I see one friend unmasked. I know he’s safe. I know the places he goes— I also know he’d never, ever, ever lie to me. There are very few people I trust that much, so I don’t see anyone else. We’ve broken up with family. We have friends who have broken up with family. We’ve kept close ties with some family we deem trustworthy. It all comes down to one thing: who do we think would lie about the pandemic?
We cut ties with a family member. First she had seen a house with a friend. The story kept evolving: then she had ridden in a car with the friend in a mask. Then she and the friend had gone to get drinks at a restaurant but sat outside. Then we found the friend tagging her on Facebook saying they had brunch together. We told her we couldn’t trust her and asked that she see us again after she quarantined.
But we still couldn’t trust her not to lie about the pandemic. I told her so over text. “I just don’t trust that you’ve taken the precautions you’ve said you have,” I told her, or something to that effect.
When we finally did see her, she said, “Oh, I haven’t been anywhere,” when she’d returned from another state several days ago, and we all knew it. She took her mask off. When we claimed the safety precautions were for her health, not ours, she brushed it off. “I’m not going to get it,” she told us. Uh… okay. That’s how viruses work, lady? Wishful thinking?
Why We See Who We See
Our list of social contacts? Vanishing short. I see my friend Patrick, who would never lie to me about anything, let alone lie about the pandemic. We’ve known each other since we were stupid drunk college students, and when your friendship has sustained everything from the death of friends and loved ones to a couch in the study room contracting crabs, you know a person fairly well. There are other dear friends I don’t see because they’re honest about their social contacts, and their level of safety doesn’t match our needs.
One friend works at a college that’s open. Another does political work and sees friends. These are good friends, because they told us the truth and then let us make our own choices about our personal comfort levels. They didn’t, and wouldn’t, lie about the pandemic.
We see my husband’s family. They have been in strict social isolation for… well, since this all began. They didn’t see their grandchildren, at one point, for three months— or literally anyone else (this was back when we didn’t know a lot about transmission, and they’re in a dangerous age bracket). They would never lie about the pandemic. Neither would my sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law, so we were able, with our socially isolated families, to get together over the summer, since all of us strictly quarantined for two weeks. The guys intentionally worked remotely.
Contrast that to our other family member, who lied about the pandemic to grab brunch. She sees it as a gross betrayal that we’ve seen that family, but not her. But we know they wouldn’t lie. They’ve earned our trust— and she hasn’t.
If You Lie About The Pandemic, You’re Putting Others At Risk
We all have different levels of risk tolerance. But when you lie to someone with a lower risk tolerance about the pandemic, it’s one of the worst kind of lies you can tell. You are making a health decision for them: you are saying, I think I know better than you do what your personal health needs are. You are saying, I don’t care about your health decisions. You are saying, I am taking away your power to make choices you feel will keep you safe.
Pretty nasty things to do to people, aren’t they?
When you lie about the pandemic, you strip people of their own agency. You take away their ability to make their own decisions. Why are we so strict about pandemic precautions? My husband has severe asthma due to a bout with pertussis a decade ago. He also has an autoimmune disorder. I have a weakened immune system. If Chris catches COVID-19, he will end up on a ventilator. End of story. There is no “he’s young and strong, he’ll pull through.” His lungs are weak. Colds turn to bronchitis turn to pneumonia.
I will not risk my husband’s health so you can go hang with your bestie. When you lie about the pandemic, you make that choice for me. That’s not okay. You’re not really my friend. You’re selfish. You’re self-centered. You’re taking away my power to make my own choices.
Look: I have friends who have made different choices (work is not a choice, by the way). I don’t think they’re safe choices, and if asked, I will say so. But as long as friends don’t try to rope me into them, I will keep my mouth shut. You do you, boo. I don’t see BFFs because they’ve made different choices about risk levels. But they didn’t lie to me about them. They told the truth and let me make my own decision. That’s a real friend.
Don’t Lie About the Pandemic. Period.
Own your choices. Don’t lie about the pandemic. If you’re like Emily, who tells The Washington Post that she’s hosting a Thanksgiving party for 25 people, say so if it comes up. You’d only have to quarantine for two weeks afterward. Emily explains that her grandmother has dementia and she can’t bear the thought of her spending the holiday alone. Perhaps give your friends some credit: they might understand that idea.
As risk-adverse as I am, as long as she planned on socially isolating afterwards (like, staying away from friends and wearing a mask everywhere), I’d nod and say, “I totally get it.” I’m not here to judge your choices, unless they affect me (get six feet away from me, store employee, and yes I mean it). But I will judge you if you lie about the pandemic. I will judge you if you take away my agency. If you decide you know better than me about my personal health and the health of my family, I will not see you anymore. End of story. If you lie about the pandemic, see you in 2021. If that.