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Miss Conduct

Advice: My friend wants to hang out, but she’s bad at social distancing

Plus, do you have to send a gift for a Zoom wedding?

Submit questions for Miss Conduct here.

How should I handle invitations from a friend who is far less cautious than I about where she goes and what she does (in part because she has kids and is cooped up with them 24/7)? She invites me to hang out on her patio or eat dinner at a restaurant. I don’t want to do that! Surely I’m not the only one in this situation.

K.B. / Fort Worth, Texas

Decline your friend’s invitations honestly, but without attaching any blame or conditions to her behavior. Don’t put her off with white lies and vague promises (useful tools in the social kit, but this isn’t a job for them). Tell her that you’re limiting face-to-face socializing because of the virus, and let her know what kinds of hangouts you’re up for. Phone calls? Video chats? Masked nature walks? Sit outdoors 6 feet apart while the kids run around? Watch a movie together online and make witty commentary? If you like her kids and are inclined to offer support in that area, maybe you could entertain them for her now and then? Play a game, do a craft, read to them online?

Regardless of whatever phase of reopening your state is in, nothing about the virus or our nation’s capacity to deal with it has changed since early spring. There is no need to apologize for or try to justify your boundaries or behavior. At the same time, try to keep your friend from feeling the need to apologize for or become defensive of her own. The problem to solve isn’t “who’s right?” — it’s “where is our mutually comfortable overlap?”

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My cousin’s wedding was canceled and is taking place on Zoom now. Should I still send a gift? A real in-person celebration may happen next year.

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S.M. / West Tisbury

Yes, send whatever gift you were planning to. You wouldn’t forgo a wedding present if they’d moved the ceremony from a park to a hotel, would you? This is just another venue change. Yes, it’s odd, but we live in odd times now, and we’d best accept that. The happy couple is every bit as married either way. An in-person celebration seems — and is — more “real” to me as well, but that event may or may not ever happen. (If it does, you aren’t on the hook for another wedding-level gift, so don’t let that worry you.)

Why is it that people think it is OK to blow their noses at the breakfast, lunch, or dinner table?

Anonymous / Albuquerque

Hah! I don’t know why they used to, Oh Letter Writer of the Before Times, but I bet they won’t anymore. If they do, the rest of us now have social approval to scold them loudly and eject them from the premises.

If the “people” you’re talking about are the ones you are living with, negotiate a mutually acceptable house protocol. Decorum matters, but one cannot pretend to have no biological functions in perpetuity.


Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.