What To Say To Someone Who’s Being Loosey Goosey With Social Distancing

by JR Thorpe
Originally Published: 
A park with social distancing circles. Talking to somebody who isn't respecting social distancing ru...
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Maintaining social distancing can be hard, whether you're trying to pass others on a narrow walkway, resisting the urge to hug a friend you haven't seen in ages, or navigating a crowded supermarket. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) agree that keeping a two-meter (six-foot) distance from others is necessary right now to avoid spreading the coronavirus. But what should you do if there's somebody in your circle is refusing to social distance properly and is frolicking at lakes or parks as if they've never heard the term viral load?

"This pandemic has been very polarizing for a lot of people," family therapist Heidi McBain, L.M.F.T., tells Bustle. Dealing with a person in your family or friend group who insists on hanging out close to others and won't obey the 6-foot rule can be really hard, she says. "People can end up feeling like they are on one side, and their friend or family member is on the other." But there are ways to get through to a friend or family member who isn't socially distancing without calling the cops on them (even though that might be tempting).

If your best friend went to a crowded beach on Memorial Day weekend or your dad just thinks the whole thing's a hoax, approach the topic carefully, experts say. "It is very important when talking with them to extend compassion and not to make assumptions," clinical psychologist Josh Klapow, Ph.D., tells Bustle. Find out why they don't think it's such a big deal; ask questions and listen.

Expressing your concern while listening to their position is a good start, McBain says. "You might come from a place of worry and see if that’s a way to get through to them," she says. After all, you're not just concerned about yourself — you're also worried about their being exposed to the virus. "Start from a position of discussion, not accusation," Klapow says. "Acknowledge that people have different views on the degree to which social distancing is important, beneficial, and needed. However, communicate to them that you are concerned for their health and yours."

While it is their choice to social distance or not, it is your duty to protect yourself.

At this point, don't be surprised if they dig their heels in. "You might have to agree to disagree, as your mind and their mind is probably already made up," McBain says. But if they're hanging around you or the people you love, you need to figure out what you're willing to put up with.

"It is important to know where your boundaries are — what are you willing to tolerate and what are you not?" says Klapow. If they live with you or are part of your isolation bubble, you may need to put your foot down. "You can let them know that while it is their choice to social distance or not, it is your duty to protect yourself and the rest of the people around you," Klapow says. Setting these clear boundaries, McBain says, is necessary to keep everybody safe.

It might be unpleasant, but setting boundaries often is. "The key is to not get into threats, shouting matches, or personal attacks," Klapow says. "You have your boundaries and they can choose to respect them or not." State what you need from them clearly and calmly, and explain the consequences. If they aren't going to respect your wishes — to maintain social distancing and proper pandemic hygiene, like hand-washing and mask-wearing — then you need to be prepared to exclude them from interacting with you and the people around you. That means separate rooms, avoiding them physically, and not letting them come around or see you if they live somewhere else. Boundaries have to have consequences to be meaningful, even if it's painful.

Hopefully, they'll listen to you and understand that you're coming from a place of love and concern. If not, you might have to isolate yourself from them physically until the pandemic is over — or keep having Skype conversations about why you're worried. Ultimately, experts say, it's their choice to put themselves in danger, but it's yours to keep yourself safe.


Josh Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist

Heidi McBain, L.M.F.T., family therapist

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