FOMO, COVID edition
August 3, 2020 7:44 PM   Subscribe

I have a stupid brain that likes to follow the rules and then feel guilty for following them. Please help me work through my “COVID good girl” angst.

My partner and I are living in a relatively new-to-us city. Due to COVID, my job is remote until at least next year, his is not (it’s mostly remote, thankfully, but he does need to run around town once in awhile). We’ve been on the very strict end of following guidelines— staying at home almost all the time, hardly even need to run out for groceries since we have an ongoing CSA box that kept running once COVID hit. Haven’t visited anyone, haven’t seen anyone but each other (and a couple of his coworkers exactly twice, when he was required for work). We’ve gone for a few walks when we’re feeling stir crazy and he rides his bike. But I’m an indoor cat and being cooped up at home is not that hard for me.

However, I’m starting to feel kind of insane in the sense that I know... most people are not really following precautious at this point. We live thousands of miles away from each of our families. We haven’t seen them in eight months. We don’t expect to be able to see them for many more. My sister is getting married in September, having a very small immediately family only wedding, and unless we rent or buy a car and drive for several days, we won’t be able to be there. (I’d be glad to do the driving, honestly, but if we break down, get in an accident, etc., it seems risky.) There will be photos and I’ll be the only one not in them. I think it’s going to give me a pang every time I see them.

I could go like this until mid-next year or even further, if it came down to just my life and my personal comfort level. Like I said, I’m kind of an introverted hermit and can easily focus on work, reading, hobbies until things are much safer. But I feel tremendously guilty for being “so safe” and in the process missing my nieces and nephews, who are small and growing up so fast. For missing my sister’s wedding. For not seeing my parents, or anyone else, when something could happen to them at any time. They all live in a remote, rural area, and I worry a lot about them. They’re all seeing each other regularly, though outdoors, but without masks. There is a mask mandate for business where they are, but I know they have contact with people who are very “anti mask” and I feel a lot of my oldest-child protective freak out energy going into overdrive thinking about it.

I know a lot of people feel the same way. It’s just driving me crazy hearing people from work talk about moving to another country while we’re all remote, or moving in with parents, or just renting a cottage somewhere far away... it’s like everyone is uprooting their lives for this year and I am the literal-minded chump staying at home being “safe.” When I put it like that, I think well, of course I’m doing the right thing. But it doesn’t feel that way— I honestly feel at this point that I’m being selfish and/or a naive idiot by just staying put.

On that note, there are a lot of people who seem to see this as a harbinger of permanent WFH for their jobs and are making decisions accordingly. I am probably less financially stable than those people, and I don’t feel I can just say “well, I’ll move and when they ask us to come back next year I’ll just say no! And they will either go along with it or screw them!” But it feels positively dopey to stay put here paying for an overpriced apartment we both don’t even like, and without the ability to see anyone we care about at all for at least another 9-12 months. Like yes, I’m a goody-two-shoes, but even I have limits.

If this thing is an ongoing threat for 5-10 years, it just makes me wonder when it will ever be safe to see my family. Is there going to be a point any time in the near future where it’s actually OK to visit? Do we need to suck it up and accept that if we don’t move closer, there won’t be a way to visit safely (because we rely on flying) for years? By staying here to “wait things out” are we just prolonging the inevitable? We considered relocating to be closer already, but partner would have to quit his job (not the end of the world but not great) and soon it will be indoor-only weather and everything will be even less safe. But if things aren’t going “back to normal” anytime soon, seems like we might as well just... go.

For context, my partner doesn’t really love his job and I’m the main breadwinner but he still makes a considerable chunk of our income. It was a really good job for him to find when we moved here, compensation wise, and we didn’t expect him to find such good pay. But it is not so much a career-track job. If he was making a lower income, we’d probably just leave. But since it’s actually a pretty good opportunity, we both worry about him quitting so we can move for ~11 months, getting behind on our financial goals, and then having to come back here anyway only now he has no job at all. Seems stupid. But I also can’t imagine my office actually re-opening for real until things really are safe beyond a shadow of a doubt, which... I doubt that will be until 2022, at the soonest?

Anyway, we are both kind of slow to action, worried about worst case scenarios, etc. and I feel I just can’t get a grip in this cycle of “simply do the right thing!” > “god, you are a stupid asshole for worrying about the right thing so much!” repeat repeat repeat. I’ve always been Miss Safety First in my family, and I know this scenario is triggering a lot of that. (I would be the kid telling all the other kids to put their seatbelts on because my mom didn’t care, for instance. Or my mom would tell my step-dad not to go 100 on the freeway when I was in the car because “stoneandstar doesn’t like that.” Nerd alert, etc.) In this scenario I know everyone will think I’m an out of touch weirdo for not being at my sister’s wedding, and I just... don’t know anymore. I’m much more worried about them than I am myself. (I’m worried about myself too, but there are more health conditions in my family in general, whereas I don’t have any obvious risk factors.)

Before this becomes too long of a ramble— my question is basically, AM I being a naive fool? What seems right to me clearly seems crazy to others, and vice versa. If you have a similar family or work dynamic, what are you choosing to do? Stay put for the long term? Or wait until the bottom falls out before moving on? (For us, if either one of us got laid off we’d probably leave immediately— the rent here on one income is really not OK.) Help... me... not be paralyzed by self-hatred. :(
posted by stoneandstar to Human Relations (24 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Think fo how much more you would miss out on/your family would miss you from events if god forbid you passed away?

I also highly recommend getting a print of your face made and put on a dowel to be held up and included in family photos.
posted by raccoon409 at 8:06 PM on August 3, 2020 [6 favorites]


There's a lot to your question, but the main potentially useful thing I have to offer is framing.

Right now most of us are trying to balance two related but separate concerns:
- What are reasonable best practices for safety, based on our current understanding of the disease and the situation?
-- What do we need to do in order to keep our anxiety down to tolerable levels?

It sounds like your current situation is on the extreme end in terms of safety -- not going for regular walks outside, not seeing anyone else even from a distance with masks on outdoors. My understanding is that this degree of isolation isn't recommend or necessary in most cases, from a disease control perspective.

HOWEVER.

Only you and your partner know what you need to do in order to feel safe and calm and able to live your lives and do you jobs. And for you, it may be the case that your personalities mean you're happier playing it very very very very safe.

I feel like that's the metric to use here, not worry over what other people will think. The landscape of public opinion about Covid is insane in the US right now, and there is always going to be someone who thinks you're doing it wrong.

Do your research about current Covid best practices, be honest with yourself about your own needs, and go from there.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:16 PM on August 3, 2020 [8 favorites]


Just to clarify, we’re not avoiding people here in our city for safety reasons, we just don’t know anyone here.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:36 PM on August 3, 2020


I feel like all of this is a balancing act and if you and your partner feel on the same page about just... living, that is a really good start. I was also the slightly humorless "Jessamyn doesn't like that" kind in my family so I feel you, it's challenging. I have a long distance partner who i haven't seen since this whole mess started n(except for a few masked-up walks) and people look at me like I am kinda dim because we're not hanging out like we used to (he is on board with this approach which is good). So I'll break down a few things I think that are worth unpacking

- Where you live - I'd leave this alone for now unless you really feel like you should move. I live in a rural area and there are literally zero people who are moving to go do other stuff, you may be in a place where this is more normalized. Hunkering is safe and if you don't hate where you are, maybe hunker.
- Your family being less safe than you think they should - there's a lot of good Al Anon literature (one of my parents was a drunk) about learning that you can't control other people, it's helpful. This may not be your situation, but part of this is going to find a way to be at peace with not being able to really determine what they do and not be responsible for how they think about you
- "If this thing is an ongoing threat for 5-10 years" - most scenarios don't really think this is how this is going to shake out. It's possible, it's unlikely. if I were to politely tell you to stop thinking a thing, it might be this thing, you do not have to start planning for 5-10 years now.
- The wedding - this is the tricky one. I think you could possibly do this safely if you decided it was super important, depending on where you are talking about going (for example, I live in a very safe part of the country, if they were getting married ere, I would not hesitate to tell you it's ok to be here, not SAFE, but okay for people who know how to behave safely). I think you have to have some soul searching discussions between you and your partner to see if it's worth the anxiety hit to try to go versus the anxiety hit you'd get by not going. This is a really personal thing, I am a shruggo person about weddings. It sounds like you really aren't.

But more to the point, it just sounds like you've got a lot of negative self talk that itself is kind of its own thing and maybe addressing that in some way (people have lots of advice on these topics but simple stuff like rest and exercise or more complicated stuff like therapy and changing your diet) might help you prioritize some of the other stuff? I know it's hard, I am also a stay-at-home person who basically sees a friend at a distance every week or so. I'm okay with it, but I definitely feel the FOMO creeping in as more things do a kind of fake-open.
posted by jessamyn at 8:38 PM on August 3, 2020 [41 favorites]


I think jessamyn said a lot of the things I would have said, only she said them better. :) I just want to say it makes me sad that you're feeling guilty and selfish for keeping yourself safe to the best of your ability. That's really the most selfless thing you can do these days, in my opinion. I also suspect, as a fellow worrier, that you are not going to be happy if you, for instance, go to a wedding where you are surrounded by family members not wearing masks, and I wonder if you might have better interactions with your family if you maintain the precautions that make you comfortable.
posted by ferret branca at 8:54 PM on August 3, 2020 [8 favorites]


If a cautionary tale helps: my middle sister was pushing for all of us to get together for Father's Day. My wife and I had already said "no, we're not comfortable with this, she's still having to go to campus for work periodically, we don't want to get y'all sick" and opted out, but the rest of them were still planning to get together.

The Tuesday before Father's Day, my sister happened to have a doctor's appointment (she thought she had a sinus infection and was feeling crappy and finally scheduled in to see her doc). Doc said "I don't like those O2 levels" and sent her to be tested. Sister came back positive. If she hadn't happened to finally go see the doctor and her doctor hadn't said "eh, I'm feeling bad about this, let's send you to be tested" my dad, sister, BIL, and niece and nephew would have been exposed.

I've stopped feeling bad about saying "no" to things; it's like raccoon409 said, I'd rather be around next year for things. It's hard and frustrating and I definitely feel like I'm missing out on stuff (my cousin's wife came. up. from. the. DR. to visit and my cousin was like "do you want to see Cris?" "I sure do. Next year!") but I don't feel bad about it anymore.
posted by joycehealy at 9:27 PM on August 3, 2020 [22 favorites]


This entire pandemic experience is about managing risk in a situation most of us have never experienced, where the stakes are literally life or death. So it’s natural that this is going to feel fraught for most of us.

For you, I’d suggest thinking about it less as if you are being naive and more about whether or not you are personally comfortable with the way you’re managing risk and the trade offs you’re making. It doesn’t sound to me like you’re being naive at all. It sounds like you’ve read about the risks and the recommendations and you’ve made decisions that feel mostly comfortable for you, though of course you’re sad about the things you’re giving up.

I will say that there’s some black and white thinking going on in your post. Which again, it’s understandable when the stakes are so high. But risk management and harm reduction are not binary black and white things. Other people are making different decisions not necessarily because they’re cooler or less responsible but possibly because they have a different risk tolerance or the trade offs are more painful for them (Quarantine-wise, I’m personally being pretty careful, but I’m an extrovert and your quarantine experience would have destroyed me in a month, just as a for instance). I’m saying this not because I think you’re wrong at all, but because you might need to find a way to do your own risk vs reward recalibration at some point and if you can find a way to think about risk in a less black and white way, it might make this easier on you.

That said, it sounds like what you’re doing now is working for you, so kudos. You seem to have a good constitution for these times and I’m honestly a bit envious. Send your sister a lovely present, do lots of FaceTimes with your family, and pay attention if you start feeling like you need to make any adjustments.
posted by lunasol at 9:33 PM on August 3, 2020 [9 favorites]


You guys are definitely making sense to me. A thing I keep thinking though is will it really be safe to see people next year? I keep hearing vaccine next year, maybe, but vaccine won’t mean eradication, we’ll be living with COVID for 5-10 years, etc. I have no idea how to make sense of the risk calculus. Because my choices will be different if this is “batten down the hatches for a year” versus “air travel is high risk for 5 years”...
posted by stoneandstar at 9:34 PM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]


Hi! You and me may be the only people who feel like this and have had that limited contact with people compared to the rest of the world. I've seen two people I know from across the street since this happened and I still felt wigged out as all hell.

However, I’m starting to feel kind of insane in the sense that I know... most people are not really following precautious at this point.

That is true for me as well. My coworker throws and goes to 30-50 people parties, the other coworkers have people in and out of their houses all the time. My therapist flies back and forth across the country. And nobody is getting sick. Are they just getting lucky?

There will be photos and I’ll be the only one not in them. I think it’s going to give me a pang every time I see them.
But I feel tremendously guilty for being “so safe” and in the process missing my nieces and nephews, who are small and growing up so fast. For missing my sister’s wedding. For not seeing my parents, or anyone else, when something could happen to them at any time.


I feel the same. I've turned down my mother (who is 70 but otherwise in good health, but is now venturing out to dinners with friends and getting a haircut) twice and I think she is just going to say "to hell with Jen saying no, I'm just going to come over to her house one day" in the future. One of my friends is kinda quietly snotty at times about me being a shut in, and she's moving away at the end of the year. What if I never see my mother (or friend) again because I turned them down for everyone's safety and then they get sick and die (or move)? There's literally nothing you can say to that or feel better about with that. Therapy can't help with that level of what if guilt. And again, when everyone else continue to be "fine," you look bad for not taking the risk. Until/unless anyone has a story like joycehealy's, anyway. The problem comes from "well, I've decided I won't have any contact with people unless I'm forced to for years on end" vs. other people not agreeing with me on that.

I think I'm going to feel bad either way: I will feel bad and scared and guilty if I see them six feet away with masks, accidentally edging closer when I'm not supposed to because it's unnatural to have to treat humans like cooties, and probably cry, snot into my mask, and become a biohazard. And I will feel bad and guilty for not seeing anyone for perhaps the last time ever. It's a lose-lose. I can't resolve this either. Normally I'd say something like "which will you regret if you do it or not," but the stakes are so high and so possibly fatal here that doesn't work. This shit is just way too fucking hard for normal humans to figure out alone on their own with little, no, confusing, constantly changing guidelines and/or lack thereof.

I honestly feel at this point that I’m being selfish and/or a naive idiot by just staying put.

Yeah. I'm being told to my virtual face/over the phone that I'm wrong about this and being overly paranoid and overly cautious. Everyone agrees with that, so I am in the wrong. I don't know how to deal with that either. My therapist (who doesn't agree with me at all on this) says it's my choice and my comfort level and if I refuse to open the door to anyone who comes by, I can do that. But then, The Guilt.

If this thing is an ongoing threat for 5-10 years, it just makes me wonder when it will ever be safe to see my family. Is there going to be a point any time in the near future where it’s actually OK to visit?

I think technically speaking the answer to this is gonna be no (though god, I hope it's not 5-10 but it sure looks like it'll be 2-3). I think everyone at best is going to be under "six feet masks outdoors distance" restrictions unless vaccines/testing/ANYTHING improves from what we've got now. Like if we can get cheap daily reliable testing that we can trust, then maybe we can go live our lives. But who knows on that right now. Honestly, I'm not sure if that level of "seeing people" is worth it with the restrictions and fear and guilt. But again: I'm the only one who feels like this and everyone tells me I'm wrong. Even I admit that I should probably suck it up and start seeing people six feet apart SOON because then winter will come and it really won't be an option any more. I have to get over this right about now, except I want to start screaming at the thought and I am so not "cool" with even a walk outside alone, much less more.

I don't think I know how to advise you on moving home to be closer to family or not. I don't think we are getting more "normal" for probably the next few years. But if you move home or closer to it (a) how much can you visit them anyway under the circumstances when right now I don't feel like I can visit my friends across town, and (b) will you feel even more guilty if you don't and they're all running around maskless near you? At least right now you have the distance as an excuse to not have to deal with that. And getting a job is going to be extraordinarily difficult. I think if it was me I'd lean towards "stay in place," but only with about 60/40 certainty on that one. Moving "home" isn't going to be like you want it to be right now. It's not like you can go out and have a good time at the local sights and hang out with family stress-free.

Nobody knows how to make sense of the risk calculus. A lot of people are fed up and going "fuck it" right now and those of us who aren't doing the same look bad. But on the other hand, hopefully we don't catch it. I wouldn't go to a wedding right now, even a small one, if you have to drive in from states away and be exposed to strange toilets and other people in the gas station and what the hell ever, if that helps any.

My risk vs. reward calibration is more along the lines of "I can safely see people on a computer and not have to worry about it, thanks." The stakes are too high compared to whatever payoff I might get, and I can't do anything I'd really want to with people in person anyway, like hugging. or acting normal or eating indoors. I feel like it's more stressful to see someone in person with those restrictions on than over the computer without. But that's me.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:52 PM on August 3, 2020 [6 favorites]


A way to think about it is that it's not "we're going to be living exactly like this until the virus is eradicated," but rather that "how much is the virus spreading in my community right now?" is a question to use when assessing risk. There are a bunch of tools that can help lower that figure, and while a vaccine is one of them, so are masks, testing, contact tracing and isolation, distancing, etc...

I get the desire to feel like "well if it's really going to be like this forever, I'm going to have to take some more risks sometime," but you can look to other parts of the world that have broadly, with some flare-ups, controlled transmission to the point that it's clear that, no, we don't all have to completely isolate ourselves for 5 years, but that better things are possible if the virus is first kept reasonably under control where we are.

The problem is that, in many parts of the US, that's just not at all the situation right now. But it can be, and your caution right now is part of the process of getting there. So no, you're not selfish or naive for staying put; you're helping to control the virus so that we can all have a safer environment to do more things.
posted by zachlipton at 10:07 PM on August 3, 2020 [4 favorites]


I'm a inherent pessimist who is not at all confident in the way that vaccines are being tested and even I don't think this situation will last for more than two years. Even if Trump and the Grifters fuck up all vaccine development in the US, in about 1.5 years we are going to know which of the international vaccines works the best. The vaccine does not have to be perfect or long lasting, but if it even lasts a year, we will hear about it and everyone except for the true believer MAGAs will agitate for it.
posted by benzenedream at 12:03 AM on August 4, 2020 [6 favorites]


And nobody is getting sick. Are they just getting lucky?

This is named "normalization of deviance". You may know it from the Challenger shuttle loss. I know it from backcountry avalanches. When the potential outcome is uncommon but bad, we see a rather moderate number of not-bad outcomes and think, well it's clearly fine. Yes, ten people didn't die crossing this wind slab, that gives you a 95% confidence interval that an avalanche is no more than 30% likely, do you like those odds?
posted by away for regrooving at 1:09 AM on August 4, 2020 [11 favorites]


most people are not really following precautio[n]s at this point.

With regards to travel, that does not appear to be the case. About 82% of people say Labor Day travel isn’t going to happen and 75% aren’t planning on Winter vacations. 79% won’t get on an airplane anytime soon.

Of course that’s self-reporting, but travel industry statistics back them up. Most people aren’t going anywhere. Staying where you are does not make you an outlier.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:00 AM on August 4, 2020 [5 favorites]


I'm someone with what sounds like a much higher risk tolerance than you, or possibly I'm just in an area with better numbers -- I go for walks outside daily, have no problem with grocery stores, and have visited many people at 6 feet or more distance (where I am staying there are a lot of moderately large yards). So with that in mind: Helllll no I wouldn't drive cross-country to go to a wedding with a lot of people who aren't being safe! What the fuck!

I think you might reframe, just in terms of the wedding, that you're not the selfish one here. Your sister is. She's insisting upon holding a wedding in a time when countless couples have wised up and made compromises, postponing, canceling, even knowing that her own sister probably won't be able to attend. It's a dick move frankly.

When you see people who are moving in with parents or otherwise uprooting themselves, though, I would caution you not to assume that they're doing so blithely. People have lost their jobs. Peoples' parents have lost their jobs. I myself have moved in with a parent because while she is reasonably capable in normal times she is completely unmoored by isolation, struggles working from home, struggles with tech issues, and should not be running errands very often. It is a risk, my being here, but it was a worse and more immediate risk for me not to be. You worry about your parents but it sounds like that's an abstract "anything could happen" worry, which is different from "my parent will lose their job because they cannot fix the wifi connection when it breaks" or "my parent will literally not keep food in the house unless someone puts it there."

Yes, some people are being irresponsible. Others, however, simply have lives that are too complex to go on ice perpetually. In a better society we would all have the support we needed to stay, as you are, safe at home for years. But we don't have that kind of support at all. Lightening up on the rest of us may help you lighten up on yourself, and your choices, too.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:57 AM on August 4, 2020 [4 favorites]


I hit a wall of sorts because it's a new month and I Can't Even. 4 and a half months and no idea about the resolution. And the Election Stress. Maine is doing okay, but I'm in the least safe county, in my neighborhood no one wears masks and there's a lot of social gathering, mostly outdoors, but who knows.

The dumb unsafe stuff is really obvious. I went for a drive yesterday, stopped to watch clouds at what would ordinarily be a pretty busy tourist area at a lake. It was breezy, so pretty safe. The tourists with out of state plates are obvious. Not obvious - the many, many cautious people staying home. Unsafe behavior is out in the open; safe behavior is largely hidden.

This is a period of loss that will have repercussions. There is a lot of denial, starting with the President. People who don't wear masks are in denial, whatever else they call it. And stress - you worry about your family not being cautious enough, a legitimate concern. The burden of stress is mounting and it's showing.

To cope, look at what's working. You have jobs and can pay rent/ mortgage. You have each other. You can afford to stay safe. Sounds like you get along. That's really a lot, be thankful. Maybe do some donating, which provides a sense of well-being. Recognize the loss and stress, do what you can about specific stuff. Get dressed up and take pictures, ask family members to hold up a photo of you in f family pictures. Make sure somebody has a tablet, so you can be there virtually for some of it, maybe even do a reading and a toast.

I honestly feel at this point that I’m being selfish and/or a naive idiot by just staying put. .. AM I being a naive fool? What seems right to me clearly seems crazy to others, and vice versa. If you have a similar family or work dynamic, what are you choosing to do? Stay put for the long term? Or wait until the bottom falls out before moving on? (For us, if either one of us got laid off we’d probably leave immediately— the rent here on one income is really not OK.) Help... me... not be paralyzed by self-hatred. :(
Staying put and being cautious are utterly lacking in sexiness or apparent heroism, but everybody who's following guidelines is protecting everybody, including people who ignore guidelines. You are not being selfish or naive at all. Daily exercise outdoors is pretty safe, and exercise, sunshine, nature are super-helpful with stress. Maybe some tele-visits with a therapist, because self-hate is a puzzling response. You don't need to make decisions about moving quickly; it's an option, but there is no urgency. In my state, the director of the state cdc does regular video press conferences on tv. They really help people stay informed and centered; find voices of reason and listen to them. Address your stress with some urgency, be good to yourself; you are on the right track, but it's really not easy.
posted by theora55 at 8:07 AM on August 4, 2020 [4 favorites]


I have loosened up my routine as numbers have dropped locally- more grocery shops, some rare outdoor masked socializing, I might go visit my elderly relatives masked up and outdoors.

My sister is also getting married and she's having a wedding with 10 people max. Nobody is flying in, maybe one person is driving in. I'm not flying cross-country for it, and the extended family isn't either. So we will all miss it, but- it's a pandemic.

Agreed on the statistics about most people staying put. Local mass transit here is still at like 20% capacity. Most people who can are still staying home.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:10 AM on August 4, 2020


The word I didn't use, and should have, is Overwhelmed. You're overwhelmed, I think a lot of the world is.
posted by theora55 at 8:19 AM on August 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


Community transmission where I am now is low. I’ve met up with friends outside and even eaten at outdoor seating restaurants.

If they reopen schools in September, which they’re saying they’ll do, I’m going back to minimal outings and super limited (if any) in person socializing. Because I expect that community transmission will spike, I’ll be in schools, and don’t want any part of infecting someone if I can help it.

I do have friends/acquaintances who are traveling and doing more than I’m comfortable with. But when I think about it, they’re still doing it much less so than they would under normal circumstances. So I’m thinking about it as - this is what they need to get through this time, I don’t need it, and my forgoing it helps make it safer for them to get what they need.

Something that really clarified my own risk tolerance was pushing my comfort zone by being inside with some careful, close friends. Then I had a Covid scare (could’ve been pure psychosomatic) and my horror that I might have infected some of the people I care about most was enough to clarify my boundaries for me.

In your shoes -

I’d look at finding cheaper/preferred hosting in an area commutable to your partner’s work, and then I’d prioritize making local friends so that you feel more at home there and are part of a community and have outlets for safer socializing when your community numbers are low. It’s harder to make new friends under these circumstances but it is possible and could make a world of difference.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:24 AM on August 4, 2020


So, two things.

One: What are your top priorities/goals when it comes to being "safe"? Is it your own health? The health of your loved ones? The common good? The feeling that you're "a good person/doing the right thing?" Avoiding being responsible for getting someone else sick? Something else? (I'm sure it's some mix of all of these things, but figuring out which are most important, if you haven't already, might be helpful.)

Two: Risk is a spectrum here-- and on a broader level, as I'm sure you know, it always has been. Some things are a little risky and some things are a lot risky. Things may get gradually safer over the next couple years without getting back to the level of safety they used to be right away (which was never 100%.) Etc. For us, we try to look at the tradeoffs. We avoid risks when we reasonably can or when the benefit doesn't seem worth it to us, but we also do some things that increase our level of risk. One of my top priorities is keeping my family safe, especially my parents, so we see them only outside with masks on (even in sweltering 90-degree heat) and generally stay 10-15 feet apart rather than 6. But seeing eachother in person is really important to them (and to us, but if it was just for our sake I might not), so we do it even though it would be even safer not to see them at all. My husband's family lives far away, but it was really important to him and them to see eachother in person this year since it had been awhile-- so we drove 15 hours in a single day, and used a portable toilet on the way so we could avoid public bathrooms, and stayed in a place that had been empty for awhile, and only saw people outside with masks and distancing, but we saw them. (I was anxious about the car break-down possibility, too, but I figured #1 it's very unlikely, #2 if it's something that can be fixed on the spot by AAA it's still not much risk if we're outdoors/distanced/masked anyway, #3 if we need to be towed and go to a repair shop, we can have the windows down in the tow truck and keep distance/stay outside at the repair shop, etc... and of course none of that is actually a problem anyway unless one of those people has COVID-19 in the first place.) There is no way to avoid risk entirely (even if you manage to avoid COVID-19 risk entirely, there are still other things that could kill you at any time), so I've just been working on trying to figure out what's the right balance of taking risks for reasons that seem meaningful and worthwhile, while keeping the risk as small as reasonably possible.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 11:33 AM on August 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


Hi stoneandstar. I want to say that you are not being a naive idiot or selfish -- these are really hard questions to grapple with, and you are doing your best. It's clearly causing you a fair amount of anxiety and distress, and you're so not alone in that. Many of us are wracked by our own version of this same anguish.

I will only respond specifically to the idea of a road trip to your sister's wedding, because I'm currently on a road trip to my sister's wedding (and to see other family). Halfway across the country. If you bring masks and hand sanitizer, and camp along the way in a tent, and make smart decisions, you can take that road trip and be just as safe as you are at home. There is nothing inherent in a road trip that is unsafe; it's the same stuff you'd be doing in your home city (getting gas, getting groceries). And then assuming the wedding and festivities are all outdoors (I hope so? If they are indoors I would not go), then you can sit distantly from people or wear your mask.
posted by amaire at 11:51 AM on August 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


Just wanted to say in general I feel similarly --- even though I'm in one of the worst places in the world (Los Angeles, which has one of the highest case counts anywhere and high community transmission), it _feels_ like no one is taking it seriously and it drives me crazy.

Of course, as others said it's hard to see the people like me who barely ever leave their house. On the rare occasion I go outside (grocery store only), I see a lot of maskless people crowded together, but in a city with millions of people of course this is actually a tiny % of overall people.

[I don't know about your situation, but outside exercise/time here is mostly impossible to do safe because of the aforementioned maskless people filling sidewalks/etc, parks are crowded with non-distancing-non-masked people, etc. This is the big downside of living in a crowded city --- impossible to find non-crowded area to go outside!]

In your situation I definitely would not travel, at least not now when things are actually worse in general than they were earlier in the year.

However, I agree with the general consensus that worrying it will be like _this_ for 5-10 years is unlikely. Either we will have a vaccine/etc, or eventually people will give up and everyone will get sick (the latter seems to be happening now...).

At the very least, there's no way to predict what will happen in 5 years, since research is ongoing and timing of things like effective treatments and vaccines is completely unknown. I'd focus on the near term (6-12 months) where it is probably not going to get much better if you're in a major city in the US like me.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:03 PM on August 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


> Unsafe behavior is out in the open; safe behavior is largely hidden.

2nding this. Also, naysayers tend to be big mouths on social media and such.

The vast and--apparently--somewhat silent majority is acting pretty close to the way you are. Maybe they're going out a bit more than you are (masking or taking other safety precautions as appropriate) or going shopping a bit more often (in our family one person does all the shopping, all masked up etc, about once a week--I personally have been in exactly one store since March 15th.)

Point is, we sort of imagine everyone is out there going to a bar for hours every night and making fun of idiots who wear masks, going to big parties etc.

The reality is the reverse: People who are cautious are actually the majority and the risk-takers, conspiracy theorists, etc are actually a rather small minority.

Don't let that vocal minority warp your thinking about yourself or what you are doing.
posted by flug at 3:35 PM on August 4, 2020 [5 favorites]


Also, not having local points of reference (friends) is going to skew your perspective to what you see outdoors. Have you thought about attending virtual meetups for new arrivals in town or somesuch? Or just reach out for a virtual games night on some neighborhood listserv.
posted by benzenedream at 8:43 PM on August 4, 2020


It’s just driving me crazy hearing people from work talk about moving to another country while we’re all remote, or moving in with parents, or just renting a cottage somewhere far away...

Some of the people who are out there enthusiastically talking about about moving and how great it is going to be might be coping with other things they aren't saying.
"We were planning on a retirement community/hired caregivers for Aging Relative, but this is the best option now"
"I can't cope with working remotely and my partner expecting me to do all the childcare too, but I can afford child care in this other country/have relatives there/schools will be safer"
"My roommate has a high exposure job, and I can't afford to stay in the city if I move, this cottage seems cheap though"

Also, from a US-centric point of view, I don't know if you are in the US but the US doesn't seem to be dealing with, well, anything very well right now. A lot of places aren't allowing Americans to enter, if someone already has ties to another country they might be worried going back could be banned later. I know someone who left the US for that reason. Plus health insurance is very expensive in the US, and some other places you don't even need it.

You are doing what seems like the safest option to you, some of the people you are observing might be doing these things just because they seem fun, but it's likely that some of them are doing these things because on the balance (which might include being the only person to care for a child or older relative), these could be the safest things for the people who are important to them.

it feels positively dopey to stay put here paying for an overpriced apartment we both don’t even like


You can move somewhere affordable that isn't near your relatives. Many states are asking people moving to isolate for 14 days, but they aren't saying you can't. You aren't under an obligation to pay for an apartment you can't afford! (assuming you don't have a lease)
posted by yohko at 11:14 PM on August 5, 2020


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