DEAR CAROLYN: Just as COVID arrived, a couple my wife and I are close friends with, "Mary and Bob," had their first child. They decided Mary will not return to work and Bob will continue in his job. These adjustments can be hard, and with COVID-19, the feelings of isolation make it even harder. My wife recently learned that Mary is feeling like Bob is spending too much time on activities that don't involve his family. While the activities are safe and permitted under local guidelines, the time Bob spends away from his family is putting a significant strain on his relationship with Mary. Unfortunately, they don't seem to be communicating very well. There is a small group activity — safe and permitted by local guidelines — I'm planning with just the guys. My wife and I are both torn on whether I should invite Bob. The last thing I want to do is put more stress on Bob's relationship with Mary, but I don't want Bob to feel bad about being excluded.
What About Bob?
WHAT ABOUT BOB?: Invite Bob, and let Bob figure out whether to accept and how to navigate his marriage, baby and friendships.
I don't recommend even well-meaning attempts at social engineering based on second- and third-hand information.
What friends are well-positioned to do, almost uniquely so, is ease the new-parent workload and isolation. Pandemic protocols will limit you, but not completely. You can still drop off dinner, run errands for them, invite them out as a family to a socially distanced activity. You can still and always be the friends who give them a safe place to talk as they figure this out.
Maybe one of the kindest things you can do is not think of Mary and Bob just as this, just in these terms. As you said yourself, these adjustments can be hard, and adjusting when you can't fill your home with helpers and supporters is no less than a cosmic cruelty.
But every life has its grueling phases. People living one difficult part of, in all likelihood, a long life together can really benefit from friends who focus less on the "grueling" and more on the "phase" — who see them as people and as friends and as individuals and as two people their baby is lucky to have as parents. Be the people who believe in them when they're low on belief in themselves.
DEAR CAROLYN: Whenever my roommate is confronted with a task, she tries to get me to do it. This ranges from regular requests for me to hand her things to pounding on the bathroom door when I'm on the toilet to ask me to intervene when her cat gets into something of hers. I'm trying to set boundaries gently, because she's fragile, but I'm stuck on the mild versions of this — the constant requests that I get her things she can reach herself. They're annoying, but do I let them go?
ROOMMATE: Pounding on the bathroom door? That's every "no" I've got.
I urge you to learn, quickly, to decline with calm, unflinching good nature any unwelcome request for non-emergency assistance. And to say this: "Unless there's a fire, do not bother me in the bathroom." After which you ignore the pounding every. single. time.