Dear Wayne and Wanda,
My boyfriend surprised me with tickets for us to both fly to Washington state for Thanksgiving to be with my family. I haven’t seen them since last Thanksgiving. It’s normally the only time of year I go home because we can’t afford to travel much.
I’ve been laid off much of the year due to COVID, and I have said many times how much I wish I could see my family face-to-face and how I wish I could go home as usual for the Thanksgiving holiday. I should be grateful my boyfriend paid attention and made this huge gesture, but I’m not, because I feel like as much as he heard me expressing these things, just as often I was saying how I think traveling right now is unsafe and irresponsible and we were making the right decision by staying put.
We haven’t been lined up on COVID for a while. He’s going out more and pushing me to do so too. I remain pretty much at home and think especially in light of flu season and spiking case numbers, he should too. Part of me feels like these plane tickets are almost a trick to get me to take this risk and be more like him. I just don’t feel right about it though, and now we’re in a huge fight about it. He says I’m living in fear and am being ungrateful; I say he’s pushing his agenda and I’m not afraid, I’m making smart choices.
Since COVID-19 started, our society has seen Easter, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day and now Halloween pass us by — all holidays with traditions of togetherness, but mercifully marked by outdoor activities like egg hunts, barbecues and trick-or-treating. Now it feels like a winter storm is brewing, with Thanksgiving and Christmas all about being near loved ones, indoors. Many will take a difficult step back from usual traditions due to the pandemic.
You were ready to do just that, until these pesky plane tickets popped up. Your reaction is understandable. After months of hunkering down, the thought of taking off launches a whole medley of anxiety and uncertainty. And you feel like you’re being pushed, not asked. Fair. But let’s give your boyfriend the benefit of the doubt. You’ve ridden out the pandemic with him so far, right? And we can assume he cares about you, and isn’t trying to upset you.
Your situation illustrates that while we’re all experiencing COVID-19, no two people are going through the same thing — not even within our own households. And that’s OK. What’s important is you retain this context, compassionately, and try to consider others' perspective. For example, while you’re freaked by the thought of traveling, your boyfriend is likely feeling mounting anxiety at the inability to travel heading into winter. Or, while you find security in remaining home, he’s gleaning comfort from some social exposure.
The balance here is to support each other, without compromising with severity or inequity. Maybe before a full-fledged vacation, you try going out to dinner once a week, or treat yourselves to a hotel overnight. If you truly don’t feel you can enjoy the Washington trip, tell him so, and tell him also that you love him and appreciate him, and your decision isn’t a criticism on his kindness, but a starting point to figure out your next steps, together.
So, your boyfriend surprises you with a ticket to your favorite annual holiday tradition with your beloved family, who you haven’t seen since your favorite annual holiday tradition day, while — fingers crossed — hoping the experience might help nudge you out of your COVID funk or at least give you a break from the endless Groundhog’s Day of your current COVID lifestyle? You’re right: this guy is such a selfish, sneaky turkey!
You’ve been through a lot these past few months and have the right to feel any way you want any time you want. But you should stop for one second and consider how your mixed messages and roller-coaster emotions are affecting your boyfriend: you crave normalcy, but won’t join him on a trip outside the house; you pine for family time but snap when he presents you a chance to be with them.
You need some fresh air and someone to talk to — a lot of people are struggling right now and there’s lots of support and resources available to them. But, seriously, you need a vacation. No, things aren’t normal right now. And if you’re reckless or really unlucky, you could get a cold, the flu or COVID-19. And you could also buy a hardcore mask, a gallon of hand sanitizer, a jumbo pack of wipes, and some window seats to carefully and thoughtfully make your way to your family and fill your tummy and your heart.
Family trip or not, you should be thankful for a boyfriend who seems to be trying his best to hang in there with you. And you should also realize that even though you’re sticking close to home and staying away from other people, if you’re hanging out with your boyfriend, who isn’t sticking close to home and is hanging around other people, you aren’t being as safe and smart as you claim you are anyway.