As we get further from the arrival of Covid-19 in the United States and the initial quarantines and economic shutdown, there is a great deal of difference in how people are navigating life. While some people are almost living their lives in a “pre-Covid” way (except for where mask-wearing is mandated), others are continuing to maintain much distance and even isolation from others.
Especially during the holidays, as the nation experiences another surge of cases, and as it becomes more difficult for outdoor meet-ups in colder states, these differences in comfort level could cause tension. None of us want to lose relationships because of differences in how we’re navigating the Covid world. If anything, this year has brought home for most of us the precariousness of life and just how precious our friends and family are to us.
Setting boundaries is our most effective tool to help us in navigating different approaches to Covid precautions. They can be implemented tactfully, if we’re intentional about communication.
Be kind and clear about your comfort level
Before you decide to meet up with friends or attend a holiday gathering with family, take some time to think about what you will be comfortable with—don’t assume people will or won’t be wearing masks, or what the size of the gathering will be, since many locales and individuals have different norms.
If you don’t have enough information, consider if you can talk to your friend or the host of the gathering beforehand. If you can, be gracious but direct. Thank the host for the invitation and express a desire to attend. Then directly ask how many people they’re expecting and if masks will be worn or not. For example: “I am so excited to be invited, and I really want to see you and celebrate. Because I see my grandma regularly, I’m being extra careful with social events. Can you tell me more about how many people will be there and if masks will be worn or not?”
It’s less awkward to communicate about this ahead of time than to show up and feel out of place or, worse, uncomfortable or at risk. Knowing all of this ahead of time can help you make a decision about whether you want to attend or not, and if you choose to go, what you will do.
Of course, you never have to explain your boundaries to another person—so you don’t have to give a reason like the example above—but offering more information about your comfort level can help defuse tense conversations like these.
If you are the one hosting a gathering or planning a get together one-on-one with a friend, be clear about your boundaries and expectations in relation to Covid. Let your friend know if you plan to stay six feet away from her or not while you grab coffee together, or let your guests know if you are or aren’t requiring guests of the party to wear masks in your home. If you would like others to take similar precautions to yours (i.e. wear masks or social distance), let them know ahead of time, and ask them if they would be willing to do so. Just as you would like others to do for you, give friends the opportunity to bow out beforehand if they aren’t comfortable with your boundaries.
If you’re having a difficult time voicing your concerns in conversation or if you’re concerned about how a friend may react to your risk preferences, consider communicating via text or email (or following up a verbal invitation with a written one). A few extra minutes to choose your words and spell out your expectations—as well as a few extra minutes for the recipient to process and respond to the information—may help both of you communicate more effectively.
Don’t take others’ comfort levels personally
It’s important not to take personally the boundaries others set in relation to Covid. This may be tempting to do in a world where Covid has been politicized, but remember that if someone chooses to wear a mask around you or chooses not to attend your event, this is likely due to her own personal reasons—not something about you. If someone is being cautious by choosing not to gather for the holidays or come to your festivity, it is most likely not because she doesn’t want to spend time with you. Rather, she might just be looking out for her own health or for a loved one’s health whom she sees often.
When you don’t take it personally when a loved one holds a boundary, it’s much easier to communicate about this emotionally-charged topic with tact and grace. You don’t have to agree with the Covid boundaries they have put in place, but you have to respect them, just as you would respect their emotional and physical boundaries.
Be okay with others not agreeing with you
While you can learn to not take others’ risk preferences personally, you can’t control how others will react to your comfort level.
You might feel like you have disappointed or upset others by communicating your boundaries around Covid, but boundaries (emotional, physical, and Covid-related) are meant to keep you safe, not to please other people. It may be hard to do something that might upset or disappoint others, such as declining an invite to a party, but as long as you are respecting their boundaries, you have the freedom to honor your own. When you give into others’ desires out of fear of rejection or longing for approval, you fail to honor your own values and self-worth. As Dr. Brené Brown says, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”
As with any boundary-setting, asserting what you are comfortable with or not can be uncomfortable. Especially around the holiday season and during this pandemic—when we are all craving some normalcy—maintaining your boundaries can be difficult. You may have fear of missing out, or you may miss having your loved one with you for these special events. At difficult times, try to remember why you set the boundaries you set, and know that at some point, we won’t have to worry about Covid boundaries like we do now.