How have months of socially distancing impacted our friendships?
When we do make plans to see each other, what happens when roommates, friends, or family don't agree on the risks or appropriate safety measures?
We take listener calls on the new rules of friendship during the ongoing pandemic with Kamille Washington, co-host of the culture podcast "Unfriendly Black Hotties," and Margaret Willison, a librarian and culture writer.
On "setting the rules" about social activity during a pandemic:
Kamille Washington: "Oh, my gosh, it's so difficult. I mean, I've been trying to avoid using the language of rules because ... it's easy for people to feel like you're being judgmental when you talk about things in that way. I've tried to keep conversations around, you know, 'What's your comfort level? What's my comfort level? How ... can we meet each other where we are?' When I'm doing that, I have to understand, I don't have roommates. I do have 'couple privilege' — my partner and I live together in a two bedroom in Cambridge with two dogs, so we are very well set up kind of emotionally for this time. I have needed to be really sensitive to the different situations that everyone else is in."
On returning to bars:
Washington: "The science right now is very clear ... It's not safe to be in an enclosed space with poor ventilation, with a number of people who's pandemic practices — you're not familiar with it. That's a very high risk situation, but because we don't have sufficient support for the businesses and for people working in the economy's impacted by those kind of rules, we're just caught in this, like, capitalist death race, basically ... Are we going to respect the science that's been put forward about what is safe and what is unsafe, or are we going to change what's available because it's necessary for restaurants to be open?"
"Of course, people are going out, ... having margaritas on rooftops — I love that for you — but the reality is, 'If you and me don't live in the same household, how can we be safely distanced from one another [while] eating ... on a patio? And so that has meant that that's just not a thing that I do ... You know, the beauty of takeout alcohol is [that] you can take that margarita and go to a park and sit far apart from your your friends and have a lovely chat and just feel secure in that knowledge, so that's what I choose to do. It's mask-on, you know, within ... seven or eight feet because I feel like the whole six feet thing — ... people believe that that number is magic, and I think of six feet as being a minimum."
Margaret Willison: "It's funny to talk about all this stuff sort of academically. But one thing that we haven't established [is that] Camille and I are friends in real life and we've had to have some of these conversations. We had friends who visited from out of state and they and I feel comfortable doing like a quick hug as long as everybody has their mask on, and Camille did not feel comfortable doing that ... I stated my comfort level. The people who were receptive to it returned the affection that people like Camille who weren't receptive to it, didn't hug ... and ... the key thing is [that] everybody communicated clearly."
On why she is planning on getting another coronavirus test soon:
Willison: "Because the tenor of things is shifting. My brother has moved in. We're going to be getting another new roommate in October and ... Just knowing that I'm okay right now is important. I'm also really interested in trying to get an antibody test because I had a flu-type sickness in February, and I don't believe that it was COVID, but we know so little, and it seems like any amount more you can know is a benefit."
On reconciling the guidance from public health experts with what's allowed at the state level, combined with the mental health impacts of social isolation:
Washington: "Just being intentional about your relationships and, like, finding ways to make even virtual time together feel more like real and tangible. So, for example, I started a book club that's just me and my one other very good friend. And it gives us an excuse to, you know, check in with each other every couple of weeks and talk about something that is not related to the pandemic or our work stress or whatever, and just, like, connect. I think getting a little creative in stepping outside the box in terms of how we are relating to each other helps helps us feel more like connected in this time when ... we're just not able to to hug and kiss and hang out in bars the way that we want to."
Willison: "I have a slightly different orientation for this because I'm single and I sort of have been trying to date during the pandemic, which means engaging like a certain amount of risk or at least contemplating a certain amount of risk and asking the people in my apartment to also take that risk on. For a while, there [was] this terrible dilemma where, like, you would match with people and like consistently if somebody was willing to meet up with you in person and maybe not be socially distanced, they were not taking the pandemic leave sufficiently seriously for that to be anything worth contemplating. That was like a very special category. More and more, I've been finding people who are approaching it sensibly, but are getting to a point now where they're willing to ... take risks. And it's tough. You know, companionship is really important. Not having to feel like your life in this category is just on ice for a year is important. But there are stories like this wedding that we're hearing about in Maine, where it was 60 people indoors, and from that, a huge number of people have been infected and three people have died, none of whom attended the wedding ... You never want to be one of those stories, and it's so hard to control whether you're going to be."
This segment aired on September 9, 2020.