Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I have two roommates, and am caught in between them now that the town is “reopening.”
One of my roommates, I’ll call her “Anne,” has been working at home since mid-March. She doesn’t go out at all except to get groceries and she does pick-ups. She is most concerned about getting sick.
Our other roommate, I will call her “Sally,” is a waitress who was furloughed. Now that businesses are opening, Sally is pushing for us to go out to eat at least a few times a week to support her friends. She has already booked both a nail appointment and a hair appointment.
Anne got very upset about this and said “Sally’s vanity” is putting our “lives at risk” and that it’s selfish of Sally to prioritize a manicure and blow-out above us not getting ill or spreading the illness elsewhere. Sally says if we don’t go out with her to eat she has to go alone, and it’s our duty to support the economy when so many — herself included — have lost their jobs.
I’m trying to mediate here, and I don’t know what to do. Our once-happy little home is like a war zone right now. There is so much tension and disagreement. On one hand, Sally wants to go out and support businesses and try to get back to normal. On the other, Anne doesn’t want to change anything for now. What’s the middle ground?
It is natural during these strange times to try to find middle ground, but the truth is, it’s a terribly challenging time to compromise. Doing so means asking people to overcome anxieties, fears, bias, personal feelings of safety and security, and so much more. One could even bring politics and conspiracy theories into play, if they wanted to go really deep. But for the sake of argument, let’s just assume that Anne is most worried about getting or spreading sickness, and Sally is most concerned about trying to reclaim normalcy.
One compromise here would be to agree as a household you will order takeout or pickup meals a few times a week; this supports Sally’s industry while honoring Anne’s desire to stay hunkered in and limit public exposure. If you haven’t already, you could also agree on some household norms for keeping things clean and sanitized; this could help reassure Anne as Sally resumes more external activities.
Wayne and I have heard a lot these past many weeks from households, couples, friend groups, and others who are dealing with new dynamics in conflict due to trying to figure out our collective way through this pandemic; so my final piece of advice would be, be patient with each other. No one knows the right way to do this because none of us have done this before.
Seems to me that everyone is suffering from a serious case of quarantine cabin fever. You might not all need to go out and party (sorry, Sally), but you all definitely need to get outside the condo for some fresh air (sorry, Anne). As a team, duo, or solo. Whatever configuration. Just go. It’s pretty incredible what a short break from home these days can do for your mental health, even if it’s simple sitting outside and enjoying spring springing and a refreshing drink. Or a walk. Or a run. Or a drive.
This isn’t just about getting a break from the walls that are clearly closing in, of course. It’s also a break from the often-awesome roommates who are suddenly frenemies. New scenery, a nice reset and a little perspective will hopefully bring some calm back into the household.
From there, you should all do whatever the heck you want. If Sally wants to have a long-awaited spa-and-dinner day, who can blame her — tell her to go for it but please be safe and smart, for herself and for you guys. If Anne wants to hunker down until the vaccines arrive in 2023, tell her you’ve got her back. You might not spend every day in the trenches with her — and you might have to drag her out for some more of that fresh air at least once every two days — but you’re around if she needs you.
As for you — you have all the options. Go and get drinks and an app with Sally — with a mask and side of sanitizer, of course. Bring takeout home for Anne and plate it for her on clean dishes. Or go on an all-day bike ride and let them argue or be awkward without you having to play referee. At this point, maintaining your emotional health seems almost as important as taking care of your physical health. And with that in mind, don’t feel obligated to be the peacemaker anymore. You’ve got your own peace to worry about.