Navigating the awkward conversation you need to have with that one friend who isn’t following COVID guidelines
Tip-toeing around the issue isn’t doing anyone any good, but neither are the passive-aggressive remarks you keep directing at your partying pal.
Seen some Instagram Stories of a maskless friend at a wild house party or zipping around the globe waxing lyrical about cheap flights and empty beaches without a thought for COVID tests or quarantining? Rita Ora is not the only one out there.
It can be difficult to marry the love you have for a friend with your displeasure with their disdain for COVID guidelines. You understand it’s Christmas, but your friend is acting like it’s last Christmas and the whole thing is making super uncomfortable. So how do you deal with it with wading waist-deep into the awkwardness of it all?
You’re the only person you can control
Well, first of all, you have to understand that you cannot control your friend’s actions. This is not a nanny state. They are a fully grown adult and they are entitled to do as they plea, they just might incur fines.
You can only control your actions, and while that mightn’t feel like a lot, it is basically everything. You can do what you need to do to keep people around you safe. That is your priority.
Anger is unhelpful
Secondly, your anger is not going to help the situation. If you’re feeling frustrated and annoyed by their actions, vocalising that is likely only going to drive a wedge into your friendship, not into their party habits. So before you hit send on a passive-aggressive response to that Insta story, maybe clear out some anger first.
Maybe talk to a partner or another friend (someone unconnected with the one in question) and vent about how their actions make you feel. Tell them about the perfect snarky message you had prepped, allow yourself to bask in the delicious glory of a perfectly phrased takedown. But definitely do not send it.
Address their behaviour
Now that you’ve released some of that frustration, it’s time to speak to your friend. Rather than diving straight into the “why were you sending me drunk snaps for a house party at 4am like it was no big deal” conversation, take the high road and instead, ask them how they are doing. How have they been coping with the pandemic? How has their mood been. Share with them what you have been struggling with over the last few months, whether it’s working from home, worrying about older relatives or feeling isolated.
Give them an opportunity to take stock and talk about their own feelings, because we are all dealing with this pandemic differently. Some of us are washing our hands to the bones and screaming at passersby for not keeping the two-metre distance. Some of us just want to escape and pretend like it isn’t happening at all. There is no perfect response, but there is the safest one, for both your physical and mental health. It is a balance.
Once you have allowed them to contextualise their actions, you might also have a better idea about where they’re at. “It’s understandable that you’d need to blow off some steam” is not an endorsement of what they’ve done but simply showing an understanding of why. Empathy and understanding are always the best guides through situations like this.
Figure out where you stand
Now that you have cleared the air a little bit (even if it’s just on your side and they’re completely ignorant of how you feel) you need to decide what you are going to do. Because remember, all you can control is your own actions.
Are you comfortable meeting this person in their home, or in yours? Would you be happy meeting them outdoors for a walk or a very strict two-metre distanced chat over their garden wall? Decide where your boundary is and then you can explain.
As any good couples’ counsellor will tell you, you should try to express things using “I” instead of “you”. So rather than saying, “You can’t come over because you were out partying”, say “I’m not comfortable meeting you indoors, but perhaps I can call round to the garden and I’ll bring you a coffee?”
You don’t need to justify your decisions to them, just like they don’t to you. You have expressed your feelings to them about this pandemic earlier and now you’re acting on those, that is enough.
Don’t pretend that you’ve got an ill aunt and you’re the only one who can mind her. This does no good to anyone. Your friend needs to know the situation you’re in and how you’re reading it. You don’t have to ease their conscience by making them feel like they wouldn’t be out partying if they can a sick aunt to tend to either.
If you just don’t want to take the risk and see them, “I’m just not comfortable meeting you in person right now, but let’s have a Zoom instead” is a perfectly acceptable response.
And finally, if your friend doesn’t take this well, don’t worry. You can only control your own actions and you have been empathetic, accommodating, non-judgemental and kind during this interaction. That’s all you can do and hopefully they will be able to see how much you value them as a result.
Read more: A psychotherapist shares her toolbox for managing coronavirus anxiety
Read more: The incredible sadness of breaking up with a friend
Read more: Why toxic friendships have no place in a pandemic
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