DEAR CAROLYN: My fiance and I are both doctors in a midsize American city. We've spent the last several months, like so many in health care and in the world beyond, absolutely horrified by COVID-19 and shocked that some don't seem to be taking it seriously. Given our work, we've been as vigilant as possible; we care for COVID patients and recognize we are at high risk to be potential vectors. My fiance's sister is supposed to get married this month in a different state. Despite our frequently voiced discomfort, the current plan is for a 95-person wedding — grandparents and all! — in his parents' backyard with absolutely no covid precautions. Masks and physical distancing are not on the table; they say things have "gone back to normal" where they are. They do not live in New Zealand; they live here, in the United States of America. They get their news from far more conservative sources than we do, don't know people who have been sick and don't think it can happen to them. Their only concession has been to say they will understand if we feel we can't come. It feels like any decision we make is wrong. My fiance desperately wants to be there for his sister's wedding, but it is hard to imagine spending 36 hours in situations that are risky and socially negligent. So. Do we stay home? If we go, do we wear masks and attempt to physically distance when this, quite clearly, will be completely out of place and seen as a political statement? If we don't go, how do we bow out gracefully while preserving what we can of our relationships?
A Human Who Believes in Science
A HUMAN WHO BELIEVES IN SCIENCE: You both care for COVID patients. So, in the ultimate gesture of love, you both stay home so you don't risk bringing the virus to the party.
All the details you include about states and politics and older guests and his family's not knowing anyone with COVID help to illuminate why your decision might have other, complicated emotional consequences.
But they don't change the fundamentals: There are right and wrong decisions here, and your mingling with people who refuse to take precautions poses enough risk to be the wrong one. Your fiance can frame it as a sacrifice for his family that he's making with a heavy heart and complete confidence there's no other responsible choice.
DEAR CAROLYN: My friend just told me her husband is having an emotional affair with another of our friends. She lives a few hours away, so I can't just hop over. I'm seeing her soon. Aside from listening and being there for her, what can I do? Can you help me with language and framing so I can give her the right support during this time? Calling him an idiot isn't going to heal her.
ANONYMOUS: Neither will ice cream, but that doesn't mean it can't be part of a larger strategy.
Do listen, yes, a lot. She will likely reveal what she needs.
But when it feels appropriate, also steer her away from him and back to herself. What does she feel, what does she want — and, whom does she want to be? Agony is grief for the old; as she's ready, help her envision the new.