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Differences in Covid Risk Aversion or Coronavirus Boundaries?: How to handle disagreements

It was a moment of rage. One that had been bubbling for about 2 months. I grabbed the sticky notes and a pen from my husband's desk, and using 6 sticky notes wrote: "WASH YOUR HANDS!!!" and posted them on our bathroom door (which you see immediately upon entering our apartment.)

This happened in May. For at least two months we had all been receiving daily reminders that hand hygiene was essential to keeping us safe. And yet, my husband (who I love and adore and who's brilliant and attractive and whose podcast you should totally check out--Wisdom at Work) couldn't remember to wash his hands whenever he came home from a run or the grocery store.

I know Dave and I are not alone in having Covid-related fights. I know my family is not the only family to feel challenged by this time. I know this because I've read all the articles on what to do about Covid negotiations amongst partners and family members. All of them say the same thing: Lay it all out, Compromise, and Remember you're on the same team. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's relationship negotiations 101. But, this situation is different.

Covid risks aren't like trying to decide whose parents to visit for the actual holiday and whose you see the week after. Covid risk opinions are more like sexual boundaries, and should be treated as such.

Consider this example: Let's say you're planning to have sex with a partner, and the partner says, "I'm psyched about having sex with you, but for my safety I'd like you to be tested for STI's beforehand, promise me you're not having sex with other people, and I want you to use a condom." Now some people might say, with the first two requests being honored why would you also need someone to use a condom. But, if you said that response to me when I was telling you my sexual boundaries, I'd tell you to have fun masturbating because there's no way you're getting in my pants. Why? Because you decided to try to push one of my boundaries. We can all pretty much agree that pushing a sexual boundary isn't cool. It likely will prevent you from getting laid (or worse, you'll end up committing sexual assault.) But, why don't we treat our Coronavirus boundaries the same way?

My brother's family, for example, has said that to see them in person my husband and I have to self-quarantine for 2 weeks. No grocery runs, no socially distanced picnics, etc. That's their boundary.

Now, I have a choice. I can either respect that boundary, do what they'd like me to do and see them. Or, I can respect that boundary, decide I don't want to do what they want me to, and not see them. I do not have the option to negotiate their boundary so that I can see my friends within that 2-week window. That would be pushing their boundary... just like if I tried to convince someone to not use a condom when they said that was their boundary. Within a partnered relationship this can get trickier, but ultimately the person whose boundaries are stricter needs to be respected. If you partner says, "I don't feel comfortable eating at a restaurant." And you push back and say, "But, it's allowed by our Governor, and the cases in our area are low, and..." You are pushing your partner's boundary; you're trying to convince them to have sex without a condom, even though they told you that was their boundary. This doesn't mean we can't talk about the reasons we have for our boundaries. Nor does it mean that there isn't any room for asking for clarification or finding a compromise (let's get take out from that restaurant and eat it using the fancy flatware at home!). But, boundary pushing isn't a good look whether we're having sex or trying to stay safe from Covid-19.

Some quick tips:

1 ) Ask your partner, family, friends what their boundaries are regarding various circumstances before you're actually in those circumstances.

2) Be clear on your own boundaries and share them verbally with the people you'll be seeing.

3) Try to keep emotions out of it. If someone doesn't agree to your boundaries it doesn't mean they don't want to see you or don't care about you.

4) If you feel the desire to negotiate someone's boundaries:

ask yourself if you feel "judged" or "like a less careful person" because their boundaries are stricter than yours. If that's the case, know that there aren't really wrong or rights in this situation. (Except if you're refusing to wear a mask--without a medical reason--, if you're doing that you're just selfish.)

ask yourself if you feel like the other person is trying to control you. Consider the alternative that they're trying to keep themself safe, and it has nothing to do with you.

5) It bears repeating: This is a new experience for all of us (unless you're a gay man who was alive in the 80s, or you've been polyamorous) and it's hard to both communicate your boundaries and hear others' boundaries without judgement. Give yourself and those you love lots of grace to make mistakes, to speak too harshly at times, and to feel hurt.

6) Finally, remember, this isn't going to last forever. It's already lasted longer than any of us hoped, but it will end. You'll be able to hug people without discussing it beforehand someday, I promise.

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