Laura Bickmeier doesn’t typically seek pre-approval from friends for a teeth-cleaning.
But as a member of a “bubble” — a group of pals who don’t live together but follow the same coronavirus safety precautions so they can hang out like it’s 2019 — she’s agreed to run intimate decisions by people who in a normal world would have zero interest in her oral health.
“It’s like you’re going to confession,” said Bickmeier, of Arlington.
Forgive me father, for I want to see the dental hygienist.
When the stay‐at‐home advisories hit, some singles and families decided they didn’t want to ride it out alone. Quietly — because going into other peoples’ houses went against public health advice — they formed bubbles, pods, or “quaran-teams.” They did it for the happy hours. Or for the restless teenagers, or child-care benefits.
And in the beginning, it was fairly simple. Because there was little to do, group decisions centered mainly around easy things, like how long to quarantine the mail.
But with society reopening — and restaurants, gyms, camp, and cousins beckoning — the decisions that need to be made are seemingly endless:
Can I invite grandma to the twins’ third birthday party? Anyone have a problem if I get my roots colored? If I can’t hold it in, is it OK to use a bathroom on the Pike?
Sharing child-care duties, a major reason for forming a bubble, can also threaten a bubble. A group of three families in Milton was almost rocked when one couple came to the others to say their child had been offered a slot in day care, a godsend that would at the same time widen possible exposure.
“Would the bubble be over?” wondered one of the other moms, quaran-team member Laura Howells. What would happen to the highly anticipated group vacation to the Cape? Would that have to be off, too?
So what happened? A fairy tale ending: After a lot of consideration — and even a second day-care opening for another child in the pod — the parents decided they didn’t want to spoil the good thing they had going.
But not all potential threats to pod stability go smoothly. So what to do then? Make sure the ousting is clearly because of the behavior and does not seem personal, says behavioral scientist Kristen Berman.
“It’s really really important for the group to set clear norms that everyone has actively opted into,” said Berman, cofounder of Irrational Labs, a behavioral economics consulting firm.
No matter how it happens, even when it’s planned, leaving the emotional support of a private bubble world can be unsettling.
Consider Beth Jones — the recipient of the bubble equivalent of a Dear John text.
For months, Jones, an education consultant and a single mother, bubbled with another single mom, and the little world they formed felt like a refuge. So deep was the trust that Jones took both teens to visit her elderly parents.
The bubble was never supposed to last forever. Jones knew that. Summer plans called for each boy to go away with his dad. But when the end came, on July 6, it was earlier than Jones was expecting, and it landed hard.
“My Pilates is starting up next week,” her podmate texted. “I’m not sure how we are going to continue with our ‘pod’ so I wanted to check in and see what your thoughts are for the future.”
“Wow,” Jones thought, “it’s all ending with a pilates class.”
No one knows how many bubbles there are so it’s hard to know how often they burst. But Lamont Price, a comedian from Brighton who is being so careful that he panicked when he noticed his roommate’s hair looked freshly cut, is skeptical that a large group of people can be trusted to follow the rules.
“We’ve all seen heist movies — we know how this ends,” he said. “Someone is going to make a mistake. There’s always a weak link.”
Happily, for safety if not appearance reasons, the roommate had cut his own hair.
When bubbles started forming as the pandemic surfaced in March, it was like junior high school all over again, and some people felt left out. But some people find bubbles constraining — even if they’re the temporary, short-lived ones that are forming for weeklong family or group summer vacations.
This is the situation local writer Susan Senator finds herself in now. Later this summer she’ll be meeting up with her parents on the Cape. Her family will be in one house and her parents in a second, but because they plan to have dinners together, she says her dad has asked her to change her lifestyle ahead of time to conform with his coronavirus safety standards.
“You can’t go to Starbucks to meet your friend,” he said, to her annoyance, after examining a picture she posted on Facebook that showed her enjoying — maskless — a cup of coffee outside with a friend.
“I didn’t mention [my friend] hugged me,” she told the Globe. “But it was over a month ago, so it doesn’t matter anymore, unless I’m asymptomatic, god forbid.”
In Brookline, Adaleta Maslo-Krkovic — Beth Jones’ former and maybe future bubble mate — said that being part of a team can help teenagers (and everyone else) understand that their actions have serious implications for others.
“It’s a good exercise to stop thinking about your own gratification,” she said, “and instead focus on what you can do without compromising the people around you.”