When You Love Adventure, but Your Family Loves to Worry
Plus, how to make up for missing an important day
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Welcome to Tough Love. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am a bridesmaid for my best friend’s wedding in September. She canceled the big celebration because of COVID-19, but she still wants to have a socially distant celebration in the backyard with a small group of loved ones (14 people). The plan is for everyone to wear masks, and to sit at tables that are spaced out across a lawn. I am part of the group, as are a few close friends and immediate family members. She keeps saying that this event is the only thing making her feel like she gets any wedding at all.
The problem is I’m not sure I want to go. I am young and low-risk for COVID-19, but I live with my parents, who are older. I feel like even with the best of intentions, if people are hanging out for a few hours, something might happen or certain people might get closer to me than I would like. The bride is my best friend since elementary school and I love her. I know she is trying to make the best out of a difficult situation, and she’s been counting on me to help her, and I’m afraid that this will hurt our friendship. But I am really anxious at the thought of going. What would you do?
In general, when you’re supporting a loved one on a big day, it’s a good rule of thumb to not burden them with your worries: part of your gift, part of how you help them celebrate, is by taking care of things yourself. This case is an exception to that rule. The important thing is to talk to your friend as soon as possible, before she gets deeper into planning. Emphasize how happy you are for her, how much you love her, and how excited you are for her marriage—but that, given the circumstances, you don’t feel confident taking the risk of going to a social event. Then bite your tongue and let her answer.
You want to give her space to talk so you can gauge how she’s feeling. It’s possible that other guests have brought up worries, too, and that she’s reevaluating the event, or that she has specific (reassuring) plans for how social distancing can be rigorously enforced throughout the day. Best case scenario, she’ll say that she’ll miss you, but she understands why you wouldn’t come—that would be the mature and respectful response. Nobody who’s organizing events right now, even the most careful and socially distant ones, should expect people to come if they’re not comfortable.
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be surprised if your friend responds with less-than-perfect maturity. Weddings are stressful, impending marriage is stressful, pandemics are stressful, and she’s probably already feeling hurt and disappointed, so she may not have the bandwidth to respond with grace when her bridesmaid hesitates about showing up on what feels like the biggest day of her life. She might even take that preexisting hurt and disappointment and aim it all toward you.
That doesn't mean you should choose to go; if you have lingering concerns, I think you shouldn’t. But the conversation, as a whole, will give you a better sense of the full situation, including how risky the event will be, how tender your friend is feeling, and how open she is to ongoing safety discussions.
If you don’t go, it will probably cause tension of some kind, but you can mitigate that by coming up with ways to support your friend—and the festivities—safely (and you should try to offer some specific ideas, rather than a vague “let me know how I can help!”). Maybe you can decorate the yard ahead of time (or volunteer to clean up the next day), help make favors or centerpieces, or plan a car parade for other friends and neighbors to offer well-wishes. Maybe you have special traditions or inside jokes that you can honor creatively. The key is to make sure she feels your love and support—and even if she’s disappointed, that love will ultimately shine through.
I’ve been dreaming of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for more than a decade, and I plan to make it a reality within the next few years. Many of my closest family members struggle with anxiety at the best of times (as do I), and they’ve expressed worries to me and said that their anxiety will be through the roof while I’m gone. I should be clear that they’re totally supportive and know that I'm a responsible hiker, so how can I help them prepare for and otherwise soothe their fears about my adventure?
That’s exciting! It’s wonderful that your family is supporting you—and that you’re understanding of their anxiety, and want to ease it. You should ask them if they have specific fears, so you can come up with ways to respond to them together (which isn’t a bad way to plan for an adventure, anyway). For instance: bears. What will you do about bears? You’ll keep your food secure, and back away calmly if you encounter one. What will your family members do when they worry about bears? They’ll take a bath and read a letter that you have left with them, which will express your love and affection, and also reassure them that black bear attacks are extremely rare. And so on.
You should come up with a schedule for when you plan to communicate. Can they expect to hear from you every other day? Every week? Would they feel better if you carried a GPS tracker, so they can keep an eye on your location? (Trackers can be a mixed bag, as glitches and unusual activity—which are bound to happen over the course of an adventure—can seem terrifying from a distance.) Whatever the plan is, make sure it’s something that feels sustainable and comfortable to you, too; and then commit to it.
Finally, there’s something to be said for loved ones not really knowing about the dangers of what you do, at least until afterwards. Remind them how (relatively) safe the AT is, and how prepared you are. If you’re worried about specific problems, don’t bring them up around your family, even in the context of problem-solving. To them, you should be a beacon of calm and thoughtful responsibility. They’ll be able to remember your confidence, and borrow from it, even after you’re gone.