The Washington Post
Can a reader’s friendship survive the pandemic?
Hello, Carolyn! My close friend of many years and I live about an hour away from each other, but we might as well be on distant planets when it comes to covid. Lockdown was extremely stressful for both of us. Since lockdown ended, I have been living carefully: masking up indoors and getting vaccinated ASAP. She has been living confidently, maskless, and refuses to get vaccinated. I think covid safety is a big deal, she thinks it’s not necessary. Her friend got covid-19 while battling breast cancer and died. My friend is convinced her death wasn’t related to covid (how would anyone know?).
I don’t respect her decisions, her logic or her behavior. She doesn’t respect mine — she thinks I’m overreacting and overly cautious. When we talk about it, we both dig our heels in. So now we aren’t talking. It’s been over a month now.
Now that the delta variant is here, I’m even more worried, angry and frustrated with her. I’m practically obsessed with her lack of safety. How can a friendship overcome these differences?
Frustrated: If you’re wrong about covid (you’re not), then here’s what happens: You feel minor discomfort in your mask and no one else is harmed.
If she’s wrong about covid (she is), then here’s what happens: She puts herself at risk of sickness and death; she puts other people at risk of sickness and death; she does her small part to help extend the life and reach of a virus that has brought sickness and death to millions, along with massive emotional, experiential, educational and economic losses to the entire world; and in doing all of these she gives the virus one more living opportunity to mutate into even more dangerous forms.
So if you were still speaking, then I would urge you not to discuss this issue with your friend as if your two positions are equal. Again — the costs of being wrong with each position are zero vs. absolutely freaking everything, respectively. It is your responsibility as her friend and fellow human never to deviate from that point, and not to engage with her on this topic beyond that. Mind your discipline, not hers.
But since you’re not still speaking, you have a decision to make. Do you call her to say you want the friendship to survive this challenge? Or do you accept this as its sad but appropriate end, knowing you can’t unsee this new side of her?
Both options represent a decision, at least, where the absence of one creates the void into which obsessive worry expands. So make up your mind and take the steps: either to recover the friendship — a little grace, a lot of perspective, some lowered expectations, no budging on things that count, and a blunt opener such as, “You’re wrong, but I love you — can we stay friends?”; or recover from its loss. Sometimes that’s all we can do. People change and their alchemy together changes.
Though if there’s some advocacy work you can take on — does a local public health organization need volunteers? — now’s the time to offer your services. Lives depend on this work, plus productive engagement leaves little room for repetitive thoughts.