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Personal Safety

Rachel Miller is at VICE today getting an important thing out on the table: “The Answer To All Your “Social Distancing Loophole Questions is ‘No.‘”

“But what about my Really Good Reason that I Must go out/gather?” you may be asking.

Good news, it’s covered in the piece!

“Are there exceptions to this rule? Of course. There always are. But an inconvenience is not an exception. And my guess is that if you are experiencing the sort of emergency or unique circumstances where the only solution involves leaving your home or interacting with others, you wouldn’t be asking for permission.”

If you’re not safe at home, if you have an essential job and must leave, if you are needed by someone in an emergency capacity, if you are the designated grocery shopper/prescription picker-upper/errand runner in your family or friend group, if you have a medical appointment that has to be in person…then take care of yourself and your business. The dog needs to go to the bathroom several times a day, so, mask up and walk your dog. I believe you about what you need. But a personal exemption pass does not exist. The virus doesn’t grant them, nor does my inbox. If you need to go out then you need to go out. If you need a reality check, check in with a close friend or someone else you trust. You don’t need to tell me about it and ask for an internet permission slip.

Consider that people continually proposing and asking for exceptions in public, on social media  – what friend-of-blog Jake refers to as “Edge-Case Bob” behaviors – are doing harm by giving cover to the folks who are looking for excuses. This is not a time for brainstorming all the ways that a rule might not apply to you, not really. It’s a time for brainstorming how to take care of yourself and your loved ones and your community within the rules, and making the necessary exceptions small and quiet.

I’ve been getting media requests since my Vox piece and since being a source for some  L.A. Times pieces by the excellent Jessica Roy (“How To Help Your Marriage Survive Coronavirus,” and “Coronavirus Social Distancing Etiquette“) and a lot of them are about looking for loopholes or about talking to neighbors, family, community members who are Doing It Wrong. Here’s my blanket statement about that:

You can control you and people in your immediate household that you have responsibility for (i.e. parents are in charge of their own kids). You can wear a mask. You can limit your errands and be respectful to retail workers. You can stop hosting and attending gatherings.

You can often influence people you know well who will listen to you. (Revisit one strategy here). When someone invites you to a gathering? You can say “No, and also, wtf are you doing?” You can combat misinformation, spread good information, and do what you can.

You can ask strangers who are endangering you to take precautions. “Hey, my dog needs more time to finish her business, can you walk on the other side of the street and I’ll take this one.” “Can you back up at least six feet while we’re waiting in line?” If they won’t do the right thing, the one thing you can control is you, so if it comes down to it, then YOU move. You move to where you are safer, and let them do their thing.

If you didn’t know your neighbors before this, the place to start getting to know them is offering mutual aid & cooperation, not policing. The police are not The Manager.

“I’m going to the store, can I get you anything – I’ll leave it on your porch” is a start of a relationship with a neighbor. “I’m happy to get your mail when I get mine and leave it outside your door so you don’t have to take the stairs, will that work?” is a good favor to offer to a neighbor with mobility issues. “I have an extra mask that doesn’t fit me right, maybe it will fit you? I’ll leave it on your doorknob.” From there maybe you can have the “I’ll text you when I finish my laundry so we don’t both have to be in here at the same time” conversation or the “Wait, are you having people over? That’s really not safe!” conversation. If your Next Door and other neighborhood social media communities aren’t about “How do we help each other through this, what do you need and how can we get it to you?” then either turn them into that or delete them.

It was always violent and dangerous for white people to call the cops in non-white neighborhoods and communities. That danger multiplies when a) people are stressed the fuck out and b) when prisons and jails are a petri dish of Covid-19 cases. We need our neighbors OUT of the jails, don’t put more inside! Every time I say this somewhere publicly, someone tells me about how they *had* to call 911 b/c of a fire or accident or some emergency, which goes back to the original point: If you needed to, then you needed to, it was an emergency, so why are you telling me about it, Edge-Case Bob? If it’s not an immediate life-or-death emergency, and you feel weird having a potentially awkward or high-conflict conversation with a neighbor, one way you can make it 10,000 times less weird is to NOT add someone with a gun to the equation. People on my block had family gatherings Easter weekend and it sucked because I know that people can be asymptomatic and still spread the virus, but what I can control is staying in my own house so that’s what I did. If we didn’t know each other before this, me coming on like the voice of White Lady Manners Authority isn’t getting it done!

(While we’re here, if you are not in an actual prison right now, then your quarantine experience is literally nothing like prison. Find a different simile, say two Hail Marys and donate to your local community bond fund. Thank you.)

I’m the kind of asthmatic where a common cold can turn into bronchitis can turn into torn cartilage in my ribcage and tests for pneumonia because anything remotely respiratory likes to root deep into my lungs like kudzu and flourish there. I’m gonna be inside like a little cosmonaut until there is a vaccine & reliable treatment; my doctor said “think in terms of a year, though really it takes 18-24 months to get a vaccine out and the virus will mutate the whole time.” I am honestly terrified of getting sick – I know pretty definitively that it will not go well. I’m terrified of Mr. Awkward getting sick, or of us spreading it to each other. My continued life depends on the essential workers and the friends who brave outside to bring us supplies, and I’m cycling through all possible 197 stages of grief about the prospect of probably never moving through the world in an uncomplicated way again, contrasted with the guilt of being one of the people lucky enough that I can stay at home. I’m having “Ok so if I die, please_____” conversations that aren’t theoretical. So this isn’t one of those days where I can be “strong” or encouraging or lift people up, and I’m sorry. I don’t know what the new normal looks like. I literally can’t remember what “okay” feels like, will I even recognize it if it shows up again?

What I do know is that trying to hold onto the old normal for ourselves at the expense of others’ safety means a dangerous magical thinking. As Rachel Miller writes:

“Viruses don’t operate by potential carriers’ best intentions. They operate exclusively by our actions. No one is leaving their house thinking, I am going to be the superspreader who kills a bunch of people by running some errands/taking a walk with my friend/meeting up with a Tinder date today. Yet thousands and thousands of people have died.

And as a professional-etiquette-and behavior sort-of-person, I echo this part pretty strongly:

I hope that people’s questions about “good” behavior during this pandemic will soon begin to shift to ones rooted in the assumption that we’re committed to social distancing, public health, flattening the curve, and not getting others or ourselves sick. What should I do with all the beans I bought a month agoWhat should I do about this crushing loneliness I feel when I can’t see people IRLShould I flirt with the roommate I’ve developed a crush onShould I cut my own bangs?

But if you know, deep down, that your question is just a fresh rephrasing of, “May I be granted one (1) exception to the CDC recommendations in order to be a little less uncomfortable because I think my needs are more important than others’?” The answer is no. Someday the answer will be yes. I’d say I can’t wait for that day, but I can, and I will—because it’s right and we must.

And that’s what it comes down to, in the end. I would trade so much suckitude if it meant that all of you could still here in the world with me when I finally can go back outside. And those are the stakes we’re playing for, we are fighting to keep precious, irreplaceable people and the people who love them in the world, we are fighting against the overwhelming and pervasive pressure to reclaim some past idea of normal in exchange for some “acceptable” number of deaths.

To that I say: Masks on, full hearts, might lose, fight anyway. 

Hi,

I live in an area that is under a shelter-in-place order due to COVID-19. A few of my friends have been inviting me to activities that violate the order. My go-to excuse (and the truth) has been bringing up that I live with a high-risk individual, so I’m going to stick to the shelter-in-place order. Thing is, the invitations are still coming, and sometimes with encouragement along the lines of “none of us have symptoms” or “I have hand sanitizer so you’ll be fine.” Any advice for turning down these kind of invitations once and for all while also keeping friendships intact?

Thanks! (she/her)

Hello! Thank you for your timely letter.

Mr. Awkward made something for you over the weekend in honor of his sister, an ICU nurse who can’t stay home. Samuel. L. Jackson is also on the case.

I wrote this (full of scripts) for Vox  last week. Please allow me to respond to all the people who have dug up my personal email to express their indignation since:

1. My editor assigned the story to be about younger adults trying to get through to their parents and grandparents, because that is a thing that is happening. If they had assigned me the story targeting young people or “everyone, everywhere,” I would have written that one.

Me: “X is a problem, here’s what you can do about it.”

My Inbox: “But what about Y? Why are you IGNORING Y?”

Logic: “Weirdly, both X and Y can be problems at the same time.”

Good news, everyone: The suggested scripts & strategies in the piece can probably be adapted for people of all ages, since I wrote “You can be asymptomatic but still spread it to other people, so I’m erring on the safe side” not “You A BABY-BOOMER AND YOU ALONE can be asymptomatic ONLY OLDER PEOPLE, NOT YOUNGER PEOPLE, DON’T READ THIS OR LISTEN but still spread it to other people HAHAHA ONLY THE OLD, so I’m erring on the safe side DON’T READ THIS, YOUNGS.”

2. If you are staying at home, good! Also, maybe this doesn’t apply to you and you are not being personally called out and you do not have to personally let me personally know?

3. “You said ‘stay inside‘ but our GrEaT NaTioN has MaNy AcREs of wILdERnesS and NaTIOnal ParKS which are technically oUtSiED

Ha, you really got me there! Question: Can you get back and forth to one of those without stopping along the way for gas, food, beverages, bathroom breaks, or needing to interact with any staff of anything anywhere? P.S. Life comes at you fast.

Also, I got enough emails with this specific take that I have to ask: Was there a meeting? Or a club? If so, please unsubscribe me from your newsletter.

4. Fully half of you are writing from Florida where your politicians have decided to imitate the Mayor in JAWS. I promise I was not the one keeping beaches open where you live, so if you’d like to yell at someone who was, here is your governor’s contact info. I know you know how to write indignant emails, so, get going! Or, maybe he will find video easier to digest.

If I sound upset it’s because I am. I haven’t lost anybody I personally know as of today,, but people I love are sick, and death is creeping in inexorably around the edges of my circles and making itself at home there. I want to live. I want you to live. I want everybody’s most dipshit friends and family members of all ages to live. I even want the people in power who say “relax, don’t panic, go out and have fun” when they mean “keep spending money, STONKS! may depend on it” to live, okay, yes, it’s mostly so I can see them tried at The Hague for their crimes against humanity, but I still want there to be a tomorrow for them. There are things that we can do to stem the tide, so let’s fucking do them already.

Which is why I say, bluntly, Letter Writer, the longer your friends stay addicted to magical thinking, the more people are put at risk and the longer all of us will have to stay inside. Their justifications are bullshit:

So my recommendation for you is, if polite demurrals aren’t working, maybe…don’t be polite about it anymore? Like, at all? “No, I’m not coming, also WHAT ARE YOU DOING.” Stop trying to figure out the nice way to say it, don’t watch your tone, forget hints. You can’t be serious.” 

You may get your “let’s put the social in social distancing with game night, at my place!” buds to reconsider their behavior. You may make them so angry that they keep having gatherings but don’t invite you to things anymore. Your job is not to soothe them or smooth it over, your job is to live through this. I know you want to keep your friendships intact, but to do that, you and they and everyone they know needs to actually be alive. Probably 99% of the time I am of the school of “my personal life choices aren’t a comment on yours, live your life, Friend, I’m not doing this At You” but this is an exception. You can’t control what your friends will do, but you can absolutely refuse to validate it, enable it, or pretend it’s okay.

I know my fellow country-people are hardcore bright-siders who think “overreacting” is the worst thing a person can possibly do and whose favorite activity is to debate about the exact correct level of reaction one should have to every possible stimulus, but let’s risk it this one time, okay? Experts are saying: REACT.

If they’re wrong and I’m wrong, I’d love to be wrong, being wrong would be the absolute best-case scenario, we can celebrate how wrong I was and how silly all the scientists were together someday when there’s a vaccine and a reliable anti-viral, i.e. the next time I will be able to safely leave my house. We can stand uncomfortably close, lick each other’s faces, and rub our sticky hands on all the railings and lampposts we see, I’ll show you my quarantine birdsnest hairstyle and babysit everyone’s children so y’all can go on dinner dates.

Until then!!!!!!!!: Be the weird mask person and hard core shut-in you want to see in the world, without apology.

Hello, readers, thanks for your emails, your support, and your questions in this time of global pandemic. How’s everybody doing? (Yes, I know the first iteration misspelled COVID as Corvid, I ❤ ravens and crows and have been doing it all week, what can I say).

3sy5a1

Image: Meme stating that I have gone zero seconds without touching my face.

Personal update: Mr. Awkward and I are both virus-free as far as we can tell (which is no guarantee), but we’re both high-risk people and we are keeping our asthmatic, seasonal-allergy-prone asses home except for one or two essential medical errands. We’re very lucky to be able to do so, and I’m sending so much solidarity and appreciation to people who do the essential jobs to keep everyone fed, housed, not drowning in piles of our own garbage, and receiving necessary medical treatment.

The pharmacy has been out of my ADHD med for almost a month and doesn’t know when they’ll get resupplied. I run out Friday, so, I do not anticipate regular intervals of focused productivity, but who knows what inspiration may come in the hyper-focus zone. Last week, I did what I could to help former colleagues make the sudden switch to online teaching (release the tutorial-kraken!) and I’m working on a piece for Vox (who are doing some very good explainers) about scripts for getting relatives to take this seriously that will go up within the next day or so. I’ll share a link here when it does.

My general plans are to keep writing my morning pages with the #ArtBuddies, pet cats, wash my hands, keep my writing schedule as much as I can, wash my hands, read a ton of books, wash my hands, check in with friends (especially my extroverts) regularly, wash my hands, bug my electeds a ton about getting our collective shit together and getting relief to *people* (not just *workers/employers*), wash my hands, and play many games of “I didn’t know we had this in our pantry, let’s put it on some rice!” in between hand-washings.

And, you know, try not to freak out entirely.

Would you like to look at cats? They almost never share the lap peacefully, so this was a rare pleasure.

twocatsonelap

Image: Henrietta Kim Wexler Pussycat (closer, darker swirls) and Daniel Jason Mendoza Striped Tiger (further from camera, lighter stripes) share a rare moment of peace on my blanketed lap.

Now for some questions! We’ll call them #1258 and #1259. 

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Ahoy Captain,

This past year I (31/F) finally received a diagnosis for what I’ve been struggling with for over half my life. I have Complex PTSD/PTSD (I’ll spare you the differences and overlaps) (Ed. Note: No worries! I, Jennifer, will link people to a basic explainer.) Encouraged by my therapist I shared the PTSD with my parents. The main reason being because, with the enthusiastic support of said therapist, I am pursuing a service dog (SD).

Being able to acknowledge that yes, I have experienced multiple traumas and that I deserve to seek help and healing in a way that’s actually beneficial has been huge for me. I am very fortunate that my dog turned out to be an excellent candidate and I am owner training with the help of a professional service dog (SD) trainer. For the first time in forever, I can even sometimes think positively about the future!

The problem is that my feelings of being valid and deserving of help are new and fragile. My mother is extremely dismissive about my having PTSD, deciding to go the SD route, and the legitimacy of my dog being a service dog in training (SDiT). It often gets to the point of being triggering. And when I tell her she’s being hurtful she says she loves me, has good intentions, and somehow I end up apologizing for getting upset.

In the past I had her/the family on a very lean information diet, particularly when it comes to mental health stuff. I am worried about introducing my dog as my SDiT and it making the family feel as entitled to information and judgement as my mom. They mostly follow her lead when it comes to me. Although there have been times when my dad will privately admit mom is super critical of and often cruel to me, he has no intentions of intervening.

We live in different states so Holidays mean my siblings and I return to my parents’ house for several days. If it was just a dinner, I might be able to get through it, but I doubt I can last days in close quarters without utilizing my SDiT and I’d prefer not to lie since the truth will come out anyway.

Do you have any scripts for navigating what is essentially a medical treatment plan they don’t/won’t agree with? Tips on how to introduce my dog as my SDiT and have that be respected?

Signed,

Letting the Service Dog out of the Bag

Hello there! Captain Awkward here with a beta-read and practical service-dog suggestions from The Goat Lady. I hope we’re reaching you while there is still time to cancel or radically alter your plans for this upcoming trip to see your folks.

Because that’s my practical advice: Strongly consider cancelling the trip and probably DON’T talk more in detail about your diagnosis or treatment with your mom right this second if you don’t think it will be safe or productive. More words/context/recommendations after the jump.

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#1230: “Help Me Not Judge Myself If A Guy I Sleep With Turns Out To Be An Asshole Later”

Hello Captain,

I (she/her) have become rather adept at spotting red flags and parting ways when necessary. However, when I’m looking for casual sex, sometimes it takes away from the excitement if I’m getting to know the guy at length first. It’s, like, ‘let me interview you to know I like you as a friend before we have the not-so-spontaneous sex‘. It’s cool, but sometimes it’s not what I want.

I’d rather have the amount of interaction that builds up to a sexy situation, then go for it. Then, if the guy turns out to be an asshole for some reason, I can cut ties with him and it’s not a big deal. But I’m worried I might end up judging myself along the lines of ‘you should have known better’ (and essentially internalising the judgement of family members / other people). Help me get looser!

Lady on the Loose

Dear Lady On The Loose,

Respectfully, I don’t know how to tell you how to have a conversation between you and you, and I don’t think we can prevent our feelings even by thinking about them a whole lot in advance. “How do I stop myself from feeling ____” is a very common question in my box (right after ‘How do I tell people things they don’t want to hear but without making them upset?’) and the answer is the same: I don’t know, but I agree that it would be awesome if we could!

What I have for you are questions: If you accidentally come across an asshole, it would be incredibly okay to feel bad about that, right? Assholes are unpleasant! What a crappy disappointing ruiner of your fun time!

If you felt so bad that you started judging yourself, what would you do?

What, if anything, would you change about your behavior and approach to casual sex and meeting men?

If your friends and family judged you, what, if anything, would you change?

Would you take a break from meeting people for a while? Would you institute stronger/slower/longer screening? Would you chalk it up to experience and keep going? You have options for adapting to new information, and feelings are one kind of information, so what’s the worst thing that happens if you trust yourself and say, “Hello, Self! I’ll definitely change it up if this stops working for us”?

Be rigorous about safer sex practices and testing, and make sure you keep doing your due diligence re: safety and red flag spotting, but otherwise? Maybe getting what you want from this entails some risk, and this is one of the risks, and if it comes it comes, but you got what you wanted more times than you didn’t.

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Hello Captain,

I have a situation with a hug-seeking missile. Is it cruel to exclude one or two people of a family?

I hug my in-laws except two guys my age, 33. My SIL (Becky’s) bf (Matt) wanted to be hugged before I was ready. I acquiesced, not wanting him to feel shunned. But he aggressively goes in for hugs if I freeze, even if I pull away! I lightly said no thanks a couple times, it was ignored. So I became a master at hug dodging. I’d duck out of reach (difficult because I’m disabled,) he’d immediately come for me again. He doesn’t hug my husband or BIL Bart, who don’t usually hug. He didn’t treat it as a joke, he seemed serious and implacable. There’s no way Matt doesn’t know that’s uncomfortable, right? He also seems to try to force eye contact with me on days I dodge him. I can’t stand any eye contact at the best of times so I may be oversensitive to it, but that seems so aggressive to me.

I immaturely asked my husband James to act as a bouncer. He stood between us and gave Matt a firm “NO hugs, go away.” There wasn’t huge fallout, but it will be different when I do it because women’s boundaries aren’t as respected. Matt only stopped for that day.

I know I was ridiculous for dodging so long.

Surely anyone’s feelings would be hurt by being the only one not hugged. It seems cruel to hug every person in a room but one or two. I stopped hugging even my SILs for awhile, but slowly phased that back in. After that, Matt gave up for 3 years until this weekend. I dodged.

I suspect being friendly with Bart is what triggered it. James, Bart, and I hang out lately and I consider him a brother. We don’t hug yet but would if he wanted to, if Matt wasn’t around. I’ve known Bart for 10 years longer than Matt.

I can understand not wanting to be excluded. But Matt’s not a good friend. He monologues instead of conversing, we have to take the mic from him by saying, “Matt, [name] was trying to speak.” Becky has picked up his unpleasant conversation style. This monologuing was a problem previously, which we resolved by having some events we invite Becky and Matt to, but mostly it’s 4 of 5 siblings, and me. We all worry if this is mean of us.

Matt’s seriously drained my benefit of doubt. It’s partly my fault for not firmly saying, “No.” After this weekend I feel ready to say “NO,” or state that I don’t feel comfortable when people ignore clear signs of discomfort like pulling away. I’ve practised in the mirror, but I don’t know how to deal if the larger family points out it’s not fair to hug everyone but Matt. I don’t want to be mean to anyone, but I can’t handle dodging Matt anymore.

Thank you for any advice,

Missile Defense System

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Hello, monthly feature with short questions from patrons continues from the previous chapter.

Q7: I am single in my 40s and have never had a serious long-term partner. I used to think I hadn’t met the right person yet but have recently come to understand that I’m aromantic (and probably demisexual – not ace but I don’t really feel like chasing after sex, either). I don’t know how much of this to share with the world, specifically my late-70s parents who would need the aromantic crash course. Thoughts? (he/him/his)

A7: You know your parents best, so you know how much energy you want to invest and how likely they are to be receptive. You don’t owe them (or the world) the details, on the other hand, they’ve surely noticed by now that you don’t seek long-term romantic attachments. If you do decide to speak with them, maybe that’s the context to use, like, “Parents, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’ve never been that interested in romantic relationships, I just found out that a lot of people feel this way and there’s a word for us – aromantic – pretty cool, right?” 

You’ve been reading a lot about the topic, so possibly pull together some of the resources that made it easier for you to describe your identity so that if your parents say, “How interesting, I always noticed that about you but didn’t want to pry, tell me more,” you’re prepared and if they say, “What’s that? Kids these days!” you’re also prepared.

As for the world, probably the best thing I can do is ask our readers: Got a favorite community or other resource for aromantic info and peer support? This place seems pretty active and detailed, from what I can tell, but I’m not a member.

Q8: I am coming to terms with the fact that my boundaries are… not great. Being a Ravenclaw, my first instinct is to seek out books. I found the seminal BOUNDARIES by Cloud & Townsend, and while it confirmed that yep, boundary problems abound, this book is a terrible fit for me because I have a lot of trauma around religion and every other sentence is a Bible quote. Can anyone recommend other great boundary books? (She/Her)

A8: Who wants to recommend some non-religious books about boundaries?

Q9: I love my wonderful boyfriend so much and find most of his quirks delightful. But his breathing irritates me a lot. When we’re resting on the couch or in bed, he holds his breath for long periods of time and then lets it out really loudly. When we’re cuddling, he breathes in my face and I have no air to breathe. We’ve talked about it but he often doesn’t realize he’s doing it. Any ideas? (She/her/hers)

A9: There’s no good way to tell someone, “You breathe wrong,” but I do have some ideas.

First, if your boyfriend isn’t already seeing a doctor about this, it’s time. Habitually holding the breath can be a stress reaction, it can also be a sign of a medical condition (apnea, sleep and other kinds, for one example). We can’t & won’t diagnose strangers via blogging (fortunately you have a working search engine and can look up specific possibilities and symptoms in detail) so I’ll just say as someone who was diagnosed with asthma as an adult specifically because a partner said, “You’re breathing weird, I’m worried about you (& annoyed), please get it looked at.” He was right, I had developed odd, subconscious, habitual workarounds to try to control coughing and get enough air and it took someone else being around all the time to notice. Your script can be some version of “Hey, this breathing thing might not just be a quirk, so can you please make a doctor appointment and at least rule out the prospect of something serious?” 

In the meantime, look for cuddle positions where he’s not breathing in your face (big spoon, little spoon?). If he can’t control whatever this is or he always forgets, you can remember and take steps to make sure you can always breathe. It won’t be a mystery as to why, he knows why, flip over when you need to so that you can still be close and minimize face-to-face time while he gets checked out. Hopefully he can get some answers and both of you can get some relief.

Q10: Last year, my sister was killed in a very public accident. I’ve been struggling with how to tell friends and acquaintances that I speak to intermittently what happened. I don’t know how to bring it up, and get emotional when I do. Can you give me some scripts to follow so I can explain the situation and (maybe) not fall apart while doing so? Thank you so much. (she/her/hers)

A10: Oh, how awful, I’m so sorry! The loss of your sister + the newsworthiness (constant reminders + people’s need to speculate) must have been a special kind of hell.

I always fall back on two strategies for communicating bad news that I’m nervous or stressed about sharing.

First, it’s okay to use email, text, social media, etc. and share the news before any planned hangouts, and tell people exactly what you told us:

“Friend, you may not have heard this, but since we saw each other last, my sister was killed in [incident]. I get very emotional when I talk about it and I never know how to bring it up, so I thought I’d send you a note before we [have drinks][go birdwatching][resume our opera subscription] this week so you’ll understand if the ‘So, what’s new with you?’ part of our conversation gets a little messy.  I’m really looking forward to seeing you and catching up.”

You could do this one-on-one, you could do this in batches, or all at once, whatever works for you. Ideally, you’ll feel better not dreading having to deliver the news in person, and your friends and acquaintances will appreciate knowing that this huge thing happened to you and having a minute to [privately react][privately Google what happened and refresh their memories/satisfy curiosities][privately react again] before you see each other.

Second, enlist the connectors/planners/hosts/organizers in your social and professional groups to spread the word for you. The kind of people who take it upon themselves to organize a book club or a college reunion or networking event often see keeping up with everyone’s news as part of the role, you can absolutely message them or call them up and ask for their help spreading the word. Maybe something like:

“Hi [Nice Person], I hope you’re well. Can I ask for your help with an awkward task?

You may or may not have heard the news, but I  lost my sister in an accident last year. As I emerge from just being with my family, I’m realizing that a lot of people don’t know, and I have this recurring problem of having to break the news again and again. I’m looking forward to catching up with all of you at [upcoming event], so would you be willing to quietly spread the news of what happened for me before we all get together?

Then tell people what you want them to do/not do about your news. For example:

“I’m looking forward to [discussing the book][rehearsing the play][building the marketing plan for the North East region][registering new voters] and hearing what everyone’s been up to, and it would really ease my mind if I know every “so what’s new with you” conversation won’t be a rehash of events and that people won’t be surprised if I’m a little down or easily flustered. Thank you.”

You’re going to get some “I’m so sorry,” and shoulder pats and hugs when you do see people, but this way hopefully every time you run into people it won’t be a Run, Lola Run! or Groundhog Day-style montage of surprise and grief.

Q11: Hi Captain, here’s my question: I am Childfree by Choice, and I used to think kids just stressed me the fuck out. Turns out I was mistaken – I’m quite comfortable in situations with babies/kids, where their adults are supervising them well, and I know the boundaries about how and when I should intervene if I’ve noticed something unsafe before the other adults have. It’s the more ambiguous situations that stress me out. So like, if a crawling baby is making a beeline for something dangerous and I’m the first one to notice, I am a-OK with going over and picking the baby up, distracting them, and pointing them another direction. That’s my duty as a friend or auntie.

But with bigger kids, especially if it’s clear that their caregivers are aware of the situation but not responding they way I think they should be, that really stresses me out. Like when there’s roughhousing that is getting mean and the smaller kid isn’t enjoying it anymore, or some kind of play that’s pretty much guaranteed to end up with somebody getting hurt, and the caregivers are just giving half-assed verbal warnings and not following up when they’re ignored. But they’re not my kids and I’m just a friend or relative of the parents, so my impulse to physically wade in, tuck a child under my arm like a bad kitty, and remove them from the situation, is probably unwelcome. What is the correct course of action in a situation like that?

A11: I would say, mostly, if the parents/caregivers are nearby/available and the kids aren’t coming to them for adjudication or comfort and it’s not a “you are seriously going to injure yourselves/each other or break something expensive” situation, grabbing & tucking the child like a football is going to be overkill. From my Not-A-Parent observation deck, when there’s an adults-and-kids-who-aren’t-toddlers-anymore gathering going on, there are some skills being learned and practiced on both sides:

  1. Kids are learning to play together and have some autonomy without coming to adults every five minutes, and to self-soothe and self-regulate if they don’t enjoy something.
  2. Parents are learning to find balance. What’s the right mix of socializing with fellow adults, keeping an eye on kids, but also letting everybody have a little space?The “correct” amount of supervision is always in flux. If something bad does happen, there will always, always, always be a subtext of “why wasn’t somebody watching them more closely” but like, sometimes you can be RIGHT THERE and the kid can still shove a nickel up her nose or decide that she can fly.

As a Not-Their Parents observer, there is no “the” correct course of action but there are a few strategies, which I’m adapting from “bystander intervention” training, where the emphasis is on de-escalating difficult situations while still respecting everyone’s autonomy, often expressed as “D’s” (3 Ds, 4 Ds, depends on who you ask):

  1. Direct: Your scoop-up-a-kid instinct would be classified as direct intervention, as would telling the aggressors to knock it off. A matter-of-fact reminder of what you want them to do (“Hey, Buddy, let’s use our inside voices and keep our feet off the furniture, thanks”) (All kids and pets are addressed as Buddy) can work better than lots of non-specific “Quiet down!” reminders.
  2. Distract: If you do intervene, don’t necessarily do it by “rescuing” the smaller kid or admonishing the bigger kids, jump in with a distraction instead. Ask a question, show them something cool on your phone, get them to help you with a task. It’s part of bystander intervention generally, where ‘confronting’ people is risky (and can escalate a bad situation), but engaging the target in friendly conversation communicates ‘you aren’t alone, there’s someone here to catch you if you fall.’
  3. Delegate: Get a parent. “Are they allowed to jump on that?” “Hey, I think that the fun screaming might have turned into the not-fun kind.” “If we’re every hanging out and I see some roughhousing that crosses a line, or some of the kids being mean, would you like me to come get you or jump in there myself?” It’s okay to be selective about who you ask and how you ask, if you know that certain friends are easily riled or take questions like this as implied criticisms, you’re the best judge of how likely someone is to hear you. Also, turf matters: In your house, or where you are the host, it’s okay to be more active (“Please don’t touch that/jump on that/eat that/open that/Please use inside voices so the neighbors can’t hear us/Don’t pick up the cat she doesn’t like it,” etc.) Think of it as communicating “Party Rules” vs. “Correcting People’s Parenting.”
  4. Delay: Kids (like kittens) can get pretty rough in short bursts and be totally chaotic and then snap back to being best buds in an instant. Sometimes you can’t prevent whatever it is, but it’s okay to hang back, let it resolve itself and check in with the kid who was on the bottom of the pile, “How are you doing, Buddy? Wanna come sit by me?” If the kid was really upset by something, give them the opportunity to tell you about it.

This stuff can be so fraught so again, there’s no one approach. If you get really stressed out by certain friends’ parenting dynamic, maybe take breaks and schedule some adult-only time to give everybody a chance to grow out of whatever “difficult stage” is happening now. It’s okay to enjoy being around children sometimes and also to be stressed out by them sometimes, it’s okay to find some people’s parenting style kinda stressful and wish they’d supervise their kids more closely at gatherings without having any particular obligation to Do Something about it.

Q12: So, how can I (F) respond to the “just relax” I get from guys when they’re being disruptive, and I raise an objection. My two most recent examples: 1) coworkers in the back of the room at a staff meeting, cutting up and being so noisy I couldn’t hear what our boss (the department head!?) was saying up front. “Guys, can you quiet down, please?” “Oh, just relax.” 2) Thumping and banging and screaming and yelling coming from upstairs neighbors. (Sounds like, when I was a kid, would occasionally accompany black eyes and broken bones.) Saw them out in the parking lot, asked, “Everything okay?” Dad got incredibly defensive and, after a shouting argument, muttered, “Just relax.” I thought this was common enough to be a Thing, but I don’t find any discussion of the phenomenon online.

A12: Things I know about the command “Just relax!”

  1. It is often used by people who want to manipulate you into doing something you don’t want to do and people who want to punish you for being right when they know they are in the wrong.
  2. It has never, in the history of the world, made anyone actually relax.
  3. One possible response is a flat “I am relaxed” and then continuing to expect what you expect and need what you need (Workbros to shush already, “I am relaxed, I’m just making sure everyone’s okay, it sounded pretty rowdy last night. Have a great day.”)
  4. When men say it to women, they want us to be quiet and afraid of appearing “shrill,” so another possible response when circumstances warrant is to selectively and strategically show them what EXTREMELY UNRELAXED looks like and then snap back to “Ok, so, what were we talking about? Right, I’m gonna need you to _____.” Neither examples you shared warrant this strategy yet (you don’t want to escalate with scary neighbor), but for habitual offenders who you don’t work with? Sometimes reminding people that they have choices and that you also have choices can snap people into coming correct.
  5. As for the neighbor situation, his defensive reaction is right out of the textbook, so read the bystander intervention stuff up thread and think about de-escalation, especially distraction. This has a nice short summary (probably don’t call the police unless it’s an immediate life-or-death situation, check in with the other parent subtly). You could also talk to a DV resource like LoveIsRespect.org for more guidance.

Thanks for the interesting and challenging questions! We’ll be back with more in about a month.