By Natalie B. Compton
Rachel from Columbia has been starting to get invites for trips with friends. But she is wary. She said the thought of being in an airport, sitting on a crowded flight and being in a different city right now feels irresponsible.
"I am really struggling with how to have conversations about not feeling comfortable with this just yet without coming off as judgmental," she tells Washington Post.
Friends and family members have been clashing over the coronavirus for about a year, from mask-wearing to vaccines to group gatherings. Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist who has an advice column, Ask Dr Andrea, on The Washington Post's Lily publication, says these situations may be easier to approach now that we've been knee-deep in the pandemic for so long.
"In the beginning, a lot of these things felt very awkward to talk about. Everything was new. People were changing their minds," Bonior advises. "I do think people have gotten a little bit more secure in finding ways to communicate that are respectful, and a little bit more secure in their views."
Here's how Bonior recommends tackling the topic.
*Bonior said to determine the risks you're willing to take, the ones you're not and why. Ask yourself: How much of your own mental and physical well-being are you willing to sacrifice for a trip? Maybe you are comfortable taking some risks locally, such as going to your gym where you know its safety protocols, but you're not comfortable flying across the country.
"Having that rationale can help you - not that you have to defend your choices," Bonior says. "But actually mentally to yourself, it's a little bit easier to bolster your argument and use when you're thinking about boundaries."
Of course, the pandemic is ever-changing, and you are allowed to change your mind. Your line in the sand may change as new information comes out about the coronavirus if you get vaccinated or for a number of other reasons.
Once you feel confident in your stance, reply to your friend honestly. That means do not say "yes" or "maybe" to a trip if you know you are going to back out later. Bonior said a lot of people think it will be easier to avoid conflict, but it actually can damage your relationship by eroding trust.
"If you develop a pattern of doing that, then everybody knows that you're going to be the one who backs out later," Bonior says.
Opt out as clearly and respectfully as possible so your friend does not get hopes up or get a mixed signal that if they wear on you long enough, you will eventually give in.
*Traditionally thought of as a technique reserved for couples to resolve conflict, using "I" statements can be helpful to handle issues with platonic loved ones. Framing your decision from your point of view will help you avoid sounding judgmental.
"I think the deeper the relationship, the more it can sustain these nuanced, difficult conversations where you might say, 'I really feel guilty not being there, but I know what's best for me' or 'I really have mixed feelings and I might regret this later, but I have to say no,' " Bonior says.
Bonior believes a good friendship is built to withstand differences of opinion as long as they're conveyed respectfully. Consider this an exercise for strengthening your relationship.
*Should the conversation get heated, remember that travel shaming does not work. If you expect a friend or loved one to respond to your declined invitation aggressively, have a script ready with those "I" statements in advance.
"If they try to take you off script, have that one thing that you keep returning to, like 'I love you and I wish I could, but I can't. I'm sorry,' " Bonior adds.
Bonior says that while travel shaming will not change anyone's mind, you do not have to keep quiet if you have legitimate concerns for their safety.
"You can have a respectful conversation, 'Hey, I totally get that you're trying to do this. I would feel remiss if I didn't just mention I'm worried about you doing this, and I will shut up, but I got to get this off my chest,' " Bonior adds. "That's different than shaming . . . but once your friend has made a decision, then the shaming part is just going to create some sort of a rift."