibility for creating the plan, since they would both have to abide by it.
posted by Stacey at 1:07 PM on June 26 [8 favorites]

Since your risk tolerance is zero (for excellent reason), and given that you're in an area with ongoing community spread, I would not consider this unless the following were true:

-George quarantines in-home either along with or physically separated from his live-in partner for however long asymptomatic transmission is a concern (2 weeks may or may not be completely safe. I'd look up what the current research says and err on the safer side of that). I would suggest following the strictest regulations out there for government-ordered quarantines for international travellers, which would mean avoiding even lower-risk activities like walking around outdoors and essential activities like visiting grocery stores. Keep in mind that getting a test would be breaking the quarantine, so it could be done at the beginning if you want but not at the end.

-This would need to happen again before every time you interact in the future (which is likely to be much harder for everyone to ask for and stick to as an ongoing thing, and it's also going to be much harder to say No after saying Yes once).

-You would need to completely trust that both George and his partner understand what a strict quarantine means and wouldn't intentionally or accidentally break that quarantine (either the initial one or the ongoing one). I would be seriously concerned about George having a hard time sticking to a really strict quarantine given that he is currently being very social for pandemic times, but you can be the judge of that. Also notable is that George's partner would not be able to continue to work outside the home if he's participating in a strict quarantine.

Personally, I would most definitely not do this regardless of precautions if I were you, but you and your partners can decide collectively whether or not you're all ok with this level of risk (and any one of you should be able to veto at any time with no further argument).
posted by randomnity at 1:10 PM on June 26 [6 favorites]

If you quarantine for 2 weeks and then don't get tested, you could still have it and be asymptomatic. The only way to know is to quarantine for 2 weeks AND get tested (perhaps multiple times, due to false negatives). i.e. It's really hard to know.

If your partner is the one on oxygen, it seems like they are really not prioritizing their health. If you're the one on oxygen, it seems like they are really not prioritizing yours.
posted by amaire at 1:18 PM on June 26 [5 favorites]

For me, the answer is very different if you're in, say, Houston or Miami vs., say, rural Vermont or Maine.

That said, I think there's good evidence that a 2 week hard quarantine followed by a negative test is about as conservative as you can get these days short of completely isolating until there's a vaccine. I think you stand almost zero chance of infecting others outside your bubble, so if you are all OK with the risk, I think it is not irresponsible for you to follow through on it. But I would seriously think twice if you're in Houston.
posted by Betelgeuse at 1:32 PM on June 26

I'm in a poly situation where we've done something like this — formed a closed three-household unit, tested and quarantined for two weeks at the onset, and then agreed to severely limit contact with anyone outside our unit.

It does sound like your situation is very different from ours. We're in better general health, and our risk tolerance is higher. What works for us may not be what works for you.

But I will say that the most important thing for us has been getting everyone in that unit on the same page. We talked about things like how we'd buy groceries from then on, how non-covid sick we'd have to be before we considered going to a doctor, what our handwashing routine would be after we came in from the outside. On some of those topics the answer was strict and on some the answer was very relaxed, but we talked about all of them, and we stuck with our agreements. If I found out my partner's partner's partner was hanging out in bars, I would be angry like I'd been cheated on, because we had that level of understanding, commitment, and trust.

It sounds like doing this for you would require a serious change in lifestyle for George and their partner. That seems fine and good if you trust them to stick to it, and to treat it as seriously as any other commitment they have to you. At that point, it's a question of how big a chance they'd need to make for you to be comfortable, and that's something you can decide to negotiate. But if you're worried George and partner won't stick to their commitment, then that should be an absolute dealbreaker.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:51 PM on June 26 [9 favorites]

Epidemiologist here. If you're looking for a credentialed response, even if you change the details of your level of risk aversion, my input would still be: stay home. It's easier to deal with heartache than... well, you know.

I sometimes get frustrated that The Public doesn't feel as deeply that the answer to this question in any permutation is "stay home," but I, too, am human. My romantic interest is currently stuck 5,000 miles and a closed border away. If he were to call me from the airport right now saying he was here, I would without a doubt run to him. I would fret and worry and second guess, but I would also lock my shit down and stay away from every other human for two weeks along with a swab test before I returned to contact with others. This is all about relative, calculated risk, risk tolerance, AND—a key point—your faith in the word of people in any social bubble you're a part of. There are possible weak links in all of those components.

And, of course, any risk to you and yours is also a risk to the healthcare workers who will help you should you find yourself in need. People accommodate that awareness very differently.

Ultimately, this comes down to you.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:43 PM on June 26 [7 favorites]

It sounds really unlikely that George and partner can/will change their lifestyles to match your risk tolerance. They could form a two household bubble with you, but they'd need to get as strict in quarantining as you are, and that given the job you mention that sounds impractical for them. The two week quarantine and then testing actually sounds ok for establishing that they are not a carrier at that point, but it's only valid for the length of time for which they do not interact with anyone else.
posted by plonkee at 3:05 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]

I wanted to make a tonal comment here: sex is important. I sympathize with your desire not to want to "save the sex until 2021", particularly since it's not at all clear 2021 will be better. It's perfectly fine for you, your partner, and George want to expand the number of people you have sex with. You should not feel ashamed in any way. The discussion you're having right now is the responsible, adult way to handle the desire to have a happy sex life in the middle of a dangerous disease.

If you want some more stuff to read on the general question of risk managment during Covid, specifically for social and sexual relationships, I can recommend Quarantine Fatigue Is Real and Americans Aren’t Getting the Advice They Need by Julia Marcus. I found her approach really helpful to me as a gay man, particularly as she's grounded in the history of HIV/AIDS and risk management. Something most of us gay people are intimately familiar with.

Another thing that might be interesting reading is Safer Sex and COVID-19. This pamphlet from NYC Health proposes some lower-risk ways of having sex. (The headline you might have seen is about gloryholes.) I don't think any of this would work for me, for me sex involves physical intimacy and clear risk of exposure by, say, kissing. But maybe it's of help to you.

As everyone's pointed out the problem is your risk tolerance is very very low, much lower than George and his partner. Their offer to quarantine and test for two weeks before meeting sounds sincere and real to me, a way to meet your risk tolerance. If you trust them to do that, it may be an acceptable risk. But also plan ahead; what happens after that first meeting? Do you stay in a pod where the four of you isolate according to your risk needs?

You posted anonymously. If you want to talk more confidentially one on one, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by Nelson at 8:14 AM on June 27 [6 favorites]

I'm a high-risk person and I only get to see one friend in person. The one person I see is also high risk and isolates at the same level I do. If you can't trust that your partner's other partner and their household will do that, then they just can't see each other, and isolate plus test means a new potential exposure from the person doing the test, putting them back at square one. It's not a flexible situation because both of you could die or have extremely serious long-term health impacts from this, and everyone would bear the psychological consequences if that happened. It's not worth it. I know it sucks, but waiting is better than dying.
posted by bile and syntax at 11:09 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]

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