Etiquette Column: Personal Relationships
“Are ‘Socially-Distant Parties’ Okay?”: Your Quarantine Etiquette Questions, Answered
05.28.20

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When you live in a place where it’s too cold to bare your shoulders for most of the year, summer, in all its sandal-strapped gaiety, feels like a right. This probably explains part of the restlessness that has set in for many people as we approach the warmer months. (My friends who used to go to camp express this feeling as “living 10 for 2,” which I find cute.) Our brains know that things are different this year, but many of our hearts seem to be having a hard time catching up to our current reality, which introduces constraints that run counter to the way we normally operate this time of year. This makes navigating the world even more complex than it has been for the past few months. But fret not! Our quarantine etiquette column is back to help guide you through this transitionary period. Here, a handful of reader questions, arranged by the completely logical categories of: Dating, Breaking Up, Partying, and Chewing.


Dating:

How do I ask someone out on a socially-distanced date? I’m afraid people will think I’m irresponsible!

At the beginning of quarantine, essentially every single person I knew was open to taking a breather from dating. Then they watched Normal People and changed their minds. (Actually, I received a few texts from partnered friends announcing that Normal People had sent them into a tailspin, too.) But, really, since the first few weeks of lockdown, people started to negotiate new dating rhythms, which often entailed slow-rolling the courtship process with longer periods of texting, phone calls, and video chats. Naturally, if things were going well, and with no end to quarantine in sight, people started looking for safe ways to keep the forward momentum. I totally get that! But like every other aspect of how one might process this pandemic, comfort levels have varied. So, just like you’d check the weather before suggesting a picnic, I recommend doing a little recon before asking somebody out on an IRL date right now. First: Check the CDC’s most recent guidelines and look into what your local government officials have to say. (If the leadership in your area belongs to the “live and let golf” species, rely on local health experts.) Once you know what’s safe, devise an interesting date idea that follows the rules: a distanced, masked tour around a sculpture garden; a BYO blanket hang in the park; a to-go cocktail neighborhood walk, whatever suits! By the time you’ve done that research and planning, you can confidently propose the outing—and share your reasoning as to why it’s safe. (Something therapists and creative writing professors always agree on: you need to narrate.) If they’re interested but not comfortable venturing out yet? I bet they’ll still find your thoughtfulness charming enough to keep chatting.

Breaking Up:

I was thinking about breaking up with my BF of a year and a half before quarantine, but then he came to my parents’ house so we’d have more room than we do in our cramped apartments. We’ve now been here for 10 weeks. Things have been better between us, but I can’t shake the feeling that I still need to end it. That would mean ending things after he voluntarily quarantined for 10-plus weeks with my entire family. If things are going better, should I give it a chance to continue? Can you even break up with someone after they quarantined with you, your parents, siblings, and 87-year-old grandmother?

My opinion: You can break up with someone 45 minutes into a trip to the moon if you want to and the same rules apply during quarantine. Romantic relationships are always voluntary, even when they are deeply committed, and frankly, you’ll never find the perfect time to split. That said, I’ve found quar to be a great time to practice better communication—it’s so much harder to be avoidant or to fantasize about disappearing your problems when you’ve got nowhere to escape to. Before you skip to the part where you send him packing (imagine him tearfully hugging your grandma goodbye—I’m woozy!) why don’t you take a little time to examine your doubts and think about how you could talk with your boyfriend about them. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to solve problems before we present them to people, which is a good strategy if you’re a personal assistant or something, but this is a relationship, and I think it deserves more collaboration. Tonight, why don’t you skip the family Jeopardy screening and take a walk with your boyfriend instead?

Partying:

One of my roommates (I live with four other people, including my boyfriend) has started going to parties and events claiming that they’re social-distancing parties. However, the rest of us are worried that he’s not being responsible and is risking infecting us. If one person in our house gets sick, we’re all going down. How can we ask him to continue actually social distancing? And how can we tell him without him getting mad at us (he’s very sensitive and we still have to be quarantined with him)?

Embracing my inner-Boomer here to genuinely ask: What the hell is a social-distancing party? I do not believe such a thing exists (these terms! so clearly opposed!) and if it does exist, I can’t imagine that this kind of party would be fun enough to justify risking the health of oneself or one’s roommates in order to partake. My advice here is following Real World rules: You need a house meeting. It can be very easy to wiggle away from a real conversation and real accountability when you’re just chatting as you butter your toast in the morning. But I think if all the roommates sit down to talk, the bottom line will make itself clear: Regardless of how sensitive your roommate is, you all still owe each other a baseline level of safety in your shared home. Try to be compassionate about where your roommate’s desire to party is coming from (loneliness, I imagine) and see if there’s an interim solution for that within the confines of your apartment. I’d aim to come away from the meeting with some agreed-upon guidelines, and a date to check-in again and reevaluate as the situation outside evolves. If your roomie really can’t resist attending a distanced disco, then they may want to consider shimmying over to Craigslist to find a studio rental.

Chewing:

My roommate chews with her mouth open! She is constantly snacking so I have to hear the chewing all the time, not just at three meals a day. My other roommate also complains to me about it so it’s not just me, but we don’t know what to say. Please help!!

Oh, how I relate to this grievance! Have you ever heard of “misophonia”? From my light research over the years, I have gathered that it is a (potentially bogus?) condition that Wikipedia describes as a kind of “sound-emotion synesthesia” which can cause certain people to feel extreme sensitivity to auditory triggers, such as chewing. (I believe this condition is real and that I have it. Along with the chewing reaction, it also causes me to well up with tears any time I hear the roar of a crowd—doesn’t matter what they’re roaring about.) An-y-way, back to you and your situation. You probably don’t have misophonia because your other roommate has corroborated your complaint. So I think this means you probably just need to politely ask your roommate to chomp with their mouth closed. I think this falls into the “you’ve got something in your teeth” category—it can feel awkward to deliver but in my experience it is almost always gratefully received.

 

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