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Tough Love

My Partner Isn't Social Distancing. What Should I Do?

You're taking the virus seriously, but someone in your household is still grabbing beers with buddies. Here's how to handle it.

Try to do physical things, even when you're stuck inside. Stay connected with friends and loved ones. Embrace distractions. Embrace pets. (Photo: jeffbergen/iStock)
social distancing

Welcome to Tough Love. Every month, we’re answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at toughlove@outsideim.com.


My boyfriend and I are both in our forties. I have been working from home for two weeks now because of coronavirus, and I’m doing everything I can to practice social distancing, both for my own protection and so I don’t inadvertently spread the virus to others. My boyfriend still goes into his office four days a week, which I understand is a necessary evil, as he is not able to work from home. The issue is that even when he’s not at work, he doesn’t seem to be taking social distancing seriously. For instance, yesterday he stopped by a friend’s house for a drink on his way home, and he buys new groceries almost every day. I know that going to the store is unavoidable sometimes, but in his case I suspect it’s because he’s bored, not because we really need anything. He says he believes that people are overreacting to the virus and he doesn’t think it’s necessary to be “extreme about it.” I have shared articles with him to show that the virus is more serious than he realizes, but he just ends up getting defensive and accused me of buying into propaganda. I am doing everything I can but it has gotten to the point where I am fearful that he will bring the virus into our home and make us both sick.

This pandemic is terrifying, and it must feel much nicer to decide it’s overblown than to absorb the gravity of the crisis. So I get why your boyfriend would choose to ignore science in favor of a reassuring fantasy that everything is gonna be fine. The problem is, as you know, that his choices aren’t about him. Like a drunk driver, he’s putting everyone else on the road in danger.

There are bigger questions here—about your relative tolerances for risk, and maybe about your relationship. But right now, before anything else, you need to focus on staying safe.

You may be more successful in getting your boyfriend to observe social distancing if you frame it as a favor he can do for you, rather than something he’s right or wrong about. As in: Look, can you just do this—for me—for the next three weeks? The pandemic will certainly last longer than that, but he’s more likely to agree to a specific time frame, and that gives you a few weeks of rest (and safety) while you plan your next steps. Of course, you’ll need to renegotiate with him in a few weeks, but we don’t know what the world will look like by then. I wouldn’t be surprised if, with time, he ends up coming to the same conclusion as you himself.

If he refuses—if he keeps going to friends’ houses and taking unnecessary shopping trips—then you need to start taking action on your own. Do you have another place you can stay for a while, somewhere you could be alone, or could at least quarantine yourself for two weeks before moving in with also-quarantined friends or family? If so, it’s worth considering moving for the time being, even if it feels drastic. It’s not as drastic as getting (and spreading) a deadly illness. It’s not as drastic as causing other people’s deaths.

If you don’t have a place to go, or if for some reason you can’t leave, then you should turn to the things you actually can control to keep yourself safe. That means treating your own home like a possible source of exposure. Designate spaces that only you enter, and consider sleeping separately, even if that means putting a sleeping bag in the corner of the living room. When you enter shared spaces, like the kitchen, do so with the same caution that you would in a grocery store right now, or, god forbid, a hospital: disinfect surfaces, wash your hands, and, of course, don’t share food or drinks. And ask your boyfriend to stay at least six feet away from you at all times.

If he’s not willing to accept your physical boundaries, then he’s not a partner you want. If he accepts them grudgingly, or passive-aggressively, or if he doubles down on his social contact instead of weaning off it—basically, if he continues to disrespect the sanctity of other people’s decisions about the risks they want for their own bodies—then you need to think hard about whether this is the kind of person you want to continue to spend your life with.

In the meantime, focus on one day at a time, or one morning, or one hour, whatever it takes to make life feel manageable. Try to do physical things, even when you’re stuck inside. Stay connected with friends and loved ones. Embrace distractions. Embrace pets. Go to bed at a regular time, even if you struggle to fall asleep. And if you can, look for ways to help, whether that means sewing masks or donating money or delivering meals to elderly neighbors. We all need community more than ever, and the best thing we can do to take care of ourselves is to take care of each other.

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