Carolyn Hax Live (August 21)

Aug 21, 2020

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax took your comments about her current advice column and questions about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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Welcome to the last chat of the summery part of summer. I'm off next week as we try to deal with going back to school. 

I became a SAHM a year ago. My husband and I have three elementary-age kids. I knew I would be responsible for more housework when I became a SAHM, but my husband has recused himself from housework to the point that the trash can be overflowing and two kids are asking me for homework help while I make dinner and my husband is...watching silly YouTube videos. He’ll reluctantly do something specific if I ask him, but that’s it. I have tried to talk to him about his uninvolvement, and he basically said “That’s what SAHMs do, all the house and kid stuff.” Is that accurate?

Of course it isn't. Nothing that self-serving can be, as a rule, especially not between equal partners in multiple emotional commitments.

SAHPs opt out of paid employment to focus on home and child care. That's as close as I can imagine to a formal definition of something that isn't under any kind of formal jurisdiction.

If the domestic workload happens to fit into the rough equivalent of the hours your partner spends at paid work, then it makes sense that you do "all the house and kid stuff."

But since all kids (and most homes/ chores) require attention beyond the boundaries of your typical work week, the idea that the SAHP has to work seven days a week and be on call 24-7--while the paid worker of the household sits in the same room playing on his phone--is just not something a kind or fair person even entertains, much less expects and feels justified saying out loud. 

To sit there on videos ignoring the kids while you cook dinner for everyone is textbook passive aggression. I don't know why your husband is so angry, but that's the call I'm making here. He's angry and checked out.

You and the kids are paying for it already, but that price is just going to get steeper. If he can look at his kids wanting parental attention and just ignore them, then I'm guessing it's beyond the "find just the right magic words for him to grasp this concept" point and into counseling territory. But, still, in these moments, please ask him calmly if he's really okay with not helping his kids with their homework while you make dinner. 

It's almost axiomatic that the angry/checked out cohort responds to a request to attend therapy with, "I'm not the one with the problem, you are," but try anyway. If he refuses, then go solo. The division of labor is just the top layer of this onion. 


I had no idea how long that answer was taking me until I posted it and saw the time. I am so sorry for the crickets.

Any thoughts on how to organically meet potential friends/partners during this time? Or is now really a time of more self-work and self-nurturing? I am a big believer in your advocacy of finding people where you are your best self, e.g. volunteering, social groups etc. I am new to my town, and it is hard to just wait open-endedly for ????

Unless you moved to a covid hot spot, there are likely opportunities to get out and about in relative safety, especially if your climate permits. I'm seeing outdoor exercise groups regularly in my area (walking, biking, yoga, boot-camp-style fitness), plus a lot of volunteer spots that typically appeal to older folks are probably open right now, like staffing a polling station. Libraries are typically responsive to local needs for connection. Food banks are pretty much all demand right now, far as I can tell. Schools might need help, if they're attempting to reopen, and individual families will need help (tutoring, e.g.) if online.

Just off the top of my head.

Hi Carolyn, My first baby is due in September. Instead of a traditional baby shower, a couple of loved ones threw me a very small (5 people), socially distant gathering in my own backyard. Other people who wanted to celebrate were invited to drive by and send or leave gifts, and then one friend has been quarantining offered to stay afterward to help me open the gifts and send photos. It would have been really rather perfect, except that my sister begged me for weeks beforehand to let her join in the intimate gift-opening "afterparty." We went back and forth about this for days, with her saying she would feel like an outsider if she just drove by and dropped off a gift like everyone else. I didn't want her to stay afterward, not because I don't love her but because she has not really been adhering to social distancing and has been letting her kids play with other kids in the neighborhood (which I think means she's also spending time in other parents' homes), and I just didn't feel comfortable, but I gave in. And now, six days later, she has just announced to the family that she and her husband have tested positive for COVID. I am furious. She knows I have a major guilt complex and she probably knew she would be able to wear me down if she kept at it, and that's what she did. And now she has put me and my family at risk. (I'm getting tested today and my anxiety is through the roof.) The damage is already done, so I'm not sure how to approach this in the aftermath. Whether to call her up and yell at her and say this is exactly what I wanted to avoid. Or whether to just let it go and never ever let this happen again. What do you think?

Damn. I'm sorry, and I hope it all turns out okay for you--please check in next chat, or before then on my Facebook page, if you're willing. LINK. I'm sure you'll find a lot of support there if you do. 

I think the answer is between "yell at her" and "just let it go." That's because this was a calamity in two parts: The first part was your vulnerability to guilt, and the second was your sister's knowledge and brazen exploitation of that vulnerability to give herself a couple of cheap warm fuzzies inside.

Clearly your sister's role in this was worse due to its selfishness, where your emotional motivation was a kinder one, if misguidedly so. But you had a role, too, because it's still your territory you failed to protect. And so if you go at your sister with a blame-first attitude, you open the door for her to say something idiotic and self-serving, like, "You could have said no." Which you could have, obviously. But that doesn't let her off the hook for badgering you into something you clearly weren't comfortable with.

So here's what I suggest: Ask questions and see whether she has gotten the cosmic message here. If she doesn't bite, then:

"Obviously I need to do a better job of standing up for myself. That's on me. I am furious at myself right now for giving in to having you over."

Then pause to see again whether the cosmic message hit its target.

If not: This is a crossroads. You can say nothing more, on the theory that she's not capable of getting it; you can ask her explicitly to take no for an answer next time, risking the same, "You could have said no!" response--or, up a different avenue of bad, at the risk she will become seriously ill with covid and your conscience will eviscerate you for choosing now to take a stand;  or you can shelve the conversation for later, when you aren't both preoccupied by health concerns.

Regardless, you have both longer work to do on disabling your guilt switches, and more immediate work on taking care of yourself. If you don't like or have the energy for the middle path, I lean toward doing nothing--it's okay to decide to focus on the bigger stuff revealed here and give your sister herself a pass.


Hi Carolyn, What specifically counts for emotional abuse towards kids? I’ve noticed a family member often mocking their children (under 10), yelling at one or more of them for something that wasn’t their fault, or was something a sibling did (i.e., directing it at the wrong kid). I worry about the kids as they get older and their self esteem, etc.

Aw geez. 

Parents sometimes will make mistakes, like holding the wrong kid responsible for something. That's hard on a kid, but a healthy parent will apologize after figuring out the problem, and both parent and child can be better for it if it becomes a way to learn frailty, humility and forgiveness.

When it involves laughing-at-not-with, or scapegoating, or venting/punishing because the parent is unhappy and the kid is a convenient dumping ground, then it crosses into abuse. It's when the child's lack of power brings out an aggressive response in the parent instead of a protective one.

If this is what you're witnessing, then please call Childhelp, 1-800-4-A-CHILD. Bystanders have a lot of power in situations involving abuse, but it's not always intuitive what that power is or how to use it.

What is the new etiquette about weddings in the time of COVID? My niece is getting married in October. I know we shouldn’t have favorites, but she is ours. Her fiancé is perfect for her, and we have been looking forward to their wedding since they got engaged last year. But now COVID. My husband is an essential worker in healthcare and is exposed to COVID patients regularly. As a result, we are very conservative about seeing people. Outside of his work and groceries, we haven’t seen people since March. So we aren’t going to the wedding. And we are trying to figure out the kindest way to tell our niece. We are heartbroken to miss it and want her to know that. I don’t want her to think it’s because of anything but this horrible situation. We love her and support her marriage. I know people write in all the time essentially asking, “How do I do what I want without consequences.” But this isn’t what I want. I’m not hurumphing over a destination wedding or the like. None of us picked this pandemic and we’re all just trying our best to figure it out. And I want to approach it with as much kindness as possible.

I understand your heartbreak. I think your concern, though, might be above and beyond.

You are doing the thoughtful and loving thing by not showing up. We don't typically expect people to apologize for, or find the kindest way to explain, making a thoughtful and loving sacrifice on our behalf.

Please just tell your niece how heartbroken and disappointed you are that you have to miss the wedding, after looking forward to it for a year. Say you can't risk bringing covid to the party from your husband or back from the party to your husband. If you were going to incur travel expenses to go, maybe shift some of that money to a bigger wedding gift, if you can afford it. You don't have to, obv, but it might help you feel better. as well as blunt some of this couple's disappointment at having a crisis crash their wedding.

Allow me to take this moment to thank all the essential workers making these steep sacrifices for the rest of us.

Just wanted to thank you and the chatters who had some wonderful suggestions. Honestly, just typing it all out made me feel better. We called in for reinforcements last week, who have been a HUGE help. I've apologized to my relative and we're getting along much better. She's visiting a pain clinic soon and is somewhat optimistic. I have a staycation planned for myself next month to recharge a bit. All in all, things are looking up. I know this may paint things in an overly perfect "instant solution" type of way, which I don't mean to do. Nothing is perfect, but compared to where I was, I feel so much better.

I'm so glad to hear it, thank you.

I didn't get an "overly perfect" vibe here at all, for what it's worth. What I see is pretty typical of these situations: a few available remedies gathered together to have impact beyond the reach of any one of them alone, plus the passing of a feeling of helplessness in favor of a more optimistic outlook. If I've learned one thing from doing this column and from living through my own challenges, disappointments and grief, it's that change is a constant. Nothing can change around us but our feelings about things can change from day to day. Or, we can get stuck in our feelings but eventually something in our circumstances will change and nudge us out of the emotional rut. The power we unlock when we learn to wait ourselves out is formidable.

I’m confused by the coda to your advice in Wednesday’s column: “If your niece is angry at all of you upon finding out, own it: ‘I love you, and I’m sorry I let you down.’” What is there to own, and how exactly is the aunt letting her down? Your advice is to (mostly) stay out of it, and presumably would have been the same at any point in the years up till now? So what was the aunt to do that she didn’t do, and how can she sincerely tell her niece she’s sorry for letting her down? I guess this leads me to a broader question I’ve been considering, which is how to respond to someone who seems to be asking for an apology when you don’t feel you’ve actually wronged them.

I'm going to copy my answer to a similar Q on Facebook this week:

"The point is that the niece will likely be upset, and that all 50 people have some grain of culpability--the LW, for example, may have no role to play now, but could have been more forceful years ago, just for e.g.--and that the niece does not deserve to be treated to a detailed hairsplitting by each person to whom she expresses her dismay. Instead she deserves a simple apology from each, whether the fault was a micro-fraction or entire."

So, that my advice "presumably would have been the same at any point in the years up till now" actually isn't true. I was advising for the moment. I think some of the 50 could have intervened more forcefully at various points. Or, not shared with others--who told all these kids/cousins, for example? Or, could havesaid something in the moment when the cousins were told: "Hey wait--the child herself doesn't know, please don't put them all in this position." I realize it's an assumption, but the free flow of this info means I have little doubt there were opportunities going back years to keep this from becoming the problem it is now.


As to your Q re apologies you don't think are owed, you say "seems to be asking"--so, you ask questions. Find out exactly what the person is upset about and why. Then think carefully about your part in it. If it's really zero, then look for points of empathy. "If I were you, then I would be furious too. You're right to be upset. I think you're mistaken about my role in it, though." Or: "I see why you're angry at me--but I wasn't saying what you think I said. What I actually said/meant was, ______. I'm sorry I wasn't clear/I'm sorry I gave you the wrong impression." I.e., there are ways to care about someone's feelings and set the record straight.

If that's what you're asking.

(Not a question. Sharing something that might help others.) My sister is high-risk on several fronts (age, COPD, heart) and lives across the country. She started sounding depressed and said she was in the doldrums. I'm an artist and novelist, so I was being kept sane by exercising my creativity. I offered to do some kind of creative writing project with her and she mentioned an online poetry class she was interested in. I am NOT A POET! but okay... we took it together. We listened to each lecture together and then came back when we'd finished the assignment. It has been amazing, even though my poems mostly stink. We talk about what we wrote a few days later, which has led to conversations about our lives, our dreams, our family, and illuminated our very different world views. Then we would listen to the next class and have at it again. It's been rich and fun and my sister sounds full of zest even on days when she's been tired or busy. I feel closer to her than I have in years, maybe since we were kids and not old broads in our sixties. I don't know if it's appropriate to the Live Chat, but I'll figured you could judge. Your instincts are pretty darn good.

I defer to yours here--this is great, thank you, both the idea and your decision to share it with us.

If you're still all going to be in the same house, please make sure you have some chats about how it will work so that you are still 'on holiday'. Love, love your update and it didn't sound like perfection, but good communication which can move mountains.

Also, get ready now for your sister pushing to see your baby and start practicing your scripts. "No, we have decided it's not safe. And it's not up for discussion. " Your child needs you to stand up to pushy people on their behalf.

Good point, thanks--scripts are training wheels for boundaries.

Some perspective: Many people aren't making good decisions right now, and it's not just because they are selfish. Trauma like this pandemic can sometimes impact people's decisions to think rationally, especially when it comes to wanting to be with people they love. I was one of those people years ago - I wanted my dying father to be at my bridal shower when, because of his treatment, he was radioactive (literally). My friend very kindly explained why it was not a good idea (duh!) but my mind was not processing correctly. Bottom line - we all must kindly speak up for ourselves now. Sometimes that's all it takes for the lightbulb to go on in people's heads.

Such a great point about the effects all this is having on our decision-making ability. Thank you.

Was the husband on board with the decision for LW to become a SAHM? I'm not defending him, but it seems possible that he didn't want her to become an SAHM because he didn't want to be the sole breadwinner. But once she decided that this was what she wanted, his reaction is, "okay, I didn't want this; you did; so now you've got it." Again, his behavior is that of a jerk, but it might help to identify the root issue in figuring out a solution.

Yes, that could explain the anger. 

The same thing happened to me. I knew a friend of mine had not been living a particularly careful life in relation to Covid and I begrudgingly agreed to let her close. Two days later she tells me she may have Covid, but won't be getting tested for several days! She also goes on about everyone being responsible for themselves and if you get it, it's your fault, etc.. I think as a friend and/or family member, if you are a potential risk, you have to be honest and forthcoming about your lifestyle/exposure and respect others comfort level. Like the OP, I knew she was engaging in risky behavior, I am somewhat of a pushover and I should have stood up for myself and my health. The past few months have been eye opening on so many levels. Live and learn.

I hope one of the things you learned is that your friend is not very likable. Not after spinning a valid and rational "We all have to make our own decisions about risk" into "If you get it, it's your fault." Boo.

What is the general public moral opinion towards somebody who has been separated for a long time and is in process of divorcing, actually dating somebody new?

Everything from, "Good for you, go find happiness!" to thinking you're an adulterer.

Figure out your own code, then live by it.

I am thinking more along the lines that the husband was all for this and thinking that this was his ticket to getting out of housework and childcare. That maybe he was picturing a 1950s housewife situation. He's maybe sulking that she isn't playing the part as he was expecting her (wrongly) to play.

That works, too, thanks.

There are up to 50% fewer poll volunteers this year in most states because they trend older and many of those folks don't want to risk their lives. Please, please consider doing so. You might meet lots of other civic-minded folks and make some good friends.

My very good friend is dating a man who is...horrible. She herself has described him as emotionally abusive, manipulative, a liar, and untrustworthy. When she finally broke up with him, I rejoiced! When she got back with him 2 weeks later, I despaired. I told her once or twice how I felt about this guy, but backed off when it was clear they were sticking it out. Now though, she wants my me and my boyfriend to do a (socially distanced) brunch with the two of them. I cannot do it. I've never met this man, but I do know that he treats my friend like garbage and the idea of sitting across from him eating eggs is giving me heartburn. I know I need to decline this invitation, but I have no idea how to do it. I understand that saying no will hurt my friend, I'm prepared for that outcome, but I don't know how to turn her down without going through all the reasons her boyfriend disgusts me. I need help!

This is ... strange.

Her boyfriend doesn't disgust you, because you have never met her boyfriend. 

You are disgusted by what your friend has *told* you about her boyfriend.

So, weird as that is, it's actually helpful to you in your position now. In response to her invitation, you are able to say this:

"Obviously I have never met your boyfriend, so I can't have any opinion of him--and this is not about him at all.

"I am instead really struggling with the fact that you're still with, and asking me to meet, someone you described to me as 'emotionally abusive, manipulative, a liar, and untrustworthy.' It's a really awkward position for me and I don't know how to respond. May I ask what you would do if you were in my position?"

This takes it all off you and your opinion of the guy, and asks her to explain where she is and what she's feeling. You want her thinking for herself here, seeing through your eyes.

That, in turn, will give you something to either support or not support, with your counsel or your belief in her or your presence at brunch.

Along with working out and practicing the scripts, practice the broken-record technique: saying the same thing in pretty much the same words over and over instead of responding to the other person's objections, suggestions, or other attempts to roll over your boundary. It feels weird when you first do it, which is why it's good to practice and to remind yourself that it will feel weird. But it can be a powerful tool. The other person might not like it. Oh, well. The other person might complain that you've said that already. "Yes, I have, haven't I?" Do NOT engage in discussion about why you keep saying the same thing or anything else about your response. It isn't up for discussion. Nobody gets to decide that you need to say something different except you.

Yes, I'm a big believer in the verbatim cure.

Damn straight this isn't okay. My father was a stay at home parent, and my husband has not worked / worked part-time outside the home while I have been a full time breadwinner - neither of them just did everything while my mom or I showed up at home expecting to do absolutely zero to raise our kids or take care of the house that we live in. I understand the need to go to counseling, but I also think this needs to be called out for what it is - sexism. If he was the stay at home parent, I guarantee he would not think it acceptable that he be the only on call parent when you are both there and you were home from work (or off working hours). I have found with my own husband that it is helpful to call this out when I see it - not to be like - "gotcha!" - but more to provide a context for what I am seeing. If your husband truly believes - as I hope he does - in the core concepts of equality - things like equal pay for equal work, etc - then it very quickly becomes clear that one parent cannot and should not be excused from all the banalities of childcare during the time when they are not working while the other parent is on 24/7. Instead, both parents should be working to create an environment where they both have the time to work, play, and relax that they need. The fact that Carolyn seems to get a question a week on this exact topic shows how far we as a society need to go, and how much more frequently we all need to call this stuff out when we see it.

Thanks for calling this out. 

I actually see it as two possible sequences involving both world view and emotion: There's sexism, which leads to a certain hierarchical way of seeing things, which leads to anger/fear when the power doesn't appear to be in the right places--and there's anger/fear, which leads people to seek emotional refuge in a hierarchical world view that encourages sexism.

I think in our glorious 2020, we're seeing the last wave of generations of the former, pushed out by social change--and a new wave of the latter, triggered by social change.

 It's a theory.

Someone I considered a best friend virtually ghosted me after I got a scary diagnosis. I want to ask her what’s up with her behavior. Any advice on how to approach it? I know I risk the friendship by asking her, but the friendship is already at risk because she’s virtually disappeared at a time I need a friend.

I am sorry about your scary diagnosis. And your awol friend.

You sound pretty great, being willing to ask her vs. just assuming the worst and writing her off. So, you're probably in a good position to get a straight answer just by knowing to ask.

This does assign you emotional labor right when you need to delegate some of that elsewhere, but: Try saying to her that you miss her, and know people sometimes have a hard time dealing with serious illness. Say you understand and will listen if she wants to talk about it. Say if it helps, you'd love just a ____ every ____ or so. So, a text or call once a week; a postcard when she thinks of it; a ride to appointments once a month. 

That would cover the two main possibilities, 1. that she's going through her own stuff/your stuff dredged up some old stuff of her own; 2. that she wants to be there for you but has the paralysis of the clueless.

Or she's just a lousy friend, but that's actually much less common, anecdotally at least, than the other two.

Hoping for the best.

I think I'd be tempted to hedge my bets in a short and sweet manner now without being antagonistic, in a way that sets up the foundation for holding my boundaries in the future. Something like, "It won't do either of us any good right now for me to say 'I told you so.' But my takeaway from this is that I need to set better boundaries and stick to my guns when I say no. I hope one of your takeaways is to take me at my word when I do so. In the meantime, please take care of yourself and get well." Then, down the line, if (when?) she forgets all about it and reverts to her badgering, guilt-manipulating ways, you can refer back to this conversation with a clear conscience and moral high ground. "Remember when I told you I was going to hold better boundaries? This is me saying no. Please respect that." (Bonus points if you can find a stuffed badger and send it to her for a get-well present....)

My long-time partner and I got married in June, with only 7 masked, socially distanced family members present. Everyone else who was close to us received a Zoom invite, including my brother, sister, and 86-year-old mother. It was a hoot--and as I told the guests, half-arsed but whole-hearted. Perhaps your niece could find a way for Auntie to participate via Zoom.

I want to say thank you to the person who wrote in about her sister’s therapist’s suggestions last week - just saying “snack delivery service” makes me smile, even if I don’t ever sign up, and it had that effect on everyone I mentioned it to as well. It’s just a very hard time, we need to look for bits of joy and light wherever we see them, and we also need to create openings for their arrival - so thank you for that, and for getting me to think about what would fill that need for me. Be my own equivalent of a “snack delivery service.”

I understand that for many people it is hard to deal someone else's anger or displeasure if they say no to them. One thing that helps me is to stop and think before answering. Even saying, "I will think about it and get back to you." Then I can weigh what is more important, their reaction or the consequences for me. Right now it's a pretty easy choice between their displeasure and risking my life or my husband's. But even with such high stakes the impulse to not make anyone upset can override our good sense if we respond immediately. We have to get in the habit of taking a moment (or a day or a week) to think and with being okay with someone's displeasure.

 "I will think about it and get back to you" is magic with kids of (almost) all ages, too, since they're pretty much born experts at putting adults on the spot. 

No matter which route you take, you might want to wait a little while to get through the worst of the emotion and anxiety first. Not weeks, of course, but consider sleeping on it for a day or two. It's easier to choose wisely when we're less upset.

It's helpful to understand why using the same response over and over again works. Offering explanations or changing your response cues boundary challenged people that something they said got a change in response, and if they just keep going, they'll get what they want. Saying something like "that won't work for me" repeatedly doesn't expose the chink in your armor.

Can I thank someone I'm hoping is one of your readers? please. Pre-covid I was in Costco and saw a penny and picked it up as it reminded me of my wonderful grandmother whom I love and miss dearly. The woman in front of me said Oh it's heads up and that means it's lucky. I told her about my grandmother and that I'm in the middle of cancer treatments and she said "Do you need a hug"? She immediately gave me the best bear hug. I needed that hug more than ever in the moment - and I never got to truly thank her. If you are reading this - this woman is my hero. Thank You from the bottom of my heart. I wish I could get another hug like that right now as I am completely isolated due to covid. Thank you!

I am full-on blubbering. Thank you for sending this thank-you out through the chat. 

If it helps, she probably felt great for doing it, and got all the thanks she needed that way.

Hope you're on the mend.

Am I the only one left in the world that ever uses this sentence? It seems like everyone thinks they are required to have an opinion on everything, and saying "I don't know" is not an option. When will it be safe again to x,y, or z? I don't know, not today, tomorrow doesn't look good either. It's okay to not know. I don't expect you to know the answer to any of this, I am just frustrated by the expectation to know, or the certainty with which those that can't know assume they know, you know?

"I don't know" is nothing short of liberating. Once I figured that out, my poor kids got it in response to about 90 percent of their abstract kiddie-curious questions about the universe. (I did agree to look up a few, I swear.)

This is the smallest of tiny hills to die on, but I keep thinking about the poster last week who wrote in about only traditionally published writers being able to call themselves "authors." The writing industry has gone through significant changes in the last decade, and self-publishing is a viable and respectable career choice. Yes, vanity publishers still exist, but they don't represent all the hard working and talented authors who choose a non traditional route. Thanks for letting me chime in.

You're welcome! 

My SAHD spouse tries to do all the “home and kid stuff” and there are not enough hours in the day. We have a family chore chart that we re-evaluate about once a quarter as the kids’ abilities & needs change and so we can adjust based on how life is going. No one should sit and ignore what needs to be done. I’m sorry he’s being such an entitled glass bowl and I hope he comes around.

Carolyn, I am wondering what your thoughts are on deciding the number of kids a couple chooses to have. My spouse and I have two, and that has been our plan. But I feel very strongly that I want a third. My husband is very happy with 2 but will ultimately “let” me decide. I am concerned with the long term implications of this. Who decides?? Thanks!

Do you trust your husband not to throw it in your face that "you" chose this if having a third child introduces a serious challenge to your family down the road?

If you do trust him, then also trust he is comfortable with his decision to let you decide.

If instead you fear the first crisis will send him into the shelter of "I was happy with two kids!," then don't have a third child. Not because he's the one who gets to decide that, but because you don't trust him to have your back or own his own decisions, and that's not the marriage to bring more children into.

Does that work?

I am still completely locked down. I don't go outside, other than my patio (I live in a high rise), don't go to stores, don't see anyone and haven't done any of that since early March. In my immediate area and in my building, maybe 20% of people wear masks in my limited excursions to go down to get my mail. I am terrified of COVID and don't see anything as being worth the risk of getting it. I live alone and don't miss anything or anyone. I see my friends online, am lucky to be able to work from home and have all my needs met. Meanwhile, my friends are going on vacation and living life mostly normally. I try not to judge, but I truly don't see what they see. Even you are suggesting people go out for volunteer stuff, exercise, etc. I don't think it's safe to be out and about and so I stay inside. " I don't think masks or social distancing are risk-free or low risk enough, so I stay inside. I know my friends and coworkers think I'm "crazy." Am I? I'm not depressed. I'm not stir crazy. What don't I get?

This is the part about people assessing their own risks. You cite the things I suggested, so let's take those: The two I mentioned are either 1. outdoors or 2. essential. (Or both.) There is ample reporting that the risk of transmission outdoors is significantly lower than indoors.  So, mask + distance + outside is an option for someone who is trying to get out of the house. Likewise, some volunteer jobs need to be done; better they go to the people who are comfortable both minding their protocols and assuming some risk to get these jobs done. People at low risk with no high-risk people at home are out filling a lot of jobs, both paid and volunteer, for people who need to be more cautious,

What you're doing is actually for the greater good, too--those who can and want to stay in are not just protecting their own safety, but also making it safer for everyone else who has to be out. So there's nothing wrong with that. Thank you for staying in.

Remember, too, different areas require different calculations. A person who lives in a "green" zone with high community  mask/distancing compliance will have way more options for leaving the bubble safely than others will. So it's not one-response-fits-all.

I answer questions like this with trepidation because I'm obviously not an epidemiologist, but there's an emotional component here, too--in the community judging mechanism that can, depending on how it's harnessed, either improve or undermine this essential *group* effort toward getting our regular lives back. 

There aren't just two poles--people who never leave the house and people who take covid lightly. People have different variables they need to incorporate. Ideally there'd be just one group--people behaving responsibly--encompassing all of the smaller judgment calls.

My town has a hotline for community volunteer opportunities. You might want to find your town's city hall website, or county website and see if there's something set up for this current emergency. Examples could be volunteer meals on wheels, food bank work, online tutoring, even. You might not meet people particularly closely, but who knows? A lot of volunteers are often retired and thus at high risk so you will probably find a demand. You could also volunteer to be an election judge & volunteer, but I think the deadline /training for that may be passing (you'd have to check your state election website for that information.)

My partner of 8+ years and I got into a stupid argument two nights ago and haven't talked since. When we fight, the problem isn't what we fight about; it's how we fight - we stop talking, they get angry and sullen, and I become muted and sad, because I think it means a break-up is imminent. We tried to go to therapy and it largely proved unsuccessful. It's hard for me to get through work and socialize when I have this gloom looming over me. I know we should try therapy again - but right now, in a moment of despair, how can I pull through? What should I be doing to reach out - or should I still give them space?

Well, it's been eight years, so I'm guessing a breakup is -not- imminent? 

It's a small thing, but, more than enough material for a reframing, if you're ready for it. Choose to stop the dread on the spot the moment you recognize it for what it is: "Oh! I'm feeling afraid we're going to break up. Intellectually I know that's highly unlikely to happen. So--what would I think, feel and do right now if I were sure we wouldn't break up because of this?"

I swear, sometimes we have to talk to ourselves like we're children.

But it can be life-changing. Plus, it's something you can do right now in your head. Try it. 

BTW, you both have terrible emotional hygiene around your arguments, but you can only work on yours. With any luck, the changes you make will precipitate changes in them, too.

Read up on emotional blackmail. And realize that you may need to limit conversations with someone who is too pushy. I can't imagine the anger and anxiety this person has--but I have dealt with a family member with similar tendencies.

Animal shelters! I'm sure they need help.

What you are missing is that other people's lives are different than yours. I am not the only one whose kids did NOT do well with lockdown after a while (if there's anything sadder than a five year old crying for 30 minutes because he saw a picture in a book of friends playing together, I couldn't handle it). Many seniors aren't Internet savvy, so feel extremely isolated without some outside contact. If you're comfortable with what you are doing and it's in line with health guidelines, great! But other people make different choices because they have different variables.

I am in my bubble, too, along with my spouse. We do walk outside for exercise and for the dogs, but religiously avoiding others. I DO miss many people and things and look forward to better days. Until then, I'm with you. It's not worth the risk.

My DH and I lived in the bubble, as the LW described, except we have a good size house and property, so we had plenty of home keeping and landscape keeping to occupy us during the lock down in our state. Our state and country are "green" and we are using our membership to a world class botanical garden in our area (Amen!), do our food shopping and errands (masked and with disposable gloves and only needed electronic card, no handbag for me), but don't order take out, or eat at restaurants. I don't see friends (who are living, IMO, riskier lives), and only see family members one or two at a time, outdoors and at a distance. We are 73 and 83, both have pre-existing conditions, and don't want to take risks that might expose us to the virus. I do miss our weekly restaurant meals, day trips, and spring and fall vacations, but we'd rather be safe than sorry.

If you are in a hi-rise that probably means taking an elevator and that is definitely not safe with mask-less people unless you have a well fitting N95 mask which you probably don't (since you have no control in the elevator). Most food banks and poll locations are run by people who do take it seriously and are wearing masks and keeping people far apart. A masked person leaving their single family home driving by themselves to a place where they know everyone will be masked and socially distanced (and where they as a volunteer can bail if not) is different and very needed since usual volunteers are often elderly and not in a position to take even this modest risk.

I think it's worth pointing out to the person writing in that they're able to stay in and not go out *because other people* are going out and going to work. How is the OP getting their food? Water? Electricity? Internet? Other people. They need to recognize that.

If having a third child introduces a serious challenge down the road, how would *you* feel about it? Would you feel guilty and spend the rest of your life apologizing no matter what your husband says?

Ignore me if you already did this, but try different therapists until you find a good match. And remember that it's going to take work. Someone I know said wryly to her SO after a therapy session, "Look how we're paying someone to make us feel worse." But over time, the therapy helped enormously.

yes to both, thanks. Part of that work is being willing to be wrong, and willing to find out where your limits are (so you don't erase yourself trying to fix relationship problems). Both are walks through uncomfortable questions about selfhood and life and choices. 

I know OP says they aren’t depressed, but I wonder if they have some anxiety issues. Assuming you aren’t in an at-risk group, being “terrified” of the virus while taking precautions the CDC has outlined seems to be an outsized perception of risk. We make risk assessments every day about choosing to drive a car that are riskier than going to a grocery store if you are wearing your mask and distancing appropriately. I’m not saying OP needs to do anything differently—if they’re happy in the bubble that’s great—but I do think a re-evaluation of their anxiety is in order.

I am genuinely glad for you that you are able to meet your needs remotely on all fronts. A lot of others though - myself included - simply do not have that option. My industry does not allow for remote work, and my unemployment is about to end; I have a crazy Border Collie who requires quite a bit of outdoor activity & since I also live in an apartment this requires going outside; etc. Insert various other reasons for not being able to stay indoors indefinitely. Including potentially invisible ones like depression induced by months of extreme isolation. Please keep in mind the different and dizzying needs of others & their families, and temper your judgement accordingly. We should stay safe, of course, but also eventually slowly return to living some semblance of a life.

especially in this really important year - lots of organizations, partisan and not, are doing (safely and often virtually) voter education and outreach. That's a hugely important issue - and might have the benefit of meeting people who share your values. If it's safe for you, you could also think about becoming a poll worker - the shortage of poll workers, many of whom are elderly, is one of the threats to this election. (see this for example -

I keep thinking of a George Carlin routine that noted when we are driving, we tend to think everyone driving faster than us is a reckless maniac, and everyone slower is a dolt. I see that SO MUCH in our Covid responses.

That about covers it.

And that's it for today and till September. Thanks everybody, take care of yourselves and each other--here's a Costco e-hug for anyone who needs it, so I can end by returning to the best post of the day. 

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.
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