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Setting boundaries around COVID

  • August 16, 2021

Boundaries and saying no, part one: Last week on Instagram, I offered to help you say no to invitations for gatherings, meetings, or events you don’t want to attend. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of questions you asked me were around boundaries and COVID; specifically how to say no because of COVID-related concerns. Today I’ll share my best advice for a variety of COVID-related scenarios that you shared with me. Next week in part two, we’ll tackle how to approach other social invitations that you’d prefer to decline because they suck your energy dry, involve toxic personalities, or simply aren’t enjoyable to you.

Note, your responses will vary based on your relationship with this person—whether you’re close or just acquaintances, whether they’re your boss or a co-worker, whether you’ve had boundary issues with them in the past or not. The event also plays a role—saying no to a funeral is a different lift than turning down a kid’s play date. I’ll give you a bunch of suggestions to get you started; please mix, match, and adapt as needed.

Anything related to COVID

First, can you believe we’re doing this again? I thought I was done talking about COVID boundaries in 2020, insert crying emoji. ANYWAY, many of you said you didn’t want to attend a large group event (like a concert), a family event in which you know people are unvaccinated, or indoor events with your children, who are too young to be vaccinated. Here are a few gentle options, with more direct options in bold:

  • Given the current state of the pandemic, we’re not attending group events right now.
  • With the way COVID is going, it feels more stressful than fun to gather in person right now, so I’ll have to pass.
  • Thank you for inviting Josh to Sam’s party. He’d love to go, but we’re not meeting up with friends just yet. Can they FaceTime this weekend so he can say happy birthday? (And send a gift.)
  • I’m sad to be missing your bridal shower/birthday party/event, but given the way this pandemic is heading, I’m not comfortable attending.
  • I’m not attending gatherings with unvaccinated people.
  • Since you’re not requiring vaccinations at your wedding, I’m not comfortable attending.

Thank them for the invite. If you’re bummed to not attend, say so! This COVID stuff sucks for all of us. If you can offer a safe alternative, do so. If you’re able to send a gift in lieu of attending, that’s always appreciated.

Advice for special circumstances

If it’s a wedding, mark “no” on the invitation, and send a gift off the registry or mail them a check. If it’s someone you’re close to, let them know ahead of time with one of the above phrases. If you’re not super close, sending back your RSVP (and a gift, to be extra-nice) is all you have to do.

If you said yes a while back (like to a concert) when the pandemic situation was looking rosier, acknowledge that. “I was so excited for this show, but I’m less excited now given the increase in COVID cases. At this point, I don’t want to go any more—feel free to give my ticket to someone else.” (This is assuming you bought your own ticket. If someone else fronted the cost, especially if it’s non-refundable, offer to reimburse them so they aren’t on the hook for your personal decision.)

This may be controversial, but many of you also asked about funerals, citing unvaccinated relatives, your own immunocompromised status, and/or your unvaccinated children at home. COVID has upended the way we mourn and grieve, and for many, present a unique and painful challenge. I will never judge you for putting your own family’s health and safety first.

If you choose not to attend an in-person memorial gathering of someone you were close to, let the family know directly. It’s going to suck, but call them and say, “It breaks my heart not to say goodbye in person, and I’m sorry if COVID is making this difficult time even harder for you. I won’t be there in person, but (loved one) will be in my heart, and I’ll be sitting in a moment of silence for them and you tomorrow.”

Ask where donations or flowers can be sent. You can also ask to be updated with plans for additional or virtual memorial services, a mass in their loved ones’ name, or an online gathering spot where everyone can share their favorite stories. (You can also offer to create one.) Finally, consider leaving a meal or other items you know would be appreciated at the home of the grieving family, and call them again in a week or so to check in and see if they need anything.

It is my sincere hope that we can soon put these COVID-related boundaries away and shift into setting boundaries that more generally help you protect your time and energy, separate from pandemic anxiety and precautions. We’ll get into how to communicate about those scenarios in next week’s XO, MU.

Until then,
XO, Melissa